During their first year, students here at the Montezuma branch of United World College are required to put in two afternoons a week helping their neighbors: Their first semester is spent in the community service program; the second, in the wilderness service program. The second year, students choose to emphasize one program or the other. The wilderness program teaches them search and rescue, rock climbing, environmental preservation skills, and first aid. They also learn much about leadership and cooperation. The school provides a fully operational search-and-rescue unit for the nearby Pecos Wilderness.
The community program places students in various local institutions where their help is welcomed, including the Special Olympics, a veterinary hospital, and the Northern New Mexico Rehabilitation Center. Montezuma students have been vital to the existence of Las Vegas Latchkey program -- a community service providing afternoon care for small children -- for the last four years, according to the program's director, Diane Baca. And, Ms. Baca adds, ``I have never had any difficulties with any of the students.''
Students also cut firewood and distribute it to elderly residents of Las Vegas, work with Scout troops, and visit the house-bound in need of companionship.
During a special ``project week,'' students are sent to communities such as Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M., and Dallas, to hold workshops about their countries and cultures for schools in those areas. Other projects involve anthropological studies, working on a ranch, or one of a variety of 10-day efforts.
Nabina Rajbhandari, from Nepal, devotes one afternoon each week to the Latchkey program and one afternoon to visiting a house-bound woman -- a task she says ``can be depressing work sometimes.'' She looks forward to her afternoons with the Latchkey children. ``They bring me back to life again,'' she says.
At the State Hospital, Daisy Rice, coordinator of deaf and blind services, says, ``The students are at a point when their little minds are opening up and their hearts are bursting forth.'' A member of both the national and state committees for the handicapped and a recipient of the Deaf Woman of the Year Award, Ms. Rice has worked with the students for a number of years. Her goal, she says, is ``to get the students to see the patients first as people, second as handicapped, third as able to overcome the disability with a little help.'' She wants the students to ``learn to look for these people in their own countries, to see that they are there, and they have rights.''
The students' work at the hospital consists of anything from simply visiting with elderly patients to drilling patients in speech and hearing techniques. They are always trained for any actual drill work they do. ``We implement the therapy, and then the students give them the hours of practice they need,'' says Rice.
Many students, particularly those from the third-world countries -- because they have seen so much poverty and suffering -- are indifferent to people who are less fortunate, Rice says.
``When they first start working with me they say things such as, `I suppose there are deaf people in my country.' '' Later, says Rice, ``letters I have received tell me that they went home and found them.''
One story, which Rice calls her ``best success'' story, involved a young woman from Swaziland. During her time with Rice, Anita Henwood collected inexpensive teaching materials -- lesson books, a tool used to write Braille, and other items she knew would not be available in her own country.
When Ms. Henwood had returned home and found a group working with the handicapped in Swaziland, Rice shipped her the tools. ``One book, one tool to begin with, that's all they need,'' says Rice.
-- Shannon A. Horst