Pura Vida

A week has already passed since our wonderful experience at La Gran Vista farm in Costa Rica. I believe through our ten day service trip, our group got a lot closer for a great cause. The leadership of Donald Villalobos, our community partner was integral for the development of our experience because he really tried to provide us with multiple projects and also gave us a fresh perspective on what sustainability really means on a farm and the world around us.

On this experience, we learned about sustainable agricultural practices and how to reduce global impacts of harmful farming practices. As a diverse group of students, we not only learned how the world around us is connected but also got hands on experience. What I enjoyed the most about our trip were the conversations we had while working in the field. Working together under the sun gave us the opportunity to discuss topics about sustainability, education, globalism, and other topics with a more open perspective. I definitely grew from this experience and hope to be able to apply it back on campus.

Role Reversal

Yesterday was our second day at God’s Love. Our task for the day was van deliveries and everyone was really excited for the personal interactions. When we got to God’s Love, Stephen (the employee that oversees van deliveries) informed us that only nine of us were needed for van deliveries, so while everyone went out into the city, Kester and I worked in the kitchen. The kitchen experience was different than Tuesday because we knew what we were doing and were kind of seen as the “experts.” New volunteers were asking us questions and at times I found myself annoyed that they didn’t know what they were doing. It made me understand how the usual volunteers felt when we walked into “their” kitchen on Tuesday with no idea how to do anything. Kester and I also met the reigning Miss USA 2011 who volunteers at God’s Love every Wednesday.

Throughout the day we had the rest of the team check in with us and I was excited to hear about their adventures around the city. Anda, Jess and Renee were delivering to different parts of Brooklyn. Sarah and Hannah were in Queens and Lara and Steph were in Manhattan. Overall everyone had a positive experience in their vans. The drivers were really nice and made sure that each Lafayette ASBer was safe.

One thing that everyone seemed to be disappointed with was that the clients didn’t seem grateful for the food they were delivering. The team expected big thank yous, hugs, etc. and instead they mostly received a hand through a door and nothing else. However, some people were overly grateful and even offered food, money, etc.  Everyone also was surprised of the conditions that people were living in: whether it be really nice apartments or really run down conditions. The run down buildings made us wonder how people with such serious illness live in terrible conditions.

The biggest thing about yesterday’s service, though, was that everyone stepped out of their comfort zone. None of us are from New York City and something as simple as buzzing into a building was difficult and uncomfortable for some people. However, everyone dealt with these situations. Even in some scary situations, all the deliveries were still made.


#Rough Life

I soon learned after arriving that I did not bring enough clothes, hygiene supplies, or proper shoes on my trip! I should’ve known that you can bring more than a small carry on, but I treated this 9-day international trip more as a weekend camping trip and brought minimal supplies including: a water filter (which was not needed), a first aid kid (which I didn’t use), three pairs of shorts, a few shirts and underwear (which I continually had to wash and reuse). Too much information I know! Despite me being unprepared I had an amazing time and grew closer to all of the people on the trip. Not having enough clothes and supplies did make me smell more (just kidding=p) but it added to the overall experience and enhanced la vida de la finca or FARM LIFE.

I sincerely appreciated the daily routine of waking up when the rooster crowed, eating breakfast as a team, and dispersed to our daily jobs. Our work was rigorous and physically strenuous at times but it made me sweat and burn off those rice and beans I’ve been packing on throughout the trip which made it all worth it. After work we did get some time to relax, play some games and reflect by the fire which was always enjoyable and helped me learn about the thoughts of others as well as helped me solidify my own beliefs.

I will never forget the hospitality of the Villalobos family and all that they have done for us. They have showed me that it is possible to be happy and live a relatively stress-free life. They welcomed our group into the family as soon as we stepped into their home. Donald, who helped us with our work most of the time, taught us new skills to complete our jobs and was a great teacher as well. He showed us why we were doing the things we were doing and why they were important for the environment. Ultimately, this trip was the experience of a lifetime, as cliche as it sounds, it is true. I formed new relationships, I experienced a new culture, I learned new skills, I performed service for a cause I care about and had an amazing time simultaneously! As it turns out being smelly and not having enough clothes didn’t turn out so rough after all (don’t ask my other teammates though)!


Post-Trip Post

Being back on Lafayette’s campus right after staying in Costa Rica for 10 hot days has not been easy. All the hard, back-breaking work that we did in C.R. does not at all compare to the time-consuming, mental work at Lafayette. They are both equally difficult but in different ways. I honestly loved every aspect of the experience at C.R. especially the difficult, awkward, rough-life moments that challenged either individuals or us a group.

I remember my pre-trip post saying how much I didn’t know my group and I’m very glad to say that now I feel very comfortable around a good portion of them. I’m honestly very happy about this because I grew in so many different ways and I have found people that I see constantly on Lafayette’s campus but never thought that we would be good friends.

The scenery was unreal, that hot bathing water was so relaxing, the beach and rivers were as close to perfection as possible, and the food was pretty darn good and natural. I can’t compliment this place enough. The sweat that Donald put into this farm is definitely visible. It’s an outstanding place to be.

Running into two scorpions, falling a billion times, and piling the terrible sunscreen helped to make this experience so much richer.

Monday’s Experience with Gary

This post recaps the experience that me, Leah and Taimmor had during the Urban Plunge. The Urban Plunge was meant to simulate being homeless and force us to think like a homeless person in D.C. For me the Urban Plunge was the best experience on the trip and had a profound impact on me. The experience started out with each member of our group getting 2 dollars to spend on whatever we want. We were also given a metro pass so that we could use the busses to travel around the city. We had certain objectives to accomplish on the experience such as traveling to a certain location, eating dinner with a homeless person and finding out exactly how to live like a homeless person.

We were sent to Franklin Square to start our quest. We got on the metro pretty easily and made our way to the Square. We then turned our objective to then finding a person in the square to share a meal with. We walked around the square and park trying to find a person who looked in need. We found many people there. The whole park was filled with homeless people who looked in need. We felt very awkward as a group just approaching one of them and asking them if they wanted dinner. As a group we decided that it would be best to go into McDonalds and buy the food first. We could then take the food out to a person and need and share a meal. While we were sitting in McDonalds a tall man about 6’6″ approached me casually and said, “nice weather we are having”. I politely responded and in no time all 4 of us were chatting away with him.

His name was Gary Wolf. He was a 49 year old homeless man from California. He had come to D.C. to play basketball for American University. He had dropped out of school and turned to drug abuse. After a while and a series of poor decisions Gary eventually found himself as a homeless man in D.C. For the last 30 years he has been living on the streets. Gary was kind, intelligent and excited to be able to share his story with us. He was not at all embarrassed by his situation and was not shy about talking about his past.

To me Gary had some very interesting ideas about homelessness itself in D.C. He told us about how it was great that we were coming down to help out in all the soup kitchens and homeless shelters, but there was a down side. Church groups and volunteers make it possible for me to remain homeless. Because there were so many groups willing to feed and provide a home for the homeless it allowed him to stay lazy and take no responsibilities. Listening to his stories and his opinion I would have to say that Gary was not happy, but was more content with his life. He had regrets about his past, but was living his life the way he wanted to.

After we had spend a fair amount of time discussion Gary’s life we then walked around D.C. with Gary for a little. He introduced us to Bobblehead who was a homeless women who lived under the cover of a bus stop. She was very humorous and we joked around with her for a while about life in D.C. Our last stop was Occupy D.C. Gary had a couple of friends who were staying at tents at the occupy movement. It was there we finally said goodbye to Gary. He was going to go check himself into a Hospital for a couple of days so he could rest up. We wished him farewell and good luck and that was that.

Our experience with Gary was life changing. Instead of having all the preconceived notions of homelessness I got to spend the day actually getting to realize what it is like to be homeless. Gary put a face to something I knew little about and completely changed my mind about how I view homelessness.

Food, Friends, Babies, ROJA, Hooray

Yesterday, we went to Food and Friends. Food and Friends is a food preparation place that makes and delivers meals to people suffering from HIV/AIDS. Our group split up: some opus worked in the kitchen, others packaged meals, and still others went on delivery route.

Compared to our other volunteer experiences, Food and Friends was a much less personable. We didn’t interact with any actual homeless people. We didn’t even interact with any actual food– everything was already cooked and prepared when we got there; we just put it into bags. It didn’t feel as “good” or as “warm and fuzzy” as it could have, but volunteer work isn’t always about feeling good and fuzzy: it’s about getting work done. We packaged a lot of meals for the terminally ill.

For lunch, we went to a market. There were a lot of babies there.

In the afternoon, we went back to ROJA. It’s funny: I always thought I hated children, but I realized these past few days that I really like them. My girl and I bonded over our similar names. She asked me if I could stay forever and it kind of breaks my heart that I can’t. We did homework, we read some books, we played with dolls. It was great! I learned that little kids really like glitter. All of the little girls were fighting over it; I had to make them “glitter packs” so that they could take some home. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the greatest idea: glitter is impossible to clean up. Oh well, they were all really excited about it. All in all, it was another exciting day of service.


Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in which we spent the morning portion of our day canvassing DC neighborhoods informing families and individuals about the importance of fire safety and the free services available from the fire department. While this was important for the communities, I found the afternoon to be much more intriguing.

A year ago today I was doing a similar service trip in Camden, New Jersey, in which i met a homeless man who changed my life. His name was Mister Eddie Marshall. When I first met Eddie, we spoke for the whole day. I learned he had a masters degree in Psychology, served in the army, and discussed with him about religion, politics, education, and life in general. After this great experience however, upon my arrival to the shelter the next day, Eddie was intoxicated and acted in a completely different manner. It upset me to speak with him again, this time interacting with a seemingly different individual, speaking nonsense and dozing in and out of sleep. I think what most upset me was to witness this sad sight in a man with so much potential and so many things to offer.

Our afternoon in DC was the “urban plunge” asking us to see what it was like to be homeless, and to interact with others within the homeless community. While my group was not fortunate enough to hear the story of any particular individual we encountered, our team discussion was enlightening. The other groups all had greatly different experiences from each other. Each encountered different sorts of people, and had conversations about different aspects of homeless life. While this discussion was going on, I was reminded of my encounter with Eddie a year ago. Hearing these other stories gave reminded me once gain that not all homeless people are alike, each having their own backgrounds and current situations. It gave me hope to remember that there is possibility in everyone to fulfill their maximum potential and make life better for themselves and maybe, if they are fortunate enough, for others as well.

Kitchen to Kids

We began the morning preparing meals for the homeless in the DC Central Kitchen.  Soup was made in large vats and would later be distributed to areas throughout the city, while “Student Cooks,” adult members of the community who intern at the kitchen to learn specific cooking skills for jobs later in life, prepared meals for the workers and volunteers in the kitchen.

Most of us spoke with other volunteers who had stories similar to our own – college students looking to give their time and effort to a worthy cause.  However, such individuals were not the only groups of people present.  Kind enough to share their stories, we found ourselves also speaking to members of the community – from dishwashers, to student cooks, to cooks employed by DC Central Kitchen.  Matt later shared that he casually discussed football while working alongside a man who volunteered bits of his experience.  One memorable comment was that this man truly loved his job.

Kait and Maggie also shared their conversation with one of the cooks.  This particular man had become involved in illegal activities at a younger age and later found himself in jail.  With a young daughter, he found the courage to improve his lifestyle so that he could be a better role model for his daughter and provide her with the care and affection she deserved.  He’s held his job as a cook for quite a few years now and has reasonable yet high expectations for his daughter.  He admitted to being somewhat of a health nut and was generous in supplying compliments to the girls for their accomplishment of being in college and doing well for themselves.

When it was finally time to eat the prepared lunch, all the volunteers and workers sat down together and simply talked.  I spoke with one man who had been in the Army years earlier, traveled a lot, and later discovered a passion for cooking.  Thanks to DC Central Kitchen, he is able to receive the necessary training and preparation in order to find a job in the real world.  He spoke of his hopes, such as becoming a cook for the kitchen or getting an internship at the Marriott Hotel after he had finished his training.

The meal ended and we left, only to move on to our next adventure.  ROJA is an after school program for children that focusses on anything from snack time, to homework help, to playtime.  Each of us worked with one other student in the program.  We were surprised to discover how well behaved the children were and agreed on the overall importance of discipline and respect.  Personally, it was refreshing to see children who could follow directions, accomplish tasks, and work with others without unnecessary melodrama.

Working with young children, who can be so terribly impressionable, always makes me wonder about how I’m influencing them – or even if I’m influencing them at all.  It’s difficult to judge the significance of what one is doing when it is so short-term, nonetheless, the only true failure would be not trying at all.


God’s Love- Day 1

The social issue for our trip is AIDS/HIV and terminal illness relief and today we were able to learn more about that issue as well as an organization that goes to great lengths to bring relief to the sick. God’s Love We Deliver was founded in 1985 by one woman and toady delivers 4,000 meals a day. We knew that our job today was going to be kitchen work and when we arrived Kate, the volunteer coordinator said, “I hope you like chopping.” I thought she was joking but she was most definitely not. Chopping up vegetables was one of our main tasks for the day. We chopped carrots, 200 pounds of potatoes, zucchini, broccoli, and 100 pounds of onions. Some of us also prepared chicken and fish and wrapped 1200 rolls. After our lunch break, we then packaged meals for delivery. The kitchen at God’s Love was extremely organized and almost factory like. The packaging of food was done on assembly line. This made the process very efficient. As Anda commented, “I thought today was amazing to see the number of meals we made.” Jess also said that she was concerned that today we wouldn’t feel like we were helping people because we didn’t see them but that she felt like we did help people because we packaged and prepared so much food.
Tomorrow our experience at God’s Love will be different. Instead of working at “headquarters,” we will be out delivering the meals to different parts of New York and New Jersey. I think the team is more excited for this than they were about kitchen prep. For a lot of the team members, personal interaction and actually seeing the effect our work has on people is very important. As Lara said, she is excited to see the personal
side of the organization.

In comparing the Bowery Mission to God’s Love We Deliver we felt that the two were very different organizations; in their mission and the people they serve and in the way they were organized. God’s Love caters specifically to those with illnesses and they are proud of the fact that they have never turned anyway away who needed a meal. The Bowery Mission provides services to a larger variety of people. Although most team members liked the personal interactions at the Bowery Mission more than the “stiffness” at God’s Love, we understand why God’s Love has to operate more like a “business.” As Kester pointed out, we all witnessed today what it takes for an organization to develop.

During reflection, “If you had the money to give to an organization, what would you choose?” was proposed. A good amount of the team felt that they would give money to the Bowery Mission because it seemed like they needed it more. Others disagreed. I cautioned the team, though, to remember that no organization is “better” or “worse” than another and that they were just different. God’s Love receives a lot of money from corporate and other sponsors and it is amazing to see how many people are passionate about this cause. I hope that whatever the cause, my team and I walk away from this experience with a cause we are passionate about, whether it be the Bowery Mission and the issue of hunger and homelessness, God’s Love and terminal illness relief, or one of the many other organizations and social issues.