In the beginning of this year (before the election occurred), Stefan’s Politics, Power, and Citizenship class participated in a project to raise a greater awareness of the differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from a policy perspective. We were split up into groups and scoured the two candidate’s websites and past statements to determine their stances on issues such as women’s rights, immigration, criminal justice, the 2nd amendment, and healthcare. It seemed, for each group, to be difficult to find information on Trump’s policy objectives. Moses Goren and I were assigned the topic of healthcare. You can find a link to our page here: http://blogs.friendsseminary.org/electionissues2016/2016/09/29/healthcare/. Stefan uploaded each group’s product to the website. The objective of the project was to provide an unbiased side-by-side comparison of Clinton and Trump in terms of policy for our community to use. Our respective biases not seem to permeate our final product (although it was an initial concern); this was most likely due to the fact that we were required to use the candidates’ exact words (or, in the case of their websites, official positions). Completing the project allowed me to be more articulate and precise when debating about healthcare in the context of the impending election with friends and family. As a result of the project, I was exposed to important, topical information that proved to be extremely useful. Although we did not investigate the readership or impact of our website, we intended to contribute to a more politically informed community.
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.
For the service-learning project, my group, which consisted of Zara, Rio, Jay, Javin, and I, selected sex trafficking as our social issue. Sex trafficking, or sexual exploitation, involves the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving a person through the use of force, coercion, or other means for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Commercial sexual exploitation is a painful reality for more than 3,000 children in New York City, yet many people are unaware that the issue even exists in the five boroughs. Since pimps find children to be easily manipulated, the average individual in the commercial sexual exploitation industry of New York City has become a twelve-year-old girl, which I found to be incredibly disturbing. Yet due to the endless effort of GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services, girls and young women from ages 12 to 24 are being safely transitioned out of the life of sex trafficking, educated, and empowered to become strong, independent women. Founded by Rachel Lloyd, a victim of sexual exploitation in Britain, GEMS emphasizes the importance of every girl in the New York City community. GEMS also offers services such as court mandated sessions in which girls are given medical care, treated for sexually transmitted diseases and infections that are common for sexually exploited girls, and taught how it feels to truly be cared for without the demand of sexual favors in return. The staff members of GEMS forge relationships with each girl they aid, provide both crisis and transitional housing, and assist girls in enrolling to educational institutions.
As I was able to learn more about the issue of sex trafficking, I often became upset with the fact that I was previously extremely ignorant of the suffering that occurred in my own community. Initially, the issue of sex trafficking seemed too large to conquer; however, once I understood the practices of GEMS, I realized that each girl is an individual, just like me, and if I could just help one girl in New York City, I would make an enormous difference and change her life forever. Thinking of the commercially sexually exploited girls and young women as individuals like me prompted me to feel as if I had a responsibility to help them. I also realized that educating populations as a whole about sex trafficking is essential in combating the issue. If people are aware that sex trafficking exists, they too will hopefully strive to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation. Every presentation that we made as a group may have caused someone to become as passionate about eliminating sexual exploitation as my group and I. Over the course of the project, I became increasingly hopeful that my group and I could make a genuine difference in the lives of numerous people in the New York City community. I also was able to improve both my public speaking skills and much needed ability to be more concise. In my opinion, the most challenging aspect of the project was to fit the entire presentation into a ten- minute period. I believed that every fact about sex trafficking and every feature of GEMS was important to share with our audience. My group’s original presentation introducing the social issue ran for fifteen minutes, and it was challenging to decrease the time interval.
I have remained in contact with GEMS, and I plan to continue educating as many people as possible about the vast issue of sex trafficking. I also plan to further connect GEMS to Friends Seminary as well as to attend fundraisers with my group that support GEMS and their extraordinarily positive influence on New York City.
This summer, I worked as a volunteer counselor at The Ross School for three, four, and five year olds. The Ross School is an educational institution which runs from September through June and a day camp throughout the summer. Ross places an emphasis on organic and local foods as well as promoting an open, accepting environment. During the two weeks in which I was a counselor, I was part of an Early Childhood group called “Creative Explorations.” Each morning, two other counselors, an instructor, and I were joined with about nine three to five year olds. Our objective was to educate the children on music, art, and nature as well as its inhabitants. The Ross facility is equipped with a vegetable garden to which we travelled every other day on nature walks. We often aided the children in dissecting a plant or fruit to unearth its insides and find different ways the vegetation could be used. They sketched and (in the case of a fruit) ate the plant. When we took apart a tomato, we taught the kids about the names of its different components. In the afternoons, we organized numerous art projects for the children. During the afternoon art period, it was crucial to step back and let the toddlers work alone. As a counselor, I found it essential to evaluate the influence I was having on the young children.
Throughout my experience, I became aware of my impact on the children as well as their impact on me during my two weeks at Ross. During the initial days of camp, many of the children were reluctant to complete their own art projects and continued to ask me to write their names at the bottom and draw circles, hearts, or other desired shapes. Every day, I encouraged the kids to explore and attempt to draw and write on their own. By the end of the two weeks, all of the kids were comfortable and confident with their own drawing skills. They were unafraid to be creative. As a result, I became conscientious of everyday moments in which people impact other’s lives. It can happen in just a split second; someone may smile at a stranger and change the course of their day. I started realize these minute yet significant moments that could impact others. It reminded me of a statement of guidance from the Dalai Lama, which was to “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” Every new second contains the chance to impact someone’s life with mere kindness. Even the smallest of creatures have a great impact on the world. As said by the theorist and biologist Edward Osborne Wilson, “Ants are the dominant insects of the world, and they’ve had a great impact on habitats almost all over the land surface of the world for more than fifty million years.” Many small acts can affect lives similar to the way in which numerous minuscule ants can have an effect on the earth. Especially at a young age, children have a tendency to be easily influenced. As a volunteer counselor this summer, I had the incredible opportunity to encourage self-confidence in young children, which will hopefully impact the rest of their lives.