A common question we receive in the KIVU Gap Year is regarding the faith emphasis in our program.
People ask, "What do you mean by faith?"
Or, "How is the program spiritual?"
It is one of my favorite questions to answer because we believe the spiritual aspect of our program is just as important as all the travel, internships, and college credit our students receive along the way.
We encourage students to explore the deeper questions inside of them. Who am I? What was I made to do with my life? What is my calling?
But the way our students find these answers is by going out into the world and meeting people and organizations who are already answering these questions for themselves. We do not bring you to our program to hold you hostage to our ideals. We do not ask you to sit passively in a classroom and allow us to open your head and fill it with our dogma. We invite you to go out and see the world for yourself. Explore what is out there and meet people along the way who will forever change you.
That is where our program becomes spiritual.
While most of the organizations our students work in are faith based, it is the relationships that they build in each country that do the most transforming. The world is our classroom and relationships are our professors. Each year, our class goes to a country that is predominately of a faith foreign to Americans. Our current students are immersed in a world of Hinduism in India. Our hope is that they will learn to dialogue with people who think and believe differently from them.
When you travel in the developing world, you enter a very spiritually saturated climate. Faith and politics are not divorced from each other. To be close-minded to engage faith would be to project a Western value of secular humanism that is foreign to the host culture. Thus, faith must be engaged in order to truly experience genuine immersion and reach a meaningful depth of relationship in the developing world.
We also want students to explore faith so that they can realize the positive ways in which faith can be used to build bridges to people rather than the commonly held view in the West that faith is destructive to peace building. Our students observe how faith has a remarkable way of producing social capital that is difficult to replicate in the public square. In the Philippines, our students watch an organization strategically address poverty alleviation to those living on less than $.50 a day by employing the local church. The pastor is invited into the process to host weekly gatherings and to hand pick the poorest 20 families in the community. Together they begin a sustainable 12 week program that lifts these families out of some of the most harsh aspects of poverty: hopelessness, despair, and isolation. The church and surrounding relationships thus become the center of sustainability in poverty allevation.
Thus, students are compelled to deeply engage the spiritual aspects of their lives while in our program. Not through a curriculum of dogma, but through a travel itinerary that takes them into the heart of humankind around the world. From there, our students are left to decide how faith and spirituality shapes their worldview and understanding of self.
We are always surprised with how our students respond to the impact of our program in very reflective and spiritual manners. Take these interviews as an example. We asked our students open ended questions about their 8 months of travel after returning to the States to complete the final week of the program. This is how they responded: