Jack’s Summer with Go Project

This summer, I interned with an organization called the Go Project. Go Project works mostly with under resourced children from schools in lower Manhattan who face learning challenges and need more help and attention. Go Project takes place on Saturdays throughout the school year, but during the summer there is a one month school, in which the children have three hours of academics and three hours of extracurriculars. During the summer portion of Go Project, fittingly named Go Summer, around 70 interns are hired. What made working with this organization so special, is what the internship required. As an intern, we were required to attend professional development sessions. Each week, we would have a new topic. Topics included microaggression, tracking in schools, diversity and privilege, and a few others. For each topic, we would have required readings which we would then discuss in the professional development sessions. Because I was an intern for the enrichment classes, I would spend an hour at Grace Church in the professional development session, and then I would make my way over to Friends to help assist the class with my enrichment teacher. My enrichment class happened to be fencing, which was quite an experience because I had never picked up a fencing sword, which I now know is called an epee, in my life. At least for the first couple of weeks, I was learning and teaching fencing to the kids at the same time. The last thing the interns had to do was create a hustle project. Every intern combined their passion and their knowledge, and presented the project at the end of the internship. For my hustle project, I ended up teaching a class of 8th graders about the causes and effects of Islamophobia.

I always knew about the educational divides in our country, but I had no clue to what extent it was a problem. Go Project was eye-opening in this aspect. Through the readings and the professional development sessions, I really began to get a sense of how much of our educational problems stem from racial divides. The truth is, in most cases, the color of ones skin significantly affect their chances of going to good schools whether it be elementary school or college. One exercise we did in our professional development sessions really hit me. We were asked to compare all white and all black schools from 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, with underfunded and overfunded schools from now. What we discovered is there are striking similarities between underfunded schools from now and all black schools from 1964, including the segregation of whites and minorities. I also found out that many of the private schools in New York City and around the country were created after the Civil Rights Act, to keep schools segregated. The reason I know Go Project was an amazing learning experience for me was because despite all theses glaring problems that I learned about our education system, I came out of the internship feeling for the first time like I could, individually, make a difference. This is always something I’ve struggled with because there are so many problems in the world and sometimes it feels like whatever effort you give to change it is futile. Two things really changed that view point for me this summer. The first was witnessing how much Go Project has done to change the landscape of education. Yes, they deal only with lower Manhattan, but that is still a sizable amount of people and the organization really has made strides. The second was my Islamophobia presentation. After my presentation, the teacher came up to me and told me the kids were actually discussing what I said. Considering I gave my presentation to restless 8th graders, it meant a lot to me to hear that the kids actually took in what I had said. I have no way of knowing whether the kids that I gave this lesson to truly took it to heart , but for the first time I felt like I had really made a difference.

http://www.goprojectnyc.org/

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Above: A picture of one of my fencing classes eating snack with their equipment on in the outer courtyard.

Jordanian Experience and Working with FoEME: Jack

Our trip to Jordan during spring break this year was most likely the best experience of my life. I have always been fascinated with the culture and the language of the Middle East, but Jordan exceeded my expectations of what it would be like. After spending some time at King’s Academy and the amazing city of Amman, we had a little change of pace and went to an eco-park run by FoEME also known as Friends of the Earth Middle East.

FoEME is an inspiring organization for multiple reasons. The goal of FoEME is to protect the fragile environment in the Middle East while also bringing together the people of the region. The most important of the environmental projects they are working on is conserving water in a region that does not have much to start with. When you look at that mission, an understandable reaction is to shake ones head. Can a grassroots organization really save water in a desert environment while also advocating for peace in one of the most unstable areas in the world? They definitely can, and have. Unable to tap into the power and recources that many big organizations have, FoEME has relied on persistance and word of mouth. A great example of the success they’ve had is their work with ending the RedDead Sea project. The plan was to dump large amounts of Red Sea water into the Dead Sea to offset the Dead Sea’s shrinking size. FoEME knew this was not a good idea because it would upset the ecosystem of the Dead Sea and would cost Jordan money they simply did not have. Because they refused to give up, FoEME was able to get the project canceled despite its support by many powerful organizations like the World Bank. Even more impressive than their environmental work though, is their ability to unite people from places in conflict, such as the Palestinians and Israelis.

My time at the eco-park and working with FoEME was inspiring. Everyone I talked to from the organization was knowledgeable and passionate about what they did. While at the eco-park we engaged in a combination of activities from helping make a bird house out of used bottles, to having tea with Bedouins, to swiming in a sulfur pool, to biking along Golan Heights which boarders Syria, Israel, and Jordan. The Golan Heights was perhaps the most beautiful and eerie place that we went to in Jordan. The cliffs, combined with the Jordan River, provided a spectacular view – but there were also subtle reminders of the problems the Middle East faces. On the other side of the Jordan River, in the middle of the cliffs, was a long and threatening fence, built by Israel. The fence reminded me that the area is still in dispute and that Israel does not feel comfortable keeping their borders open. Unfortunately, this fence also creates a barrier towards peace. We were standing about 100 feet above the Jordan River, but according to FoEME, the Jordan River used to be that high until Syria built damns further upstream to block much of the water. Golan Heights is a perfect metaphor to describe the situation in the entire Middle East. The Middle East has a lot to offer in terms of its beauty and its history and its people, but economic and political problems plague the region and keep it from being what it has the potential to be.

My entire experience in Jordan from staying at King’s Academy, to working with FoEME, to camping with Bedouins was unforgettable. The Middle East is an incredible place that sadly gets a bad reputation. Although the region certainly has its share of problems, I urge people to go and visit so they can better understand the situation and hopefully change the misconceptions that come from living in America, a country that often seems sadly Islamaphobic.

Link to the FoEME Website: http://www.foeme.org/www/?module=home

Photo 1: A picture of our group in the bird house that I mentioned earlier in the post.

Photo 2: The view afte taking a 5 minute walk away from the eco-lodge. Much more green then in most of Jordan

Photo 3: The view from the cliff we were standing on at Golan Heights. The Jordan River is clearly not what is used to be

Photo 4: A picture of the fence that Israel built on the Golan Heights.

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