I had a number of interesting service experiences this year, but the most relaxing one was a fixture of many of my Fridays: packing up the meetinghouse for the weekend with Bob Rosen and Russell Dukes. It’s a simple matter of getting the piles of stuff that sit in the corners of the meetinghouse – guitars, amps, drums, bass, trolleys full of cables, scores, and saxophone reeds – out of the room and into the gallery and music offices so that the space can become an uncluttered house of worship on Sundays when the Quaker congregation arrives. Everything is in varying states of disarray as we move the items down the center aisle and into the meetinghouse lobby, and some of the carts could use some axle grease, but the work always seems to go quickly as I chat with Russell or listen to exciting new music over the sound system with Bob. Often, other students will join us and speed up the work, but sometimes it’s just the three of us – I don’t mind either way. It’s good, simple work, and a nice way to end the week.
This past December I decided to put my Arabic skills to use by participating in a neurological study being performed by Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar at Teacher’s College. The goal of the study is to examine the neurological functions of diglossia in Arabic speakers. Diglossia is the condition of a single community speaking two distinct dialects or languages, which is very prevalent in the Arab world, where the formal dialect is very different from the various spoken dialects. Dr. Khamis-Dakwar explained that her team is also studying diglossia as it applies to African American communities, where the rules of spoken language often differ greatly from the formal English taught in schools.
My job was to wear an EEG (see picture) and respond to various stimuli on a computer screen for a few hours. In this way she was able to measure my brain’s response to formal and non-formal, Arabic and non-Arabic words and sounds and then compare it to the responses of native Arabic speakers, who have a much more internalized differentiation between formal and spoken varieties than I would.
It was really fun to take part in the study, which I will likely return to in order to obtain more data as my abilities progress. I look forward to learning about Dr. Khamis-Dakwar’s results at the end of the process.
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.
On Service Day, Jamie spoke in the Meetinghouse about how themes in World History related to the incorporation of the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative in the 9th Grade curriculum. She reminded us that civilization brought great advances, but also great inequality for humanity, and that the purpose of this project was to give us as students a personal understanding of injustice and how it is being fought, today and in our community of New York. I really appreciated the way that Jamie framed the presentations to come, because I felt like the groups that were presenting had gained a very specific and valuable perspective on social problems in New York. I especially appreciated the enthusiasm and urgency that members of GEMS (the winning organization) exhibited.
As for my personal experience researching and advocating for WIN, I valued the fact that my group was spending time on a school project to do actual good through education of our community about social issues. such as child homelessness, and through the prospect of winning a grant for financial support to a local charity. Although we narrowly missed the opportunity to secure the $5,000 grant for WIN, I loved visiting the organization itself, where we were able to have a frank, honest conversation with WIN Vice President Robin White about the challenges of their work and the enormous benefits that the efforts of WIN, along with other nomprofits in the City, have brought to vulnerable families in New York. Massive inequalities have been a problem for so long, it’s certain that efforts to eradicate them will take a very long time to succeed, but the YPI project offered a beautiful opportunity for all of us to take stock of our place in history and learn how to bring about progress towards the world that ought to be.
I think all of my fellow students would agree that we gained lots of leadership skills as well, as we conducted interviews, collaborated with our team members on our presentations and polished our speeches. My biggest take away however, was the appreciation I have gained for the work and contributions of the philanthropic sector in our city.