Tag Archives: service learning


By AnnaRose ’19

Our service group and a group of church members took a day trip to Gibara, a coastal town about an hour away from Holguín.  On the bus ride there, our guide explained how the Cuban education system worked, and how Cubans attained jobs.  Education is free, and mandatory until ninth grade, although nearly all Cubans will continue their studies past then.

On the drive we passed many forts from the early nineteenth century. There was also a good view of the bay, which we would end up paddle-boating and kayaking in.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLyn n were in one paddle-boat, while Alice, Maddie, Courtney and I were in another.  Aaron and Ahmed, and Eric and Miranda, rowed about in kayaks, and they stuck by the paddle-boat I was in as we moved about the bay.  Courtney and Alice were the ones who were paddling, but they seemed to be good with the load.  It was fun to explore the bay, even though we couldn’t swim in it because of the water quality.  Ike, Angie, Priya, and JoceLynn were a couple minutes late getting back to shore, but then we were on our way to explore a cave.

The cave had more graffitti than I expected, and more bats, but it was a new experience to  aim my headlamp at the cave walls to see if there were any interesting rocks.  As we walked around the dirt floor, many people, including me, took pictures of stalagmites and columns.  At one point, on the way back to the cave entrance, we stopped for a minute to stand in the dark.  It was scary, but thrilling.

As we drove towards the restaurant for lunch, we saw many of Gibara’s houses and buildings. We stopped at a lookout to take pictures of the town and the bay encircling it.

The restaurant, named La Cueva, served us seafood, mostly shrimp and crabmeat. There were also platters of rice and beans, vegetables, and plantain chips.  Aaron continuously stopped by where Miranda, Courtney, Sara, Ileabeth, Roxy and I were sitting in order to get more plantain chips. It wasn’t just the plantain chips that were good; you could say the same for all the food. Spaghetti or pork was available for those who did not want to eat fish. There was a small zoo attached to the restaurant, and Miranda, Courtney and I stopped to look at a parrot.

After lunch, we traveled to Gibara’s main square, where we could walk around for half an hour before we had to go.  Most of us stopped at a grocery store to take a look around.  While there might not be as many products as in American stores, there didn’t appear to be a lack of products for sale.  Ike, Angie, Priya, JoceLynn, two sisters from the church named Maylen and Mitel, and I looked around for ice cream.  It took a while, but eventually we were able to find another convenience store that had ice cream. As we walked, Jocelynn, Angie, Maylen, and Mitel talked about their shared love of K-pop (Korean pop music), especially BTS.

As we returned to the church, it started to storm, and while the rain w as refreshing after a hot day, it made everything hard to hear.  We rested before dinner, and then went for a walk towards a nearby plaza.  Roxy joined us, and Ike stayed behind to practice singing with the church chorus.

Walking the short distance from the church to the plaza at night didn’t feel unsafe, especially as our resident street dog Chica was beside us, barking at any bicycle that passed.  We made our way to an ice cream parlor opposite the plaza.  Miranda, Maddie and Alice debated what questions they might ask a group of communists we would meet tomorrow, and Courtney and I talked about our upcoming trip to Santiago.  Eric was mostly interested in eating his sundae.

After returning to the church, we heard part of a song that the chorus was singing, and they sounded great.  Angie and Priya joined Ike, and they all seemed to be having fun, judging by the singing that I could hear.  Others headed upstairs to play card games or journal for a while. After the evening meeting, we went to bed, tired after a full day.

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by Nora

As you may have heard, Sofia, Camille, and I have a buggy and dank room. Nonetheless, we woke up well rested and excited to start the first work day in Byumba. But, as I turned to remind Sofia to get up, I saw a twitching, dying grasshopper. Then, Camille asked me to turn around to kill a spider on our bed. It was a buggy start to the first work day at Byumba.

At the library, we quickly organized ourselves and got to work. A group of us cleaned the walls, another bought paint, and the rest helped design the pictures for the walls. As soon as the paint arrived and wet walls dried, we began to paint. Now that we have had a set of workdays under our belts, painting went much faster. We finished the main room of the library, the hallways of the library, and almost all of the outside’s painting and design.

After an accomplished day at work, Jeffrey, Ashleigh, and I decided to run back to the guest house. It was mostly downhill (the main reason we ran back and not there) and many Rwandans laughed at us running by. We arrived before the bus (with the rest of the students) arrived!

I am looking forward to another work day and run tomorrow!

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Cuba Day 6

By Miranda ’19

Today we went back to work. Our day started out by having breakfast at 8, we had pineapple, eggs, packaged toast, and bread with butter. As soon as breakfast ended we headed back to work to finish what we had started on Friday. We pulled over 16 barrels full of sand to the second floor then we bucketed them up to the third floor (the roof) where we had previously put the rocks from last week. Throughout this tiresome process we had rotations to reduce the work and to give people a break.

We ended work around 12:40 and started our nap session shortly afterwards. During our nap session we munched on my goldfish, Ike’s Milano cookies, Maddie’s pop-tarts, and Alice’s crackers. Everyone was so tired to the point where they didn’t care where they slept. Alice, Priya and I made make-shift beds out of chairs; while Maddie, JoceLynn, Annarose and Angie all slept on beach towels. Courtney, Eric, Ahmed, and Aaron all slept in their beds.

After our hour and thirty minute “nap”, we all went straight back to work but this time filling up water for the community from 2 to 5. The two men, who help us build the church, showed up a little after five to help us continue construction. This time we moved 12 long metal bars and multiple tin roof top pieces from the ground level to the first floor then immediately to the second. Lastly we formed an assembly line to move cinder blocks from the ground up to the second floor.

After we finished all of our hard work it was supposed to be time for dinner but we had time to spare so we all decided to walk 15 minutes to La Loma de La Cruz ( which is a giant hill with over 462+ steps!).

After the hike we all feasted on rice with shredded beef and green peppers. For dessert we had jello and banana cake. Following dinner, Ahmed and I played Spit, the card game (I won by the way), and JoceLynn and Maddie also played afterwards. After our games we all went upstairs and played a mini game of apples to apples followed by our meeting that occurs every night. Overall today was tiring yet fun and I can’t wait to see what is in store tomorrow.

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by Ahmed ’19

The service today was not too long but was very early in the morning (editor’s note: the service began at 9am). We sang a song and performed a dance for the service. It was a special service because it was fathers day. It was finally time for the thing we have all been waiting for: going to the beach. The bus ride to the beach was really chill. It was air conditioned, comfy, and I saw a lot of beautiful scenery.

We went horse back riding as the first thing we did once we arrived at our destination. Personally I just wanted to go to the beach but I was wrong. Once we started riding I had so much fun. I got a really good horse. I started going slow at first but then I learned how to maneuver my horse and once I did that I was able to do so many things. Everybody was going way too slow and I wanted to go faster. Oh my god I loved riding that horse. It was so much fun. Near the end more people started riding their horses fast and Eric, Maddie, Aaron, and I started riding our horses together really fast. It hurt so much. I thought I was going to die because I kept bouncing up and down on my horse.

Then we went to lunch which was so good. We watched part of the Brazil vs Switzerland and we saw Coutinhio score.

Then we finally went to the beach and it was so much fun. We took so many pictures and enjoyed the view. The water was so clear and there were so many fishes. We tried to catch them but it didn’t work. When we went in the water we took videos of us messing around in the water. It was beautiful. None of us wanted to leave, but sadly we had to. Everybody was enjoying their experience at the beach.We took some fire pictures there. Today was by far the best day. We all want to go back for a second day.

The food here has just been amazing. We all ate dinner together and it was also really good.

We then went to chill at the plaza and after we played card games when we came back. Ileabeth said that she never lost a game of Sushi Go, so I played her in that and I won. People are adjusting pretty well and I think people are really enjoying it.

Check out more photos on Instagram.

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by Sofia Frascella ’19 

Today we went to the market in Kigali before we traveled to Byumba. We got to see how the Rwandans shop for crafts, crops, clothes and other items. As we were shopping we got to attempt to bargain to lower the prices and it was a great glimpse into true Rwandan culture. We had another delicious, authentic meal at a buffet in downtown Kigali. We then got on the road and traveled to our next stop; Byumba. When we arrived to the guest house, Camille, Nora and I were hit with a surprise that our triple had quite a few spiders and no mosquito nets. After about an hour of adjusting our room we finally found a solution. This was a perfect example of how these service trips do not always go as planned, but there is always a solution to the problems. Tomorrow we start our work on the local friends library. I’m excited to work more with painting and really hope we get to interact with the kids more!

See our pictures here!

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Cuba Day 3

by Courtney Heffelfinger ’19

So today was our second full day in Cuba and it was better than the first, for me at least. Today we woke up and ate breakfast of fruits, toast, and eggs. Alice and I struggled to keep our eyes open during breakfast even though we got about 8 hours of sleep.

After breakfast we went right to work with Roxy where we were getting the gravel we moved from the ground to the second floor up from the first with our pulley system. It wasn’t so bad because I was with Priya, Alice, Maddie, and Miranda and we had our rotation system down so each of us could take breaks. Priya struggled a bit with moving the wheelbarrow full of gravel to the big pile we were making on the roof, so Jose helped her each time that it was her turn to push the barrow, saying in Spanish that she needed “one big push”. After we got all of the rocks up we moved this huge thing up from the floor the rocks were on. I literally have no idea what it was or what purpose it served, but I had to stand on bags of rice while Eric had to climb up the wall and help Jose get the thing onto the roof. We also filled buckets with sand and did the same thing that we did with the gravel. I think it was easier because the sand wasn’t as difficult to shovel up into the buckets.

After our shoveling and filling the wheelbarrow, we had a snack and watched the World Cup on the TV in the living room. Ahmed was rooting for Egypt against Uruguay but I think it ended up being a tie at zero, however I could be completely wrong because we missed the end of the game. Alice, Miranda, Sara, and Maddie washed the dishes after lunch while the rest of us continued to watch the World Cup until we started rehearsing for our dance for our Sunday service. That was a mess. We’ve been getting better at it but I think we have come to the understanding that we are all really bad at timing. Aaron has to be a grandpa in the ending scene of the dance, but when asked to walk like a grandpa, he instead walked like he was having a heart attack. He tried and eventually fixed it, because that wasn’t exactly how Leo, our choreographer, imagined the dance.

The last sort of event we had today was our first family dinner. My group was Sara, myself, Maddie, Ike, and Angie with our host Sergio and his family. We were apprehensive at first because we had just met them and only half of us knew Spanish – myself, Maddie, and Eric excluded. As we continued to talk with the family, I started to understand more and more of what the conversations were about. Our family made every effort to include us in conversation and they had the most bubbly and amazing personalities of the people I have met so far. Sergio is an artisan who makes bracelets and we found that out after he pointed to Maddie’s bracelet she got yesterday in the shopping plaza and said he makes them. He elaborated on how he works and what he does saying that he uses cow bone to make certain parts of the bracelets and then makes a certain design with the string and puts it all together. He asked us all what our favorite colors were and at the end of dinner gave us all bracelets that he had made. We walked all the way back home from his house which took nearly and hour but I’d say it was worth it. Today was actually such a good day and if I could spend all of my time walking around Holguin like we did, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to do it forever.

-Courtney Heffelfinger 🙂

p.s. Mom and Dad, we got my luggage and I’m happy as a clam. Thanks Pops.

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by Ashleigh Azan ’19

We were up and ready for breakfast at 7:30 like most mornings where we had the usual hard-boiled eggs, fruit and coffee. By 8:00 we were in the church ready to start our workshop with HIPP. HIPP stands for Help Increase Peace Program which is a program set up to teach people about non violent conflict resolution so we can help ourselves as well as others. The day was full of thoughtful discussions and fun activities in which we were all learning from one another. Today was a lot morning interactive and discussion based than yesterday which made it easier for us to engage with one another. The final activity we did was split into small group where we answered the queries what it feels like for us to give back and for the Rwandans, how it feels for us to be here helping them.

After speaking in our groups we came together and shared some of the things we learned. You could tell people learned a lot from that activity and had more of an understanding of the differences and similarities in the two cultures. My favorite part of the day was playing a very competitive game of football with  our new Rwanda friends. It definitely brought us together and was a fun experience. We then played all the way up until dinner. We ended the night activities with a talk from “Momma Eve” about the work she does with survivors of the Genocide and refugees which was very heartwarming to hear about. Now we are all gathered in the common area ending the night off with out typical music and card games.


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Arizona Day 4

by Anney ’20

Thursday night was the last night we spent with our host families. In the evening, we and our host families all had dinner together, talking and sharing with each other the experiences we’ve had. Although it has only been four days, we all felt a sense of belonging to this big family. 

After dinner, each of us got to spend some time with our host families. Mel and I were hosted by Adrienne, and as we talked, she showed us pictures of students from previous service trips. I found it beautiful how members of George School from different times are all connected by this Arizona service trip.

After departing from the host families Friday morning, we spend Friday afternoon hiking at the Grand Canyon, 1.5 miles down the Bright Angel Trail. We were astonished by the terrific landscape of the Grand Canyon, as well as the animals we saw along the way, such as elks and mountain goats. Although the hike was tiring, it was a delightful and memorable experience.

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Cuba Day 2

by Priya Tarpley ’18

Our first full day in Holguín was nothing short of eventful.  We woke up at around 7, and headed down to desayuno at 8.  Our Cuban breakfast consisted of fruit like mango and piña, black coffee, scrambled eggs with chopped peppers, tamarind and mango juice, pound cake, and pizza triangles that were thicker than we’re used to.  This morning we also saw two of our George School friends, Roxy and Meli.  My junior year, I lived in East on the same floor as Meli, and it was nice to see a familiar face after so long.  Today was also our first day of service, and Alberto separated us for different projects. Annarose and I were charged with the task of cleaning the rice by removing the debris and pieces of husk from the bag. Although seemingly menial, I got a chance to practice my Spanish with Maria, Annarose, and Meli. It was a reminder of the preparation it takes to make the food for all of us, and a testament to how filtered our lives are back home.

Later, we exchanged our money for CUCs, colorful bills in 5’s and 3’s, and the 1’s were octagonal coins. After lunch, bellies full of guava paste squares, rice and carne, and chickory bean soup, Roxy lead us through the streets of Holguín.  There were so many marketplaces, and we ended up splitting into groups to get snack and check out the Calixto Garcia plaza.  Angie, JoceLynn, Ike, Annarose and I ended up at an ice cream shop called La Única, where we sat down and were served as if we were in a restaurant.  My scoop of ice cream was less than a CUC. It was a sweet oasis from Holguín’s afternoon heat.

The rain has been a force these past few days, and although it doesn’t start until later in the day, it comes down heavily.  So right after getting our ice cream, we hustled back to the church to take breather and watch the thunderstorm pass.

As I write this, Cuba continues to be an interesting experience.  From the food, the visual history, and the atmosphere Holguín is a place that I am happy to come home for the next two weeks.

¡Hasta luego!

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Cuba Day 1

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by Maddie Keith ’19

If I was asked to choose today, word to describe today, I don’t think I could find one to encapsulate sll of the emotions, encounters, or adventures that we’ve had today.

Our day started at 2am, technically our second day of travel, as we met the before to travel to the airport. After a night filled with Apples to Apples and countless Vine references, us girls found it difficult to get up. Eventually, everybody met downstairs and we headed to check our bags, where we waited for what seemed like forever. All of us, delusional as we were, managed to make it through security with just enough time to walk right on to our plane. It was fairly empty, so obviously we all moved around to keep each other company. Ahmed, Aaron, and I played different card games, one of which Aaron taught us from China. Also, on this particular flight because it was so early, we got to watch the sun rise.

During our layover in Miami, we had some free time so we grabbed a quick breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and then just chilled, recharged for our next flight. Within the last thirty minutes before we started to board, I noticed people starting to say their “final goodbyes,” meaning that this was the last time that we would be connected to wifi or even have service at all for the next two weeks. This seemed to be the hardest hurdle to overcome, but once we were up in the air, there was no turning back.

The flight from Miami to Holguin was short and sweet. Besides some minor turbulence, we landed in Cuba with ease. Getting off of the plane and breathing in the hot Cuban air for the first time was an experience I will never forget. With no social media to post on, I found it amusing we all still wanted to document the moment we first stepped foot in Cuba. Alice brought out her disposable camera while Miranda and I recorded videos of us just screaming and spinning around, taking in the foreign landscape.

Then, we had our first bit of an issue, which was pleasantly surprising given how far we had come. Courtney’s suitcase did not make it to Cuba with us. After doing all we could and filling out a lost baggage complaint, we all got on the bus and headed on our approximately 30 minute drive to the church where we are staying. While arriving, I couldn’t help but stare out the window the whole time. I have never seen or visited a place like this in my whole life, so I was completely taken aback by Cuba’s astonishing beauty and unique personalities that scatter the streets.

Arriving at the church, we were greeted by many friendly faces, one of which was Carlos, a tall, dark skinned man. with kind eyes and a warm smile. We were shown to the boys room first, then taken upstairs to where the girls would be staying. Set up much like a typical overnight camp style cabin, we all immediately fell in love.

After taking time to settle in, we had our first group meal at the church, which consisted of a spread of rice, beans, a turkey and veggie mix, fried plantains, mango, and guava. I honestly could not have been happier to sit down and have a quality meal after the seemingly endless day of travel that we had just endured.

Stomachs full, we all changed into cooler clothing, and split up into different “service” groups for the day. Aaron, Eric, and Ahmed went and filled up the water bottles for members for the community that get their filtered water from the church. While Ike and the girls met in the little annex of the church to begin to prepare our song for service. Needless to say, the song will be needing a lot more work. More updates to come.

An hour or so passed, and all of the sudden BOOM. thunder, lightning, pouring rain. The boys quickly returned and we hid out in the annex. We used that time to begin learning our dance piece for service as well. A young man named Leo helped us out, and with little, but some initial resistance, we began learning our way through a piece dedicated to fathers. that will also need work as well, but it is moving in the right direction.

We ended our first day in Cuba with a family dinner of pasta and cookies. Even more delicious than lunch. Stomachs full once again, and tired as ever, we decided to call it a night and meet for our daily worship sharing. Oh, I almost forgot to mention our new friend Jesus! He is a five year old boy whose mom lives in the church, and after dinner, Angie, Miranda, Alice, and I all played with him. It was amazing to see how even with a language barrier, kids are still silly, fun-loving , little balls of energy.

Bed time for everyone was super early tonight, as needed. Tomorrow is our first full day of working in Holguin and we are going to need to catch up on as much sleep as possible.

We all miss home a little. but cannot wait to see what adventures Cuba has in store for us

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