While in high school, Alice Barnett traveled to Nepal a year after a tragic earthquake.
“While everyone was struggling to rebuild their homes and make ends meet, they gave us their food and other kinds of offerings in thanks and praise. It was one of the most rewarding and memorable times in my life,” she said.
Not for Sightseeing but for Serving
Barnett went to Nepal with Youthlinc, a nonprofit organization based in Salt Lake City, Utah. It teaches students leadership skills and a desire to serve others through its programs. Each year the organization serves humanitarian missions to Cambodia, Peru, Thailand, Fiji, Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam, with a new mission to Jamaica this summer.
“Our Service Year program is unlike any other travel abroad program,” says Justin Powell, Youthlinc’s Executive Director. “These trips are not for sightseeing, but to serve others in countries that do not have as many privileges as we do. We work hard, but have fun doing it. Many students who go through our program come home absolutely transformed.”
Powell says this was the case for him after his wife, Britnee, convinced him to serve as a mentor on a trip to Thailand in 2008. She was the team leader and had been involved with Youthlinc since 1999. “After that first trip, I was hooked!” said Powell.
Since then, the Powells have been on twelve trips with Youthlinc and started taking their seven-year-old son when he was six months old. Now he and his twin sisters have taken seven trips between them. “We want our family to be focused on service and can’t think of a better way to teach our children,” said Powell.
The Service Year program is open to high school and college students. Students apply and are accepted in the fall of each year. Once accepted, applicants are placed on a team with peers and mentors from across Utah. Each team meets monthly to prepare for their two-week international trip the following summer.
Teaching a Man to Fish
For each international location there are six different teams: construction, community health, cultural exchange, education, business development, and vocational training. All team members help with construction projects while at their international site. They build projects based on the community’s needs. Last summer, they built restroom facilities for a small village in Fiji and renovated schools in Peru, Cambodia, and Thailand.
In Jamaica, the construction committee plans to help villagers on the southeast side of the island create a well with funds from grant money and other donations.
The community health team will address the village’s most pressing medical and health needs by holding health fairs and donating needed medical supplies. Last year in Peru they taught classes on personal hygiene and first aid and donated deworming medicine to the local families.
“We do not operate an open ‘come one, come all’ clinic. It is not sustainable, but the knowledge and understanding we teach them is sustainable,” said Powell.
Powell says the cultural exchange group will organize an opening and closing ceremonies and meet with villagers in their homes. He believes students may learn about slavery when discussing Jamaican family history with the villagers. “I believe our students will learn a lot from this and maybe it will help them as they return to America and open doors for them to talk about it at home,” said Powell.
In Jamaica, the education committee will teach lessons and donate school supplies. The business development committee will find and strengthen business opportunities. Finally, the vocational training will teach skills such as baking, sewing, and barbering. In Peru last summer, they taught villagers to sew life jackets and to create a community garden.
Becoming a Lifelong Humanitarian
While Service Year students are a part of a committee, it is not all they need to do to prepare for their international trip. Each student must personally fundraise the money for their trip (sometimes up to $4000) and give 80 hours of service in their local community.
“This program is rigorous and requires work, but anything that is worth doing requires work. When the students start to make service a part of their weekly plan, they are on their way to making a lifestyle change and becoming a lifetime humanitarian,” says Powell.
Madison Sudweeks, a senior majoring in social work at the University of Utah joined when she was 17. She served locally at the Hser Ner Moo community center tutoring and mentoring refugees and immigrant youth. Sudweeks went to Cambodia twice, Guatemala, and Peru.
“Before Youthlinc, I was focused on school and sports and didn’t really know how to be involved in my community, but my experience changed my life and ignited a passion in me for service. I’ve worked in an afterschool program for four years now and I plan on working to support others in my community for the rest of my life. I want to work to make the world a better place,” said Sudweeks.
Visit youthlinc.org to learn more.
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