Newsletter # 9 June 2011
This is the first of three summer newsletters which will share some of the stories that students are writing while on placement. The following stories are responding to the question: “Share a first impression of your host community.” Enjoy! Joe.
Our drive from Sarajevo to Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje was not an eventful one, however by looking out of the window I learned a great deal about the country. Perhaps as many as one in ten houses that we passed were unoccupied, either because they were under construction, abandoned or destroyed. The industrial picture is even worse. There were only a handful of factories that were operational, almost all had been deserted. Yet, despite the number of unoccupied houses, the people that are still here are obviously very proud. It was obvious that the only thing better here than the landscape was the attitudes of the people that live here. Upon arrival in GVU we received a very warm welcome from the teen group and our family, and I knew that this was going to be an incredible three months.
From the first moment I saw my host parents and my 3 siblings, we just connected right away. It was incredible how happy they were to welcome a total stranger into their home. They never complain about anything even though they don’t have much. They cherish each other and what they have.
Work is long and makes me very tired. On my feet for most of 8 hours. My first impression of this was wondering ¨how does my host mom do this!?¨. She cooks all day at the daycare and then goes home to do more work and cooking. And cooking here is no small task, it involves making nearly everything from scratch and can take hours and hours to prepare. My host mom often carries a five gallon pail of food waste and liquid home from the daycare on her back. She feeds animals, gathers food for both her family and the animals, tends to her kids, and so much more! Everywhere in the community there are people out and about working, herding cows, tending to corn, gathering grass, washing clothes, etc. Very hardworking but happy people.
Leigh Martha Kern/USMC/Ghana/2011
My first day with my host family was hard. I got to my host family and it is just the father there, a kind, educated man with excellent English. He took me to the junior school where he is the Headmaster. He briefly showed me the classrooms, sat me down, and told me about caning. He told me that he understands that I will not cane kids directly, but when they misbehave, an observing staff member will step in and “discipline them”. He then asked me if I was comfortable with that…. I nodded. Of course I was not, of course every voice of reason and empathy was crying inside me, but this was my host father, this was my boss at the school, and this was my first day. Since then, I have chosen not to look away when I see kids getting lashed. I’ve chosen to look into the ugliness I have seen and not look away.
The most vivid first impression of my community is the closeness of the community itself. On my first weekend here, a close friend of my host dad passed away. It was striking to me to see how quickly the community responded to. It was amazing to see the unity of the community, where everyone dropped what they were doing to go console the family and prepare for the funeral. Everyone seemed to know exactly what to do, and what their roles were in the situation. The men all went to the social center to get chairs, while the women cleared and cleaned the house, set up the funeral display, and started cooking. Everyone knew their respective roles without saying a word.
The two hour car ride from Managua to Esteli, seemed to me, to be the landscape of an alien world. The heat along the dried up highways was so pressing that I could see it. What had to be palm trees were caught up in the breeze. Saggy horses with weathered riders trudged along the non-existent shoulder of the rode, passed by the occasional cyclist. There were markets displaying cowboy boots and brightly coloured fruit. In some places, the grass was so dry it had caught fire and was burning unchecked. The sun was bright, and it filled everything. In Esteli, the people walk slowly and they sit on the steps of shops for hours and watch cars go by. Or they watch the rain. In Esteli, there is beauty, and there is time.
Stephanie Vanden Boomen/Kings/Rwanda/2011
Rwanda: “Land of a Thousand Hills!” What an accurate statement. Hills, towns, villages, people and volcanoes are EVERYWHERE! There seems to never be a dull moment in this country. Whether it be biking, walking, riding or running somewhere, people are always moving. I never stop wondering where they are going and what their final destinations are. The people are what make this country what it is. Their friendly nature and generosity (for the most part) is heart warming. Yet, this heart warmth quickly can be chilled by the stares, laughs and touches and shouts of muzungu (white person). But again, that’s what adds to the experience of being the different one. After all, this is their home and I am just becoming adapted.
I came to Ukraine with the Intercordia program to experience the culture of Lviv and to volunteer with the L’Arche workshop, Smiles. The Smiles workshop is challenging for me because I am not always able to communicate with the assistants (staff) or the core members (people with disabilities). The challenges, however, make the rewards that much greater. It is such a wonderful feeling when I am able to communicate with a core member, despite the language barrier, and the smiles, warmth and energy that the core members have is contagious. Even after a challenging day I usually leave the center with a smile on my face, and I am very thankful to be here among these wonderful people.