This year, I worked at Tsejin Bhotia’s booth for Around the World Day. Tsejin is Tibetan-American and is incredibly passionate about her culture and Tibet’s liberation from China’s oppressive rule and invasion. She works with Students for a Free Tibet, and the entire event Around the World Day was centered around raising awareness and money for the organization. At her booth, I helped sell merchandise from the organization, and I also asked students and faculty to sign petitions to free Tibetan political prisoners who have been wrongly abducted or imprisoned by the Chinese government. I have always been aware of the situation in Tibet, and working at the booth was a good way for me to gauge how much and how little I know about what is going on right now. Some students had no idea why Students for a Free Tibet even exists, and I explained that Tibet has been struggling for its liberation since the mid-Twentieth Century. However, hearing Tsejin talk about the situation I realized how little I really know about the history of the struggle. She explained that in relation to other oppressed countries, Tibet is more oppressed than North Korea. However, China tries its hardest to give off the impression that Tibet is part of China and that nothing wrong is going on in the region. In reality, China is trying to erase Tibetan culture, and will imprison anyone who advocates for the country. I want to help spread awareness about this issue that has been largely ignored by the international community and is not talked about enough in conversations about international human rights. Overall, the experience was very positive and it was wonderful to see so many students and faculty asking questions and wanting to learn more about Tibet.
With the 11th grade service theme of hunger in the city, helping to serve meals at St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn felt like truly the most vital and direct way to be combating the increasingly prevelent issue of hunger in New York. Though the physical tasks of serving people from all walks of life- both young and old- were mundane actions, the results of those actions felt so vital–seeing the recipients of the food enjoying their meals- that the acts themselves felt so inhernetly necessary, no matter how small. Seeing the faces of the people as they walked by and recieved their food put my own life, my own concerns into perpective. The prevelence of the issue they were facing–not even having enough food to eat-was so immedate. Suddenly the issues of my own life seemed so trivial in comparison. Of what consequence is my failing something as unnecessary as a math test, really, when there are people all around me who can’t afford the basic necessities of life? I felt the most gratified to have had a chance to feel like we were really helping people, in any meager way possible, and being able to reimagine my own existence felt like rewarding side effect of the whole experience, one in which I now feel so lucky to have taken part.
On May 17th of this year, I led a group in AIDS Walk to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS. I am the leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and all year I wanted to lead a service trip connected to the club. This event was the perfect opportunity, because when the HIV/AIDS epidemic began it disproportionately effected the LGBTQ community (and still does). I was able to raise awareness about an issue that is important to the mission of my club, and I educated people who were not part of the GSA. I led a small group, but it was still a challenge to organize the event and coordinate everyone’s arrivals and service. The day was hot and muggy, and the walk turned out to be longer than we all expected it would be. However, I kept my and the group’s energy positive. It also helped that there was entertainment and music throughout the duration of the walk. I learned how to organize a service event, and had fun doing it. I plan to lead a group again next year, and I hope that more people from the community can come in the future. I am looking forward to seeing participation in AIDS Walk become a Friends Seminary Gender Sexuality Alliance tradition.
This year for service day, my advisory worked at a soup kitchen in Brooklyn. It was a really fun experience because I got to know people at the soup kitchen who work there and I probably never would have met these people if I had not participated at the soup kitchen. They were all very welcoming of our help and one of them was very funny and made lots of jokes the entire time to keep up a good atmosphere. There are lots of jobs that you can have at the soup kitchen including moving around containers of food, washing dishes, preparing the food and even serving it. I was assigned to washing dishes. There were some people washing the plates people used to eat on but I was washing the trays and bowls that were used to prepare and bake the food. It was hard physical labor and y arms were tired at the end from lifting the large trays and holding them while I washed them off. However, it was still a great experience because I was with some familiar faces while getting to know really nice people I probably never would have crossed paths with.
This year I stayed after school and worked with Empty Bowls to help glaze bowls other students had made. It was my second year with this program and again it was a lot of fun. Glazing bowls is not as hard as it may sound and you can hang out with your friends while doing it. It felt really accomplishing because glazing a bowl does not take long so you can do multiple in one session of service and you know that these bowls are going to a great organization.
One new thing this year is that the leaders teach you about hunger in America while you are glazing bowls. I thought this was a great addition since you learn how big and important the problem of hunger is in America. Also, many times you hear about it but don’t feel like anything you can do personally will help but they actually give you a few simple and easy things to do at home that can make a big difference. Empty Bowls is a great way to get service done and is an enjoyable experience because the work is not labor intensive, you can do it with your friends and you learn a but about hunger in America along the way, something that never hurts.
This year I worked with Project Cicero to help organize books for teachers looking to get new books for their classrooms. It was my second year in a row working with the organization. Last year I spent my time removing and tearing up empty boxes, one vital piece to the system. However, this time I got to help organize the books themselves. It was a very enjoyable experience because I got to talk and hang out with a lot of my friends while getting service done. They are also very appreciate of everyone’s help there. They start with a quick mandatory information session where they tell you how the whole operation works but once that is done, you are mostly free in terms of helping out. You can organize books, tear up empty boxes, carry out organized or bring in new boxes of unorganized books.
I really liked organizing the books because with each book I organized I felt like I was contributing. Sometimes with big service events it is hard to feel like you are doing something because you don’t always see the direct result of your work. However, you organize books for about a half hour at a time and then a group of teachers come in and take the books they want you so actually watch people use what you have been working on. You really feel like each book you organize is helping the teachers find them and you know that those books are going to libraries for students who don’t have access to lots of books so you know you are making a difference in their lives. I would recommend Project Cicero to anyone who is looking for a fun way to get their service done and wants to feel accomplished at the end of the day.
On March 17, I participated in Around the World Day. I ran the India booth along with Gabriella Singh and Sahana Mehta. The main point of Around the World Day was to expose the Friends community to foreign culture. We were provided with food and drink that are commonly consumed in India; samosas and lassi, which seemed to be a big hit to pretty much everyone who came to Around the World Day. While telling others about India’s diverse and exotic culture was fun, I found the entire event more interesting as I went from booth to booth learning about the other countries on display. I thought it was great not only that foreign cultures were exhibited, but also that students within our community itself were so knowledgable about them.
Earlier today, I went to Studio 1 to participate in Empty Bowl’s event. When I entered, there were both regulars to the meetings and those who were new to them. Throughout the course of the couple hours I spent there, I glazed bowls that were previously and skillfully made by members of the community, and placed them in the kiln so as to achieve a final product that is both presentable and able to be used in the next Empty Bowls event. I learned a lot about hunger problems in the tri-state area thanks to Jack Lanzi, who is learned on the issue. Going to Empty Bowls today really motivated me to be more conscious about hunger problems both locally and internationally.
A few weeks ago, I went with my advisory to St. John’s Church in Brooklyn to work in the church’s soup kitchen. The first hour or two was spent lifting heavy boxes of various foods for storage for later use. Then, I went to work in the kitchen, cleaning dishes and trays after those who ate had finished. I haven’t had much experience working in soup kitchens before; I did spend a few hours working in St. James’ Church in Manhattan early in the year, but besides that experience working in the soup kitchen was a new service opportunity. The experience that I had, and I am sure my advisory had as well, was very fulfilling. The fact that we helped underprivileged members of society and gave back to the greater community of New York, within which we live, was very satisfying.
In January, I took part in the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE) NYC survey with many students from my Statistics class. The participants divided into two groups, one group walked with Leitzel and the other with Ben Frisch. I walked with Ben, and we surveyed an area around Washington Square, Astor Place, and just south of Union Square. We walked along a predetermined path, and asked anyone we saw walking on the streets many questions. These questions included their age, if they had a home, if they were a war veteran and many others. The survey started around midnight and ended around 3 am, so it would give an accurate estimate of how many people sleep on the streets of New York City. The survey gave me a very good idea of how many people sleep on the streets at night, especially because my group surveyed areas in my neighborhood. Even though it was cold and went into the early hours of the morning, it was a thought provoking experience.