Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Ayni in the Global Village: Building Relationships of Reciprocity through International Service-Learning

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Ayni in the Global Village: Building Relationships of Reciprocity through International Service-Learning

Article excerpt

Reciprocity is a tenet and a prerequisite of effective service-learning programs. As practitioners, we nurture mutuality by fostering respect and collaboration between community partners and service providers. We aim to generate meaning by effectively linking formal reflection and hands-on engagement. Interdependence between constituent elements is so important it is reflected in the hyphenated term itself: service-learning (Jacoby, 1996, p. 5). In the dialectical relationship between service and learning, each depends on the other. So, too, the actors are engaged in a dynamic, interdependent relationship.

Stanton (1990) argues that mindful focus on reciprocity is a key element elevating service-learning to a philosophy of education. More than a pedestrian mode of enriching the curriculum, it is a fundamental worldview:

   an expression of values--service to others,
   community development and empowerment,
   reciprocal learning--which determines the purpose,
   nature and process of social and educational
   exchange between learners (students) and
   the people they serve, and between experiential
   education programs and the community organizations
   with which they work. (p. 67)

Jacoby (1996) adds, "Service-learning is therefore a philosophy of reciprocity, which implies a concerted effort to move from charity to justice, from service to the elimination of need" (p. 9). Reciprocal service-learning programs aim to offer a "hand-up," rather than a simple "hand-out."

This article seeks to contribute to the development of a transformative philosophy of service-learning. By presenting an indigenous Andean concept of reciprocity, or ayni (pronounced "eye-knee"), we aim to enrich our understanding of interdependent living in the global village. We offer this discussion of ayni as a metaphorical scaffold, building on the foundation of reciprocity laid through our international service-learning program. Documenting insights from the International Service-Learning Experience (ISLE) program, we offer eight applications of the concept as doorways to discuss the challenges of fostering mutual, meaningful (international) service-learning exchanges.

The Philosophy of Ayni

Ayni provides the substance to construct enduring relationships of reciprocity. Like the mud mortar that held our adobe schoolhouse together, it is both substantial and fluid. Both firm and flexible, once adobe is set in place it can weather grinding mountain windstorms, but must be habitually tended to maintain its integrity. As a guiding principle, ayni is a complex and challenging idea that prods us to ask hard questions of ourselves and our service partners. In the long term, ayni is resilient and applicable to a variety of relationships, including those we hope to build in the post-modern, post-colonial world. Ayni arises from an indigenous philosophy that stands the test of time, adapting to varied climates and surviving both conquest and capitalism.

The term ayni comes from the high terraces and craggy valleys of the majestic Andes Mountains. This is the home of the Quechua people, who, literally, were the backbone of the Inca Empire. Today they struggle both to integrate into evolving nation-states and to maintain traditional forms of community life. Family and community revolve around the boom and bust cycles of agriculture, exports, and tourism. In most Andean countries, there is little governmental infrastructure to support health, education, or economic development beyond basic provisions. Eking out a living and building for the future, whether as an amaranth farmer, teacher, three-wheeled taxi driver, or chef at a tourist hotel means relying on others in hard times and coming together to provide for the common good. Ayni has long held together relatively autonomous community and kinship groups and helped them prosper and nurture a strong sense of interdependence. (1)

Simply, ayni is the exchange of comparable work or goods as part of an ongoing cycle of reciprocity. …

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