Moving from volunteering to curriculum-based collaboration

Bates, C. (2014) Moving from volunteering to curriculum-based collaboration. In: 6th Living Knowledge Conference, 9-11 April 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark.


We will present the story of how interaction through volunteering between an NGO and a Higher Education Institution (HEI) can lead to curriculum-based interaction and community-based research, so that others can learn from our experiences. Wells for Zoe was established in 2005 by a retired Irish couple, Mary and John Coyne, primarily to build and install pumps to provide clean water to communities in rural Malawi. Since then the charity has grown, and has become involved in early childhood education, teacher training, test farming, local manufacturing, and community development activities. The earliest interaction between Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Wells for Zoe was in the form of volunteering, as some students spent holiday time volunteering in Malawi helping to dig wells and install and maintain pumps. One DIT Business student worked in Malawi with the charity in 2009 for his work placement module, and then introduced the Coynes to the staff in DIT’s Programme for Students Learning With Communities (SLWC), who support community-based research and community-based learning in DIT. Following an initial meeting to explore ideas and research questions from Wells for Zoe, SLWC staff disseminated these ideas to interested lecturers and students, with the result that DIT students from many disciplines have now been involved in curriculum-based projects with Wells for Zoe, and continue to be. These have ranged from digital marketing projects by Marketing students, to pump design projects by Manufacturing and Design Engineering students, and students in Chemistry and Computing have also undertaken work placements doing participatory action research in Malawi. Due to her extensive experience on these projects, Mary Coyne is now on the Advisory Board for DIT’s Programme for Students Learning With Communities, where she offers support and advice on policy and practice development to DIT staff in the area of curriculum-based community engagement. The story of this developing interaction will be of interest to Higher Education staff and Civil Society Organisations who wish to replicate this mutually beneficial model, and we will conclude by sharing the learning from our ongoing collaboration, particularly how this could be of benefit to other HEIs and community partners.

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