Posted on June 13, 2019

Eighteen Texas A&M at Qatar engineering students and spent nine days this summer volunteering in Laos as part of the annual Aggie Service-Learning Experience.

The program gives students the opportunity to practice their engineering skills as they worked with local villagers to build an eco-bungalow with all profits going to the village once completed. They cut straws, sifted sand, made mud bricks and plastered and shaved the bricks to build a wall. What makes the program distinct is thateach year a community with an expressed need is empowered by the volunteer work done by the studentsand not exploited or used. Even before the trip, the group participated in various service activities in Doha, including hosting a blood drive, participating in an autism walk, organizing beach clean-ups andvolunteering at the Qatar Animal Welfare Society.

In Laos, the participants also developed their own soft skills by staying with homestays, learning some of the local language, visiting religious sites and participating in written and verbal reflections. It’s a program — rooted in the Aggie core value of selfless service and promoting intercultural communication — to provide students volunteering opportunities, which at the same time helps students grow as individuals and learn through real-life experiences. One of the participants and student leader, Abdulkarim Mohamed, said, “I wanted to help guide the students through this trip in a way they can gain culturally as well as personally. But I found that at the same time I can learn so much from theparticipants and that was a rewarding experience. Seeing how much the participants have developed on this trip is exceptional and it was a pleasure giving back to the community as much as we can.”

Student leaders were participants in the program while also having added responsibilities. They acted as a bridge between students and the program coordinator, were responsible for a small group of students, planned and facilitated reflection sessions, helped manage the work site and provided emotional support toparticipants. Aisha Al-Naemi said, “I wanted to become a leader to improve my communication skills and enhance my problem-solving abilities. In this experience I gained lessons in both intercultural connection and compassion. I’ve learned that leading by example can give guidance.”

One faculty and one staff member from Texas A&M at Qatar also participated in the program.They do not act as chaperones or coordinators; they participate in all aspects of the program just like student participants. The staff participant, Abir Raslan, said she was “very blessed to be a member of this amazing team and inspiring leadership.” Erin Wehrenberg, the program coordinator, said, “How you show up to do the service is just as important as the service itself. For example, do you listen and engage respectfully? Are you trying to build a respectful connection with the people?Our participants this year did an amazing job of opening themselves up to these concepts and more and also did amazing at the physical part of it!”