Columbia Independent School students travel across the world for service trip

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“When we first got there, the kids gave us a big welcome,” Brennen said. “They were just so excited to see us.”

Contributed photo by Adam Dubé/Columbia Independent School: Seven seniors from Columbia Independent School visited Papua New Guinea this past month to build housing at the Omo Community School in Omo village.

Seven incoming seniors at Columbia Independent School traveled halfway around the world last month to help build a home for a teacher in Papua New Guinea.

While there, the students forged bonds with residents of the village as well as lasting memories. They described a rain-soaked soccer game, bats that looked like dragons and a village dance featuring a shark costume.

The students spent the first two weeks of June building housing at the Omo Community School in Omo village; it serves nearly 280 students from ages 6 to 17.

The CIS students who traveled abroad were Charlie Bondurant, Khristen Bryant, Henry Cleavinger, Josh Cohen, Mikayla Fraunfelder, Brennen Roehlke and Nathan Weil.

“When we first got there, the kids gave us a big welcome,” Brennen said. “They were just so excited to see us.”

It was the seventh international trip for CIS in partnership with Be the Change Volunteers, a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving educational opportunities in the developing world. CIS students previously have traveled to South Africa, India, Guatemala, Malawi and Peru.

The trips also are part of the private school’s Global Perspectives curriculum, which is meant to give students a wider awareness of the world.

Henry Cleavinger said his most memorable moment from the trip was playing soccer in the rain.

“It was really just an excuse to splash water on each other,” he said. “It was just mayhem.”

There was no soccer goal, he said, so teams attempted to kick the ball into a stick. Students also played rugby with the children.

Brennen said it was satisfying to see everything the students and other volunteers had accomplished by the final day of the trip. What had been a patch of grass when they arrived was now the beginning of a house, with a frame, windows and a roof.

Adam Dubé, head of school for CIS, led the students on the trip. He said five of them helped him teach a math concept to students in the village.

“They have no textbooks or electricity, so it was just all of us in a very hot, dark classroom with only notebooks, pencils and about 30 eager … students ready to learn,” Dubé said.

He said the service trips help CIS students understand their place in the world.

“Developing a global perspective is a cornerstone of a CIS education, and developing empathy is key to this perspective,” he said.

Henry and Brennen said meals mostly consisted of seafood and rice, though a variety of fruit grew on trees in the region. They said the cooks also made them pizza one of the days.

“It was excellent pizza,” Brennen said. He said the bananas in Papua New Guinea are far superior to the ones available at local grocery stores.

They said the wildlife was interesting, particularly large fruit bats that flew around during the day.

“They looked like dragons when they flew,” Brennen said.

After finishing work on the final day in the village, residents and village elders thanked the students. The villagers performed traditional dances, including one featuring a person in a shark costume.

Henry said some of the homes were built using sheet metal on a wood frame. “It definitely popped my developed-world bubble,” he said.

Brennen said there was a great sense of community in the village.

“The experience is something I’ll never forget,” he said.