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.