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Five Year Olds to the Rescue, With a Smile

Liliam Farias Arango, EY3 Teacher, International School of Havana, Cuba

Have you ever wondered how much your students know about their local community? Or how much their community knows about them? I teach a class of five-year-olds at the International School of Havana. In Cuba, time is turning, and it seems that the host country is more open to opportunities for interaction with foreign institutions.


As international teachers, we aspire to offer a highquality educational experience that instills intercultural understanding and global citizenship in our students. However, how can we connect our students with the world beyond them if we do not involve them first with the world that surrounds them? How can we expect them to make a difference in the big problems that inevitably arise in a globalized world if we do not start by helping them acknowledge differences and develop empathy and care for the community that is physically reachable to them wherever they are in the world?

In the past two years I have seen my students thrive, especially when I have been able to integrate service learning within the curriculum. Recently, I organized an interaction with the local community for International Women’s Day.


It began with a service learning activity that lasted about two weeks during which my students, with the support of my co-teacher, transformed recycled paper into handcrafted greeting cards. My students wrote cheerful messages to brighten the community around our neighborhood, and then they distributed the cards in person. That was only the second year that we conducted a Women’s Day neighbor walk, but judging by the warm welcome we received at the Cuban Red Cross, people seemed to be expecting us!


One of our neighbors from the Cuban Red Cross was so moved by our visit that she still had her card from the previous year! The flower shop at the corner gave us bunches of flowers, and the children brought the flowers back to their teachers. The activity exposed the students to a great experience, and they were the protagonists of it all.


This was an opportunity for students to develop skills and gain knowledge with both a real purpose and for the benefit of others in the school and the local community. The students were exposed to elements of the local culture in an environmentally friendly activity through which they learned about the importance of recycling and sorting rubbish. They practiced reading and writing when making the cards, and they counted and made predictions by applying mathematical knowledge. They also became critical thinkers when they found they had thirteen cards, and one of them asked, “But, what if there are more women than cards?” That led us to make more cards, and the students elaborated on a plan based on that prerogative. The result was that we elicited lots of smiles—and not only from the women; we cheered up the whole neighborhood. It was a win-win for everyone involved!


Service learning can be used to enhance the curriculum at any educational level, including the early years. Service helps students succeed in different areas of the curriculum while building character and developing social skills, moral values, and empathy.

Engaging in service learning helps students develop intercultural awareness, respect, and understanding of diversity. This approach to learning puts students on the right track to becoming the global citizens we hope they will become. Ultimately, we learned that simple things such as an act of kindness or a smile are all it takes to truly connect us. After all, aren’t these the little things that matter?

Published in ISS NewsLinks: Volume XXXII Number 3

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