They are individuals willing to get their hands dirty, be flexible, make mistakes, be challenged, and to live simply in communities around the world. They do not come as experts, but as people who have a desire to learn from others, value building relationships, and are passionate about working for peace and social justice.
This is how Wade Snowdon, coordinator of the Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program, characterizes volunteers, ages 18-30, who decide to spend a year of service with Mennonite Central Committee.
Recently, nine alumni from Eastern Mennonite University, among 51 “SALTers,” headed off to their new assignments around the globe.
Dominik Berthold ’14 (social work and psychology) from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is exit program manager at Lily of the Valley Children’s Village in South Africa.
Donavan Duttweiler ’14 (visual and communication arts) from Nunda, New York, is a community worker in Lieux de Vie in Burkina Faso.
Daniel Friesen ‘15, (psychology and kinesiology) is a manuscript editor with The Gioi World Publishing House in Vietnam.
Royals bring special peace and justice backgrounds
SALT volunteers come from many different backgrounds, Snowdon said, noting that EMU alumni are characterized by their proven “desire for and understanding of peace and social justice. They come to us with a firm foundation in what it means to humbly work alongside communities in need in ways that are empowering and help to maintain the dignity to those we serve.”
The year of SALT service often contributes to a strong resume and the development of attributes that employers find attractive, Snowdon said, including strong communication skills, creativity and adaptability, and a well-rounded and versatile skill set.
When asked if the SALT experience helped her professionally, one SALT and EMU alumna responded in the affirmative – with an exclamation point.
From SALT into the public health field
After graduating in 2012 from EMU with a degree in biology and a chemistry minor, Laura Beidler spent a year as a public health advisor with Nepali public health NGO Shanti Nepal.
“I assisted with English documentation, attended and participated in community workshops and celebrations that focused on toilet building and use, prenatal care and childhood nutrition, and taught English to my Nepali coworkers,” said Beidler, who eventually returned to the United States to earn her master’s of public health at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.
There, she found her SALT year had given her unique “practical experiences and a different perspective about public health that many of the students in my graduate school cohort did not have,” she said.
Beidler is now a health policy fellow at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, currently working with a research team studying the adoption of evidence-based innovations by health care systems.
“Living in Nepal helped me to learn to be patient and improved my ability to work with diverse groups of people,” she said.
While SALT doesn’t offer a large number of health-related assignments each year, Snowdon said that “the majority have been filled by those with nursing or biology degrees from EMU. These individuals have served in a variety of ways including as nurses and in HIV/AIDS support programs in countries such as Nepal, Nigeria, and Indonesia.”
Nicole Groff ’14 worked in such a program in Papua, Indonesia, and has developed a professional goal of becoming a physician’s assistant. “This past year has helped me to see the connection between structural/social issues and the health of people’s lives and the importance of culturally sensitive development work,” she says. “It’s helped me learn more of what I’m passionate about, but also why God has given me those passions.”