For the past 10 years, SLCE has been providing Brock students with opportunities for community involvement and volunteerism as an alternative to the traditional reading week experience.
“This initiative gives students and the greater Brock community the opportunity to get involved in hands-on service projects while travelling during the February reading week to communities abroad as well as local,” said Prakisha Pradhan, a fourth-year student in the Child and Youth Studies program and a Community Experience and Volunteer Assistant at Student Life and Community Experience (SLCE).
The local events planned for this year include helping out Heartland Forest with their WinterFEST event on February 18 as well as the Coldest Night of the Year on Feb. 23.
Previous events from local alternative reading weeks have included students partaking in activities at retirement homes with seniors, assisting in the City of St. Catharine’s Pumpkinville event, painting at a local church, lending a hand to Goodwill staff with donations and a variety of other events.
International alternative reading week opportunities see students travelling to South Carolina from Feb. 16 — Feb. 24 or Peru from Feb. 14 —Feb. 24.
If students choose to travel to South Carolina, they will assist in building a house with Habitat for Humanity. Those who choose to travel to Peru, they will be teaching English and interacting with students while running a camp. For students studying a health-related field at Brock and travelling to Peru, there will be the opportunity to participate in Medical Missions with the Solidarity Experiences Abroad (SEA) program.
Each semester varies in the number of students that are able to participate depending on the different community organizations for local events but in previous semesters typically 10-15 students are selected.
For international events, the alternative reading week in South Carolina and Peru typically accept 19-20 students.
“I am an individual who always wants to help people but also loves to travel. I felt that the alternative reading week trip provided me with the best of both worlds. I was able to apply my education, meet new people and gain a new appreciation and perspective. This opportunity broadened my knowledge and improved my interpersonal skills,” said Jessica Oswald, a student in Medical Sciences who travelled to Peru during her alternative reading week to take part in their medical mission.
“Sometimes when travelling abroad there is a negative stigma that follows it but with alternative reading week, their motto is ‘a hand up, not a hand out.’ A lot of our initiatives are long term to make sure the communities get the best outcome in the long run,” said Oswald. “Due to our time volunteering, the cost of paying a mortgage is subsidized and it becomes easier for low-income families to afford a house. These families must also work a minimum of 300 to 500 hours [of] ‘sweat equity’ to earn a house. Having shelter is a basic human right, and providing initiatives like this helps correct social injustices.”
The program is not without its criticisms, however. Some maintain that volunteering abroad and mission trips are a form of “voluntourism” in which the volunteers may be the group that benefits the most — not necessarily the community in need. Additionally, some consider the work of student volunteers to be less beneficial to communities than professional work, particularly of those who live in the community and can bolster the local economy. In many cases, the student volunteers do not have professional experience with home-building and similar initiatives and may require more time or resources than those locally who do have that experience. For those who do not want to engage with travelling volunteerism, there are other options to support global communities in need, such as donating money and resources through trusted charities.
Though multifaceted as an issue, alternative reading weeks remain popular and can provide much-needed additions to resumes and applications, as well as interpersonal and global experiences. Alternative reading week also provides opportunities for students to engage locally, avoiding the moral complexity of international volunteerism altogether.
Students interested in the alternative reading week offered by SLCE should visit brocku.ca/student-life/get-involved/brock-cares-alternative-reading-week/ for more information.