Bangor – A group of Swedish students and two of their teachers lent helping hands Monday at Manna Ministries as part of an exchange program.
Mernaz Arbab, Johannes Molin, and Amal Said, all 18-year-old high school seniors from Umea, Sweden, greeted the people who were sitting down to a hot meal on a cold night at Manna.
They introduced themselves in their native languages of Faeroese and Swedish to about 40 Bangor residents, all of whom seemed curious and grateful that the newcomers were there to help.
The students and their teachers, Annika Bindler and Pontus Clarin, served the spaghetti dinner, complete with breadsticks, salad and cake or pie for dessert.
Before the group ate, Manna’s executive director Bill Rae said a blessing for the food: “Lord, teach us how to be better neighbors.” Rae said later that he hoped this was the idea the Swedish volunteers would take home with them.
“They’re here to get an idea of what is involved in volunteering in an international organization like Manna,” Bindler, teacher and the exchange program coordinator, said while the food was being passed out. Bindler lived in Orono for seven years, she said, before she moved to Sweden 10 years ago.
The teacher has kept her close ties in the area with people such as Mark Tasker, a history teacher at John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor. Those ties allowed her and Tasker to work out an exchange program between their schools. The exchanges have been going on for four or five years now, she said.
There are a total of 20 students participating in the program, which is part of a class they are taking at their high school, Dragonskolan in Umea.
Twelve of those students are in the Bangor area for 10 days doing various activities in the surrounding communities, Bindler said. The remainder of the students are spread throughout Europe.
The course, called “International Work,” encourages the young men and women to volunteer, not only in their own community, but also in the international community. The students get a two-week break from their regular classes at home to participate in the abroad program, Clarin said.
“The main purpose [of this type of exchange program] is to have students not just look inward toward a school, but outward to the community, which is what the course aims to do,” Clarin said, speaking English fluently.
The Swedish students arrived last Tuesday and attended classes at John Bapst. Throughout this week, they will be visiting area high schools and the University of Maine in Orono, where some of them will give presentations and discuss topics ranging from teenage sex education to drug awareness and prevention.
The high-schoolers also are volunteering for organizations such as Manna and Peace through Interamerican Community Action, or PICA, for the remainder of their stay.
Arbab, Said and Molin, standing behind a service counter, dolled out the food at a feverish pace and served the waiting diners quickly. The students smiled and greeted people as they handed them their food.
While Arbab and Said scooped heaps of spaghetti and tomato sauce onto the plates, Molin pushed a cart covered with plates of food through the noisy, filled room and placed the plates onto the tables set for supper.
Rae said he was glad to see the exchange students taking an active interest in volunteering in a community that wasn’t even their own.
“I hope they can take what they’re doing here and take it back overseas with them,” the agency director said.
The students, speaking English, all said they were having great experiences and learning a lot about the United States and volunteerism.
“I’ve rarely seen places like this. I think it’s good that they have this type of volunteering here,” Arbab said. “You think sometimes that it’s so perfect here [in America], but it’s different to see that people are struggling everywhere.”