Archive for the month “March, 2013”

I LOVE that Grace used that quote in her last post.  I feel that saying goes so far to show our interconnectedness and the impact that even the smallest exchanges can have.  Like many of my teammates, I’m trying to reassess where our project is going.  One of my biggest questions right now is, how is this fitting into our (albeit vague, broad) framework of education and its relation to social change?

I also want to echo especially what Brenna has said about happiness.  Like so many times before, I am so grateful to what each of my compañeras brings to the group.  A lot of what we do in GST is whistleblowing, calling out problems, revealing deeper structural issues…it makes my head spin and weighs really heavy on me sometimes, so that I see some manifestation of the flaws of our system in almost every detail during a day.  Thankfully that’s not always, but it can be debilitating.  That’s the world we live in though, one where it takes a significant, conscious effort to come even a little closer to living with each other and the world the way that we should.

That said, like tom said in his facebook post, none of us can be activists alone, especially with such a bleak view.  Maybe that’s why our theses are in groups.  All the same, I believe we are a group of radical optimists, because we wouldn’t be working for something we thought was absolutely unachievable, right?  There’s a quote I’ve read that goes something like “Everything is impossible until someone does it.”

So what’s our social change?  Well, for one thing, we’re breaking barriers of privilege.  Privileged college students making relationships with immigrant workers (I hate to use labels, but it’ll become more clear)?  It extends across identities based on age, culture, language, nationality, and class.  It’s a new, tiny community where we learn from each other on more than just language, but also on diverse life experiences.  I wonder how many politicians have meaningful relationships with people who are truly different from them.  Maybe it’s naive to think that they would behave differently, but who knows?  Maybe what our photovoice project should be the story of each one of us and the point where we all converge in our weekly meetings.  Defining the audience for this kind of project would work towards social change.  What if there were community meals once a week in Ray between workers and students?  Something like this could maybe be coordinated with Res Life, maybe each building or floor could take a different week.  Or maybe we’d want something that was more consistent in the long term (or maybe that would arise from the initial encounters?).  Thoughts?  PS I miss you educhicas.


social change??

So I have spent a good portion of this semester worrying about the idea of structural change and feeling like we couldn’t possibly do anything significant in three months to address the daunting structural barriers that dictate so many of the social problems that we discuss. Now that our project has started taking off in its own direction, I feel that we are moving away from structural change and moving towards community building and changes in ways of thinking. However, so far these ideas have been our own and, while they have been inspired by our conversations with our community partner, they have not been their ideas.

The time at the end of capstone last week allowed us to have an essential conversation about what exactly are the problems that we are trying to address with this project. We talked about how, while we all love language and culture, we don’t feel that the fact that immigrants need to learn English is in itself an injustice. Rather, we see injustice in the way that we often think about English language learners and the way that their culture and language is often devalued through the English learning process. It seems like our project is aiming to create something that our society lacks, rather than correct something that is already there.

This idea was reinforced on Friday during our meeting with Sonia and Lily, who both expressed happiness about their lives in the United States. While it is obviously great to see that they are happy, it makes me wonder where we’re going in terms of social change. The change is supposed to come from them and reflect their needs and wants, but they seem so content in their lives here. As of now, I feel like whatever we do is going to end up coming more from us than from them, and that concerns me.

What is a community?

After meeting with our CP on Friday, and hearing that they genuinely love their neighborhoods, it got me thinking about what makes up a community. I thought about why we have communities, what sustains communities, what ruins communities, and if, in this generation, they are shifting from physical to virtual.

When I was in South Africa working in Khayelitsha township, amidst the abject poverty and overcrowded shacks, there was undeniable sense of community. Every member of that community embodied the Xhosa proverb, ubuntu, “I am because of you.” Is this because they live simply? Is this because they still believe in the concept of family, respect, and traditions?

The real community that I feel a part of is the Global Studies community. I don’t think Providence College, as an entity, is a community because there isn’t an equal amount of respect evenly distributed amongst its member. If you disagree, please tell me.

Sonia and Lily are part of communities in their neighborhoods and for that I am incredibly envious. Is the overall concept of”community” becoming obsolete, or is it just me? Is it because of consumerism, capitalism, corporations and the increase in individualism? I don’t know.

I am learning so much from these women even though we’ve only met a few times. I am learning how to hone in on what is important to me and how to survive in a world that is increasingly chaotic and fragmented.


Tonight when I was in Ray getting dinner I went to the pasta station (per usual) and saw Lily working. Now, because of this project, we exchange more than just hello, thank you and have a good night. We actually converse- in English, Spanish and for me, mostly Spanglish.

I can’t speak for the group but I went into this project with assumptions. I assumed they didn’t like America, that they were unhappy working here, that they had a negative view of Providence College. For so many weeks I’ve been trying to find something to change, something to make them happier. It dawned on me Friday that maybe I’m the one who needs to change, who needs to become happier.

This whole experience, coupled with my visit to tom’s office today and watching the “Happy” documentary, has made me step back and think about happiness. Simplicity. Languages. Relationships. Laughing. Stereotypes. Assumptions. Vulnerability.

What makes you happy?

When we asked Sonia and Lily on Friday if they like their neighborhoods and if they like the States, they looked at us with genuine content. Shit, I thought. How much of my day do I spend complaining about what I don’t have, what I don’t want, what I don’t like. Clothes. Grades. Relationships. A job. Why is it that I spend so less of my day focusing on what I do have?

I could blame our consumer culture, our country’s reliance on advertisements, insatiable greed, capitalism, “The Man” but fuck it. Why is it so HARD for me to be satisfied, to just be happy.

If this activism project has taught me anything, it’s that happiness is a really simple thing that is not as elusive as our society suggests. In fact, it’s attainable through a simple English-Spanish-Spanglish conversation at the pasta station in Ray.

CP Weekly Reflection

On Friday we had another great meeting with our community partner. I’m really starting to see us fostering a relationship with some of the workers at Ray, and I think this will be a strong indicator of how much we’ve improved. Although one of our students did not have actual pictures she brought them in on her phone! She also was so nervous that she had not printed them out and I think that speaks on behalf of her dedication with what we have started! She showed us around her house, through pictures, and we were able to see her home in Providence. One of the most telling parts of our weekly meeting was realizing that maybe it’s not our duty to try to find the compelling dramatic tale we think all of these workers live. Grace started off the questions with possibly asking what they didn’t like about Providence. The only negative thing we had them tell us was in relation to the weather here in Providence. Why were we searching for such a dramatic story to tell, maybe the story we should be telling is about their accommodating lives in Providence.

Sometimes when I think social change I immediately correlate it to a situation in which people are facing negative issues or they are struggling in some sort of way. Yet maybe social change could also be about giving a voice to people who are sometimes automatically categorized in a group that is not representative of their way of life. I know this post is wordy, it’s reflective of how I feel about this new bridge we have reached with our community partner. Why did we automatically jump into this conclusion that the Ray workers are facing a problematic situation and living in unbearable conditions? As GST majors has our “critical thinking” approach created students who are just plain critical in some situations?

CP Weekly Reflection

where is home;de donde eres

We had a really good session with our CPs this past Friday.  After taking a couple minutes to eat, Sonia and Lily joined us for a great discussion.  Lily forgot her photos, but Sonia showed us hers on her phone.  We had a lot of fun hearing about Sonia.  She showed us pictures of her home, her family, especially her son and her granddaughter.  She talked about how she loved where she lived in Providence and her community.  She didn’t really have any complaints other than the weather. ; )  We asked them “what is home to you?” and they seemed to have a more open idea of it.  They didn’t say strictly the DR.  They consider both the US and the DR to be home.  I don’t want to step on any of the other girls’ toes, but after our session, we briefly talked about how we feel like we are searching for a problem.  We don’t want our questions to be too guided, but we’re not finding the “issue” that we are trying to address yet.  Sonia and Lily are very positive about their lives in the US.  They don’t have any complaints (that they’ve shared with us yet). It’s still early and there are more discussions/photos to come, but right now I feel like we’re digging hard for some issues and not coming up with anything.  For next week we gave them the prompt of something that challenges them.  I’m looking forward to seeing what they bring in and discussing this prompt!!  Also, we have everyone’s cell numbers and we asked them to upload their photos on Facebook so we could see them before the sessions.  They seemed receptive to it and it works well since they have smart phones and are able to put them on Facebook fairly easily.

home is where your story begins



Weekly report

Blogging from my phone-this should be interesting. My hip teenage brother tells me he can write entire papers on his phone so I guess I should just get with the times, right?


Disclaimer: I had Sonia’s permission, but not lynnzie’s, for this photo 😉

On Tuesday, Lynnzie and l met with Sonia as an additional way to get to know her and supplement our short Friday meetings. We chatted a little about the weather and then asked Sonia what she would like to do. She said she loved reading, so I brought out a book I have that has stories and other pieces from adult learner in Minnesota (English language or literacy learners). She read a story about an Ethiopian refugee who was comparing the seasons of Minnesota to the seasons in Ethiopia. She seemed to enjoy learning about a new place and then comparing the four seasons here to the seasons in the DR. We didn’t have much more time than that, but asked her to bring and take pictures of “home” for Friday (thanks for the prompt idea Kara!)

I’m trying to think of ways to improve our sessions with them so it goes beyond just reading something and then he going through and translating. She seems to be comfortable with that, but I wonder if that’s the best way to learn? Maybe we should bring in articles about issues that she might relate to? It’s also going to be a scramble again because Lynnzie and I have a make up session for our independent study next week during the time we met with Sonia this week. It was definitely a good thing to meet up with her another time though, so I think we should keep working to deepen and improve what we have with this cp so far.

Social Service vs. Social Change in Peru

I have been meaning to write this blog post for almost two weeks now, ever since I came back from my spring break trip to Lima, Peru. I was skeptical of the idea of going on a “service” trip from the beginning. As a GST major and someone who spent four months living in Latin America, I was totally over the idea that we were going to go into Peru for a week like heroes and make a big difference. But I liked the fact that the trip involved working with local organizations (and of course, traveling to a new country), so I decided to go.

The distinction between social service and social change was something that was so relevant to my week in Peru and was something that I was thinking about the entire time. In a lot of obvious ways, what we did and what we saw was service- us lugging 16 suitcases full of donations of clothes, shoes, hygiene products, and schools supplies (not an easy feat, I might add), the organization that provides food and medical care to elderly people with no where else to go, the organization that provides a home to abandoned pregnant teenagers. But what I loved about these organizations was that they didn’t just provide their clients with a service- they were also working towards change by empowering them. And, in order to do so, they were using different types of education.

The organization for the elderly challenges the fact that these people feel like they have nothing left to live for and can’t contribute to society by teaching them different skills- jewelry making, craft making, and, for many, reading and writing. We were told that, when many of them first arrived at the organization, they were depressed, basically just waiting to die, and many were confined to wheelchairs. Now, so many of them are confident and happy, and some have even started walking again. The home for pregnant teenagers/young mothers also teaches them skills, such as knitting, sewing, and baking, so that once they leave the organization, they have some way of supporting themselves and can hopefully avoid returning to their prior situations. They also teach the girls healthy and appropriate parenting skills to try to break the cycle of violence and neglect that caused their own situations.

My favorite organization that we visited was called Vichama Teatro, an after school program for young kids in the shanty town of Villa El Salvador. This program uses art and theater as a way of not only keeping kids in school and out of gangs, but also as a way of empowering them and teaching them that they can bring about social change in their communities. The kids identify a problem in their community, such as too much trash in the streets, and they make a video or a play about the issue and why it’s important. I was blown away by how articulate and confident, at 10 and 11 years old, these kids were when they talked to us about their program and why it’s important. When they spoke, they took ownership of their community, especially the huge problem of violence that plagues their town. They talked about how they teach their peers about how they need to end violence in their neighborhood.

As corny as it sounds, meeting these people gave me a lot of hope for the future. It was incredibly inspiring to see how they, despite the fact that they are surrounded by poverty and its inherent issues, are striving for a better society. This trip made me see how important it is to have a balance of social service and social change. There are obvious and immediate needs that people have right now, that can be provided for with service, and there is the hope for a better, different world, that can only be answered with change.

Joy, Project Joy

Okay I literally do not even know where to begin. So, as I’ve been talking about, I went to the talk today with Steve Gross, Chief Playmaker for the Life is good Kids Foundation. Although the talk wasn’t swelling 64’Hall it was still incredibly moving. I felt like it spoke on behalf of everything that I believe in when it comes to service. So often I am concerned that service is founded in a feeling of obligation, and that is shown in the attitude that some people have when they work within service. As a CL, I’m aware I’m making a complete generalization, but I find myself surrounded by a large majority of people with poor attitudes. Our meetings with the organizer of CL’s and CP’s are poorly attended, filled with complaints, and people sitting their with sour faces on. I observe this all in confusion, isn’t the whole point of serving this position remaining positive and bringing a great attitude to our sites let alone the meetings? Something Steve talked about in our talk today was that emotions wether they are talked about, can be felt in a room. We can feel tension if someone is frustrated in Capstone, you can feel your roommate being pissed off when you’re all sitting in the same room, and you can feel the happiness coming from someone who just got accepted to grad school. All of these feelings are what promotes positive service, so why am I so often confronted with poor attitudes in the line of service? Not to say I’m above my occasional days of dreading going to service, but I know every day I get there I leave my attitude at the door and try to put my best face and foot forward. Yet I only come from speaking on behalf of only a few days a week doing service, if it was my every day task would I be so exuberant?

At the end of Steve’s talk I went up to him and asked him what he thought the difference was between social service and social change. His response included the work of Tom’s, the shoe-giving project. Tom’s, I feel like in our society, is a generally accepted idea about serving those less fortunate. Yet Steve outlined this as a quick fix to an outside issue that maybe “Tom” doesn’t even understand? What if a village that received a box of Tom’s shoes really would have benefited from rice or clean water? Steve said this type of quick fix and uninvolved charity was on behalf of social service. Such a charity is helpful, but it has nothing to do with getting to know the people you are trying to help. Rather it is social change that is interactive and involved. His illustration of the difference between the two gave me great introspective into a further understanding of what it means to serve on behalf of service or change.

To bring this all together, maybe I find myself finding those involved in some social services with poor attitudes because they are not necessarily connected to the issue at hand rather they feel like a servant to the service? And could it be that social change is the type of service that allows for a more interactive experience that leaves an individual feeling happier and more optimistic about change?

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