Christine Smith
Christine Smith with a child from Peru. Photos courtesy of Christine Smith

Since spending two weeks in Peru in May, Christine Smith can’t wait to go back.

She wasn’t vacationing in the South American country. She and other U of G students volunteered with elementary schoolchildren in the capital Lima for Project Serve International, co-ordinated through Guelph’s Student Life. “It was such a great experience, I wanted it to carry on for a month or more,” says Smith, who graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

The U of G students arrived at the school in the district of San Juan de Miraflores to find children waving Canadian flags. “We hadn’t even done anything for them at that point,” she says. “It was such a good welcome.”

Before heading to Peru, Smith took the course “Civic Engagement and Service Learning,” which focused on sport for development. Offered through the office of the vice-president (academic) and co-ordinated by Student Life, the course invites students to learn about community engagement locally and abroad. Those students volunteer to run group activities with Guelph organizations.

They may also participate in an international service learning experience in the spring term to learn more about using sport for development and community engagement. “Sport can be a medium to get different messages across,” says Smith. “It’s been done for HIV and AIDS awareness. It’s been done for peacekeeping and social-skill building and conflict resolution.”

Peruvian children greet U of G students with Canadian flags.
Children greet U of G students with Canadian and Peruvian flags.

In Peru, the U of G students ran a program using games to teach schoolchildren about health and hygiene while building social skills and having fun. Passing a ball behind their backs, for instance, showed kids how germs can spread and the importance of handwashing.

The Guelph students took along sports equipment and jerseys donated by local high schools. They paid for their travel expenses, including flight, accommodation and food, through Project Serve International.

Through Student Life’s partnership with Solidarity Experiences Abroad, they worked with a community-based organization called Construyendo Communidad to learn which lessons the schoolchildren needed most. In Lima, they focused on building self-esteem, confidence and teamwork.

“We kept those things in mind,” says Smith, “but a lot of the planning happened while we were there.” Using play-based lessons and a technique from Right to Play, she and other students asked the schoolchildren to reflect on each activity, connect it to other parts of their lives and apply the lessons learned.

Maija Irvine, a fourth-year human kinetics student and co-president of U of G’s Right to Play chapter, says “sharing my knowledge and experience with Right to Play was also very rewarding. Hopefully, they continue to play the games and activities we shared.”

Peruvian children
Peruvian children

Learning went both ways when the students worked with teachers at the school, says Smith. “We wanted to make sure it was a collaborative environment so we would learn from them, too. They were really receptive to what we were doing.” They communicated with the help of a translator – and the Spanish lessons they had taken in Guelph.

The students also applied what they had learned in their civic engagement course – such as how to conduct a needs assessment — and through volunteering in Guelph. At the YMCA-YWCA of Guelph last winter, Smith helped plan a sport camp curriculum using minimal resources. “We’re taking whatever we learned in class and bringing it to Peru and applying it in a completely new setting. It was the first time any of us had been to Peru, so it was a bit nerve-racking.”

The U of G course brings together students from any program. Smith signed up on a friend’s recommendation in order to expand her learning beyond traditional assignments, lectures and exams. “I was very much interested in health promotion,” she says.

Now Smith wants to work in global health promotion or population health, and plans to pursue a master’s degree. She also plans to return to Peru in January to lead an arts-based program with Construyendo Communidad.

Says Frank Tersigni, a fourth-year international development student, “When we left the school, the principal told us that the school was now our home. I certainly felt right at home.”

“Civic Engagement and Service Learning” will be offered in January for up to 30 students. Information sessions about the course will take place Sept. 30 to Oct. 3.

For more information, visit or contact Janet Doner, manager of community engagement and global citizenship, at