By Grecia Sarda '14
From providing educational opportunities for young children in Cambodia, to building an avalanche retaining wall in Nepal, The American School In Switzerland (TASIS) Global Service Program has truly enhanced the meaning of active service. By granting each student an opportunity to serve both locally and abroad, TASIS is now instilling a devotion to serve upon both its students and alumni. The program was envisioned and made possible through the generous donation of Mr. Jan Opsahl, a TASIS alumnus, along with the ambition and guidance of Mr. Zach Mulert, the service learning coordinator. Through the formation of the Opsahl Global Service Endowment, TASIS has been granted the distinct ability to not only invest in the moral development and responsibility of its students, but also, ensure an educational future for children, engineer ways to purify drinking water in developing countries, and promote entrepreneurship for women who face gender inequality. In essence, TASIS is transforming the lives of its students by providing a global service program that awakens students to humanitarian needs, builds moral character, and raises active service and empathy in multicultural communities.
In order to provide its students with awareness of humanitarian needs, such as education and sanitation, the TASIS Global Service Program is working to ensure that these basic worldly essentials are met and experienced by its students. To fully ensure educational opportunities in a healthy learning environment, TASIS students travel to Siem Riep, Cambodia and Bhubaneswar, India. By the end of their two-week service trips, the students further enhance the children’s English, renovate the school cafeteria and construct sidewalks and trash dispensaries. To introduce a new, upcoming sanitation project, Mr. Mulert stated in an interview, “This year, we will start water installation projects.” For these specific two-week programs, the students will engineer ways in which to purify water, and have it processed throughout the region of Odisha, India. Through these two programs in Cambodia and India, the TASIS Global Service Program is awakening its volunteers to further develop and realize worldly and cultural problems in today’s society. Mr. Mulert describes the vision which Mr. Opsahl, the benefactor, was inspired by to form the service trips by stating, “Mr. Opsahl decided that it was much more empowering to give young people the opportunity to experience global service first hand…” As Mr. Mulert mentions, it is TASIS Global Service Program’s ambition to have its participants emotionally connect with those whom they are helping. As a result of their personal experiences and stories, TASIS believes that the students will develop into morally correct and responsible adults, willing to serve and carry their experiences outside of the global service program.
By achieving a moral character and developing responsible qualities, students will take it upon themselves to continually meet humanitarian needs. In the interview, Mr. Mulert describes the process as, “Seeing is believing. You can’t teach character, you have to live it.” In essence, theTASIS Global Service Program is aiming to give its volunteers the necessary tools and opportunities that will engrave unique experiences in the lives of the service participants. As Mr. Mulert states, “We really hope we touch the souls of the students.” To further focus on the building of moral character, the TASIS Global Service Program works to meet basic housing needs. In order to instill morals and ethical responsibilities amongst its students, the participants donate their two-week spring break holiday to serve in the Himalayan Mountains. Given that Tibetan refugees face many hardships surviving high in the mountains, TASIS students work hand-in-hand to build infrastructure that will help sustain the community. Through the Nepal service trip, the students become encompassed in service, and as a result, become selfless beings that think beyond their own needs and desires. The TASIS Global Service Program firmly believes that by helping others benefit, the volunteers will also benefit in the process. The goal is to become altruistic, and devote time and effort to volunteerism. Because TASIS is a global community, its students can extend to worldly subjects and needs. Mr. Mulert contends, “It is all very optimistic and hopeful.”
To better promote active service and build empathy in their volunteers, the TASIS Global Service Program works locally in Lugano, Switzerland as well. TASIS students work with the local shelter, Casa Elisabetta, which houses disadvantaged mothers and their children, as well as SOS Ticino, which provides aid and support to refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. In addition, TASIS is now developing a technique that will further embed its students in their service work. To carry out this mission, the organization is now using nametags to form more enduring relationships. Mr. Mulert states, “There will be a more close-bonded and real relationship, so that you don’t forget that person or forget that smile.”
To teach students empathy, TASIS also works with the organization, WISER Kenya, which is an all-girls boarding school in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. The organization allows the TASIS Global Service Program to focus on the issue of gender equality during a ten-day service trip. While in Kenya, the volunteers educate the WISER schoolgirls on topics such as HIV and women’s role in entrepreneurship. Ultimately, the Global Service Program is trying to empower the young women through education and knowledge about their roles in unequal-gender societies. By providing its students with the opportunity to serve and build empathy, TASIS Global Service is creating a connection of empowerment that will encourage its participants to serve others, and ultimately, realize that it not only benefits those being assisted, but the community as a whole.
As the essential focus of the organization, The American School In Switzerland (TASIS) Global Service Program bases its mission on three main selfless topics: to awaken its students to humanitarian needs, to build moral character, and lastly, raise active service and empathy in its volunteers. Through global service work and volunteering in countries such as Cambodia, Nepal, India and Kenya, as well as locally in Lugano, the students are able to achieve the overall mission and aspiration of the organization. On behalf of Mr. Jan Opsahl’s founding of the program, and Mr. Zach Mulert’s coordinating and maintenance, TASIS is now extending and reaching new horizons in countries such as Morocco, Bulgaria, Ethiopia and Malawi. Due to the large success of TASIS Global Service Program, the organization is now able to continue its global mission to meet the needs of children and families worldwide. Mr. Mulert concludes the interview by stating, “Conversations with students about their personal experiences after they’ve come back from a trip, is the only evidence we have thus far that measures the depth and effectiveness of the social work.”
TASIS Global Service Program
The Global Service Program was envisioned by Jan Opsahl ’68, who became the first international student at TASIS when he came from Norway in 1965. The pioneering program was launched in 2013 with major support from a most generous donation from Mr. Opsahl and his family to set up the Global Service Trust. This Trust, along with support from the TASIS Foundation, make this incredible, life-changing experience for our students possible.
The Global Service Program transforms lives by providing every High School student a unique opportunity to connect across borders through comprehensive experiences that build empathy and encourage personal responsibility. Participation in the program—which is designed to awaken students to humanitarian needs, inspire them to build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships, and lead them toward a life of active citizenship and committed service—is a graduation requirement.