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Fingerprints that never fade on the lives they touch

MRU students and professor volunteer in Malaysia
Photo includes: Heather Handley, Mercedes Galdon, Andrea Christensen, Marlene Kingsmith, Amber Trottier, Kristin Gibb.

Seven students in the Child and Youth Studies program recently made their mark in Sudah, Malaysia at the Seri Mengasih Centre for individuals with special development needs.

Professor Marlene Kingsmith, PhD accompanied the students - five in the Child and Youth Care Counsellor diploma program and two in the Bachelor of Applied Child Studies degree program - on their month-long international practicum placement in the City of Kota Kinabalu, May 1 to June 1.

Kingsmith says it was more than a trip; it was an experience - an experience that was one of the biggest highlights of her teaching career at Mount Royal.

"At the Centre, the students were working with children and young adults with Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Autism," says Kingsmith. "They were there to observe how individuals in different cultures work in these kinds of facilities, learn from them and also be a part of the teaching process."

During their time at the Centre, the students were given the opportunity to present the circle of courage to the teachers at Seri Mengasih - a Child and Youth Studies philosophy taught at Mount Royal.

"[Part of the learning experience] was for the students to observe, but our students also brought in different activities and ideas the teachers there could use. It was a two-way learning experience." Kingsmith says.

The trip wasn't all work though. During the downtime, the group participated in a kayaking trip, enjoyed a river cruise to see the Proboscis monkeys and spent the night at a beach house in the Boreal forest.

The road less travelled

Professor Marlene Kingsmith in Malaysia
Marlene Kingsmith (left) says the Malaysia trip was one of the best experiences of her life.

Getting to Malaysia took a lot more work than going online and purchasing an airplane ticket. A year's worth of preparation led up to the experience.

On top of the paperwork, interview process and general planning tasks, the students organized a fundraiser in hopes of earning $2,000 to donate to the people they were helping.

"At a silent auction fundraiser, the students ended up raising $7,000," says Kingsmith.

"Not only did it give them $2,000 to donate, but it gave them a little extra to pay for their expenses they had to cover for themselves."

The group used this money to buy the Seri Mengasih Centre supplies and purchase some musical instruments such as drums and a stand for their keyboard for the students.

Reinforcing walls, building relationships

The group also donated $500 to a family in need, which was an unexpected surprise.

After the three weeks volunteering at Seri Mengasih came to a close, the group was scheduled to visit the Don Bosco Orphanage for the final week.

That week opened up though when a complication prevented the orphanage from being able to host the group.

But one door closed another opened.

They connected with Habitat for Humanity who was in the area doing some work of its own.

"When this opportunity came up the students could have said 'I would rather go to the beach,' but that thought never crossed their minds," says Kingsmith.

The group spent the next two days digging holes and reinforcing the walls of the home of a single mother with five children - all under the age of eight.

"At the end of the first day of building, the girls were covered in mud, tired, but extremely happy," says Kingsmith. "They thought it was amazing they got to help a family who needed it in such a big way."

Leaving a legacy

At the Seri Mengasih Centre a mural created by our Mount Royal students lines the walls with the words: 'The fingerprints never fade on the lives you touch.'

This journey will be with them for the rest of their lives as much more than a great work experience.

Kingsmith also learned a lesson or two.

"The students all commented on how amazing it was to see that the people they encountered along the way were grateful for everything they have," says Kingsmith.

"It really helps you become grateful and appreciate what you have and how lucky you are. I learned how important it is to be a little more satisfied with the little things in life."

- Angela Sengaus, July 21, 2011