II Case Studies: Impact of ISL on Host Communities

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Saying It Doesn’t Make It So. Do We Listen and Act When the Host Community Tells Us What They Want?

Nora Pillard Reynolds and Junior Cezar Gasparini

We both know some things, neither of us know[s] everything. Working together we will know more and we will both learn more about how to know.

(Maguire, 1987, pp. 37-38)

In this chapter, the authors draw on our unique positionalities—insider/ outsider and practitioner/ researcher (Herr & Anderson, 2005) - having each worked in different roles in the same ten-year international service-learning (ISL) partnership between Villanova University Engineering Service Learning (VESL) and the municipality of Waslala, Nicaragua. Reynolds, a Villa- nova alum, first traveled to Waslala with a group of friends in 2002—a trip that marked the beginning of Water for Waslala (WfW), an organization focused on ensuring access to clean drinking water for everyone living in Waslala. Reynolds currently lives in Philadelphia, but continues to serve as Executive Director of the organization and has travelled to Waslala more than twenty times. Gasparini, originally from Chapeco, Brazil arrived in Waslala in 2004 with a plan to volunteer with La Parroquia, the original community partner, for two years. Over ten years later, he lives in Waslala with his wife and eight year old daughter and currently works as the Director of WfW. Pulling from these different positionalities the authors pursue “the possibility of crafting uniquely complex understandings” of this ISL partnership (Herr & Anderson, 2005, p. 46).

Since universities engaged in ISL most frequently partner with communities in the developing or “Third World”, issues related to ethical engagement with and representation of the ‘Other’ are critical. The authors use postcolonial theory and hyper-reflexivity (Kapoor, 2004; Spivak, 1988) to shape the research orientation and to understand the perspectives of community participants about this ISL partnership. The authors utilize excerpts from their “stories”— Reynolds, Gasparini, and La Parroquia—alongside data from interviews with community organization representatives to explore different community participant perspectives. Exploring motivations and goals of the community participants, they investigate the question: What do the community participants want?

Heeding cautions in post-colonial theory about ahistorical work, they begin by briefly describing the history of Nicaragua, Waslala, WfW, and the Parroquia Inmaculada (the original community partner). They then outline the participatory processes that informed the writing of this chapter. This leads to the description of the theoretical framework—pulling from post-colonial theory and hyper-reflexivity (Kapoor, 2004; Spivak, 1988) that shapes the participatory orientation of both the research and writing. The following two sections explore ideas about the community participants’ motivations. The community participants described their motivations in terms of: (1) relationships, and (2) student learning. The community perspectives highlighted the importance of building relationships and developing students as critical global citizens (Andreotti, 2006). The authors conclude by providing questions for reflection that they hope can challenge those engaged in ISL partnerships and inform how they approach this work.

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