By Isabelle Verheyden

 Isabelle Verheyden is a French teacher at BEPS International School in Brussels, Belgium. She has shared a heart-warming example of how great service learning can emerge from curriculum.

Before the confinement started in Belgium my students and I were exploring the unit about ‘Human solidarity and service to the community’. As the key concept was aimed at developing communication, we were looking at different ways of expressing ourselves in writing. Once the confinement started, it became evident that writing support letters to seniors who are confined in care homes might be a project that would help a specific community. With enthusiasm and engagement, students started writing letters making sure they were relevant to the readers. Building a sense of audience and using excellent written communication skills, students demonstrated enthusiasm and empathy by producing heart-warming letters. 

The letters were given to a care home in West Brussels. Within just a few days we received an answer from their nurse:

‘I am the manager of the entertainment service at the Rest Home. We have received your letters of support. Thank you. We distributed them to residents. They were very touched by this mark of attention.  Thank you very much from us to all of these young people who shared their daily lives with us and who showed great empathy for the situation of the elderly.’

Numerous residents responded to the students, some letters were carefully written specifically for each student:

“You speak 3 languages: Arabic, French, English. I can speak  3 and a half languages! French and Dutch (my parents were both bilingual) and English learned during my humanities (I don’t know if it’s still called that today: from around 12 to 18 years old, between elementary school and university or higher education). Plus a fourth language which I learned the basics by myself. I’ll let you guess. “

“Well done for doing fencing. But for my part, I am not very athletic. I can’t even swim. It is said that young people now receive weekly swimming lessons. On the other hand, I biked and I quite like to walk, sometimes over long distances.”

“I don’t know you, but I appreciate your company. I am 86 years old and I am confined here because of this nasty virus. I know that you too are stuck at home…

you speak several languages, what a richness! I am very old; 89 years old and very talkative …”

This experience built authentic connections with my students and seniors. Now, we are reading letters out loud during our hangouts meetings and we share our feelings and emotions. We are planning to visit the care home once it is possible and safe for everyone.