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Grade 12 student

When she was only eight years old, YIS student Sena, now a senior, experienced her first face to face interaction with poverty. She and her family were visiting Cambodia, dining at a popular local restaurant on Tonle Sap lake. As Sena remembers, "many poor families live on the lake itself in makeshift rafts for homes. Kids my own age were begging for food, and the table next to ours gave them their left-overs. I was struck by their need, but I also wondered what they would do the next day -- what is the best way to help?" It's a question Sena still has no clear answer for, but she wants to keep searching.

Sena looks for answers in the many ways she has found since then to volunteer. In Sri Lanka, two summers in a row Sena volunteered, first at a tsunami relief center, and then at a special needs orphanage for women. "Service learning is something I like to do, and YIS also provides the opportunity," says Sena. Last year, Sena traveled to Cambodia with the YIS Cambodia Service Activity, helping to build a school in a remote village in Pursat Province in cooperation with the HOPE International Development Agency. This past summer, she deepened those connections by volunteering closer to home, at the Tokyo branch of HOPE, which focuses on sustainable community development – a tool to help people climb out of extreme poverty and become self-reliant. For four weeks, Sena joined the Tokyo staff, learning the ins and outs of NPO work for community development.

This year Sena has helped reorganize and expand the YIS Cambodia Service Activity into the HOPE Service Club, a year-round service group that will continue the legacy of building schools in underserved rural areas of Cambodia while also supporting some of HOPE's other poverty alleviation efforts. Already, Sena and other students in the club have helped out with HOPE's annual charity dinner in Tokyo and the recent "Walk for Water," a 6.5km charity walk across the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo.

Although she's not sure what she'll study at university, Sena hopes to connect in some way to her love of service. It's not always easy, Sena admits. "When I volunteered at the orphanage in Sri Lanka for women with special needs, my work was very difficult. Helping the girls use the bathroom, cleaning up after them; the hardest part was just to keep helping. Some of the girls were screaming and crying and it was hard to know what to do. Some are not even diagnosed, as the orphanage focuses more on providing them basic rights of life, not necessarily a treatment center. The nuns working there were inspiring, because they are really doing the best they can in difficult circumstances."

Also a Dragon Council member and their finance officer this year, Sena plays golf in her spare time and studies flower arranging or Japanese ikebana. But service is something she's committed to, ever since that day by the lake in Cambodia: "Since we're all so privileged, service is important to give something back to a community, not necessarily abroad and not necessarily something material. Simply giving your time and effort, like I did in Japan this summer, is rewarding."

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