This impact story was originally posted by Notre Dame student Parker Revers in February of 2020, prior to the pandemic. It provides an excellent overview of the impact ISSLP has on students that are fortunate enough to participate in the program. We look forward to its continuation in the near future.
I participated in the Center for Social Concern’s International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) after my freshman year with the Holy Cross Mission in rural Bangladesh. HCM serves four parishes across the Bangladesh tribal diocese as well as several academic institutions, namely Notre Dame College Mymensingh and Notre Dame College Dhaka. The projects are ambitious and their impacts are felt far and wide. I was fortunate to visit new buildings at both colleges and am certain they are excellent foundations for specialized educations for children who would otherwise have no opportunity at all.
Though there was no typical day in Bangladesh, I spent most mornings teaching English to 40-person classes: boys and girls, aged 10 to 16. I quite clearly remember the first few days of class when the children would file in and the boys would sit on the left side of the classroom, girls on the other. I looked to my site partner, former Baraka Bouts boxing captain Jackson Wrede, and we made it our priority to remove the cultural “cooties” from our Bengali classroom.
The rest of the summer, before classes started, we would mix up seating arrangements to encourage the kids to sit next to new people, especially of the opposite gender. We played a lot of group games – enough so that by the end of the summer the children spoke and played naturally with each other – an unprecedented feat in a deep culture of gender oppression.
Typical afternoons were dedicated to traveling to nearby parishes. We would meet the other villagers, go to Mass, and often eat a late lunch in the village leader’s home. The meals were surreal experiences. The hosts were incredibly nice, prepared amazingly fresh food, and though we couldn’t communicate very well, we certainly shared many big smiles and laughs.
We would generally return home with a few hours of free time before dinner. Typically, Jackson and I would climb to the roof of the school, strip to our shorts because of the suffocating heat, and work out. We did everything from throw mitts, lift socks filled with bricks or buckets full of water, and do pull-ups from the roof’s overhang. I remember doing push-ups, looking down, and seeing my reflection in a pool of sweat. I loved those moments.
There were other days when it would be a torrential downpour, but because Jackson and I loved our roof-time, we would persevere through storms. The roof does not call attention to our most conscientious decisions, but it did kindle some untamed emotions – we were alone, on the opposite side of the world, and would really push ourselves. Occasionally, a big, red Bengali sun would begin to set around 6 pm, and we had the best vantage point in the village – a sublime way to end a full day.
Last summer our traveling boxers reported the funding of a new basketball court at the Khallipur parish to provide children with a fun and safe environment, as well as the APON and Baraca Rehabilitation Centers for Addicts, which are residential facilities that target underprivileged, youth addicts as young as five. Bengal Bouts covered all of the children’s food, housing, and elementary classes during rehab. When I lived in Sreemangel, Bangladesh 3 years ago, there was a musing mention of building a computer lab throughout the parishes, providing internet access – and meaningful educational opportunities – to those in need. The club’s seeming perpetuity will hopefully turn such daydreams into reality over the coming years.
Notre Dame has both a Men’s and Women’s Boxing Program that supports missions in Bangladesh and Tanzania respectively. Both Parker and Jackson participated in the annual Bengal Bouts held on campus as students.