Category: 2012 (page 1 of 7)

Heading to Haiti again!

There are some things that I have figure out over the years about my self, i love lacrosse and being involved in competition, I will do just about anything to learn something new, and most importantly I am never really satisfied.  When a friend was talking to me about ASB I knew I had to get involved and when I read the Haiti program description, I knew that this would not be something that would end  when I walked off the plane. Immediately after I filled out my application I began researching Haiti, looking at pictures reading articles about the earthquake. A few issues seemed to continue to keep resurfacing, the lack of infrastructure on the island, the lack of food and price of education; then I came across some information on the cholera crisis.  I began to read fact after fact about the lack of access to clean water and its effect on the community. I knew I had to do something and with my background in engineering and filtration I knew just what it was. I applied to Lafayette’s Grand Challenges program to build a water filtration system for people in Haiti with a few of my friends. After being accepted into the ASB program, then awarded a grant to build my system I was ready to go.

When we boarded the plane I felt prepared. Between my GCSP research and the preparation through ASB I thought I had a good mental image of what I was getting into but really, I had no idea. All of the photos you see on the internet when you google Haiti are not far off. Even a year out from the earth quake people were still living in tents. There were no traffic lights, houses and structures were still deformed from the earth quake, people everywhere carrying water or piled on trucks going about their daily tasks, even in our compound we had a limited water source that had to be trucked in. Everything that people said about a third world country came to life but no one really warns you about what is the truly amazing part about Haiti- the people. The optimisim and hapiness that these people have is just inspiring. They are pleased with the simplest things. One of my most fond memories of the trip was visiting a boys orphanage one afternoon. Somtimes getting motiviated to  visit the orphanages in the afternoon was difficult after a morning of hard labor in the sun and on this particular day it was especially hard. A few of us grunted and got on the truck, it went normally we taught a lesson on how to say colors in english, then we went outside and played with soccer and kick balls we had brought with us. The boys were so excited and they were having an amazing time until the soccer ball got kicked on the roof-the boys were pretty upset since there was aboslutely no access to the roof unless you scaled the building-which is exactly  of course what I did, i climbed the side of the wall and got the ball. When I threw the ball down just seeing the faces of the children made the terrifying attempts of getting of the roof worth it. Just a soccer ball made them smile from ear to ear. This is the kind of spirit and simplicity you never see in the states- and man was it amazing.

I had a lot of eye opening experiences when I visited Haiti. I have  brought the cause home by collecting cleats for an organization called “Goals Beyond the Net” from our athletic department  and  have been continuously raising awareness about the realities of the water conditions through my GCSP project. As I soon will embark on my second trip to Haiti, I can never express the amount that the ASB program has done for me and its role in inspriring me to just keep helping.

 

For more informtion on my project please email me or visit this link:  http://sites.lafayette.edu/grandchallenges/this-years-winners/

Tennessee/ North Carolina

It has been a couple of weeks since we returned from our week in Tennessee, but feels like I only left yesterday. I still miss working on the deck, getting lost in the woods and swimming in the freezing lakes. The only thing element of the trip that I found disappointing was losing the fish game. Ed and Arleen Decker were fantastic hosts and Carla was a great cook. I especially appreciated their explanations of how the service projects that we took part in actually aided  the community. Picking up garbage in the forest is a lot less terrible if you know that there are thousands of people coming to the campground the next weekend for the start of fishing season and the park rangers will never be able to get the site cleaned up in time. I though that it was interesting to learn about Cherokee culture. They have a dry community and the two Cherokee that I talked to wanted to keep it that way; however, one of them seemed resigned that a proposed law for a wet county would pass, while the other one was confident that it would be defeated. Shorty believed that a dry county was necessary and that Cherokee were genetically predisposed to having alcohol problems, but he believed the law would pass easily. I’m not exactly sure what this difference in opinion with regards to the fate of the law says about Cherokee politics. Both people (Shorty and the Liberian at the youth center) seemed to be heavily involved in the Cherokee community and they were both very conscious of the historical identity of the Cherokee. From listening to both of them the proposed law seems like it is dividing the community. It is unfortunate that I was not able to talk to anyone in favor of the law, as I would have liked to hear their opinions as well as Shorty’s and the Liberians.

I had an amazing time on this trip and I would like to thank everyone on team Tennessee for a great time and especially Jocelyn for all of the work that she put in, to both prepare us beforehand and to make sure we had a successful trip.

I have been back from our ASB trip to Tennessee for awhile now but it seems like I was just there.  I remember clearly the smell of the pine trees, the impressive waterfall sites, and the looks on everyones faces I saw after we completed a service project.  I do not want to be overly cliche and talk about how this trip completely changed me as a person and how I will never be the same… but there is one thing I need to say: this trip taught me that life is what you make of it.  It did not matter if we were swimming in a beautiful lake or just picking up garbage in a park, we were always having fun and enjoying life for what it’s worth.  We enjoyed each other’s company and took everything in.  This idea is very apparent in the Cherokee community we visited there.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to meet the Cherokees.  Everything they told me about their community was so interesting.  They were so welcoming and you could tell that they really enjoyed telling people about their community.  I am also so happy that I had the honor of meeting Ed and Arleen, our hosts for the week.  They are such amazing people with huge hearts (who also know how to have fun!).  Their program, “Once Upon a Time”, is so nicely organized and just a truly wonderful experience.  They could not have been nicer and they really helped us take a lot away from our experiences.  One night, we had a big reflection with all of the schools there as we made smores in their huge fire pit.  Ed and Arleen guided our conversation and made us laugh with all of their funny ghost stories.  It was so much fun.  I am so happy and grateful I had this experience and I would recommend this trip to anyone!

Camp Baker Changed my Life

I hate to say such a banal term, but it is the only way to express my life, more so my thinking, post Camp Baker. I went to Camp Baker with only one expectation: to learn. WIth such a broad and general expectation, it was impossible to be disappointed.

My week at Camp Baker eliminated fears that I didn’t even realize I possessed. The night before we started service, I called my mom terrified about the events that would follow. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing nor say nothing at all. My mom gently reassured me that everything would be okay if my heart was in the right place. These words flowed so compassionately and genuinely because my mom  works in a home for individuals diagnosed with AIDS/HIV and once also had these same fears. I trusted her and she was right.

I went in and saw each individual as simply a person with a disability, but a person nonetheless. From the start I felt comfortable and wanted. Feeling wanted was the fuel that kept me going each day. Smiles, high-fives,pounds, half hugs and just interactions ( verbal or non-verbal) honestly made my day. Not only did this trip help me make strides with familiarity and  comfortability (is that a word?)  with humans with mental disabilities, but alos it taught me a lot about myself and how decisions should be made and who should make them.

Should majority always win? Or does democracy only ostracize the minority? What does that say about the minority? Are they wrong? Unwanted? Not important? Negligible even? Maybe this idea of “majority rules” is a coward way approaching dilemmas and ideas. Over the week in various areas of my trip, I found myself asking these questions. These questions stemmed from pondering about group dynamics, but one could also think of retarded individuals as a minority. If we always use this concept of “majority rules”, important individuals apart of the minority get left behind, simply for being part of the minority. I never thought about minority in the sense of ability. But to think that the individuals that I made a connection with at Camp Baker are part of this forgotten and ridiculed minority, truly makes me sad. I thank places like Camp Baker and students on various ASB trips around the nation for taking the time to reiterate and reinforce the notion that minorities should not be forgotten and tossed aside.

 

Oh nooo, ASB trip over

Just like everyone else on the team, I can’t believe our week in Camp Baker is over and that we’ve now been back on College Hill for over a week. How can I properly sum up such a great week (if that’s even possible)?

 

Working at Camp Baker was definitely challenging at times, especially in the beginning when we didn’t have any guidelines about how to best structure the wellness and arts and crafts activities. Luckily, we were able to learn from our mistakes during the beginning of the week to make the activities better structured for the campers. The changes made a difference and everyone really benefited!

 

One of the highlights of my week was getting to know one of the weekend respite and afternoon campers named Ian. We arrived at Camp Baker on Saturday night and Sunday morning we were told to interact with the campers the next morning. I met Ian by chance. With him he had his sleep away duffel all packed and his favorite Disney toys. When I met him, he continually mumbled the same few lines over and over. I recognized that he was repeating a movie trailer because I picked up the words “coming to DVD and VHS soon.” Over the next hour or so I sat with him as he kept repeating the same few lines. Eventually, we walked to the basketball court and then to the sidewalk chalk. He set his stuff done, picked up a piece of chalk, handed it to me, pointed at the ground, and started talking. I started writing what he said and would have him repeat it until I could understand it. The first part he said was “Walt Disney Pictures presents feature.” Then came a breakthrough in a sense. I was able to finally understand that Walt Disney Pictures presents feature…Lilo and Stitch 2. Now on DVD and VHS”

 

I was overjoyed when I figured out he was talking about the movie trailer for Lilo and Stitch. I had spent the entire morning with him, and finally understood what he was saying, which was a minor step to better understanding what he was thinking.

 

The next day, when Ian came to Camp Baker for afternoon care, I saw him again. I don’t remember how it came about, but when I saw him I pulled up Lilo and Stitch Youtube video clips on my phone, which he loved. He would sit in the swing and watch the video clips every afternoon. At first he didn’t know how to use an iPhone—the correct pressure to apply to the touch screen, how to navigate, etc.—but by the end of the week he had figured it out all on his own. He would also interact more with me while using my iPhone. He asked for help when he needed it and responded to my questions more. When my iPhone died, it was harder to communicate with him because he returned to his continued mumbling.

 

Ian is such a cool kid. He loved Disney and everyone could tell that he was very smart and creative. I feel so lucky to have met him.  The Zac Brown lyrics still stick in my head when I think of spring break in Virginia: “It’s funny how it’s the little things in life/That mean the most/Not where you live or what you drive/Or the price tag on your clothes/There’s no dollar sign on a piece of mind/This I’ve come to know.”

It really is the little things, like meeting Ian and figuring out how he loves Lilo and Stich, that I have come to realize mean so much. I feel so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to go to Camp Baker and meet the ASB Virginia team. Thanks for everything!

Home from Virginia and missing it a lot!

It’s hard to think about everything of our week in Chesterfield and not want to go back. By the end of just seven days, so much had changed for the better, and I’m really proud of everyone on the team for helping that happen. The thing I think that stood out most was how well our team interacted with and handled situations with the kids and adults, all with various developmental disabilities. The eleven on our team ranged widely in terms of level of prior experience working with this population, but after even just a few days at Camp Baker, those who’d previously had no experience were indistinguishable from those who’d had years.

Just looking around at a teammate pushing a camper laughing uncontrollably on a swing, another teammate sitting on the ground next to a camper lying eyes closed on a slide, three more busying a picnic table full of campers with pipe-cleaner crafts and even more standing in a circle, reaching for the sky in the first of many warm-up stretches—and seeing how everyone (team mates and campers alike) truly wanted to be there, and was so good at truly being there—was a truly inspiring sight (and reoccurred plenty of times every day). The way that the members of our team spoke so fondly about campers and formed such solid friendships, and spoke to and played with them with so much warmth, and the way that many of the campers spoke with and about our team, was a rare and awesome thing–heartwarming even.

Names and faces will be in our heads forever: Ian, who loved Disney; Tyler, who liked to dig holes in gardens, and sometimes sprinkle those around him with the dirt;  Jorge, who loved to dance; Kimberly and Victoria, two sisters who were so cheerful and fun even though they dealt with a lot at home; Brett, who loved to duet with anyone; Brittany, who had the greatest laugh; Sharon, the cutest middle-aged person in the world; Buddy, the most helpful 70-something-year-old leaf-raking enthusiast ever; so many others too.

Other favorite points include how well our team talked and reflected about the day, about serious and lighthearted, positive and negative experiences, about widely-agreed-upon ideas or controversial ones, and during delegated Reflection time and whenever it came up throughout the day. Our collective ready-to-go attitude we usually had even after a long tiring day meant we could make the most out of our time there. This led to unexpected activities like walking around Richmond to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; finding a little hole-in-the-wall place to eat traditional Southern food; watching “I Am Sam,” a movie based on a true story of an autistic man whose sole custody of his beloved 7-year-old daughter is discovered by the state, and the legal journey that ensues; planning a St. Patrick’s Day gold hunt for the campers and dressing a team-member up as a leprechaun (green top hat, sunglasses, and tie) to announce the game in an Irish accent.

I’m really excited to see what our now more open-minded, tolerant, patient, creative, flexible team can do with what we’ve learned now that we’re back. I don’t think it will end after our required reorientation is officially completed—we’ll continue to be involved and share our experiences for years to come. Hopefully there’s a way we’ll be able to stay in contact with the kids and adults we met at Camp Baker, or even just check in every once in a while to see how they’re doing. We’ll absolutely all stay in touch and never forget that single week. Thanks again team for making it such an amazing week :)

Post-Trip Reflection

I cannot believe that this ASB trip is over, it felt like it just started. I had such a blast working with people with special needs again while getting close with an awesome group of people. Though I had previously worked with only kids with special needs, I learned that many of the methods that have helped me with them worked with older people with special needs, and that both experiences were equally rewarding. One of the best parts of the experience in Camp Baker was the connections I made with both the group of children we worked with in the afternoons and the group of adults we worked with in the mornings, and how each day I worked to make the connections stronger. The initial connections that I made with many of the campers, or clients, at Camp Baker were great, but seeing the connections deepen each day I worked with them was remarkable.

I think the strongest connections I made were with the children. One example was with a non-verbal child. Since in my program back home I worked with lower-functioning kids, most of whom were non-verbal, I felt drawn to this one non-verbal child who was running around the playground by himself (he was also adorable). He was so content running around with the same happy, playful expression on his face, but I really wanted to work with him and try and make a connection. By the end of the day, I had got him to give me a lot of hi-fives and one big goodbye hi-five before he left. But the next day when I saw him, his face lit up and he ran over to me and gave me a hug. Besides the fact that I made my strongest connection with him, the best part about the connection we had was that it was not the only one I made, but seeing his face light up when he remembered me the next day was one of the best parts of the trip.

Not only did I make some great connections with the clients, both children and adults, but I also made some great friendships with my teammates. The people whom I was already friendly with before the trip became closer friends with me, and the people who I knew less or not at all are now some of my close friends. And that is part of what ASB is about. It is not just about giving up a vacation of partying with your friends or hanging out with your family to participate in meaningful and rewarding community service opportunities in places that you may have never been before, but it is also about making friends with other individuals who made the same choice. I love ASB and I am so happy to have the opportunity to participate in one of the best service experiences of my life with a great group of students who are not just my classmates, but my friends.

VA Post-Trip

It’s been 5 days since we left Camp Baker. It’s really hard to believe that it was only 5 days ago, for some reason it seems so long ago yet like it happened yesterday. This I know for sure: it was one of the most rewarding and amazing trips I’ve ever been on in my life. This past week I’ve literally been telling everyone about my experience and trying to educate them on the difficulties of being someone with a disability. While at Camp Baker one counselor said ” we are all just people, and we all have disabilities but some just hide them better than others”. I try to tell everyone about this and make them really think what that means. It’s really changed how I think of everything- how truly lucky we all are to be able to express how we feel and people can understand us without effort most of the time. I also miss my team- you guys are the BEST and I’m so happy we all ended up going to Virginia because the experience definitely would not have been the same without you guys. This trip has motivated me to change my own habits and forced me to step out of my comfort zone. I had not previously worked with anyone with disabilities and I really thought it’d be awkward and I’d be awkward but in the end it’s really not at all. Going to VA has motivated me to step up and speak up if anyone says anything poorly or negatively about people with disabilities- something I may not have been so inclined to do previously. In conclusion, it has been one of the best trips and most rewarding and educational experience I will ever have and I truly miss Camp Baker and all the people there.

There’s nothing like the sound of Bluegrass in the morning

I’ve been back on campus for about 3 days and all I want to do is go back to Tennessee. This trip really opened my eyes and exposed me to so many things I would never have seen or done. Our direct service consisted of removing invasive plant species, building 2/7th of a deck, burning dead wood, stripping bark and litter cleanup in a national forest. However, I learnt much more from all of the educational programs we were a part of in TN. Having the opportunity to talk to members of the Snowbird Cherokee community, I realized just how lucky I am to never have been taken advantage of. Most of the stories we heard from Ed and Arleen Decker (our hosts for the week), Shorty (our direct contact with the Snowbird Cherokee community and the coordinator of the fish game) and Archie (a military veteran and member of the Cherokee warrior tribe) mentioned the intolerance the Cherokee have had to face in the past and how the community is still struggling to recover from all those years of hardship and pain. What struck me most during these conversations was that in spite of everything they have been through, members of the Cherokee community have an extremely positive attitude about life. As Shorty mentioned to us on numerous occasions, “You kids need to enjoy and live life every day.”

I don’t this trip would have been so successful if it weren’t for the wonderful team that I worked with. Jason, Joss, Andrew, Jen, Liana, Dena, Kara, Caroline, Ryan C, Megan and Mary…you guys were amazing. I’m a little bummed because I will no longer be going on any more service trips but the lessons I have learnt in my week in TN and over the past 4 years at Lafayette have really prepared to take an active role in changing the world for the better.

I have been back from Knoxville, Tennessee for 3 days now and all I want is to go back! I honestly was a bit hesitant about the trip as all of my friends were going on extravagant vacations to the Bahamas and Cancun; however, after this experience I would never trade this trip for the world! I’m almost at a loss of words because throughout the trip I learned and experienced so much. After the first day I felt extremely comfortable with everyone in the group. Creating this strong bond made it easy for the group to work very well together and learn from one another. Although I got tired while clearing out all of the honeysuckle on the first day, we all kept each other excited, motivated, and enthusiastic. I then knew this trip was going to be amazing.

I loved all of the service projects, from building trails to debarking wood. But what I loved most was talking and learning from the people. While at the senior center, I talked with a woman named Laura. She really put everything we were doing into perspective from her personal stories and knowledge of the Cherokee Community. The one thing I really took away from talking to all the Cherokees was that you need to ‘enjoy and live life’ as one man, Shorty, told us. All of the people we spoke to were always so happy and positive. At times it’s hard to live like this, but I realized sometimes I need to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and appreciate all I have.

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