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|Established as Toronto's first public college in 1966, Centennial College offers programs in business, communications, community and health studies, science and engineering technology, general arts, hospitality and transportation.|
Sanghmitra Kamble was struck by the similarities between the scenes of Cusco, Peru and her native Mumbai, India.
“Cusco looked a lot like home to me,” Kamble recalls, judging by the streets, the buildings – and the poverty that was evident to visitors like her. Surprisingly, it relieved some of the anxiety Kamble felt when she landed in the South American nation in March as part of her “global citizenship” experience as a Centennial College student.
Each year, Centennial offers its Global Citizenship and Equity Learning Experiences (GCELEs) to selected students who are keen to immerse themselves in another culture for two weeks. In addition to Cusco, Centennial students and staff were dispatched to “service learning” opportunities in Roatan, Honduras, as well as the aboriginal community of Walpole Island in Ontario.
Students and accompanying staff members are encouraged to apply for the trips, and are interviewed to determine qualifications, experience, skills and fit. Intensive orientation sessions ensure participants are prepared for the work ahead of them. Centennial pays for their basic travel expenses.
That an international student fresh from India, with just a couple of months of experience in Canada, was selected to travel to Peru speaks to the laudable goal of ensuring anyone with a healthy curiosity is eligible. Kamble was drawn to Peru because it offered the opportunity to help an impoverished people.
“I chose Peru because it was described as a construction mission,” she says. “I liked the idea of building shelter – it’s essential to life and I wanted to contribute.”
The construction projects in the rural communities surrounding the World Heritage Site of Cusco involve volunteers using local materials and contemporary project management processes. Students collaborate with local residents on sustainable community development, as well as learning leadership, resource and planning skills.
“I would not have gotten an opportunity like this in India, where we are not accustomed to going abroad to participate in development projects,” says Kamble.
The journey from Toronto involved a six-hour flight to Bogota, Columbia, another five hours to Lima, Peru, and a short flight to Cusco, which is situated 11,000 feet above sea level. The brief flight contravenes what travel doctors advise ought to be a slow ascent.
It’s the chief reason why altitude sickness among tourists is so prevalent. Symptoms can include headaches, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, dizziness and the sensation of pins and needles.
“I personally felt headaches and breathlessness. The locals recommended their coca tea to help the sickness, which really did rejuvenate us!” Kamble says.
Her team of eight Centennial students and three staff members made their temporary home in a large guesthouse in Cusco. They reported to a volunteer agency known as Maximo Nivel for orientation and Spanish classes each morning.
After lunch, Kamble and her colleagues would change into their work clothes and catch a bus to take them another 1,000 feet into the mountains to the village of Tica Tica, where they contributed to the construction of a pre-school building for young children.
“We would plaster the walls and dig the floor. Both jobs were very messy and it wasn’t easy work,” Kamble says. “The village kids would come to ask us if they could help, but they were so young and tiny. They were quite attached to us.”
The crew would work all afternoon, then ride the bus back down the mountain. Sometimes the road was so washed out from the frequent rain, they were forced to walk part of the way on their own. It was all part of the immersive experience of coping in an environment far from the comforts of home.
“I have a new appreciation for different cultures – and the meaning of giving. The villagers treated us to corn and cheese, the very best food they could offer. What I learned is that when you don’t have much to give, it’s the intention that counts the most.”
It’s a lesson that is not lost on Kamble, an international student who grew up in the metropolis of Mumbai, where she had earned an MBA. Kamble had worked as a financial portfolio manager back home, but harboured a keen interest in going abroad.
“I had friends who were studying at Centennial College in Toronto, and they encouraged me to join them,” she says. Finding a post-diploma program in International Business Management on the college website, she applied and was delighted to be accepted.
She arrived in Canada in January to start her program – and her apprenticeship in global citizenship. She saw first-hand how hard life is in Peru and discovered that contributing to that society by building a pre-school can be an important and life-affirming endeavour. She returned to Toronto motivated to do more.
“In everyday life, being good to others is very important,” she counsels. “Putting a smile on everyone’s face is important, too.”
For information about Centennial College’s School of Business programs, visit: www.centennialcollege.ca/business