|Students and custodians together, in no particular order, just friends.|
I participated in a community based learning project in my Leadership Class at American University in Cairo this semester. My students designed it. We developed it and implemented it together.
Community Based Learning is similar to Service Learning. According to Thomas Ehrlich
"Students learn best not by reading the Great Books in a closed room but by opening the doors and windows of experience."
CBL or service learning must respond to an expressed need in the community. It must support the students learning and address a community need. It must be reciprocal.
In addition, the project must provide students with an opportunity for reflection. The instructor must help the students connect the service with academic and professional learning.
According to the Gerhart Center, the project must be aligned with course goals, it must empower the community, the community must be an equal partner, the project must embody civic responsibility, and the results must be disseminated.
I have set up a website in order to disseminate the results of this project. You can take a look at it here at the Custodian Project. Let me just say that my work was inspired by Yahia Shawkat's work, which I profiled in a previous post. This project was also inspired by the Clinton School's emphasis on service learning, and by the Gerhart Center's work on the same.
The gist of the project was that we wore custodian uniforms. We worked for two hours doing the custodians' jobs of cleaning the bathrooms and cleaning the classrooms. The custodians were the teachers and the supervisors, and we were the workers. They trained, we worked. We inverted the pyramid of class and privilege at our university for a short time.
|Fatma, Hend, Seham and Hend training us about cleaning techniques.|
|Students and professors listen intently as we are trained about how to clean bathrooms and classrooms.|
This project may not be very interesting in America where hard work can help you move up in life. Yet in Egypt, where there is a extremely strict class hierarchy as I have mentioned in previous posts, this project is potentially radical.
The goal of the project was to embody the spirit of Tahrir's slogan: freedom, integrity, social justice. I think we at least were able to embody the last two ideas.
The initial results have been positive. One of my students commented,
It was a great experience. I learned that it is not enough to just feel sympathy about someone unless you put yourself into his/her situation. That is exactly what happened to me when I worked as a custodian for less than 2 hrs.
Their tolerance and patience to fulfill the tasks, as well as their efforts with us to teach the mechanism of work make me think that they themselves are the real leaders. Dear great and devoted custodians, in brief, our life without you is unbearable.
One of the custodians commented,
I would like to thank you  for what you did, and I want to tell that I have a wonderful feeling of your interest in custodians and their work and thinking of them. I am really impressed of your act and it proves that not the whole community is avoiding us and there are some people who cares about our feelings and our efforts to serve the AUC community. In addition I wish to see other staff members and AUC students thinking the same way you did. Many Thanks.
Again, you can read more about this exciting project here
We still want to do a lot more work on dissemination. We have video, we want to make something for you tube. We want to set up a display on campus with our hundreds of photos. We are still working on reflection and analysis, but I wanted to let you in on this amazing educational experience.