In the past few months we have been working with the Youth Philanthropy Initiative in our history class. We were all assigned groups with whom we decided on a social issue that we wished to focus on. The issue we chose was the struggles of LGBT youth and discrimination. From there we decided on an organization which worked in dealing with LGBT Youth discrimination, the non-profit which we chose was GLSEN. GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network is an organization which tries to ensure a better environment for all people. We did research, went on a site visit, and made a presentation on our social issue.
From this project I personally gained skills from working as a team, looking into a social issue, causes, effects, and relevance to our community. I gained skills such as division of labor through making sure that we all addressed the things needed in order to get our point across. I gained many presentation skills through organizing three presentations from different stages of our project. I learned a lot about nonprofits and how they work from looking at their tax forms to get a better sense of how they spent their money and how nonprofits organize events and programs with the limited amount of money that they have access to. Overall it was a very positive experience and I learned a lot from it.
Over spring break, I went on the Peru Trip with 11 other Friends Seminary students. Travelling through Juliaca, Puno, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, and Lima was an amazing experience. I had a great time getting to learn about and experience peruvian culture. The food was delicious, the people were kind and the landscape was beautiful. One of my favorite parts was the homestay, where I really got to learn about the modern day culture in Peru. Another great part of the trip was exploring the Amazon. While there we planted about 70 trees in two different local families. The trees were different fruit trees that once grown, will hopefully give the families another source of food and income. Both families were very welcoming and seemed grateful for our service. The first family offered us fresh grapefruits and coconuts afterwards and the second family (which was only one man) taught us how to use his bow and arrow. Both times, something that stood out to me about the culture was the family dynamic. Once the children get to be about 4 or 5, they live in Puerto Maldonado, the closest town, so that they can attend school. Normally they live with their mother and the father stays behind and works in the Amazon. In the first family we visited the father said that his daughter would be leaving next year, and in the second family, the father’s children had already gone. I also saw things like this on the Uros islands, and even in my homestay, where the father was almost never home since he worked as a tour guide in Machu Picchu. This makes me realize how much I take having both parents around for granted.
The Peru trip taught me many other things and was an unforgettable experience. I hope that I will get to learn about other cultures in the world and further open my mind to new experiences.
On Monday, January 27, a large group of Friends Seminary students, including Ben Frisch and Leitzel Schoen, joined with the New York City Department of Homeless Services to help gather the estimate of homeless people throughout NY. HOPE stands for The Homeless Outreach Population Estimate, the amount of homeless people living in New York’s public places. Thousands of volunteers divide up into small groups and are given a very specific route that they must follow carefully. While walking on that route, any person on the street that seems like they are living there must be approached with caution and a survey should be filled out for that person. This organization had been going on since 2005 and since then, the number of homeless people living on the street has decreased by 28%.
Participating in HOPE 2014 was life-changing. Even though the survey was conducted between the hours of 10:30 PM and 4 AM, I was motivated to help those without a place to live. During that night, on our route, my team ran into a homeless person that shared with us his life story and his thoughts on how the government should handle the amount of homeless people living on the streets. His plan made a lot of sense and it really opened my eyes. Helping make sure people are safe and have a warm place to lay their heads at night is the main goal of this organization.
As their t-shirts say, “Everyone Counts.”
During the first week of spring break, a group of us from friends visited the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for around 10 days. A large portion of those ten days consisted of working with an NGO: Friends of the Earth Middle East. We stayed at their eco-park for 3 days and spent even more learning and working with them. While they do other things, their main goal is to solve not only Jordan but the areas local water crisis. They have 3 representatives- one from Jordan, Palestine, and Israel- in every position and work to stop sewage dumping in the Jordan river, replenish the jordan river, and in turn revitalized the dying dead sea. We did all sorts of activities from visiting the sites of degradation to working to keep the eco park as beautiful as it is.
What really made this NGO legitimate was its grassroots activities. It sets itself apart from a UN or western charity in that it has local workers, working with the local population, solving local problems, and employing the local people. In the eco park, one third of the workers were bedouins who had their grazing land on the area of the park. One flaw I saw was that the NGO was too limited. Syria is a main problem in blocking the Jordan river, so, I feel the NGO should try and target representatives from Syria and also Lebanon.
This April the entire senior grade went to the AFYA warehouse for our day of service. AFYA receives medical supplies by donation, sorts the supplies, and ships to to areas where the supplies are needed. AFYA gets the majority of their medical supplies from hospitals that are closing or other donations. The supplies then go through AFYA’s sorting process. The sorted supplies are then sent to regions that regions in need for reasons such as natural disasters. When we went to the warehouse we sorted the supplies. We emptied boxes of donated supplies on to tables and separated identical items.
I liked this service day much more than others because the help we were providing was much more tangible. It was easy for us to see the progress we made by the carts of medical supplies. The sorting of medical supplies also seemed very important compared to other service projects we have done that seemed to focus on much smaller issues. I felt that this service project also gave a better perspective of the issues that some of these regions that just suffered natural disasters deal with on a daily basis.
This past tuesday, the 29th of April, I spent several hours helping out at the Afya Foundation’s sorting headquarters in Yonkers. For the first part of the day, I helped to sort and check expiration dates on various odds and ends of medical equipment, donated to the foundation from hospitals in huge and disorganized boxes. By grouping supplies by kind and making sure that nothing will have expired in less than a year, we helped to speed up the process of shipping supplies and making sure that everything passes through customs. After that I spent some time shelving already sorted items. Each bag of supplies had a specific number that identified it’s place among the many rows of boxes.
Going to the Afya Foundation’s shipment site was an experience that made relief and aid efforts seem much more tangible to me. Having seen the immense facilities and the huge stockpiles and shelves of donated equipment, I can better understand the amount of work and time goes into maintaining the kind of commitment to aid that Afya, and other organizations, have made. Working with the Afya Foundation helped me to have a better understanding of what exactly I can do to help, and how useful volunteering can actually be.
On April 6, I took part in My Big FAT Service Day.I helped prepare food for the shelter, make birthday cards for Birthday’s In a Box, and clean the cots, tables and chairs for the homeless shelter. Some homeless people come to Friends Seminary and they receive food, bedding, and necessary supplies. Also, the birthday cards go into a Birthday box, which includes all the necessities for a birthday party. These boxes are given to children living in shelters and they get to celebrate their birthday with other children in the shelter.Most of the time, multiple birthdays are celebrated at one time. The children are genuinely happy and grateful, because they get to feel important and special. It warmed my heart to do this service, because it allows me to give things to people that truly deserve it. I often take for granted the opportunities I am given. I felt very grateful for having food and a home and for being able to celebrate birthdays.
Shortly before the beginning of winter break this year, I volunteered with a group of students from school to go “elfing” with the Visiting Neighbors of New York. We spent the afternoon delivering gifts to elderly and homebound New York residents. Students were divided into pairs or small groups and were sent to deliver gifts. Students were encouraged to spend time with the people the visited to talk and spread holiday cheer.
On that afternoon in December, I spend five hours with one of my classmates talking to a woman who lived in Chelsea. She was the daughter of Polish immigrants and grew up near Niagara Falls. Listening to the stories she had to tell was like spending the afternoon in a movie theater; I couldn’t bring myself to leave when she had so much to say. She told us about how she had met her husband after moving to New York City, how she began to take art classes when he had to leave to fight in the war. We learned about her life as an artist: she even showed us some of her drawings. Learning about all of the stories that this woman had was an incredible process. Around eight o’ clock, I had to leave, but I was sorry to go. I could see how simply my conversation and visit had changed her; it had given her vivacity and energy. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with someone who had so much history and life to share; I enjoyed even more being able to bring joy and brightness.
This past December, I volunteered with Respond and Rebuild at their base in Far Rockaway as they worked to repair the homes and lives of those hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. We brought some tools, boots, masks, and gloves from the base (on 74th and Beach Channel Drive) to a home several blocks away. The house appeared intact, but upon entering I found the inside totally ravaged. One volunteer began by immediately lifting out and removing the house’s toilet; I was assigned to scrape away the bits of wall around the heating pipes.
The impact of the storm was made most real to me then, as I realized that I was dealing with one of so many totally gutted and unlivable houses. Because the entire day’s efforts only helped one family recover, I realized fully how many hours of work were needed to help the whole city recover. My day with Respond and Rebuild thus made me more aware of a pressing humanitarian problem right here in New York, and inspired me to contribute more to recovery efforts.
On May 9th in the meeting house, I attended the screening and discussion of the film Girl Rising presented by a small group of the 9th grade students. Girl Rising is a film directed by Richard Robbins that tells the story of 9 girls from all around the globe, and the challenges they face from rape, slavery, arranged marriage, and more. The film as a whole, advocates for the education of girls. The film does not only argue the ethical or moral arguments on the issue of educating girls, but it also sheds light on the pragmatic side as it relates to local and global economic issues. As well as this, the 9th grade group of girls also in their discussion informed us of their work with the Ugandan Kisyoro School. Finally, after donating the money, we signed the banner.
I found the film and the presentation interesting for many reasons. First, the movie clarified what I already knew, but never fully recognized. I guess it made whatever notions I had about the oppression of rights in other countries real. Second, the film was not just a sob story. Not only did it offer a solution, but it also told inspiring stories of overcoming adversity. It also told the truth. Not every story ended with a hopeless or depressing ending. It brought glimpses of what could happen and examples of what has happened in achieving education for girls. Two things really struck me was writing the message to the girl at the Ugandan school, and finally one of the 9th grader’s monologue about her experience with the Kisyoro school. She said that video chatting with them humanized it all. I thought about that, and what I interpreted from her message was that something could be done, not only ought to be done.