Have you been part of a service team that has discovered some unique and effective ways to connect with your host community?
The group I have been involved (www.carpenteros.ca) with has done a lot of the usual stuff, including visiting and praying with the disabled and elderly in their homes, various activities focused around the children, and meeting with the church community.
Last fall we tried a few new things, and they were quite successful. In conjunction with the local CRC (in a village in Honduras) we hosted a meeting of community leaders (political, education and community boards); we arranged for the women in our group to meet and discuss privately with the women in the community (don't know anything about the topics they covered, but feedback from both sides was that the meeting was very beneficial and should become a regular part of team visits); and we facilitated a community meeting to discuss community issues, which turned out to be particularly effective opportunity for the youth of the community to express their views and concerns.
One concern from youth was the lack of trash collection and how the older generations too easily litter while the younger generation wants to find a more 'environmental' solution. In light of this, we spontaneously organized a 'Trash Walk' for early the next morning and dozens of people from the community plus members of our team walked the streets for many blocks picking up trash—and soon there was a small mountain of filled garbage bags in front of the church.
Each of these initiatives helped us to get a better understanding of the people and the issues, and it also helped to connect us with the community - word got around quickly that we wanted to know more about them and their views and opinions, and it helped to send the signal that we were not just strangers who came to do a few work projects, but that we wanted to hear and listen to what the locals had to say.
These three instances helped our group to learn more about connecting with the host community. I would love to hear from other groups that may have tried similar or totally different things, so that we can use these 'best practices' to improve the effectiveness of our short-term trips.