At the beginning of this year I set out to complete my out of school community service hours with a nonprofit organization since I had previously been relying on larger events that the school offered. I decided to join a new club named CHAI, Children’s Hardships Awareness Initiative to help make an impact on less fortunate children. The club soon partnered with an organization named Hyolmo Society of America, a community center located in Queens that aimed to aid children of Nepalese immigrants in Queens. They had asked us to help tutor some of these children on the weekends. Almost every Sunday the club dedicates two hours to help tutor. When we were first emailed about this opportunity by the club leaders they said that the organization was very excited for us to help and that about twenty-five children would be waiting for us.
When I first came to a tutor session on Sunday I did not realize how many different ages would be present. One of the club leaders brought some homemade brownies for the kids to eat while we helped them with their various homework assignments. The parents sat in a small room to the side of ours and would come in at times to check in on their kids progress. Some of the children who were younger and did not have any homework would draw on the big whiteboards provided to us by the community center. At the end of each session we dedicated about ten minutes for a small game such as four corners, red light green light, simon says, or musical chairs. At the end of each session when we drove away together the younger kids would wave to us as we disappeared out of sight.
The South Africa trip with Envoys gave me two of the most interesting weeks of my life. I had not previously traveled outside of the United States and the approximately twenty-seven hours of nonstop travel only to our first hostel was definitely a wakeup call. When we landed we took in the townships formed of squat shanties along with small concrete homes and the beautiful mountains and sea surrounding Cape Town. It was all breath taking. In only a thirty-minute bus ride through South Africa we saw the beautiful landscape the country had to offer, and the vast differences between the poor and wealthy areas. In Cape Town while we did travel to a township named Langa I feel like we really began to experience the community in our second hostel in Port Elizabeth.
One of the countless community services that we did was with the church youth. We split into a few groups with the people from the church outreach program and walked to a home where we would give them nourishment and do so with some church singing. As we walked through the township we passed many people, our loud drumming and voice accompaniment reaching their ears. The group walked to a slow beat and when we reached the home all sound stopped. We quietly filed into their backyard after walking past their faded red gate. We were asked to stand at the front of the group since we were the visitors and waited as the owners of the home prepared for their numerous visitors. The backyard was small and overgrown with dandelions and other weeds, laundry lines flying overhead in the wind. As we were ushered into the home we were told that the women we were presenting the food too was blind, but could hear us. The home had a kitchen with a sink and a counter; there was no color and no windows. We passed a closed door connected to the kitchen and filed into the living room. There were three couches set up in a square with multiple seats in the space between.
The visitors sat down first, almost all of us crowded onto a small couch in front of the blind woman. Everyone else came in sitting down in empty places and many stood in the doorway and the kitchen. Two of the younger boys in the church outreach group brought in the bags of food we were presenting and placed it on the floor in front of the woman. This room had one window and a front door, both had cloth over it blocking out the light and a room was seen through a door on the left wall of the living room. Once we were seated the church group began to sing many songs filling the home with their beliefs. They had brought the church to this women’s home. The home and I filled with warmth, seeing the community reach out in music and prayer to help their neighbors and bring the church (a second home) to them was amazing. After countless soul full songs we were asked to bless the food and present it from us (the visitors) to the owners of the home. The man who lived with the woman thanked us multiple times before we left and as we walked out of the room each visitor shook the woman’s hand. She smiled and nodded as we each took her hand and left.
Interactions with the people in South Africa were definitely some of the best parts of the trip. Many were so happy about our presence and always wanted to take pictures with us and asked us so many questions about our homes and lives. You can learn so much about people even when talking to them for such a brief moment. That small piece of their life is so interesting and different to hear about. Talking to random people in the city was so much different, these people seemed to want to reach out and many New Yorkers seem to take any look towards them as hostile. I had never been asked so many times if I was going to come back to see them and their country.
My group began the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative also known as YPI in January 2014 and our service project ended in the very end of April. The Youth and Philanthropy Initiative is a program for kids to choose a social issue that is present in their community. My group chose to research the topic of domestic violence. A few of us knew people who had been affected by this social issue, and thought the topic was interesting to pursue. As we conducted research on domestic violence through various internet sources such as the New York City Library Archives, we were able to learn more about the topic issues surrounding it, it’s effects and causes and a non-profit organization to support. Over the course of a few months I learned more about the topic my group chose. When we chose our social issue we knew the basics of the issue such as women are usually abused by their male partner and some run away due to the physical and verbal harm while others stay in their position. I never really thought about the children’s role in this situation or why the mother/woman would stay if she was still in some type of harm.
When we visited our non-profit organization, Volunteers of America, they had us sit in a room and explained what they did for the survivors who came to their safe house. They explained the restrictions put on families and the reasons behind a woman staying in harm’s reach, and the children’s role in these situations. From the woman’s perspective sometimes the man is very threatening or has all of the money/power over their child or is just generally overpowering his partner. In this situation the woman would feel that she has no escape and that she would not be able to financially provide for her child or keep herself safe even if she does escape from her abuser. The child’s role could be very important in these situations. The child is usually confused in this situation because they no longer have the same home, doctors, school, friends, family or privileges they had with the other parent who might not have hurt their child. Thus, I have learned more about the struggle that women, men and children experience in a domestic violence case. And how they have to think about their options in advance, while before I believed it was much more simple to leave your partner when any abuse was involved in the relationship.
Besides learning many interesting and frightening statistics and information my group worked on a Powerpoint presentation where we would explain our knowledge on the topic and our non-profit organization. Some skills that we needed for this portion of the project was to be able to organize and manage time and information. My group had five other members who all needed a portion of the Powerpoint to be completed. We had to distribute and organize a Powerpoint presentation where everyone had an equal amount of work to complete and knew what they were talking about. I also had to gain the skill of public speaking and confidence. To memorize the topic I had to present by making eye contact with the audience and to have the ability to answer questions from the judges. I had to learn to keep my voice clear, my eyes on the audience, and the presentation intriguing for everyone.
However, the project was difficult in different ways. The organization of the group was difficult to achieve with six total members. When we had to organize a site visit with our non-profit organization we had to find a time and day when we were all available, which took a few days to plan. It was also difficult to find a time when we all shared in order to practice our presentation rather than memorize the part on our own and hope for the best during the presentation. However, when we had finally finished the presentation before the judges I was not only relieved, but proud of the months work. It was very rewarding to be knowledgeable about a topic we knew so little about to begin with, and to meet with a large organization and complete an experience not many people could have. It was rewarding to see the final product and present the organized it before an audience hopefully giving them new information about our topic and inspiring them to help the cause.
The non-profit organization that my group chose was Volunteers of America. This organization has many different programs besides domestic violence all over the United States of America. Their organization is based largely off of volunteers who donate their time to their programs. In order to volunteer your time to the organization you have to fill out a form and help out with any of their programs. I was interested in the domestic violence programs that the organization had including giving children in shelters school supplies, and another program which was a once a month birthday party for all the children in that month, they usually need volunteers to give party supplies, present, and offer games and activities. I hope to volunteer my time among other programs to aid the organization in the future.