From June 25th to July 15th I was in India on a Lifeworks International service and cultural immersion program. During the trip, the group and I worked alongside such organizations as Talk Tibet, Lha Social Work Organization, Tibetan Children’s Villages, and The Tibetan Immersion Program. The beginning of the group’s service was dedicated to learning about the Tibetan refugee situation with a concentration on those in Dharamsala, India. As well as watching movies and documentaries about Tibet, we met with numerous speakers, which included a member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, an expert on Chinese torture, and a well known poet and protester for a free Tibet, and had the chance to have open conversations with them on the important issues that concern Tibetans. Another part of our service other than learning about the issues of Tibet was interacting with the Tibetan community in Dharamsala by teaching them English. Every morning we met one-on-one with a student enrolled at Lha and helped them improve their English language skills for three hours. We walked around the town with them, visited their homes, listened to popular American music, wrote and read stories, and simply got to know each other. Then, in the afternoon we would head off to the Tibetan Children’s Villages and there we assembled into small groups and taught English to a classroom of children, ranging from the ages of 3 to 16.
This trip was rewarding beyond belief. English is a crucial tool in India in furthering one’s opportunities because a comprehensive understanding of and ability in English is necessary for an overwhelming amount of the jobs available in India. In this small way in three weeks we were able to assist Tibetan exiles; however, I felt that we learned much more from them. Not only were we immersed into their way of life, but we gained an understanding of the issues Tibetans have been dealing with and all of us were eager to spread this new awareness back at home. My knowledge of the Tibetan exile situation was almost nonexistent when I had arrived in India, but now I find myself absorbed with the issue as well as both Tibetan and Indian culture. In addition, on this trip I was given the chance to personally connect to people on the other side of the world in a way I never thought possible. The classroom of children that I taught became like a close circle of friends to me. Through dances, games, songs, and drawings all of us bonded and developed a strong relationship despite the large language barrier and cultural differences. Lastly, this trip introduced me to the hundreds of thousands of hard working volunteers and reformers who are deeply dedicated to the Tibetan cause. Their resolve and enthusiasm was astounding and truly pushed me to want to do more volunteer work around the world.
Lifeworks India: http://www.lifeworks-international.com/india/overview.php
One of the service opportunities I participated in this year was helping out with the school’s mentoring program for the Lower and Middle Schoolers. I helped Cynthia as a chaperone on the trip to Chelsea Piers’ bowling alley and I was able to interact with the younger kids who were on the trip. The reason why I signed up for the opportunity is because I really support the mentoring program at Friends. I think it is a great learning experience for both the mentor as well as the child being mentored. The mentor learns how to exhibit their leadership skills and how to interact and speak to those younger than their individual selves. The child observing and learning from their mentor(s) gain invaluable skills just from being in the presence of someone older than them. This also includes leadership skills, as well as any “tips” or information their mentor(s) may give them when it comes to school and/or life in general. It also creates relationships that probably were not very likely to start due to the different ages. From being a chaperone on this trip, I got from it good memories and new friends. Hopefully, the younger party feels the same way.
This past November, after hurricane Sandy, I went to city hall to volunteer to bring food and medicine to those who needed it. We were sent to apartment buildings that had been devastated by the storm. The ground floors were completely flooded and all the power was out. We knocked on people’s doors and asked of they were alright and if they needed any prescriptions filled immediately. Everyone who answered seemed afraid because of what had happened only two days before, and also wary because we were just teenagers. Some peoples houses were torn apart and everything they owned was piled up in the gutter which was salary to see because it showed just how horrifying natural disasters can be.
When trying to think of a service event this year, I could easily remember one like cleaning up a park, but this service event was hard to think of because it did not feel like service, I had a truly good time and felt as rewarded as I would have any other time I did service.
This event was the Friends After Dark, a middle school event where all the kids in a grade can have fun. This event held a special spot in my heart because I had also gone to FAD when I was in sixth grade, and had so much fun doing it. Being able to facilitate the same experience I had to other children was awesome. At FAD they had twister, Wii, xbox, a snack room, and movie room. Originally I was going to help with the xbox room because I knew a little about it, until I heard that they had Just Dance 4 in the Wii room. Just Dance is a game where a person on the screen dances and you follow the movements. I ran over there and started the game up. At first a few kids came in and danced, but I realized it was kind of awkward for the kids to be dancing among their class-mates. And I solved this problem the only way I knew how, by dancing. And because of me making somewhat of a fool of myself the kids were able to dance. Only a few were dancing at the start, but by the end so much many kids were dancing and it was awesome. Even some teachers came in and started dancing. That event was so much fun I gladly went to the second one, and hope it continues next year. I had a really great time, and I think the kids did too.
As part of my service I went to St. Joseph’s soup kitchen. As part of the job I was asked to do a number of tasks of all different variety. This included making fruit salad, moving boxes full of food, making runs to the supermarket, putting butter on lots of bread, and washing dishes.
Out of all the service I have done I enjoyed working at the soup kitchen the most. It really feels like a community for the three hours everyone is working together. The best part about it is about an hour after I am done I go back and see the line that goes around the block to get into the soup kitchen. When I see that line, I am able to realize the immediate impact I am making on the community. Seeing the line also opened my eyes to a huge problem our society faces. I did not realize hunger was such a big problem here in the village and in many of the surrounding neighborhoods. The number of people on that line illustrates to me that hunger is a large issue that needs to be adressed. Although I will not be in New York City on the weekends during most of the summer, I am making it a goal to go to the Soup Kitchen much more often during the next school year. Also, after the preparation you can come back and help hand out food. I have not done that but I would love to go back next time and meet some of the people so I can really get a sense of the impact I am making.
Unfortunately, I did not get any great pictures, but here is a picture of the food being prepared. Please excuse the blurriness of the photo.
On February 12th I attended the Forward on Climate Rally in D.C. hosted by the Sierra Club, an organization focused on protecting the natural world and educating people about their environment, as well as 350.org, an organization that seeks to solve the climate crisis. This rally was intended to call attention to people’s dreadful treatment of the environment and the ease in which they take advantage of their own natural surroundings. In addition, the organizations desired that this rally would help promote President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. At first people all gathered near the Washington Monument, holding signs and listening as people made speeches about the importance of the government to take more action on environmental issues. Then we marched around the National Mall, showing our support for the cause. Nearly 50,000 people marched with me and set aside a full day of their lives in the honor of the environment in this rally, thus making it the largest climate rally in US history.
The Forward on Climate Rally was truly one of my favorite service experiences. It encouraged me to get even more involved in helping with environment issue. It was amazing to see so many people come together on an issue so important to them, especially during one of the coldest days of February. Everyone was excited to be there and eager to discuss their opinions with strangers from across the country. People made their own witty signs and even came in polar bear costumes. Their ability to join together from all spectrums and devote themselves entirely to this issue displayed the true extent of human will, desire for improvement, and need to take a stand against injustices. I am simply glad that I was able to be a part of such a significant and historic event.
Two Saturdays ago, I hopped on the subway to go clean up our beloved Stuyvesant Park. The group was pretty large, and we worked in conjunction with the Stuyvesant Square Community Alliance (SSCA) to remove large, unaesthetic and sometimes dangerous objects such as large sticks and trash from the gardens (we worked mainly on the “Garden of Forgiveness,” containing many flowers that Friends students planted) and, for the majority of the time, placing a two-inch layer of mulch over the plants. The purpose of laying the mulch was to both fertilize the plants and cool them off for the Summer. This wouldn’t seem so bad if the mulch was in a huge pile right next to the gardens, except this was far from the case. The mulch, conveniently for other workers, was stored on the other side of the park across the street, and had to be fetched by loading it into numerous wheelbarrows and lugging it back to the part of the garden near school. In addition, a two-inch layer across two gardens is no small amount of mulch!
Despite the stereotypically tedious work of shoveling and transporting mulch, it wasn’t actually that bad. I enjoyed the group of students who helped out at the event, and I bonded more closely with my classmates than I would in a purely academic setting. I even felt some significant leadership skills emerging and developing as I organized and streamlined the process of fetching and spreading mulch. In fact, we were all so enthusiastic and efficient at getting the job done that we finished two hours early. To those who had planned to stay until four to finish their service, this was somewhat of a disappointment, however Leitzel kindly gave us credit as if we had stayed the full amount of time! I really felt, by the end of it, that our hard work and good organization paid off, as we got a good job done in little time – allowing us all to add two more precious hours to our Saturdays!
On April 20th, I arrived at school at 10:30 AM. This was odd, not only because of the time, but also in that it was Saturday! Leitzel was very helpful in directing me towards the LS Sports Clinic, where I played basketball and baseball with some 2nd-4th grade students. Proceeds from this Sports Clinic are going to support children at Association to benefit Children. A Friends student club, Tickets4TKTS, work with these children all year at the ABC facility and then at the end of the year take these children to professional sporting events. Playing baseball was especially fun, as my team made a thrilling final-inning comeback. It was rewarding to see so many young faces smiling after an exciting victory. We then ate pizza and celebrated with soda.
Following that morning service activity, we went to the park, where I met some of my friends, also from the Upper School, to help with mulch. When there were not enough shovels to fill the wheelbarrows, we used our hands to pick up the dirt. Seeing Stuyvesant Park when it turns beautiful again will be especially rewarding for me to look at this year. I am so glad that I was able to contribute my time to help out around the school doing such a wide variety of activities.