Habitat for Humanity

Friday was our last day of service at the Romero Center and a few of the other girls and I went to a Habitat for Humanity site in Camden. The site that we worked on was three row houses that are being built on a street corner. Habitat for Humanity has been working in Camden for over ten years and has restored many abandoned houses and built many others. We worked with a carpenter who was very passionate for what he was doing. He has been working for Habitat for six years and he has learned how to work well with volunteers, especially inexperienced ones like us. The houses that we were working on have been under construction since August so there were not full roves on the houses. Since it snowed the night before, we had to shovel the snow out of the second floor of the house before the roof could be worked on. Some of the dry wall had gotten wet from the snow so it had to be removed from its wooden frame. We were sitting at the top of a roofless house tarring dry wall apart and I couldn’t help but enjoy the view. Even such a dangerous and impoverished place as Camden just looked like another beautiful city from above. We have done a wide variety of different types of service throughout the week, many of which involved just spending time with people and learning their stories. Though I enjoyed and learned from each of the different types of service, the Habitat for Humanity day was very hands on and really made me feel like I was accomplishing something and it was a great way to end the week!

a brief reflection on our experience in Ecuador..

I wouldn’t say I had the smoothest transition back into the states. It was a rough awakening to be in the bustle of Miami airport with phone calls and emails galore…which made me realize how much I had grown to love and appreciate the simple yet incredibly and genuinely happy life style of the Shuar in the Ecuadorian rain forest. And by simple, I absolutely do not mean easy!! We all learned how hard of a life it actually is as we were able to experience the physical labor that goes into sustaining a life in harmony with nature. We woke up every morning sore, bruised, blistered and bitten, yet never did that subtract from the truly remarkable work we were doing in a truly remarkable place.

A brief description of our service: hauling huge wood planks over a half mile through the rain forest (3 times), clearing and leveling forested land, machete-ing trees, digging trenches, collecting and planting medicinal plants…just to mention a few. The main project that we were helping with was the construction of an ethno-botanical garden which would be the launching pad for a medicinal garden that would supply the communities newly constructed clinic.

I thought that this trip was quite possibly one of the most amazing service experiences I have had. We were living with and directly interacting and learning about the Shuar culture as they taught us how best to help them. I have never learned so much and felt so indebted to a group of people. Our service was aimed at furthering the goals of the community which we absolutely did, yet I feel that we still have an infinite amount of work to do in order to reciprocate the love, time and knowledge that the Shuar gave to us.

I am still sorting through all of the life lessons that I learned while trudging through the rain forest with our guides and how exactly these fit into my life and how I can bring them back here to Lafayette. I was amazed at the shear happiness of the people in the community and how they lived and breathed the rain forest. As i feel indebted to the Shuar community, the Shuar community feels indebted to the rain forest and they have made it their life goal to preserve and protect it, while teaching the world it’s importance. This group of people found harmony between human life and the world that we were blessed to be placed on, which I now believe is the key to happiness. This balance and equanimity between self and nature brought happiness and joy to the community. I hope to be able to find this for myself at home, and spread that message to others in hopes that together we can make it a reality for our culture as a whole.

Give yourself

Wow it’s been a great week for ASB Boston. I finally made to an ASB trip!! I have had a wonderful trip and the whole experience has been more than what I hoped for. First and foremost, the team was fantastic. I didn’t know most of my other team members but throughout the trip we’ve had much bonding time and have grown together.

Our main service project was with Community Servings, http://www.servings.org/index.cfm an organization that prepares and delivers meals to the critically ill. We worked in the kitchen in the multiple steps needed to prepare and week’s supply of meals for someone- cutting vegetables, dishing food, labelling meals, packaging meals and traveling around Boston to assist in delivering meals to people at their homes. The environment was friendly and everyone interacted very well.

Having this week of service has been really special. For one, I am more aware of needs that exist in the community. Now that I am been involved with providing help to people through Community Servings, I cannot distance myself from the issues that exist ‘out there’. Having food in the fridge and being able to prepare it for myself are blessings that I often take for granted, but this experience has opened my eyes to what is needed and what is being done about it. I am determined to get involved again in Landis, provided my class schedule allows as well as other service activities. There is no joy and life in a life lived for oneself.

Every small contribution counts in making a difference. Community Servings gives hope to those who need it. Hope that they may lack anything, but they won’t lack food. They are taken care of. We all need this hope, that life is worth living, that we’ll make it and that we are loved. The service project has been an opportunity for me to give others my time and energy and I enjoyed the experience.

Generating Hope

Today was our last day volunteering at Community Servings in Jamaica Plain, MA.  This week has been thoroughly exhausting both physically and emotionally.  What I feel is incredibly unique about this organization is the fact that we as volunteers were able to put together and make the meals for those in need, and also got to see where all of the hard work was going.  I think this is what made our work so rewarding–we saw the direct effects of what we were doing.  It was wonderful getting to work with people with completely different backgrounds, all brought together through a shared interest: doing one’s part in helping community members.  Though it was a short trip, I think that each of our team members developed meaningful relationships, not only among each other, but also with those who we worked with at Community Servings.  I thought it was really great to see the enormous impact that this service has on those living throughout the Boston area.  It provides hope for those who otherwise might feel hopeless, and allows people to give back to community members.  I loved having a role in this process, and loved even more the time I got to spend getting to know my fellow Lafayette students.  Overall, an incredibly rewarding experience that I know will stay with me long after I return to campus.

ASB Boston was a blast! At Community Servings, I enjoyed meeting new people, preparing the meals and delivering the meals. All of my team members were extremely friendly and helpful. We definitely displayed good teamwork and a strong sense of community. I had an awesome week meeting new people!

“Charity is good…but justice is better.”

It’s hard to believe that today was our last day of service in Camden. It has truly been an eye-opening experience; the people that we have met, the relationships we have formed, and the knowledge we have gained will hopefully carry through with us for the rest of our lives. I don’t think that I am alone in saying that I was a bit uneasy upon my arrival to Camden, after hearing all of the negative comments that people had to say about the city. How many of these people who were so quick to judge a place and its residents had actually taken the time to get to know “those people” that live in Camden? I have heard from many residents of Camden throughout the week that people are very quick to turn a blind eye to Camden and the issues that this area faces. The Romero Center has been really great in providing our ASB team with educational speakers/activities to help open our eyes and get us thinking about what the underlying causes of these issues are. As a nation, we are guilty of allowing  inequalities to be perpetuated; we need to do more than just ‘charity.’ Father Bob McDermott, the pastor here at St. Joseph’s in Camden, said something the other night that really stuck with me: “Charity is good, and something that we should all do…but justice is better.” A  just nation is something that I wholeheartedly believe we should be (and are) working towards. This trip is one step forward in an effort towards a more just nation; we have become more educated and aware of issues that citizens of our country face on a daily basis and what we can do to improve these situations. Personally, I have become more aware of an issue that I never really thought much about as an ‘issue’ so to speak: loneliness. I have learned that the mere action of being present and a listening ear can really make all of the difference. At Wiley House, a day care center for the elderly and people with disabilities, I approached an older man who was sitting alone at a table and talked to him for a little while. He lived alone at his home, and came to the center just to be around other people and to have something to do. At the end of our conversation, he told me how thankful that I took the time to talk to him. He was so appreciative of what seemed like such a simple act. The elderly are all too often ignored by our society, and often by their families, as well. The loneliness that they must face is a hardship that I can not even imagine. Honestly, I could go on and on about this trip, but our team is getting ready to listen to a speaker in a few minutes so I will restrain myself. ASB Camden has truly been an awesome experience and I can’t wait to get back to Lafayette and tell everyone about it!


Hope in North Camden

On Wednesday morning, four of my team members and myself piled into our van and headed on our way to North Camden, an area considered to be the worst part in what is considered the most dangerous city in America. We arrived at Hope Works, where we learned about one of the greatest and truly life-changing organizations I have ever come across in my life.  Here we were introduced to Mike, a year-long volunteer, who told us all about the place we were going to spend the day at. Hope Works offers programs to teach teenagers and young adults computer skills such as web-design and Photoshop. It also tutors the students in preparation for SATs and GEDs. The program typically lasts for 2-3 months, and after completion of the program students are able to work for Hope Works, receive the help they need to further their education with a college degree, and are even given a place to stay. The residence for the college students working with Hope Works is known as “The Crib”, and it’s a gorgeous facility complete with study areas, a common room, and kitchen for community meals.

After learning so much about how this organization really empowers the disadvantaged youths of Camden, we were told about our first job. We were sent to canvas different neighborhoods in the area, putting flyers about Hope Works in every mailbox with help from our delightful guide and graduate from Hope Works, Jamal. He was exceptionally happy and energetic, frequently singing along to the Lady Gaga playing on his iPod.  As we walked through the streets I noticed that there was a larger concentration of abandoned houses in the North Camden in comparison to the rest of Camden I had seen, as sometimes there were 3 or 4 houses consecutively unoccupied and boarded up. It was amazing how receptive the people were to the flyers and information we were handing out, and how people even pulled over their cars on the side of the road and asked for a flyer. Other people told us of people they would spread the word to, and then there were others who simply thanked us.  It was a different experience to be on the other side of the canvassing process, and felt good to know that people were appreciative to learn about something in their community that could really help them.

On our arrival back to Hope Works, Mike gave us a tour of the Crib and where he lived with other volunteers. We sat around the dining room table there and enjoyed mugs of hot chocolate and funny conversation getting to know one another. After our lunch break we were given the opportunity to tutor kids in grammar, math and vocabulary skills. It was inspiring to see their desire and motivation to learn, even if they did not particularly like the subject matter. It made me realize the excellence and level of my own education, especially while I was tutoring a boy my age in grammar skills that I had learned in 3rd grade.

Visiting Hope Works truly did bring me hope about the future of Camden. Knowing there are such genuine, kind, and motivated people willing to develop strong and useful institutions and implement these organizations in the places most desperately seeking them gives some comfort in thinking that change is and will continue happening here.

Sweet Disposition

Crossing over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge while listening to our group’s theme song, “Sweet Disposition”, I felt myself beginning to look at the Camden trip as a whole instead of daily increments. I realized how not only was our trip remarkable regarding the volunteer aspect, but also phenomenal in the friendships I’m making and can take home with me. At the start of the trip, I found myself anxious and scared with being out of my comfort zone. I also found that my uneasiness made me less willing to have an open mind. Within the first half of the trip, I tried to gather what I was learning, develop the life lessons I was obtaining from those who have little to nothing or nothing at all. I found myself holding back from the new people I was encountering. Because of my awkwardness, I reached a mental block and found myself unable to collect my thoughts.

It was through talking to my group members and truly reflecting on service that my uneasiness dissipated. I find myself waking up with an open mind, ready for anything. Each service option has something different to offer and something different to contribute. I realized that I needed to throw myself into the experience without any limitations. And so I did. I feel now, (as it is a day before our trip comes to an end), that the lessons I learned don’t require soul searching; finding them only requires listening or what is here called “ministry of presence.” I understand now that making a difference doesn’t mean playing Superman. It simply calls for giving someone the time of day.

I’ve been involved in service opportunities throughout most of my education and I feel like it took something like ASB to make me grasp the reality of situations. For example, I’m in Camden. I’m in what is critically acclaimed to be the most dangerous and poorest city..in the country. It’s scary, but it’s real and there’s no escaping the reality. Today, I played with a little baby boy, Wamir, in the homeless shelter, New Visions. And to me, he wasn’t homeless. He wasn’t poor. He was like every other one year old sharing the same right to things that most of us take for granted: an education, clothes, a home. He is the future just as much as anyone else.

So, to my teammates, I thank you for helping me break out of my shell and thank you for the experience. Together, we truly have made a difference.

ASB Boston

OK we figured it out, sorry we are so late to blog. This has been an amazing trip. The students on this trip are awsome and we have all been enjoying our service work.  Community Servings is a non profit group that prepares food for those in the area that are teminally ill. We have scooped, peeled, sliced, labeled, stacked, packed and delivered. Everyone involved has been so friendly and excited about the work/service they are providing. Tomorrow will be our last day of service and I can honestly say we are going to miss those who have mentored and helped us with the porject this week. Way to go ASB Boston!!!

Putting a Face to HIV/AIDS at Francis House

Today is Wednesday, January 19th, 2011, but my post is going to be focused on my service experience from yesterday. I’m actually going to be typing something out of my journal, a journal I have kept for the entirety of this trip. Thus, the first person point of view to follow is a result of that.

On Tuesday, January 18th, 2011, the police force of the city of Camden was cut in half. Firemen and other city workers also faced job loss, and this shocks me. We are staying in the most dangerous city in America, a 9-square mile city with 200 known active drug corners, abandoned lots used as open-air drug markets in some of the worst parts of the city. It’s really upsetting to know that so many of the people here live below the poverty line, that money, and the desire for money, is the source of much evil in the city of Camden.

Tuesday wasn’t like our previous days at the Romero Center. While we had had some type of reflection every morning, Tuesday morning’s reflection was very focused. Our service, our experiences, and our reflections focused a lot on the concepts of compassion and solidarity – truly sharing in and understanding another person’s beliefs, lifestyles, whatever. With that in mind, I began to prepare myself for a day of service.

Annie, Sarah, Ariel, Liz, Lauren and I all went to Francis House today, a ministry of St. Anthony of Padua’s church in Camden. The organization, which has been around for over fourteen years, is run by a woman named Sue. From what John told us, Sue established Francis House in memory of her brother, who died from AIDS. The organization is a place for people infected with and/or affected by HIV/AIDS to gather, a safe place for them to relax, share a home-cooked meal, share in the understanding of a disease that many Americans, many people around the world, hold stereotypes about and are quite uncomfortable with. But over the years, with their family trees, picture-filled walls, trips to Disney and memory quilts, these individuals have become bound by so much more than the disease that unites them; they have become a family.

When the other groups and even the staff at the Romero Center told us about Francis House, they only had the best things to say. One suggestion came to us from Franciscan volunteers that we met at the start of Unity Week. These volunteers, here for an entire year, suggested that we not group together. They encouraged us to be proactive, and put ourselves out there. And right away, that’s what we tried to do, spreading out. Yet when everyone else came in, they clumped into a corner. Eventually, people started to open up and tell us some stories. Sue was working on a piece for a quilt at the time. Each piece was in memory of one of their friends, their family members, who had lost his or her battle with the disease. One of the quilts had been hung on the wall, and I thought that was a truly beautiful way to honor the memory of someone you love. Other than that quilt, there were tons of things filling the walls at Francis House. Tons and tons of pictures brought a true sense of family to the place. They even had a large tree painted on the wall, the leaves each holding the picture of someone special who had entered the center.

At one point during the day, Sue asked Liz and me to help her with something. Just to tell you a little bit about Sue, she is a wonderful person. She is the type of friend that anyone would be lucky to have, not afraid to speak what is on her mind and what she believes in. I feel as though that’s something rare to find in a city like Camden. But anyway, she asked Liz and I to help put together a Tree of Life. The tree had been donated to Francis House by the AIDS Foundation, which had been closed down due to lack of funding. The tree had gold leaves, engraved in memory of people who had lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. Even though we were simply screwing leaves onto a plastic tree, I felt as though the time we spent at Francis House was very meaningful. And although I did not get into deep conversations about the disease with anyone at the shelter, I heard people talking about some of there experiences. All in all, it was just really nice to get to put a face to this disease, and to know that these people are just like we are, that we are all the same in the end.

I’m really glad this blog is available for us to share our experiences from the week. This has really been an interesting week so far, I’m glad that I could be a part of something like it.

Until the next time, peace.