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Warm Hearts and Hard Starts: A Reflection for World Refugee Day

world-refugee_Day_14It was a nice break from the usual slogging through ESL and cultural orientation material. Today, instead of practicing introductions, writing letters and numbers or learning about job expectations, we gathered with the students we were tutoring and worked on an art project together.

 With a few paper cut-outs, red, yellow and orange tissue paper, magnet strips, and some glue, my weekly service site group and the dozen or so students at the Southern Sudanese Community Association (SSCA) created something truly beautiful: autumn leaf magnets covered with balls of tissue paper, in various designs and patterns.

Every week my co-coordinator and I took a small group of Creighton students to the SSCA to help tutor refugees in ESL, cultural orientation and job training classes. Actually, all of these were usually combined into one class, taught by one very patient, very joyful volunteer, a recent college graduate named Ben.

Every week we practiced introducing ourselves and saying where we were from, wrote numbers and letters, learned job-necessary vocabulary and prepared for the citizenship test. Our success depended on the students’ ages, newness and levels in the class.

As someone who has never had to flee my country for safety reasons, and as someone who would probably struggle to find these students’ native countries on a map, it was uncomfortable for me, at first, to spend two hours working with people I could hardly communicate with, whose lives I barely understood.

Despite all of this, friendships were forged, not only between the students I tutored and myself, but also between themselves and one another. And the more I engaged with this community, the more I felt a part of it and felt a desire to be in solidarity with them.

It was amazing to watch the students build a community between themselves. They all came from different countries (mostly Burma and Bhutan) and were fluent in different languages, but they always found ways to help and joke with each other.

Humor, it appears, can travel across other languages. When someone mispronounced an English word, or when something that Ben was teaching sounded funny, they would all look at each other and laugh. If a fellow classmate was struggling to get something right, they would all chime in, either in imperfect English or in that student’s native language, to help explain it.

Despite the language barrier, there were always ways of connecting with the students. Laughter and joy are things we can understand no matter what language we speak. The students spoke through wide grins, bright eyes and a willingness to laugh at themselves as they stumbled over words. It was a language I could understand and return with my own laughter and smiles.  Every so often I’d ask a student to teach me a word in their native language, which made me feel the most connected to these resilient, storied people.

They always impressed me. Day in and day out the students got themselves to class, often while balancing jobs. They had this determination that could not be quenched. All of them were older, but they had the hope and humor of elementary school students.

The more I got to know the students, the more I could envision what their lives were like before immigrating to the United States. It was hard to imagine spending  almost my entire life in a country and suddenly having to flee it for another because of violence and corruption. At these students’ ages, learning a new language was hard, being forced to adapt to a new culture was scary, and not knowing anyone was terrifying.

Yet these refugees never gave up. They never gave up the love and pride they had for their home countries, nor did they give up their project of making this country their home. To get to be a part of that project did so much more for me than I probably did for them. As I taught the students, I learned from them about a world beyond my own, a world that challenged me to love and be in greater solidarity with its people.

Even with all of this, it was still nice to take a break from the hard work and just have fun by doing an art project together. I was astounded by the woman I partnered with for the project. Every time I finished one of my little leaf magnets, I’d look down at it in pride, thinking, Wow, this turned out better than I thought it would. Then I’d look at my partner’s leaves and admire her creativity. I could never have come up with the kind of designs she had on her leaves. They were beautiful.

At the end of the class, as I gathered my leaves and said goodbye to the students, my partner took one of my leaves—my favorite of the three—and then took my hand, looked in my eyes and smiled. When she let go, one of her beautiful leaves was in my hand. A way to remember each other, a symbol of solidarity, an icon of her warm heart and the hard start she was overcoming.

Anna Ferguson
Student Coordinator
Class of 2015

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Our Neighborhood, Our World

Ben Carl & DannyAs we begin to look forward towards Lent, a quick look back at someone whose intentional life teachings can help us reconnect with God as innocently and fully as a child. Creighton and CCSJ alum, Ben McCann, reflecting on the Anniversary of Fred Rogers’ death (February 27th), invites us to use the lessons of Mr. Rogers as a guide towards a more conscious and loving community, not only through teaching our children about caring for our world, but through an awareness of ourselves as well.  

My parents did not allow me to watch commercial televisionas a child. Basically, I watched PBS or watched nothing at all. Sure, that means I have no idea what my peers are talking about when Hey, Arnoldis brought up in conversation (something that happens more often than I would think, but hey, what do I know, Ive never seen it), but it means that shows like Reading Rainbow,” “Wishbone,” “Arthur,and Mr. Rogers Neighborhoodwere all that I watched as a kid. It turns out that my mom just didnt want me to be exposed to all the advertising on TV because she didnt want hard drive spacein my brain taken up by a bunch of ad jingles and slogans (She still remembers some from her childhood, so its not a crazy idea at all). What I didnt appreciate until years afterward were the incredible example and teachings of Fred Rogers that made up a large portion of my childhood. Even though he died 11 years ago, Fred Rogers and his passion for educating children is a wealth of knowledge for us today.

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” –Fred Rogers, The World According to Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers devoted his life to children and trying to see that educational programming was available to them.  On his show, Mr. Rogers encouraged children to be curious and grow ideas in
the garden of your mind.He encouraged his viewers to go outside their comfort zone and learn about new things. Imagination and The Land of Make-Believeare key parts of what it means to be a kid, and Fred Rogers encouraged his viewers to use their imaginations and be creative. One of the central ideas that Mr. Rogers presented was caring for one another. He encouraged viewers to explore their neighborhood and know their neighbors. Community, though he didnt call it that, was an incredibly important idea for Mr. Rogers. He taught us to accept people for who they are and meet them where they are. Kindness and helping someone who needs it comes naturally when we engage each other as a neighbor. He was teaching kids the importance of recognizing what binds us together while also valuing what makes us different. The importance, especially for a child, of being accepted as the individual each one of us is was not lost on Mr. Rogers.

As it turns out, the importance of early childhood education is being talked about more and more. Fred Rogers knew just how important it was even as far back as 1969 when he
defended funding PBS in front of the US Senate. His passion for educating children is what lead him to record 895 episodes of his show, which aired from 1968-2001. He, much like my own mother, was concerned about what children were exposed to on TV. Mr. Rogers thought that the drama and violence on TV was not what kids needed. What they needed was seeing the drama about people working out their anger and how to deal with their feelings.
What if more people thought this way? What if Fred Rogers was not the exception, but the norm? If we truly let what was in the best interest of our children dictate what was on TV, I cant help but think that the US population as a whole would be more caring, less violent, and more in touch with their emotions and how to deal with them. What if more programming dealt with anger in a way that teaches kids that it is hard to talk about anger and to not lash out in a physically violent way, but that they can control how they react (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTs73qO5ehk)?

The importance of educating our children in a way that nudges them and leads them to be more kind, more creative, and valued just as they are cannot be over stated. I recently watched a Ted Talk that stresses the importance of educating children and how it could prevent people from ending up on death row (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYzrdn7YLCM). 

What if Mr. Rogers and his vision for a caring community and service of one another were the reality? Well, it sure wont be unless we seriously make it a priority. But it was the priority of Fred Rogers life to educate children and help them be the very best versions of themselves that they could be.


Ben McCann
Class of 2012
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Alumnus

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Dorothy Stang, S.N.D: A Modern Martyr

Ian FallonDorothy Stang was a Sister of Notre Dame. She was born in the United States, but worked and served poor communities in Brazil from the late 1960’s to February 12th, 2005, when she was murdered. She worked to organize Brazilian peasant farmers through the Pastoral Land Commission, a group that “fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants, and defends land reforms in Brazil.” Her ministry was integrated between advocacy for the protection of the Amazon Rainforest and for the dignity of the peasants she was called to serve.

I think it is important to remember modern day martyrs. They, along with modern day prophets (one does not necessarily need to die to be a dedicated Christian, otherwise there wouldn’t be any of us left) serve as reminders that these identifiers – prophet and martyr – are not meant to be parts of history that stay in our history textbooks and classrooms. A reality that we do not always see in a university bubble is that people die for justice today. The examples set by Simon Peter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or the Jesuits during the colonial conquest of the Americas are not given to us by the church so that we can put them on high, exalt them for being holy, and then go back to our daily lives. They are examples that are meant to be reflected upon within our own world. Indeed, if we let Peter stay in first century Israel, the Jesuits in the early colonial Americas, and Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, they will have no effect on how we view our relationship to our world.

An appreciation of modern martyrs helps us to realize that there are pockets within our modernized country, and throughout the world, in which people are still dying for speaking truth to power. The world has not yet moved past poverty, starvation, and injustice; we just do not see them because we have organized systems that keep the poorest, most starving and broken people from our lives. People like Dorothy Stang inspire me, and should inspire all of us, to move outside of our comfort to find our call to act like Christ. When we go to the margins of our world, we find the reasons why people like her give their lives in the attempt to fight for justice.

For more information check out: http://www.sndohio.org/sister-dorothy/

Ian Fallon
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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Men and Women for our World

DSC09319
On February 5, we commemorate the death of Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Looking back at my Creighton experience, I see how we live out his famous words of “men and women for others” in every part of my collegiate life.

From classes, my time in the CCSJ and all of my extra activities, I see Pedro Arrupe’s words of “men and women for others” lived out. I especially see these words present in my work at the CCSJ. In my two years of working on the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice through the CCSJ, I found students and faculty not only being men and women for others in their Creighton community, but being men and women for others in our world as well. My first time at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington D.C. was in 2010 when I was still a Senior in High School. That year I had my first legislative visit. I remember walking into my Congressman’s office and being so nervous about speaking to my Congressman and also scared that I would forget some of the information for my topic. When my meeting was done though, I was so relieved and excited for my next legislative visit. Since that first meeting four years ago I’ve done many legislative visits about different topics. Doing legislative visits is one of the many ways I see our Creighton community being men and women for our world.

This month, I find myself preparing again for legislative visits with our Nebraska legislators as a part of the Ignatian Advocacy Month. Feel free to drop by the CCSJ for more information or check out our website for more updates. For more information about the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice of Ignatian Advocacy Month feel free to check out the Ignatian Solidarity Network at ignatiansolidarity.net


Roselle Agdipa
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator
Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, Co-Chair

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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National Hug Day: A Way for Love

Katherine Osterman
“Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them.” This is part of Martin Luther King’s explanation of love in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (which is definitely worth a full read). In this understanding, love is not just the strong affection concerning intimate partners, but also the feelings shared between two good friends, between coworkers, between two strangers, and between enemies. Love connects all human beings.

So, how do we as human beings truly display our love for others? For me, nothing makes my day better or shows me that I’m loved like a simple and strong hug. It gives me the message that my best friend cares. A hug can give a sense of acceptance for new acquaintances. Hugs can form a bridge of peace among enemies. A random person could become your new friend with a bold act of kindness, although more likely the hug will just brighten someone’s day and your own.

A great following to MLK day yesterday and his ideas about love, January 21 is National Hug Day. While every day should be a day for hugs, I’m focusing today on extra acts of love and throwing my arms open for embrace. Stop by the CCSJ for a “no questions asked” hug, or just share a little love with the people you encounter. Wherever you are, I challenge you to share a hug with your friends to remind them that you love them. However, my challenge extends further: share a hug with a stranger today.

Katherine Osterman
Class of 2014
College of Arts and Sciences
CCSJ Student Coordinator

 

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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My NOLA Days

NOLA
Over fall break, I went on a Service and Justice Trip to the Duchesne House in New Orleans, Louisiana. Our service was working for the St. Bernard Project, rebuilding homes that have not yet been repaired after Hurricane Katrina. The thing that I enjoyed most about volunteering for St. Bernhard Project was that we were able to see the three different houses at different stages of repair. In the last two days of service, the house we were working on had just started being rebuilt. The first two days, we were all putting the finishing touches on a house. On our last day of service, we were invited to a homecoming celebration for a family whose house was now complete. Seeing three different homes in three different stages of repair made me realize that the St. Bernard Project is with the victims of Hurricane Katrina through every step of the rebuilding process.

The members at the Duchesne House made my experience in New Orleans extraordinary by welcoming us into their community, as well as educating us about the affects Hurricane Katrina had on the city and people of New Orleans. The sisters at the Duchesne House immediately invited us to join in all of their activities, such as daily prayer, meals, and after-dinner games of Catch Phrase. Their welcoming environment quickly made me feel at home in New Orleans. Also, the Duchesne House gave us many opportunities to learn about the city of New Orleans. On the first day in New Orleans, one of the volunteers living at the Duchesne House, Julie, took us on a tour to see the levees and some of the various rebuilding projects around New Orleans. This tour made me extremely excited to being working for the St. Bernard Project. During the evenings, Sister Ann scheduled different events for us to attend so we could see other aspects of New Orleans culture. These activities included a tour of the Saint Louis Cathedral, a visit to the Washitaw Indian tribe chief, a drum lesson at Congo Square, and a tour of a lighthouse that was recently restored after the affects of Katrina. All these activities showed me the rich culture of New Orleans and made me appreciate each different aspect of the culture.

Just as in my previous service trip, I became very close to the other members of my service trip. Over the week, we bonded during the long car rides, daily reflections, and various tasks at our service sites. Every day, I was proud of the work we accomplished and how well we worked together, both in pairs and as a group. Through the endless studs to paint and numerous fiberglass splinters, every member of our group worked diligently to complete each task we were given. Whether we were working on a project together or talking over dinner, I loved getting to know every member of our group. I am so happy that I was able to become friends with each person on my trip and I will always remember them as a key part of the wonderful experience I had in New Orleans.

Michelle Baumann
Class of 2015
College of Arts and Sciences
Service and Justice Trips Participant

The CCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Creighton Center for Service and Justice (CCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the CCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.

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