I wish we could have had internet in Appalachia, to share our experiences each day, but at the same time I think that the time away from excessive technological stimilation made the trip more intensive and helped me be truly present to the experience.
Appalachia Service Project, our community partner organization, is committed to providing opportunities that include both construction projects and the development of Christian relationships. While the ASB club has no religious affiliation, the emphasis on the relationship portion of the community engagement experience was a truly important part of our trip.
Our team was paired with a family, a couple and four young boys. The family has had problems with mold, because there is is hill that goes right into the side of their house, so the moisture and water is directed towards their home. The children sleep on low beds and suffer from asthma; the mold is particularly bad for their medical condition. The Appalachia Service Project has a variety of projects planned for this problem, but our team is phase 1: get rid of the source of the mold. We dug a ditch the length oth their home, 6 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep. We then layed out and mixed cement, to make a form that now reinforces the foundation of the house. We also build a retaining wall, using cement blocks, and then mixing and pouring cement for the wall. It was a lot of hands on work! Most of the service work that I have engaged in previously has focused on interacting with another person, tutoring, mentoring, wherein the service itself involves relating to people. In our direct service, we related to the earth (lots of digging), our own bodies (lots of aches and use of strength), and our own ingenuity in problem solving an strategizing the construction over the course of the project. It was a really unique experience for me to challenge my physical capabilities, for a reason more than just my personal health.
The relationships we formed with the family were really special. The first two days of our project were muddy and rainy, so we didn’t want to go into the home and get it dirty, and the children couldn’t come out to play with us. When we finally did get to connect with the kids on Wednesday, it made the project completely different, and for me it changed how I felt about the project. In our Monday orTuesday night reflection, we had a really insightful conversation about issues in poor rural communities – education, health, and the affects of capitalism and consumerism on communities like Jonesville. When we began to interact with the family, it made these issues more complex. Perhaps there are overarching themes in the issues, but the personal stories and personal connections have made me think that the solutions to community challenges might not be so simple to summarize.
On our final night of reflection, I introduced a quote to the group, a concept that an economics professor of mine once talked about and really struck me: “there are 2 possible worlds: the one that sucks and the one that sucks more.” In the world that “sucks,” the world moves along according to technological innovation, which promotes the potential for higher standards of living for many, but leaves poor rural communities behind. The world that “sucks more”, according to an economist, might be the one in which we choose to stagnate technological innovation in order to include communities that would otherwise be left behind, in the economy. This world “sucks more” because there is less economic progress. This rural poverty experience made me think about these 2 options. I happen to think there must be a 3rd, an option that minimizes suffering and maximizes comfort in a way that does not leave whole communities behind.
Thursday was our final day of service working with the Center City Charter Schools. It was bittersweet walking the hallways, bustling with the mirth of students for the last time. I knew, however, that my team members and I had done our part, and a new project was awaiting us at the Boys and Girls Club.
Like the prior day, we were divided among the classrooms at the Trinidad campus and assigned to teachers of different grade levels. Having already experienced the atmosphere of one class-year the day before, upon arriving at Trinidad our group quickly dispersed throughout the building based on the age group of each person’s choice. Still a bit puzzled by the layout of the school, I hesitantly climbed the flight of stairs and located the Spanish teacher’s office. Hoping to spend my morning facilitating lessons in Spanish and interacting with the kids in another language, I was slightly disappointed when I was she explained to me that she only had two classes and that my time would be better spent with another teacher. Not knowing where else to go, I begrudgingly trudged my way back to where I had been on Wednesday, the fourth grade class.
Before I elaborate any further, I want to make it clear that the students in the fourth grade class were wonderful. I was impressed by how welcoming they were, especially to a complete stranger such as myself. Each pupil had such a passion eagerness to learn that I only wish I possessed at their age . My reluctance to re-visit the fourth grade has nothing to do with the students, but was entirely due to my opinion of their teacher.
As highlighted in “Waiting for Superman,” there is a term used to describe incompetent teachers who, despite being ineffective educators, have tenure and therefore remain in the system. These teachers, collectively called lemons, reinforce the negative stereotype of the “bad teacher.”
Yesterday had been disheartening. The teacher had spent the entire day complaining about how “difficult” her job is and criticizing her students. In reality, she didn’t do any teaching, and ended the class period by giving the kids “quiet time.” The fourth graders were instructed to put their head down and rest, while the teacher relaxed in the back of the room and showed me pictures in her wedding book. To my alarm she even instructed one student to bring her her purse from her desk so she could look for her cell phone.
After what I had witnessed the day before, it was hard to believe that I wasn’t in the midst of a lemon, but for the sake of the fourth graders I desperately wanted to believe that the teacher simply had a bad day. Sitting in on her the class for the second day in the row, I realized that I wasn’t mistaken. Although the teacher was on better behavior, under her poor direction the class wasn’t taught.
Now, more than ever, I understand the influence of a teacher on a child’s education. Equally important to monetary funding in providing reform in America’s public schools is that each classroom is lead by a quality educator.
So today we went to the Congress Heights Campus Center City Charter School. One of the teachers at yesterday’s school had told us that this was in a rougher area, but we did not get to interact much with the kids while there today because we organized their library all day. This experience was similar to our experience on Sunday of having the opportunity to clean the playroom for more experienced volunteers who have a rapport with the children, and can make more of an impact with them, in reflection we talked about how we were glad to be able to facilitate these dedicated volunteers’ in their service, and how important this ‘indirect’ service, that may not be as gratifying immediately, really is.
We spent the entire day on computers looking up books and organizing them into reading levels, which involved teamwork, and a lot of work, but we were glad to do it, as the kind librarian told us, we saved her about two weeks of doing it by herself! Whereas the 10 of us could get it done in the six hours we were there! The people at the Congress Heights school were so hospitable to us and really appreciated our help.
Today at the Boys’ and Girls Club we had more kids, so that was a lot of fun to really have the opportunity for a lot of us to really get the chance to interact and really have a lot of fun with them. We played hangman, parachuting games, ball games, basketball, colored bookmarks, coloring, and got to meet and talk to a lot of different kids.
I really appreciate that we get to see so many different sites and how so many different ones run differently, but I almost wish that we could stay at one Charter School all week and one Boys’ and Girls Club, so that we could really get to know these children and bond with them, instead of learning new names every day. I think part of this is the Boys’ and Girls Clubs and Charter Schools, though they always seem appreciative of our help, I hear from the organizing side many of them did not want to commit to having our volunteers all week, so perhaps this is not possible.
I really appreciate the way this trip has been able to combine direct and indirect service. Yesterday’s experience at the Brightwood Campus Charter School was really informative, and really gave us a lot to think about after watching ‘Waiting for Superman’ about the difficulty of teaching, and really made us a whole lot more realistic about how challenging and all-encompassing and consuming that job really is, as many of us got the experience of being a teacher’s aide, and actually TEACHING and being responsible for children, where we may have felt a little over our heads, but we really got a feel for what that is like. Sunday and today’s experience’s of organizing the library and cleaning and organizing the playroom really gave us the opportunity to see how much work goes into these programs behind the scenes, and to appreciate that, and gave us the opportunity to help.
I really think that this combination of direct and indirect service is invaluable to the trip and should not be changed, but makes the trip a much more holistically educational experience.
Yesterday (Sunday) we did our first service project at Children’s Playtime Project where we cleaned a playroom for children who live in this homeless shelter. We re-organized and sanitized the playroom in two hours and were excited about how much we accomplished. We worked with two volunteers that have been with the project for years and their dedication to the project was evident. We walked to Capitol Hill and went to the Museum of Natural History.
Today (Monday) we traveled to the Brightwood Campus of Center City Charter Schools, which was founded three years ago. We were each assigned a classroom where we acted as teacher aides and had different responsibilities. The kids were extremely welcoming and the teachers were appreciative of the help. I had the kindergarten class and loved the kids. The experience highlighted many of the themes covered in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which was amazing (Sam and I may have cried a lot).
In the afternoon, we went to the Boys and Girls Butler-Wyatt Club and although a lot of the kids were outside, we had a lot of fun we with the few kids who were inside. Caitlin D may have been crushed in a chess game by an 11 year old. But he was an awesome chess player.
Jocelyn has been crutching around and is such a trooper despite her torn ACL. The days are really busy and we’re already delirious but we’ve been making good food, having a lot of laughs, and doing some really interesting service.
This morning our group was able to visit a local charter school, where we were split into individual classrooms. I was sent to the second grade, where I was able to bond with the children, many of whom had english as a second language and were behind due to their previous experience in a very nearby school which many had transferred from. In this school a young child’s jaw was broken in one of the many fights that often broke out. This was one of the numerous ” failing” schools or “drop-out factories” that our educational guru, Chandler, was able to tell us all about through the inspiring and revealing documentary – “Waiting for Superman”. I was very thankful that we were so informed about education in the United States before entering the charter schools this week, because it gave me a new perspective on the children’s ability level and statistical chances of going to college. I look forward to seeing how the other local schools compare as we experience them throughout the week and meet more children. We have been frequently discussing the affects of good and bad teachers, as well as having a motivator like a parental figure on children’s education. The boys and girl’s clubs provide a safe place for children between the hours of 3 and 6, the most dangerous time for youth and getting into trouble. I am interested in seeing the affects of these different organizations on the children in this economically depressed and academically struggling area.
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!
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.
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.
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.