By Charmaine Nyakonda
Arriving in Toronto on the 29th of August 2015 from Zimbabwe I was excited and curious about studying at the University of Toronto. Coming from a community service oriented International Baccalaureate Diploma program at a United World College I was eager to carry on participating in community projects and outreaches. I met Elvis during my Step Up program scavenger hunt at the CCP office and when he told me about Alternative Reading Week; I was already on board and ready to sign up. Surprisingly I met Elvis again during the Woodsworth Frosh Week and he again told me about ARW but I was already sold from the Step Up scavenger hunt.
What made this ARW project special was the fact the 16th of February (the first day of ARW) was my birthday. Every year since my United World College experience I love to do a community service project on my birthday because I believe I wouldn’t be here without the coming together of my community. When my father passed away in 2009 it was thanks to the coming together of the community around us that my family and I managed to pull through, this is why I tend to be community service oriented.
Working with Warden Woods Community Centre was the best experience I ever had. First, I got the opportunity to make new friends from the University of Toronto but also as an international student I finally learnt how to use the SUBWAY! (I actually had not used it since I arrived in August). During our outreach at Warden Woods some of us managed to attend Woburn -Neighborhood Improvement Area Community Service Planning table. It was fascinating because I got to learn hands on how the strategic planning for community projects like building parks and recreational space happens for the people by the people. Carrying out social outreach for the community centre also exposed me to a whole diverse range of people and other organizations and instilled in me an appreciation for what Elvis and his team do. That is, going out there and finding community partners and trying hard to make a difference even when some people choose not to listen or turn them away. It is the effort and will, but most importantly the value of being reflective. Being reflective encompasses thoughtfully considering our world and our own ideas while working towards understanding how our action as not only affect our personal development but the development of people around us too.
I would totally do ARW again not only was it the best way to spend my birthday but it was a great way to take time to appreciate the work that the CCP does and also the many lessons we can obtain from interacting with the community around us. In just three days of participating in ARW I managed to learn a few key concepts in strategic planning, see an application of the concepts I learnt in my Sociology course and most importantly I can’t wait for the 2017 ARW!! I am already waiting for the sign up to start again.