Solidarity Archive

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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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Solidarity in Morton

augustaSolidarity. Of course that’s something we all strive for when we go on these trips, but it always turns out to be more difficult than simply stepping in another’s shoes. We go on these trips to serve, and with that mentality, it can be difficult to live in solidarity with the community.

In Morton, the community instantly welcomed us. It was so heartwarming that the least we could do was join the community and live in solidarity with them. We worked with the nuns of the Excel Learning Center after school, but during the day we went to the schools and worked with the students. Every day we ate lunch in the cafeteria and joked around with the kids. We worked on in-class assignments with them. And we went to gym class or to the library. The teachers saw us as their helpers, which is what we were doing, but the students saw us as older kids who wanted to be at school and wanted to work with them. In an education system that still utilizes corporal punishment, instills a culture of seniority and hierarchy, and values “smartness” over “dumbness”, we were what the kids needed. We became a part of the classroom by the end of the week – a friend that these kids could turn to.

On Wednesday evening we cooked dinner, a vegetarian dinner, for our vegetarian guest. Morton is home to a chicken plant and chicken is therefore an important food group in the typical Morton citizen’s diet. We were gifted with chicken nearly every night by the nuns, but we made an exception on this night. Our guest was Miss Constance Slaughter, the first African American woman to graduate from Ole Miss’s law school, and she happened to be a vegetarian. She was in solidarity with us – she ate off of our plates, with our silverware. She politely accepted our simple meal of spaghetti and marinara and brownies for dessert. She made the effort to truly be with us, and we reciprocated – enveloping ourselves in her experiences. She told us exactly what we needed to hear: that being older college women in the schools here, we would inspire students to enjoy school.

So our hopes of being in solidarity with these kids and making a difference in their lives were reaffirmed by Miss Constance, and that made all of the difference.

When it came time to say goodbye to these kids, there were tears on both ends. We can’t be a part of these children’s lives every day, but for a week, we entered their lives and lived in solidarity with them. We took home a piece of Morton in our hearts, and hopefully they gained a sense of self-worth. Because that is what these kids needed and what we strived to provide them.

Agusta Hermann
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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CapCorps – Milwaukee, WI Fall 2013

Milwaukee, WI – CapCorps

Trying out a Post Grad Volunteer Program. While in Milwaukee, participants work with the Capuchin Franciscan Volunteer Corps (Cap Core) whose focus is service, spirituality, social justice, and sustainable living in community. One highlight of service trips to Milwaukee is the chance to eat with the guests of St. Ben’s Community Meal. Students spend a day at Repairers of the Breach, a drop in center that is organized and run by people who use the services they provide. As a new element to the immersion trips, students also have the opportunity to visit with Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights group that is working to bring about justice for immigrants. There is also an opportunity to see an alternative to the current economic system which emphasizes direct service to the poor while simultaneously challenging war and the violence of poverty by taking direct action. This is a great way for students to experience a Post-Grad Volunteer Program.

Relevant Websites: CapCorps, Voces de la Fontera, Growing Power, Inc., CCSJ Advocacy Alert – Migration/Refugees, CCSJ Advocacy Alert – Poverty/Economic Justice, CCSJ Advocacy Alert – Sustainability/Environmental Justice

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Humility Found Through Service

One of the best parts of working here in the CCSJ Office is getting to lead a weekly service site. The site that I co-lead every week is to Siena/Francis House.

Every Thursday, I run out of class and meet my group down in Deglman Circle, and we embark on our 4 block ride to the Siena/Francis House, the largest homeless shelter in the area.

For the first half of our time there, we sit down and eat with the other people getting meals there. This is something that is often a little unexpected for first-time participants, because they usually expect to be serving the meal, and not being served. This, however, is one of the most special parts of the day for me because we get to sit in communion and commonality with the guests there, who are really members of our community.

After we have all finished our meals, we head over to an adjoining building where we are greeted by Tim Sully, a director at Siena/Francis House, and someone who is currently enrolled in their drug and alcohol recovery program. We all head back to one of the overflow rooms they have for women and children and sit in a circle.

As we sit there, we listen to the story of the person who is in the recovery program. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of the site because we hear stories of drug use, incarceration, and abuse. Although these stories can be shocking or challenging, I find that they are incredibly humbling to listen to.

It is very common for addicts to have the mentality that they are in control of their addiction, or that they need to be able to control their situation–let’s face it, we all feel that way sometimes. For them to come to Siena/Francis and give up full control and completely trust in the program and God (or whatever higher power), is a true expression of humility. This never ceases to amaze me and make God’s presence feel real to me.

Ryan Freeman

Class of 2013

 

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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Stroud Proud

The town of Stroud is generally frowned upon by Oklahomans. Before our service trip, I talked to a few friends from Oklahoma.

“Oh, you’re going to Stroud?” they would say. “I’m sorry.”

I didn’t understand why people seemed to dislike my service site so much, but I figured that maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were going there to do service in the first place. When we first got to Stroud, I started to wonder if the Stroud-haters had been right in their opinion. The town is tiny with only 2,500 people and a high poverty rate. Driving down the main street in our Creighton van, we couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the empty street and deserted towns in horror movies where something terrifying always happens. It didn’t seem like Stroud had much to offer at first glance.

But that impression didn’t last long.

Melanie and her Fall Break group at the Pink-Out Game

Our service group soon learned that in the small town of Stroud, we were celebrities. Everybody knew about the fall break service group that had been coming for years to help with Habitat, and everybody wanted to meet us.

We had different churches and families cooking us elaborate meals day after day, kindhearted individuals inviting us over to their houses for evening games, and seemingly random people baking cookies for our nearly constant consumption.

On Thursday night, we went to Stroud High School’s pink-out football game with our faces painted in support of the Tigers. We cheered so loudly that the school’s mascot came to talk to us and beg us to come to more games. Our group was recognized during halftime and thanked profusely for our willingness to spend our fall break in service. It was an amazing night and made us feel more a part of the community than we could have imagined.

During the whole trip, the people of Stroud treated us like family and taught us what it meant to accept and take care of a group of strangers. They did not know us, but they were so genuinely grateful for our small act of helping them build one little house that they were willing to do absolutely anything to make us feel welcome. I think every person on the Stroud service trip came back with a new meaning of community, thanks to that little town. I am still baffled by some people’s poor opinion of our service site, but it does not bother me so much anymore.

I know, and the eleven others on my trip know, that Stroud has something special, and we will always have a special place for Stroud in our hearts.

Melanie Kim
2015 Graduate
Major: English, Pre-Med
Host Site: Habitat for Humanity, Stroud, OK

 

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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Cookies as a Common Language

Of all of the inspiring people I encountered in El Paso, the most touching relationship I made was with six-year-old Thiago. He got caught crossing the border into the United States and therefore was assigned to live with a foster family that works with the child detention center.

The El Paso Group

We spent about an hour with the kids from the center and the whole time Thiago had a wide-spread grin across his face to accompany his sparkling brown eyes. He always had something to say no matter the time of day: song time, snack time, or craft time. During craft time I was helping him decorate a box with stickers and sequins, gluing things on and sticking things together. Apparently, assistance is not something he accepts often.

“He must like you! He never lets anyone help him work,” the volunteers told me. “Thiago, you like her, you think she’s pretty!”

He just smiled even bigger and continued working.

Although the only Spanish I remember is from middle and high school language classes, we were still able to converse. We talked a lot about the alphabet and his cookies and milk, but eventually we began to play a game. He would say a word in Spanish and I would respond by telling him what it was in English. The words were simple like dog, window, mirror, star, cookie, and even after we went through a whole roll of them we would start over from the beginning. Each sequence made me smile.

Thiago taught me that even when you go through hard times in your life it is okay to continue living in the present as a being who has the ability to encompass happiness and share it as well, even if the person you share it with is someone you just met.

He helps me put a name to one of the many faces of immigration who are categorized as aliens, drug dealers, and terrorists. In reality the majority of them are normal humans who deserve to lead a better way of life.

Natalie Davies
2015 Graduate
Host Site: El Paso, TX – Columban

 

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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