Serve Well Blog

Entries tagged 'Colleague Press'

3.18.15

Where I'm From

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Developing Nations, Environmental Projects, Urban America, Post-Service Term Reflections, Transitions Home & Beyond

Before we can know where we are going, we need to recognize where we are from. At the Debriefing and Discernment Retreats, Krista Foundation Colleagues were invited to claim their roots and their present as they wrote poems prompted by the question, Where am I from?

Michael Davis, Justin Willis, Madie Padon, and Claire Smith share their responses here.

 

 Where I'm From
Mike Davis

I’m from…

The long lines of government assistance,

From the same line that formed my existence.

The lines that separated me from you,

The lines that labeled me as colored because you couldn’t accept my hue, truth.

I’m from…

Black mothers that take upon the roles of black fathers,

Fathers that were forced to forsake their own and encouraged not to bother,

Leaving my momma to teach me to tie my tie and fold down my collar,

I’m from…

How come YOU get to and I can’t,

From songs I didn’t like but was forced to dance,

From, if another cop looks at me that way I’ma…

From, never mind, I’ll just avoid that drama.

I’m from…

You’ll never go there, because where I’m from is nowhere,

Listen, I don’t think you understood me…

I’m from nowhere, no where you’re from

Or forsake the history from whence you come,

You wanna know where I’m from?

I come from long lines from which my history was hung

I come from the reminder of the history in which you shun.

Mike Davis

 

Formerly director of the Leadership and Mentoring Program for Urban Impact in Seattle, Mike Davis ‘12 is now a drop-in coordinator for the Union Gospel Mission's Youth Center.

 

 
Where I'm From
Madie Padon

I am from the beginning of the Nile with endless tilapia to dust filled roads where an oncoming truck meant you have to hold your breath for the next 2 minutes as it passed by.


I am from sneaky, shadow seeking geckos that I said goodnight to every night to the starch filled meals that seemed to have no taste.


I am from dancing in front of hundreds at a moments notice to carrying three unknown children in a 12 person van that somehow seated 15.


I am from riding side saddle on a motorbike for miles, praying to God that this won't be my last to calling random women Mama to show my utmost respect.


I am from red dust that would camouflage my feet to being one with the road to being touched and played with by random strangers, no matter how old.


I am from endless star ridden skies to beautiful blood red sunsets in a place that you've thought you had died.

Madie Padon

 

Madie Padon '12 taught biology and science at the Holy Cross Schools near Lake Victoria in Uganda.

 
 Where I'm From
Claire Smith 

I'm from the big leaf maple tree with the yellow slide and swing underneath,

From vegetable gardens and woodstoves,

Home cooking and families whose names are like legends in the Valley -- Zender, Strachila, Galbraith, Engholm.

I'm from 40 minute drives to "Town" to get groceries.


I'm from classical piano -- Mozart, Schubert --

From family outings to the city, to the theatre, to the aquarium,

From "Money can't buy you happiness, especially if you don't ever use it," and "Love is something if you give it away."


I'm from sit and stand in church.

Liturgies and Sunday School Songs,

Kyrie eleison and Vespers ‘86,

From Holden's Village Center ceiling and Railroad Creek footbridge.


I'm from the university.

From words like "juxtaposition" and "neocolonialism."
I'm from sestinas and short stories,

From "liminal spaces" and "intersectionality"

From walks around Spanaway Lake and late night runs to WinCo.

I'm from silent solidarity, staring at computer screens until our eyes blur and we have to dance around, singing in silly voices until we feel like humans again.


I'm from study away.

From papel picado, chicharrones, and tlayudas

From Día de los Muertos and drinking smoky, burning mezcal until I like it.

From being a güerra, güerra and a señorita.

I'm from misunderstandings and putting my foot in my mouth and talking around my meaning.


I'm from urban bike paths and taking the MAX.

From crisis lines and grupos de apoyo

From "1 in 3 women" and "You deserve to ALWAYS feel safe"

From trying to accompany, to create healing spaces

I'm from Big Sky and Big Horn Mountains

From pow wows and basketball tournaments

From "What kind of Indian are you?" and "Maaaaan, Teacher, you're mean!"

From trying to accompany, to create safe spaces


I'm from Ruined for Life

From tense grocery conversations and game nights

From dinner tables and cooking disasters

I'm from silent solidarity, trying to hold the woes of the world until our eyes blur and we have to dance around, singing in silly voices until we feel like humans again.

From strangers making a home together.

Claire Smith

 

As part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Claire Smith '12 served domestic violence survivors in Oregon and was an academic assistant at a school on the Crow reservation in Montana.

 
Where I'm From
Justin Willis 

I'm from my childhood. Rain, rain, and more rain. The Pacific Northwest at its finest. The Olympics, the X-games, Major League Baseball. I am going to be there one day. Moving from city to city, new friends, new plans. Diversity and public education shaping who I am.

I'm from college. Deepened faith and silent retreats. Still one of the most moving things I have done. Sit with your thoughts and see what happens. Science, so much science. But also social justice. Social justice and science. Best friends, lost friends. Confusion, questioning, anger, pain. Discernment. Choosing what ultimately brought me most joy.

I'm from JVC Northwest. Conversations about 2% milk. Is this even important? Solidarity, social justice, spirituality, community. Mac Attack. Guy, Dave, Courtney, Eddy, Ben, Stephanie, Irena, Jordan, Nic, Todd, Julia, and so many more. Never getting the balance right. Inadequacy, regret, and many mistakes. But ultimately so much joy.

I'm from life after service. Stress about the future. Tests, tests, and more tests, and probably more tests after that. Being welcomed home by my parents. Surviving through adversity and coming out better on the other side.


Justin Willis

 

Justin Willis '13 served in the Recuperative Care Program at the Old Town Clinic, working alongside Portland's homeless population.

 

2.4.15

Ruined for life by relationships
by Tamara Caruso ‘11

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Urban America, Children and Youth, Community, Education, Community, Education

Tamara Caruso ’11 first tasted the struggle being present and being productive during her two years of service in Grays Harbor, WA and Honduras. Now in her second year of teaching, she continually draws on what she learned about community and service during two years of service.

 

 

"If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time, but if your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together."

 

This quote by Australian Aboriginal elder Lila Watson has become the driving force of my approach to service and working for change.  It echoes as I look back over my service years as a Jesuit Volunteer in Grays Harbor, WA and as a teacher in Honduras.

 

Did I go to help? My original motivation for these years of service was to, as the JVC motto goes, “be ruined for life” and to find answers to my questions about how to work for positive change in our world.  But in both experiences, I was at first hindered by my desire to be productive and make an impact.   

 

My placement in Grays Harbor, one of the poorest counties in Washington, had a very vague job description, and besides coordinating an after school tutoring program, I found myself often bored and frustrated as I searched for meaningful work.  I understood but had trouble accepting the value in commuting by public transit through the rain and snow for an hour and a half just to spend a half hour lunch with my middle school mentee.  I went to numerous meetings at nonprofits and community organizations where I was never sure of my place but wished I had a purpose.  

 

Feed the Hungry, a free lunch program my placement offered, taught me to embrace the work of just being present—of the Krista service ethic of “staying for tea.”  There, I was able to cross the barrier between the volunteers in the kitchen and guests in the dining room.  Instead of staying at my assigned volunteer post, I sat and ate lunch with guests, listening to their stories and building relationships. There, I learned how my liberation was bound up in theirs, and how we could serve each other.  It came down to acknowledging the dignity in each other and to exposing my own poverty and isolation.   The privilege of driving my own car from point A to point B and making or buying my own food and eating it wherever I choose keeps me confined in my own world.  But in Grays Harbor, I was part of the community. I experienced and participated in the relationships among bus riders and drivers and I witnessed the family that was created through this communal free lunch.   I also gained a deeper understanding of the history and complexity of this struggling town’s economic issues. All from just being present. 

 

Although I learned a lot as a Jesuit Volunteer, I was left with even more questions about the injustices I experienced and felt overwhelmed about how one person could work for change within such a complex system.  To continue exploring these questions, I served another year as a teacher at a Catholic bilingual school in Honduras.  I thought I was bringing fewer expectations to my service, but this question of what I was doing met me square in the face when I finished grading the final exams for my first quarter.  That night, I sat on the floor crying, feeling like I had failed my students because many did not pass my exams.  Thankfully, an experienced friend helped me realize that the reason for not passing was less about my teaching and more about the broken education system and the challenges many students and families faced.  My students were operating in their second language and lacked a solid educational foundation due to the instability of relying on mostly young, inexperienced volunteers as their teachers.   At home they dealt with challenges ranging from family substance abuse to living with distant relatives because their parents were working in the states to help make ends meet.

 

Again, I found that by focusing on building and learning from relationships rather than productivity, I could grow in my understanding of the complex issues in Honduras, and be liberated by the people of Honduras from some of my own personal weaknesses and ways that my culture and upbringing held me back.

 

So now what?

 

I know that I have been ruined for life by encountering a multitude of complex issues and connecting with beautiful people who suffer as a result of these flawed systems.  I often feel very overwhelmed when I reflect on these issues and cry out for mercy for these people whom I have grown to love, but don’t know exactly what I can do.  

 

For the last year, I have been completely consumed by my first year of teaching. When I am in the classroom with my students, I am 100% present to them.  While some teachers give assignments and let the kids work while they grade papers or answer emails, I am usually so wrapped up in my students and the learning that is happening that I totally lose track of time and end up rushing to wrap up class and get them out the door.  

 

I have a wonderful opportunity to affect change by being present to my middle school students’ development and working to broaden their worldview.  I hope to help them grow to become more compassionate, understanding, and able to bridge cultural and socioeconomic differences between people in our world. Not only do my volunteer experiences enter into my class discussions and interactions with students and staff, but they motivate me to evaluate my school's service program and figure out how to make it much more intentional. I would like to grow this program so we are not just raising money and goods, but are building relationships, learning about issues, and growing as individuals so our liberation may be bound up with those we are serving. I also want to incorporate reflection, discussions, and maybe research into these issues and communities we are donating to. I must make these service experiences matter, as an educator, by applying what I learned and sharing my understanding, in order to help lead my students to the same growth in awareness so that we are not just helping others, but walking alongside them.  

 

1.28.15

What Guatemala Taught Me About South Seattle
by Krista Colleague Jerrell Davis '14

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Developing Nations, Urban America, Community, Intercultural Development, Post-Service Term Reflections, Transitions Home & Beyond

 "Sometimes you make choices...sometimes the choices make you" is a saying that resonates with Krista Colleague Jerrell Davis, who was recently featured in the South Seattle Emerald. After a lifetime of making choices "that were rarely the most popular and usually not the easiest",  the Seattle Pacific University student chose to study abroad in Guatemala and return this winter to serve at a hospital for people with special needs. His service has changed the way he sees his community and himself.

Read how in the South Seattle Emerald.


 

1.27.15

Transition and More Transition

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Developing Nations, Education, Law, Integrating Service As A Way Of Life, Post-Service Term Reflections, Transitions Home & Beyond

Brittany Harwell is passionate about justice.

She spent 2011-12 with International Justice Mission Kenya helping to free illegally detained clients. Observing how justice works-and doesn't work-in a developing country, she came home filled with "righteous rage" but tongue-tied: "I couldn't articulate why I was passionate, or who I wanted to help and why."

Next, as a teacher in Texas, Brittany found herself asking hard questions on how race and class affect both education and the U.S. justice system. Her special educations students, who were mostly Mexican-American, floundered in regular classes instead of receiving promised support-and then one of her 8th graders vanished into the juvenile justice system. "This is not fair!" she told herself. "I can't lose another Nick!"

In the Krista Foundation's structured debriefing and peer-mentoring process, Brittany started the difficult process of reconciling her ideals and her service experiences. Bringing the pieces together, she used her Service Leadership Grant to participate in the National summit for Courageous Conversations, exploring effective ways to bridge racial disparities and equip students for success.

Now a first-year student at Georgetown University Law Center, Brittany is excited to see "how the law interacts with diversity and race and what the patterns look like, what you can do, and what you can't." For Brittany, "what you can't do" will not be the end of the story.

 

9.1.14

Serving as "The Other"
by Peter Bittner ('13)

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

As a white male living in Mongolia, I stand out in a crowd. My pasty skin, dark reddish beard, and long, prominent nose clearly set me apart from the ethnic Mongols who make up nearly 95% of all Mongolians. As an obvious outsider, I receive a wide range of reactions when I’m in public.


“Hello teacher!” “Hi teacher!” “How are you, teacher?” Female students swarm around me in my university lobby, blocking the hallway back to the office. After spotting me taking photos of the “New Year’s Tree” in the main entryway, a dozen teenagers quickly corner me. Grabbing me by the arm they position me in front of the evergreen. “Here, teacher!” FLASH! The tinsel-covered pine behind us illuminates the entire foyer. I can’t even see the green needles beneath all the metallic streamers. After my solo portrait, the students take individual iPhone photos with me. I feel as much of a prop as the balloons and streamers hanging down from the ceiling. Next, they snap pictures with two or three students on either side of me and, finally, several group shots. I smile and wait patiently for the photo shoot to finish so I can escape my unwanted celebrity. Meanwhile, the security guard chuckles at the spectacle. He jabs his coworker peering out the window. The second man turns around and begins laughing too.


Later, I prepare for the thirty-minute walk to my friend’s apartment across Ulaanbaatar. Long underwear. Check. Wool socks and dress pants. Check. Flannel shirt. Check. Leather gloves. Check. Fur-lined boots, parka, and neoprene pollution mask. Check, check, check. Carrying two large bags full of groceries for dinner; I prep myself mentally for the grueling walk. Open manhole covers, sidewalks piled high with sand and rubble, live wires, hidden patches of black ice, and reckless drivers stand between me and my destination. Walking across the city is always an obstacle course! After twenty minutes my arms are burning and I’m getting tired from navigating the uneven and slick footing. The condensation from my breath is freezing on the outside of my pollution mask. My eyelids stick together as my frosty lashes latch like Velcro. I bat my eyes quickly to free them. Grunting, I pick up the pace. I squint against the wind as a group of students walks towards me, five abreast. As I step aside to let them pass on the narrow sidewalk a teenager leaps at me. He yells something in Mongolian and swings an open hand inches from my face, turning and smiling to his friends at his demonstration of bravado. I continue walking without a word.


Whatever response I elicit as I go about my daily life, I try to not take things too personally. Most of the behaviors directed towards me are surface ripples of deeper social undercurrents. In the United States, racial stereotypes still influence behavior. In my experience in Mongolia, misinformed overgeneralizations are even stronger and more pervasive. Many stereotypes are treated as fact by large portions of the populace, especially in regards to foreigners.


For example, many Mongolians assume that all white males are incredibly rich. When I eat with my Mongolian friends at local restaurants other patrons are sometimes shocked to see me. “They’re saying how poor you must be to eat here” my Mongolian companion told me, interpreting the flurry of conversations around us. Yet I believe that Mongolians are not racist. I think it’s simplistic, counterproductive, and even more racist to frame the issue in terms so terse. In seeking to make sense of my daily experiences I’ve turned to many sources,  including history books.


In the 13th century, Genghis Khan and his progeny conquered most of Eurasia and, unbeknownst to most Westerners, established a rich multicultural trading network and largely peaceful empire. Occupying cities across Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, Mongolian forces fostered religious tolerance at a time when the infamous Inquisition was occurring in parts of Europe. In the ensuing centuries,  Mongolia retreated from the world stage and returned to its historical roots as homogenous herders on the steppe.


In the early 20th century, a Soviet-backed coup established Mongolia as a de-facto satellite state of the USSR, which greatly limited Mongolia’s interactions with nations outside the Soviet bloc. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Mongolia underwent a peaceful revolution, abandoning its socialist political institutions in favor of democratic ones. Mongolia’s economy has been in transition since then, shifting from a state-controlled to a free-market economic system. 


Today, globalizing forces are influencing Mongolian society and culture at an unprecedented rate. Given Mongolia’s limited recent participation in contemporary world affairs it’s not surprising that widely held and poorly informed beliefs exist about people of different racial backgrounds. The majority of Mongolians haven’t interacted with foreigners from the diverse cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds to which they’re suddenly being exposed. 


So, how do I cope with being an outsider? How do I deal with constantly feeling like I’m being judged entirely by my appearance or interacted with based on superficial stereotypes?  It’s tempting at times to try to keep my distance and create a comfort zone removed from unnecessary interactions with Mongolians. However, my experiences with locals have been the most rewarding and educational ones during my time here! Withdrawing from the culture is not a healthy or productive option. Engagement is the only viable way forward!


Based on my experiences so far, here are three tips for engagement for those entering or currently in service abroad, regardless of where you are:


Find a language exchange partner!

While learning a new language can be daunting, it’s essential to interacting with locals and at the very least demonstrates a degree of respect for the native culture and language. My Mongolian proficiency after nearly six months is extremely low, but coordinating informal Mongolian lessons with a friend interested in improving his English has been very fruitful. Besides learning greetings, numbers, directions, etc. these meetings can be great ways to network and find out about opportunities  to go hiking, play ping pong, cook regional delicacies and more.

Get involved in extracurricular activities!

Seeking activities that require little or no language comprehension to communicate or express yourself can be very rewarding. In my free time I’ve played volleyball, billiards, and sung karaoke with Mongolians with varying levels of English proficiency. Team sports are great because they offer good chances to bond with co-workers or peers in an environment where conversation or dialogue isn’t necessary. Take a chance and don’t be afraid to look awkward. You probably already do in the eyes of your hosts and you may show off some hidden talents you didn’t know you had!

Try to be patient, flexible, and adaptable!

Many unexpected surprises lie ahead during your service term! Try to embrace these opportunities when they present themselves, even if people “voluntell you” to do things you otherwise wouldn’t seek out. The day before my school’s New Year’s party, my supervisor approached me with a grave look on her face. “Tomorrow, singing competition. Represent department. You have song?” “Excuse me? There’s a singing competition at the party?” “Yes.” “And I’m representing the entire department?” “Yes. Are you ready?” “No, not yet! You just told me about it… But I can come up with something.” 36 hours later I was performing Mariah Carey’s “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” on stage to well over a hundred people. Terrifying! But it helped me get more comfortable on stage, as well as gain recognition for my department and status for my co-teachers, which is very important  here culturally. You never know what form chances for engagement will take!


 

7.14.14

Between Opportunity and Risk (It’s still all Good)
by 2014 Krista Colleague Janjay Innis

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Urban America, Social Work, Community, Education, Peace & Reconciliation

Today's ServeWell post is by 2014 Krista Colleague, Janjay Innis. As a child in Liberia, West Africa, Janjay lived in a community that even in its imperfections, she says, "mirrored the kingdom of God as I envision it." In this post she reflects on the June 22nd "Service in Perspective" event which explored the recent conference theme "Going Public: Complex Faith within a Complex World." Her insights are richly informed by years of bridging cultures, working in conflict transformation, a MA in Divinity from Boston University and most recently as a Social Justice Advocate at her volunteer service placement with Tacoma Community House. Thank you for sharing Janjay!

Between Opportunity and Risk (It's still all Good)

Values ground us. They orient us into the world in ways that are uniquely ours and when they are rooted equally in the love of self and neighbor, they help us embody and become love. At this intersection, where our love of self ( the realization that we are exceptionally and wonderfully made in the image of God) begins to inform our love of neighbor ( the realization that everyone else is also exceptionally and wonderfully made in the image of God) is where the Krista Colleague Program has intentionally positioned itself as a resource to assist young adults as they maneuver through the tensions that arise on their journey to authentically accepting and living the truth that we all have a common humanity and that irrespective of the things that stratify us, all people want to be loved, respected and have their personhood affirmed. I am grateful that the Krista Foundation not only states its intention to help its Colleagues process the happenings along this journey, but creates spaces for that processing to take place.

Based on the Krista Foundation value of "mentoring community," defined as "investing in future leaders by recognizing and leveraging peer and intergenerational wisdom and experience," colleagues gathered on June 22nd to discuss what about the 2014 Krista Conference theme, " Going Public: A Complex Faith in a Complex World," excited us and what about the theme challenged us. As Colleagues old and new and Krista Foundation staff shared their thoughts, the resounding conclusion I gathered from this conversation was that we all desired two things: to be our authentic selves when talking about our faith whether we were unwavering, questioning or uncertain about our faith and to actively make room for and be in conversation with those who think and believe differently than we do.

In my own reflection, I expressed to the group that I saw the theme as an opportunity to reclaim and redefine my faith tradition (Christianity) which for valid reasons has been pushed to the sidelines as it has been interpreted in a plurality of ways that have done more damage than good. I believe the dominant voices who have spoken on behalf of Christianity have distorted its true value and I want to be part of a new cohort of leaders who will reintroduce Christianity as a tradition rooted in love. This age-old tradition, which has its foundation in Judaism, is the story of a people who attributed all of their triumphs to an invisible, but omnipresent God and made a bold declaration that this God was also with them, accompanied them and held them in their most trying times. For me, what makes the story of Jesus (a particular interpretation of the Hebrew people's story) so compelling is that Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate (in the flesh) and walked on the earth just to be in solidarity with us in joy and in pain. That is love and it will give my life the utmost meaning to be part of telling this story in the face of injustice and oppression that God is present and because of this divine presence, we can join in loving the world into a new reality where we aren't merely tolerating difference, but building and crossing bridges amidst difference.

My challenge is to live into and audaciously act on this value, especially in spaces where my opinion may not be popular and might even be scrutinized as overly sensational. I believe my opinions about the relevancy of faith in our world to be as much intellectual as they are emotional, but I admit that there have been many times that I have been silent, unable to find the words or speak in the midst of my peers. Perhaps I've made a premature assumption that my peers don't want to hear about faith (especially as it's expressed in mainline traditions) because of the judgment, exclusion and stifling ways its attempted and sometimes succeeded in policing people's lives, but I'll never know if they are truly disengaged until I engage. I'm at the juncture of opportunity and risk and I am certain that it is the right place to be. For this reason, I vow to bring faith into the conversation whenever I see fit -- faith that offers models of hope, peace, reconciliation and community. I'm sure there will be times I'll fall flat on my face, but I even more certain that there will be times that my opinions will be a refreshing approach that will illuminate conversations and real life situations. In all of it, I trust that God will give me lots of grace to stay in the conversation.




6.6.14

Hijos de Rancho Santa Fe
by Doug Orofino ('12)

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

"In between two shores" since returning from Honduras after almost two years as a teacher and caregiver for Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, Douglas Orofino begins serving this fall as Choir Director at Chief Umtuch Middle School in Battle Ground, WA. Read how he is trying to take the language, mindset and heart-set he learned in Honduras and integrate it into his life in the northwest. 

 

 

Alma:

"Mi alma no se contenta con haberla perdido," writes poet Pablo Neruda in his native tongue. "My soul is not at peace with having lost her." There is something I can't tell people, but want them to know. Whenever I see a picture of one my hijos or see photos of my querido Rancho Santa Fe this is the verse that resonates within me like a hymn. "My soul is not at peace with having lost you." Of course, loss isn't exactly what has happened, is it? I told everyone when I left, "Les llevaré para siempre en mi corazón, o sea I will always carry you in my heart." Then why do I feel empty. Why do I lament, "I am not at peace with having lost you."

Kyrie:

In February, I came home from the Rancho Santa Fe casa/hogar (better known as an orphanage) where I spent a year-and-a-half working with and alongside a gaggle of the most amazing and frustrating kids as a teacher, tutor and caregiver. Since my return to the States, I have been set adrift from my mooring. I am in limbo, in-between two shores. I am the same, yet fundamentally I am different. I am neither here, in the United States, nor there, Honduras. Part of me resides in each place I learned to call home. Between these two shores I drift. Able to see each in its flawed beauty; unable to hold onto both at the same time. Sometimes in the quiet when no one else is listening I overflow with anger, "Why God. Why is it so hard to move between these two places? How can I honor them both? How can I keep one without losing the other?" The juxtaposition between these two "worlds" so different that society has seen fit to number them - first and third - weighs upon me. The injustice of it all makes me want to cry out, "Señor, ten piedad. Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy." Why is our world so different, so divided? Why are some nations thriving while others are desperately trying to just stay afloat? How can we change this? These are the questions that swell around me, and in this current I reside, unsure if I have come home or left it. Wanting to be moored to two distinct places, two shores. Unwilling to let one go for the other.

Hijos:

A lot of people have a schema about what is supposed to happen when one has a life-movement (I don't like the word experience) such as I have had. Sometimes I get the feeling I don't fit in that schema... And for that I say "Gracias a Dios." So. How did I even get here? When did I become this person? While in Honduras NPH gave me something I wasn't expecting. It gave me family. NPH works hard to give their children a place to call home and people to call their own. It may not be a typical family, but it bears the same hallmarks: responsibility, work, play, relationships, frustration, unconditional love... frustration. It is an extended family of people who are there for each other. Along with a sense of family NPH gave me something else I wasn't expecting. It gave me love. Not love because of what I did, or because I came to "help." For my niños it was simpler than that. We played together, we ate together, we went to church together. At night time I told them stories, sang them songs, checked for monsters under the bed and rocked them to sleep. Before school I did their hair and read them books. We were family. This was a paradigm shift. Where before Honduras I saw myself as an older brother, an eldest son, and "family" was a contained, genetically linked group of people. Now, post Honduras my definition of family is wider, it has to be, because there are a lot people it needs to fit. I came back seeing myself not just belonging to my ‘blood relatives'. I belonged to dozens of hijos e hijas, children I don't ever want to stop loving or thinking about. So. This is why I can't go home. I can't choose my shore. I don't want to be just here or just there. There is a part of me that is bigger than either one of these two places.

Bridge:

I have not figured out how to move from the idea of, "My soul is not at peace with having lost you," to the reality of my new personhood with two homes. I know I have not figured out how to take what I lived in Honduras and bring it forward. In the words of a returning missionary, "My spirit has not caught up to me yet." While I don't know where my life is going, I do know that my resilience, my hope, lies in becoming a bridge between what I have always known and what I now know, between the two places I call home, between the two shores.

Poem:

make of my hands a bridge

they have played expensive pianos

they have plucked lice from little girls' hair

make of my feet a bridge

they have walked on trash

in sand the have been buried, warm

make of my eyes a bridge

for they have beheld palaces

and they have seen a coffin, far too small

make of my heart a bridge

it has loved wealth and music

for love of niños it has been broken

make of me, a bridge

stretch me across the river

that i might not choose

but be of both shores

4.15.14

What Holding Hands Can Teach You
by Krista Colleague Neshia Alaovae '12

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Urban America, Community, Healthcare, Intercultural Development, Post-Service Term Reflections

In many ways, my year of service began two weeks after it was scheduled to start. Though Joseph's House placed great importance on being mindful and fully present in the moment, I spent my first week there distracted by how unfamiliar this new world was. On my third day at Joseph's House, one of the residents died and the sudden initiation into the immensity of my work for the year was overwhelming. I was being asked to form genuine relationships from the moment someone entered the home to the moment I would escort that same person into a hearse. I felt so different from the people I was being asked to become one with. I was young, educated, and healthy. They were older, destitute, and dying. How am I going to do this, I wondered. How am I going to fit here?

A week later, I was at the bedside of a resident named Brad. It was my first time holding vigil by myself for someone who was near death. I was acutely aware of how Brad's labored breathing was causing my anxiety level to rise. His inability to speak left me speechless. I was nervous being so close to death, and even more mystified about what exactly I was supposed to be doing.

Not knowing what else to do, I reached for his hand. He squeezed my fingers with a strength that surprised me. I pulled my chair closer and shut my eyes. Quieting myself, I focused all of my attention on his breathing. Slowly, I inhaled and exhaled until our breaths were synchronized. Little by little, I realized how intense this moment must be for him. My breaths came easily, supported by lungs that were full of vigor. His breaths were short and rapid, maintained by a body reluctantly shutting down after its long struggle with cancer.

I looked down at our hands and for a few seconds I could not distinguish mine from his. I stared at our intertwined fingers trying to figure out why it was so difficult to see what belonged to me and what belonged to him. Then it came to me: our skin was the exact same shade of brown. We were a perfect color match. In my 22 years of life, that had never happened before. No one was ever my exact brown. Not anyone I encountered studying abroad in Zambia, not any of the models on my makeup bottles, not even anyone in my multi-racial family. No one but this stranger dying beside me. In that moment, something clicked for me.

The Krista Foundation places great emphasis on equipping Colleagues to be practitioners of intercultural competence with tools before a year of service as well as support during and after that service. There is a realization that everyone brings to an experience his or her own rich, complex cultural history. The challenge is to find a way, in the midst of what seems foreign and uncomfortable, from your own sense of normal to a place of understanding and empathy. We can spend so much time fixating on the things that divide us, that we forget to slow down, listen to each other's shared breaths, and see that our hands are meant to be held.

Brad passed away soon after that quiet afternoon. I thought of him often as I held the hands of many others who came through the Joseph's House door. No one was my exact shade of brown, but that didn't really matter. What I learned about Brad after his death was inspiring. Before his cancer, he had been a well-known advocate in Washington, D.C. for those who were homeless or suffering in the margins. He was eloquent, bold, and deeply spiritual. He began his own non-profit, dreamed about making a pilgrimage to India, and was in the process of dictating his life and philosophy to a friend so that his legacy of courage would not be forgotten. My stereotype of everyone at Joseph's House being poor, helpless people who needed my privileged service was shattered by Brad. He did not need me. He was not impressed by me. He was not inferior to me in any way.

On the contrary, I needed him to teach me how to see past the differences I had been taught to fear, and find a new way to grow in curiosity and compassion. The magnitude of how he lived and the grace with which he died still motivates me to be fearless. But the biggest lesson he taught me, the gift I will never be able to repay, was holding my hand on his deathbed. He had enough strength to refuse my presence, and yet he didn't. Brad took my hand, held it with the last of his energy, and taught me how to truly accompany.

In my experience serving in hospice, when someone is dying that person no longer cares about all of the ways that made him or her stand out in life. What matters most in those final moments is knowing that even if that person did not receive it in life, in this moment he or she is seen, heard, and adored. By holding my hand Brad taught me to make the effort to suspend my cultural lens enough to truly see, deeply hear, and come to adore those who seem different. I spent the rest of my year trying to do that, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to as well. I have learned that when all else fails, when I cannot seem to find a way to bridge the dissimilarities between myself and another, to hold out my hand. Even if the back of our hands look different, I know that the skin of our palms will be the same. That is enough.

4.7.14

What I Carry Forward
Krista Colleague Kara King

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press

In 2003, I arrived in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a year volunteering at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos or NPH, a residential home for orphaned and abandoned children. In addition to teaching English in the middle school, I was assigned a group of 10 year old boys to help care for each evening. It is one of those boys I would like to introduce you to tonight. Arnold was a reader and a story teller, and we spent many evenings gazing at the Honduran stars making up stories. Since that year, Arnold grew up, graduated from high school, and began classes at the local university.

About a month ago, I was on my way to my own classes here in Seattle when I received news from Honduras that stopped me cold, and brought me instantly back to those starry nights. The boys I once tucked in each night are grown up now, and one of them passed on the news - Arnold had died the night before. He was only 21 years old.

My service assignment, meant to last only 13 months, is interwoven into the fabric of my life. And the Krista Foundation has helped me, over many years, make the transition from a year of service to a lifetime ethic of service leadership. That transition allowed me to step into the grief of losing Arnold, and into the rage at an unjust world in which children die much before their time. In moments like this, it is not just "nice" if we happen to have a strong community to turn to - we MUST have it. We must have it, not just to hang out with great people, though Krista Colleagues are certainly fun to hang out with. We must have this community because it builds our capacity to love and serve well. Here, within the Krista Foundation, I have found a community that knows both how to comfort and how to challenge.

We learn together how to hold the grief, joy, and complexity of this work. 

After five years of working in Honduras and Bolivia, I returned to Seattle feeling uprooted and isolated and very unsure of myself. At my debriefing retreat with the Krista Foundation, a blob of scribbling on a paper marked what I was not yet ready to speak. As I attempted to share pieces of my time in Bolivia, it was like my voice was taken away.

It took me a long time to share those stories, and they needed to be told - and told honestly - for healing to begin. And as I have processed some of those stories, the KF has continued to help me build my own leadership capacity and resilience. The space to work through my service experiences within the Krista Foundation gave me the capacity to uncover the goodness that was, and is, there and finally, to step back into this work - BUT in a new and different way.

And so, over the past three years, I have had the amazing privilege to work with 15 young leaders from Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua in partnership with local families, leaders, and mentors. When I think about the future of NPH, I hope that many them will fill leadership positions. I hope they will become the mentors, the directors -- people of change and hope and redemption in their communities.

To have hope for our future, I need only picture emerging leaders like Julissa, who took what she learned in the training program and has adapted it to her community in Guatemala where she facilitates retreats on faith, spiritual formation, and leadership for our kids. The ripples of the Krista Foundation are indeed far and wide.

And as the foundation continues to reach beyond the Colleague program, to influence the larger service culture - it is so exciting to see how we are already impacting other organizations. Just this year for example, NPH made a commitment to provide debriefing retreats for our volunteers. After over 50 years of receiving volunteers, this is a major cultural shift and right now we are in conversation about how to partner with the Krista Foundation to help make our programs even more effective. Stacy and Val's guidance in understanding the behind the scenes work and strategic listening needed for these retreats was so helpful.

Sharing our service experiences with others and finding our way back into even the hard stories is part of what allows us to move through them, lay down what needs to be laid down - and to carry forward the pieces that will continue to inform our lives.

For me, I will carry forward Arnold. And the faces of so many others I have been blessed to love and to be loved by. My heart has been opened through this work and that is why i continue to engage with the Krista Foundation - a place where i find comfort and community - and a place where I am challenged to grow and to become more than I am capable of imagining for myself.

That is why you have been invited here tonight, so you too can do more in partnership with the Krista Foundation than you would have imagined.

Thank you!

2.26.14

Little Things Console Us Because Little Things Afflict Us
by Nikkita Oliver - Krista Colleague

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Urban America, Intercultural Development, Law, Arts & Culture, Community, Education, Global Citizenship, Integrating Service As A Way Of Life, Intercultural Development, Post-Service Term Reflections, Sustaining Service

Little things console us because little things afflict us.
- Pascal

 

I recently attended the "RACE: Are We So Different?" exhibit at the Seattle Center as part of a Krista Foundation outing with the Krista Colleague community. Once inside, I found myself at a unique display including a binder full of notecards where many visitors expressed both contempt and reverence for sports mascots.

A number of the commenters self-identified as Native, illuminating the trauma and harm that sports mascots inflict on them, their tribes, and communities. Juxtaposed to these heartfelt truths were the thoughts of those who see no problem with the manner in which sports teams have co-opted Native cultural images and in many instances commercialized the most stereotypical Native images. As if the dialogue were not complex enough, there were those who self-identified as Native who took no issue with the mascots and maybe even saw other issues as more concerning.

One comment stood out vividly. A member of the Tlingit tribe described what they believed to be the gravest issues facing Native communities. They discussed the life expectancy of Native males and the drop-out rate of Native teens, stating, "These issues are far more important than sports team mascots." To many, Native mascots do not seem like a big issue, but often it is the things that seem the smallest that have the greatest impact.

As a brown person in the white institution of law I constantly deal with small nuanced forms of racism that exist because of larger ones. The larger ones will continue to exist because we are afraid and/or unwilling to deal with the smaller forms of racism.

There is an overall acceptance of the co-optation of cultural assets in the United States with disregard for the impact on communities and people. Additionally, rarely do the owners and creators of those cultural assets receive any sort of recognition or payment for the use of their image even when the image is being used for profit. This process further contributes to the damage done to a community or cultural groups psyche and continues to propel a negative and oppressive relationship between the "minority" and the "majority"1.

While some non-Native people may not see the problem, and may even point to to those Native people who take no issue with it to legitimate their own point of view, the reality is there are Native peoples who are offended by the use of their cultural assets as mascots. When considering racial and ethnic concerns that may seem minute, it is important to remember that big things are often made of smaller things. A small cut can very easily become an infection and a small change can be the catalyst needed to spark a big change.

Dr. John M. Perkins speaks of these little things in his work. When I was in college I sat in a room of young leaders at Seattle Pacific University eager to make change in the world. He told us the key to community development is understanding that the most obvious problems are often symptoms of a larger underlying illness. He told us, "rarely is the solution to the most obvious struggle the root cause of the problem". He encouraged us to consider the small and often times overlooked concerns, especially if those are the concerns the community is point us towards.

He then shared with us this story:

A team of community developers arrived in a neighborhood. They interviewed the people, did research and prepared a list of things they believed the community needed to solve. This list had hundreds of items ranked from the most important to the least. The community members' response to the community developers was that the rat problem was the most important issue to address. The rat problem was ranked in the lowest portion of the list the developers created. Despite their own ideas, the community developers listened to the neighborhood and addressed the rat problem first. As the rats disappeared so did most of the list.

Dr. Perkins shared this story to remind us of two key principles in community development: The small things matter and a community knows itself better than an outside community developer.

At the University of Washington Law School, I listen to people daily discuss our systems and struggles - rarely reflecting on their own role in a problematic system. They hardly ever consider the importance and value of community voice and in particular those communities that are marginalized and disenfranchised. In these spaces there are few people of color, and like those who shared their opinions in the binder at the race exhibit, we do not always agree on the solution. This often becomes a tool of division, co-optation, and/or further marginalization of those voices who speak in opposition to the majority opinion.

Listening is of the utmost importance in addressing any and every situation. If we do not first listen, we will not know how to act in ways that promote wholeness and reconciliation. Too often in U.S. culture do we rely on our formal education (and our privilege) as clout for why we should lead or be in charge. We are not very good at following those who have less formal education, though the community members have far more experience and knowledge regarding their community.

Mascots may seem like a small issue, but when we consider our generational memories of historic racial violence and present afflictions we can see that the psyches of people of color (and white people) have been damaged by big things sustained by small consistent actions and inactions. This small act is the continued poking and prodding on a large wound and emblematic of how we often devalue other people and their cultures. Mascots may not seem like a big deal in light of drop-out rates and mass incarceration, but they are small piece of the puzzle in addressing the root causes of both individual and institutional racism. Our willingness and humility to eliminate the "small" things are a way we show our love and respect for humanity and lead us towards addressing the "larger" struggles.

I believe that we would better serve each other and society if we learned to see multiple solutions, no matter how big or small, as viable and equally necessary; to address the mascots, drop-out rates and mass incarceration all at once.

The work of reconciliation is not easy and often happens in the least obvious places. Reconciliation, like a journey, happens one step at time; sometimes in small steps and sometimes in large strides. We often do not know the value of our small steps, but without them we would not have made it through the journey. Listening and acting on the small things makes the big changes possible.

 

1 The use of quotations around "majority" and "minority" is to signify an important nuance in the use of these terms. It is not to say one group is more major and the other more minor, but in this instance referring to specifically numbers or the size of the population of people. The majority being the larger quantitative group and minority being a smaller quantitative group. In the United States the use of these terms in this manner is appropriate, but in a place like South Africa, where the minority (Dutch/white South Africans) were in power and the majority (Native/black South Africans) were not, these terms must be used differently.