While the main focus of the globa ed trip to Morocco was intercultural exchange, there were definitely opportunities for service offered during the trip as well. For instance, while we were staying in our homestays in Rabat, we spent a day working with young volunteers at a soup kitchen in the nearby town of Sella. Speaking Arabic and French, we worked with them to discover the cultural differences between American and Moroccan dynamics in the home and in public spaces as well. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of Moroccan youths as they approached service to their local communities. All of the volunteers we worked with were artists, so I was particularly interested in discovering how they applied their artistic talents to their work at the soup kitchen. Another service activity we experienced in Morocco was in a small town in the Atlas Mountains, working with a women’s cooperative that specialized in providing their community with couscous, a staple of the Moroccan diet. With the oversight of these pioneering women, we got to learn to make couscous and provide the community with a bit more of the food.
Over spring break, I joined the Friends service learning trip to South Africa. We spent a majority of our time there studying the country’s history of racial oppression in the form of the Apartheid system and the system’s lasting effects.
Our second day in the country began with an aerial view of Cape Town from Table Mountain. After our descent, our tour guide launched us into our educational journey about South African racism. He described to us how the Apartheid government divided the city of Cape Town into sections based on race, forcibly moving people into their designated neighborhoods. Within an hour, we found ourselves in the District 6 museum, a museum that displayed the rich culture of a black-designated section that ultimately added much to the anti-Apartheid movement. We spend the rest of our day in Langa, the township closest to Cape Town city proper. Townships are city subdivisions established during Apartheid and are plagued with high rates of unemployment and drug abuse. They are also overwhelmingly black, hardly a coincidence in a society still grappling with the effects of Apartheid. We toured Langa and finished our day at Mzansi a family-run restaurant. At Mzansi we were served delicious food, provided with musical entertainment, and told the story of how the host founded the township restaurant on the dream of her late mother.
The rest of our trip was similarly packed with eye-opening natural wonders, cultural adventures, and engaging conversation about South African racial history. We lived in a township for 5 days in Port Elizabeth, learning from a community group of “Mamas” who were our hosts. We studied two methods of sustainable development via the Ubuntu Education Fund and the Calabash Trust. We even celebrated Easter with a methodist church, going with them to peoples’ homes and witnessing how the church supported community members in need.
I am exceedingly grateful for this trip. It has forced me to take a deeper look into the way I perceive myself as a white American man of relatively high socioeconomic status. I now feel that it is my duty to help my own community understand how it fits into a society of institutionalized racism.
Over spring break, a Friends group went to Peru. Envoys, an organization that empowers students through travel, took this group of city kids to a part of the world that, until then, had only lived on the fringes of their perspectives. I was lucky enough to be one of those city kids, and through the trip to Peru I learned the difference between seeing a country and living it. We stayed with host families, speaking only Spanish, learned from the completely sustainable people of the Uros Islands, and explored ancient Incan ruins. From a silent meeting in Machu Picchu, we watched the fog swirl around the peaks of the Andes and we awoke at 6 am to the sound of ghoulish howler monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest. We did so much that coming back to our busy student lives at Friends seemed dull.
Throughout the trip, we were led by a task force of professors and Envoys counselors who worked tirelessly to make every minute of the adventure an experience in and of itself. Our trip leader, Ángela Gomez, was an enthusiastic character who seemed to have everything planned out, down to the minute of our arrival at our host homes. “Flaco”, our medic, was a ukelele-playing, song-singing, happy-go-lucky Columbian who looked after each one of us, even staying by the side of a few group members for two straight days while they recovered from a virus in a hospital. Ahava Silkey-Jones, a third Envoys member, was smart, collected, extremely helpful, and very attentive; it was her first time in Peru, and yet she made us feel secure and at home there. Señor Quiñones and Micah were our Friends Seminary adult representatives, proving to be extremely caring and capable in their abilities both as our guardians in Peru and as our friends—they were our attachment to home. With the help of these leaders, our group became a family.
In this trip I found a stark contrast between visiting and traveling. At the start of the trip, I made it my goal to avoid seeing the country through the lens both of my camera and of my life as a New York private school student. By planting trees for a Peruvian farmer, the fruit of which he will sell to send his daughter to school, I achieved that goal. I achieved that goal again and again, in my homestay, in seeing huge swaths of brown among seas of green rainforest from the plane, in our brilliant tour guides, and in asking my waiter at a restaurant his name, where he was from, and what his dreams were beyond working at a hotel in Cuzco. I achieved that goal when I realized that to be a person, you need to travel and learn about the world you live in.
Over the Summer, I attended a camp called “Summerdance”. This dance camp is a part of my dance company, The Vanaver Caravan. During the first two weeks, the dancers work on various techniques of world dance, such as Percussion, Capoeira, and many more. The final week, however, the dancers go on tour to various venues in the area. Three of these venues were: Woodland Pond Retirement Home, The Ellenville Center for Spectrum Services (a school for special needs toddlers), and Camp Felix, a wilderness camp in upstate New York for inner-city kids.
Performing for all of these communities was incredibly rewarding. After each performance, we had the privelige of teaching simple dances to the audience. It was so exciting to see the faces of the kids, teenagers, and elderly light up with excitement at the prospect of learning a new dance form and get moving. Furthermore, through talking to our audience, I feel that I learned a lot about the what, specifically in our shows, worked and what lost their attention a bit. Although performing in and of itself feels so rewarding, thinking back on those few performances really makes the sometimes tedious rehearsals worth it.
Over the summer of ’13, I volunteered at a wilderness camp called Wild Earth. Wild Earth is a day camp that brings both city kids and kids from the area to upstate New York, and provides them with fun games and wilderness activities in the forests of New Paltz and Rosendale. I have been attending the camp since it began in ’04, when I was about 5 years old. The camp has grown since then, when it originally serviced only about 50 kids. Today it provides fun outdoor programs for over 500 kids in the area. Kids learn how to start fires, carve, and create shelter. One of my favorite activities in the camp is the game of stalking, where one “clan” in a camp would cover themselves in mud and try to creep up on another “clan” without the other kids noticing. Furthermore, kids are provided with the opportunity to learn about Native American culture, as there is a large focus on the history in the camp.
The camp is divided into three smaller camps. Screech Owl services 4-7 year olds and has three two-week long sessions during the summer. Kestrel Camp, where I volunteered as a CIT, is a camp for 7-10 year olds, and also has three sessions. At Raven Camp, 10-13 year olds have a great time in the mountains and wilderness, and has one session from June 30th to July 25th. There is also a training program for potential Wild Earth leaders, called the Teen Leadership Experience, that is open to 13-17 year olds and shares the land with the Raven Camp. Wild Earth also has an Art Camp, a Parent-Tot Camp, and multiple programs during the year for kids and adults who want to learn more about the natural world.
Wild Earth is an amazing camp that has had an extremely profound impact on my life. I have been through all three of the major camps, and feel like it has been one of the most important factors in shaping who I am today. Through Wild Earth, I achieved a better understanding of how to treat the natural world and how to learn from it. Moreover, Wild Earth helped me learn more about myself, through various activities involving silence and awareness. Working as a CIT this past summer, I learned how to lead the kids in many of the activities I myself participated in as a child. I learned how to build teamwork with my fellow counselors and how to have safe fun with the kids while also nurturing their education about the natural world. Wild Earth is my favorite part of my summer, and I can’t wait to get back this June!
A camper hangs from a grapevine in the woods.
An instructor helps a camper.
An instructor teaches a camper how to properly saw a piece of wood.
All photos taken from the Summer ’13 Slideshow at http://wildearth.org/