Friday, November 21, 2008

Community Based Learning with Oxfam

When I started my community learning experience about three months ago, I expected it to be educational. I thought that I would learn about a prominent non-profit group and the important international issues they work on and profile. From this experience, I predicted I would become more socially aware. I also believed that I would learn what it is like to work in the nonprofit field, focusing on social justice. I hoped this would give me more of an indication of what my ideal vocation is. I fully expected to learn these things, however I have learned so much more. In my community learning experience, I am learning about Oxfam America, international concerns, and nonprofit work quickly and in a dynamic way with other important lessons.
The community in which I work is the Georgetown campus community. Carrying out an Oxfam awareness campaign on campus has given me a new and unique look at the student body and the campus system. I have seen that many students are very involved, committed, and dedicated to activities or issues of their own. There are so many organizations on Georgetown’s campus and it seems as if the typical Georgetown student is involved in several of them. This sometimes make it difficult to obtain interest in my campaign on global hunger and poverty. As a result, I feel I need to learn more about the intersection of different issues and groups on campus, especially in regards to international issues. Also, to further my campaign and obtain allies, varied perspectives, and wider interest, I need to become familiar with those students outside of my own academic programs and extracurricular activities who are interested or disposed to be interested in international development issues.
In addition to learning about community interaction, I am seeing that there are significant links between my practical community action and my academic work. My Justice and Peace Studies class, Nonviolence in Theory and Practice, and my work as a Change Leader for Oxfam America are sustaining and supporting each other. In class, I learn the theory behind strategic nonviolence. I learn the importance of setting a good foundation for all the initiatives I undertake, and of being able to evaluate every action I do. Also, through studying the biographies of pacifists and case studies of nonviolent campaigns, I learn from the wisdom, mistakes, and successes of others. From the Salt March to the experience of Cindy Sheehan, I can apply the experiences of prominent pacifists to my own campaign. The class also gives me a sense of the history and rich tradition that accompanies nonviolent work, which facilitates my own passion and purpose. Additionally, I believe my training with Oxfam and my limited “field experience” has allowed me to contribute better to my class during brainstorming sessions and discussions. I can give examples of obstacles and challenges that typically accompany nonviolent campaigns, because I have recently experienced them. Further, I can pass along the tactics and strategies Oxfam taught me to supplement the wealth of information covered in the coarse.
Further, my previous perception of barriers between class work and community work changed because I am being educated by so many different sources at the same moment. In class, Professor Blume and my fellow students help me understand the academic theories behind nonviolence and many high profile examples. In my work for Oxfam at Georgetown, I am learning from the professional advice of Oxfam representatives and the practical experience Georgetown is providing me. The collaboration of my class and the community is allowing me to see how academics can readily be applied to my daily pursuits and ultimate aspirations.
I have a significant responsibility as a learner in both the classroom and the community. In the classroom, I must conscientiously study nonviolent discipline and strategic execution. I have to look at case studies and biographies and understand different societies and circumstances. Simultaneously, in the community I must always be aware of the campus climate and different opportunities that present themselves that could be relevant to my campaign. Also, I must keep myself constantly informed about the actions and issues of Oxfam so that I may be well educated in representing them in my campaign. Finally and most importantly, I must take the theory that I learn in Nonviolence in Theory and Practice and constantly use it to evaluate my own actions for Oxfam. In this way, I will ensure my community learning experience will continue to be successful and educational.

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