OCE Student Profile Series
by Laura Stephens
Senior Chandra Chea definitely knows what it is to serve. With leadership roles in organizations such as Students Helping Honduras and the Williamsburg Engagement Head Start Program, among others, she what is to innovate. However, she never loses sight of people, who are at the heart of engagement for her. Here, she shares her reflections on some of her experiences, and what connecting with others means to her.
At William and Mary, I am currently involved with the Office of Community Engagement and have had the opportunity to lead a group of students to Williamsburg Head Start weekly to volunteer with the children over this past year. Head Start teachers work diligently with parents to make sure their students do not fall behind before they start their education as kindergartners. In a packed classroom of students ranging from three to five, the teacher and teacher assistant are unable to provide individualized attention to each child. Through the collaborative program with William and Mary, volunteers offer extra assistance, helping to create a more productive classroom. The work that William and Mary students do in the classrooms helps to fill the gaps by giving support to the teachers.
I also promote community engagement through my involvement as a trip leader with the organization Students Helping Honduras (SHH), which focuses on combating the rampant gang violence in Honduras through providing children with access to education. Each year, students travel to El Progreso, Honduras to help build schools and learn about the culture. While in Honduras, students work alongside people in the community and learn the importance of sweat equity. On campus, we raise funds for schools in various communities across Honduras and increase awareness about the link between poverty, violence, and education while also stressing the importance of global collaboration and service. Spending time with Head Start and SHH has given me a greater understanding of what it means to be an active citizen. To me, active citizenship means taking these opportunities to experience a different side of life and using them to inspire you to ask questions and make a change for the better.
During my time with SHH, I was able to spend time with Shin Fujiyama, the founder of the organization, during my trip and I was exposed to importance of cultural literacy and the struggles of international aid and fundraising. What I learned during my trip has inspired me to raise awareness and get other students involved in the issues that plague Honduras. My work with Head Start pushed me to question the education system in the United States, and has given me a glimpse of the effects of poverty on childhood education. These organizations have sparked my interest in education and given me a chance to explore passions outside of my major. By collaborating with other William and Mary students, I saw the strength in working with people who are passionate about the same issues.
Moving forward after graduation, I hope to surround myself with individuals that display the same qualities I saw in my peers at William and Mary and spend my life working in a field that is filled with passion and enthusiasm for creating change. My time traveling and serving communities have been filled with amazing experiences that have changed me and given me memories that I will cherish. The most memorable moment for me happened recently in a Head Start classroom. I was sitting with a young boy working on an art project for Mother’s Day and he was told to sign his name at the bottom. He whispered to me that he did not know how to write his name and asked me to write it for him. Instead, I worked on each letter with him until he was able to write it himself. After a few tries he wrote his name fully on his artwork and a look of joy spread across his face. He turned to me and asked if he had done it correctly, and when I nodded he screamed with excitement. He ran to his teacher and told her the good news and smiled wide as she put a sticker on him. While a seemingly small accomplishment, he had learned how to do something that he had given up on. Service, to me, is about these small moments.