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Irvine students prepare for service learning trip

When Kate Batstone came home from a service learning trip to Ecuador two years ago, she struggled to re-adapt to Orange County’s culture of affluence.

“It’s really hard to come home when you’re leaving behind so many problems,” Batstone, 18, said. “You really want to stay. Orange County is so nice. There’s unbelievable shopping and spending. I was so angry at the wastefulness.”

Batstone, a student at the Jewish community day school Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine, is going on her second service learning trip with 23 other classmates next month.

Students will spend two weeks at the White Earth reservation in Minnesota, learning and assisting in community projects with members of the Anishinabe tribe.

“I’m really excited,” Batstone said. “I think their culture is very interesting, and this is something that really hasn’t been done before.”

Plans for the trip include planting a community garden, building a wigwam and painting a mural at a school.

“It’s really important that you don’t just go somewhere and fix things,” said Tarbut V’Torah teacher Susan Miller, who is leading the trip. “You have to go in the direction that the community needs. What we feel like ... they may need and what they feel they need is always different.”

The trip is designed to teach the students the value of Tikkun Olam, Hebrew for “repair the world,” and leaving the world better for tomorrow, she said.

Equally as important — if not more so — students and tribe members also will be able to exchange cultural ideas and history, said Amy LeClaire-Sachs, spokeswoman for the Global Citizens Network, the nonprofit that coordinated the trip.

“It’s an opportunity for the tribe and the community to share an accurate history, something more thoughtful than just a book,” she said. “It’s a hands-on experience for the kids that they’ll never forget and they’ll bring it home and hopefully share for generations to come.”

The students did not know where the service learning trip would take them, but for Seth Winkler, 18, the location was the least important element of the experience.

“It doesn’t matter where we’re going,” Winkler said. “It’s what we’re doing. At the end of the day, it’s volunteering and bettering the community that matters.”

This is the fourth service trip for Tarbut V’Torah students; the previous three were to Kenya, Ecuador and the Cook Islands.

Students had to raise about $60,000 total for the trip, Miller said.

“The students are going to walk away from this with not only a cultural experience, but with the skill set to make them real leaders in the future,” Miller said.

Twitter: @speters01