Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Student Reflection

by Bridget Kern

Over the past few weeks I have experienced a new service learning opportunity. While I still attend Spanish Story Time at the Urbana Free Library every month, I also found myself volunteering with the School of Social Work. When I initially signed up to work with the School of Social Work, I thought that I would be babysitting children while their mothers attended a weekly seminar about depression. Once I arrived however, I found that I had been recruited for a different task. The director of the group sessions found that during the course of the semester many women were unable to make it to the weekly group meetings because their carpool driver had other commitments and no other transportation was available to them. While Champaign-Urbana has one of the best bus systems in the state, many of the women were intimidated to utilize the bus as a method of travel because the schedules, buses and signs are all in English. My new project for the School of Social Work is to meet women without transportation at their homes and teach them how to use the MTD to get to their group meetings on campus.

At first I was very nervous about this volunteer project. I was not concerned so much about speaking Spanish with the women; I was more worried about trying to find my way around parts of Urbana that I had never been to before to meet the woman I was working with. These feeling however helped me empathize with how the women trying to use the buses to come to campus must feel. If it was this stressful for me to use the bus to get to a new part of Urbana, it must be much more difficult for someone who doesn’t speak English to work up the courage to take a bus and not know they will be able to get directions if they need to. After catching the Gold route bus, I successfully arrived at Perkins Rd and Cunningham Ave to meet with the woman and her children. I found it was difficult to explain the idea of a transfer because the woman had never used the bus before. Even though I did not know the word in Spanish for transfer, I explained to the woman could get off the bus at a central bus terminal and then change to any other route which would take her anywhere she wanted to go in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Overall this service project has left me feeling like I made a positive impact on someone’s life. The woman that I was working with had never ridden the bus before in her life, which meant that she was dependent on her mother or brother to drive her and her daughters wherever she needed to go. Now that someone took the time to show her how to use the bus she can be more independent. This will help her greatly in feeling like she has more control over her own life. Instead of depending on a family member to take her to work, she can now take the bus which stops almost directly in front of her place of employment. Riding the bus will open up many opportunities for all of the women who attend the group and are dependent on others for transportation. The women can now feel free to schedule appointments at their convenience, shop whenever they like and set their own work schedules. While many of the women signed up for group sessions with the School of Social Work to learn about depression, some of the women have learned how to become more independent by riding the bus.

1 comment:

  1. Valerie M. WilhiteApril 1, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    My cousin just packed his family back up to return to Colombia. He gave up his pursuit of the "American" dream because he, unlike what you describe, had never considered how hard it would be to find a way to get out in his community in the US without public transportation. He is used to a place where a bus passes by every 5 seconds and there are ... See Moremore expensive buses that are nicer and take you almost exactly where you need to go, and there is a fancier but cheaper "bus" system that functions like a metro.
    It was only one of the obstacles he found here but it was the most important one.
    Too bad we can't clone you to have one in each town in the US. He is devastated and so is the rest of my family. Every time you help one person understand, si se puede, you are doing something for them and their children and larger family. The link between depression and empowerment and conquering what seems impossible is not to be minimized. What you can offer IS helping prevent depression in those who have it building in them or you are chipping away at its cause in those who are already submerged fully.