Over spring break I visited Peru with 11 other students in a Spanish language trip organized by Friends Seminary and Envoys. We visited Puno, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest. We learned about the many different aspects of Peruvian culture. The food was amazing, especially on the reservation in the rainforest, and the people were very welcoming. I think I felt the most immersed in Peruvian culture during my home stay in Cuzco. They immediately welcomed me and made me feel like part of the family. I told them about my life in New York City and they taught me about their lives and Peruvian culture. My Spanish speaking skills were also improved by speaking to my family almost entirely in spanish. I was introduced to their extended family and learned how to dance during a party with all my classmates and their host families. The time I spent with them was great and I wish I was able to stay longer with them even though we had to leave. We completed the service part of the trip during our time in the rainforest, planting trees on the farms of two local families. Even though it was hot when we planted the trees, it was still fun and rewarding. After we planted trees on the first day we met the family who lived on the land and we were given fruit, which was an added benefit. It made me feel even better about the work we had done because we saw how much we were helping this family and how thankful they were as well. I was able to learn so much about Peruvian culture and history and immerse myself in the lives of the people who lived there. I visited places that I thought I would never see and overall the trip was an amazing and rewarding experience.
Over Spring Break, I went on the Nepal service trip. Over the course of two weeks, I experienced so many things that I never imagined that I would have the chance to witness. There were small things I noticed while staying in the small village where we helped to build the foundation of a new school. Within our own group, I witnessed the close bonds and friendships that were growing to be even stronger. We strived to do our best to provide the best aid we could as representatives of the Friends Seminary community. Among the villagers that we were working with, the same sense of camaraderie grew quickly. Despite the obvious language barrier, everyone, from old to young, knew the purpose of what we were doing. We didn’t need words to work well together. The smiles, laughs, sweat, and the future of the village’s schools were all we needed to comprehend. The simple tranquility that echoed throughout that village was unlike any other sensation on Earth. The worksite, the classrooms, and the clear night sky all held the same feeling of purity that I never dreamt of coming across.
Booker Travels is a website and webisode series that explores different cultures, using skateboarding, surfing, art, music, and food as a means to meet and communicate with locals. Some of the goals of the show are to encourage kids to explore the world around them and to show the energy and beauty of the places that we visit. This year we went on two major trips; Barbados and Puerto Rico. As I have begun to work more behind the scenes on the project, both filming and helping with production and direction, these trips were a little bit different from those done in the past. Yet, from eating freshly caught fish with roasted breadfruit with locals practicing voodoo rituals in Barbados to browsing a family’s private salsa record collection in Puerto Rico, we captured many unique cultural experiences through the perspective of locals.
While I am very proud of the success of these trips, the most rewarding and special project that I did this year was for Mount Sinai. Since December, Booker Travels has been used as a part of the therapy for children with terminal illnesses. The children, who have restricted or limited time outdoors, are watching episodes weekly from their rooms at the hospital to learn about the different locations that we have been to. To begin this project I visited the hospital’s media room and answered questions that the children and nurses had for a private 30 minute interview that was played on the TVs in the hospital rooms. To know that kids in troubling and scary circumstances are able to learn and explore the world through episodes that I have helped to create is a really amazing thing, and I look forward to continuing working in collaboration with Mount Sinai.
For my community service, I worked in the kitchen at God’s Love We Deliver. I know of this charity from decorating he bags at Christmas and worked with them in my sophmore year as well. One of the most amazing things is the volunteers who give their time every weekend. The head chef was running late one week, but this amazing group of people knew exactly what to do anyway. Although, I would never see them outside of this work, for those three hours on a Saturday we worked towards a common goal of helping others, and I think that was really special. I felt as though the work we did actually was going to benefit people and was important.
One of the most interesting experiences I had doing service this year was at the People’s Climate March in September. I didn’t march with the Friends group – instead, I helped my cousin, a videographer, document the event (here’s the link). Participating in the march was a powerful experience. Here were 400,000 concerned citizens taking over the busiest streets in the city to demand change (I was particularly impressed that the march shut down 42nd street). Environmental issues are a strong interest of mine, although traditional grass roots activism like this is not something I often do. I am generally more interested in the pragmatic aspects like policy change and technological innovation. Still, I was really happy about the March’s high profile, and I felt that participating in a it was a worthwhile thing to do. The March helped to highlight an important UN environmental conference, and it also came less than a year before the Paris environmental summit this summer. I felt that as a participant and documentarian of the event, I was reminding our political leaders that the public is serious about climate change.
As a sophomore, I participated in Project Cicero’s big book drive and sorting in the Hotel Pennsylvania, which is across the street from the not-so-hot Knicks’ Madison Square Garden, and I decided to work with this organization this year. Project Cicero works to create and supplement classroom libraries in under-resourced New York City public schools, something that is beneficial to all education in New York City. Like last year, the event that I attended was one where we all sorted all of the books that had been donated in order to support this cause. I arrived on the Saturday of the event with my brother, both of us ready to sort early reader books from sports biographies, and other work along that line. I find sorting books very soothing, which made the work quite easy and made it possible for me to work for a long period of time. For about 3 hours, I wandered around a large room full of people with a large stack of books in my hands, and placed the wide variety of books in different cardboard boxes, finding it relaxing and not strenuous at all. Project Cicero is a very successful organization. It has distributed 2.3 million new and gently used books to more than 13,000 New York City classrooms, reaching over 550,000 students. I highly recommend participating in one of it’s next events because the work is not difficult; however, the significance of your work is high. In the future, I will be working with Project Cicero, ready to sort any book that comes my way.
Project Cicero: http://projectcicero.org/
This year, on April 28th, all of Friends Seminary’s Upper School participated in its annual service day, where each grade takes a break from classes and instead engages in various acts of service around New York. Last year, I found the day to be somewhat hectic, with a long drive into upstate New York and not much work actually being done; however, this year, I believed that the 11th grade’s day of service was well thought out, active, and rewarding. My day started bright and early at 8:00, all juniors meeting in the cafeteria, preparing for the day ahead. The grade was split up and assigned to different projects across the city so that we all would not be working in one filled area because after all, New York City is a pretty cramped place. My advisory had been assigned to work with the New York Common Pantry, an organization that works toward the reduction of hunger and food insecurity through a variety of different programs, which include fresh food pantry packages, hot meals, working with the homeless and providing them with food, and many other much needed programs. We traveled up to 109th St. to the headquarters of this organization, ready to participate in any way that we could. After a friendly greeting from the other workers that were in charge, we were escorted down to the warehouse, where a large amount of food had been packaged or ready to be distributed out to those who needed it. The space had a great atmosphere, with cheerful classic R&B music playing in the background, which in my opinion, helped make any sort of manual labor not tiring at all. We were ready to start our work! Our work consisted of organizing the food that had been donated and making it much easier to be distributed for the day ahead. The Common Pantry had received a wide range of food. I recall carrying pasta, gnocchi, beans, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and much more! We worked for about two hours and everyone was in high spirits. Usually when someone wants me to do any sort of physical chore, I have a good excuse at hand; however, my peers and I all seemed happy to work because of the work we were doing and also because of the great atmosphere that the New York Common Pantry had created. After our hard work, we returned back to school, where we were welcomed by the school’s Pop-up cafe situated in the outer courtyard. I had a killer snow cone. After lunch, we all gathered in the meetinghouse to watch the documentary, A Place at the Table, which told the story of hunger in America. We sadly learned that 50 Million Americans—1 in 4 children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, discovering all of these harsh facts through many powerful stories of different Americans’ experiences with hunger. This movie helped me really grasp how important organizations like the New York Common Pantry actually are. These organizations tirelessly combat hunger in America and work every day to provide for those who really need a good meal. In conclusion, my service day was a truly memorable day and a very successful day of service, with both service that was supposed to aid those in hunger and also a vivid story that helped me see how important our work actually was. I look forward to service day next year.
New York Common Pantry: http://www.nycommonpantry.org/index.html
For my in-school service I did a walking tour with the GO Project. I, along with my group member, took a group of four or five kids around the Washington Square Park area to teach them about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The tour was an hour long and consisted of about six locations. In each location, we explained to the kids the significance of the fire and how it took place. We focused on both the fire itself and its aftermath. Overall, working with the GO Project was a really fun and stimulating experience and I am glad that I got the opportunity to share my knowledge of the fire with young kids.
For the past year, a few other students and I have been working with GEMS, an organization focused on combating sex trafficking in New York City. In November, a few of my peers and I organized a booth in the main lobby at which students filled out sheets that were part of GEMS’s “A World For Girls” campaign. At the booth, we also had a drive for beauty products for survivors of sex trafficking working with GEMS. Students filled out sheets at our booth that stated, “I want to live in a world where girls are ___.” We then hung the completed sheets around the school.
Reading the sheets filled out by students of all ages was incredibly inspiring. The responses ranged from “president of the united states” to “not for sale.” Many students expressed enthusiasm about empowering women and young girls and were eager to contribute to the supplies to which the survivors had access.
My attitude toward my social issue changed a lot. Before we chose our social issue we only knew some people who have gone through domestic violence but not the exact details or how serious it really was. As we learned more about our social issue I realized that the social issue we chose was very serious because it’s a lot of pain to go through physically, mentally, and emotionally. People who went through these social issues are really survivors because they had to have courage to seek help and get away from the problem. I developed a whole bunch of skills during this project. Skills such as social, public speaking, and researching/investigation skills. Social skills because I had to work with group members in order to do the project. Public speaking because at the end of the project while we were wrapping everything up we had to present to our world history teachers first. Then we presented to the whole freshman class with judges critiquing us. Finally researching/investigation skills because we had to research our social issues and find specific stats for New York to our social issues and then on top of that had to investigate around looking for a non profit organization that helps put an end to our social issue. The most challenging part about the whole project had to be the public speaking part both to our history teachers and to the whole freshman class. Since I get really nervous with talking in front of people it just overwhelms me and makes it the hardest part for me. The aspect of the project I find most rewarding is learning morE about my social issue. I learned a lot about it. I came into this project with not a lot of knowledge about Domestic Violence and I finished the project with a better knowledge of what it is and how it can occur and etc. Since we didn’t win the grant me learning more about the social issue is a reward itself. I will remain engaged with my social issue by speaking out about it more or by participating in fundraisers that help out the social issues. By doing these such activities will show that I support the extermination of Domestic Violence. I will not continue to engage with my non profit organization because they are very private and it’s hard to contact them because there are certain boundaries dealing with the social issues. If there is a public event going on and I’m allowed to participate then I will but if it’s not public then my chances of participating are very low.