Through our ordinary actions.

 

Somehow, I managed to finish reading Jean Vanier’s Encountering ‘the Other’ over the past weekend (mind you, it is a mere 62 pages long). Various chapters focus on concepts of trust, forfeiting power, disabilities and inequalities, fear, listening and communication, peace, celebrating differences, as well as reconciliation and change.

Reflecting on these concepts could turn into a series of blog entries, as I’ve made more notes on this book than I have taken in certain classes this term. In short, I encourage anyone involved with Beyond Borders and anyone with an interest in social justice to read Encountering the ‘Other.’ (And hey, it’s only 62 pages!) Vanier stresses the importance of relationships, of community, of encountering what we do not know. He beautifully writes that ‘to live is to risk,’ that overcoming fear can change our lives in unimaginable ways.  As I prepare for my time in Ukraine, this is encouraging – I hope to embrace the bumps and pitfalls of this journey just as much as the excitement and the highlights. I fear that the truth is, no matter what I do, I will not be prepared for what I will encounter. This is just a plain and simple reality. All the awareness and research I could ever do between now and my departure will still leave me at a loss in Ternopil. I don’t think that I can fully comprehend or realize how I will be changed by the time I return home mid-August.

“If people have a toothache, you don’t just pray for him or her; you take them to a good dentist. And Jesus says to us: ‘It’s up to you to do something about it, but I will give you my spirit. I’ll give you a new force, a new strength, and a new wisdom so that you can break down the dividing walls of hostility.’ It’s up to you and me, but God will give us strength if we open our hearts to Him and ask for that strength. We hear about the presence of God in the stories that are told of people struggling to bring peace. God trusts us so much and loves us so much; He wants us to become men and women who can receive forgiveness and give forgiveness, who can receive wisdom and give wisdom. Jesus kneeling before his disciples is a revelation of Jesus kneeling at our feet saying, ‘I trust you, I believe in you, I love you’ and calling us to stand up and to work for love.”
Encountering ‘the Other,’ page 61.

 

Most of us have been drawn to Beyond Borders because, in some way, we hope to break out of the ordinary, out of of the comfortable lives that we have here in Waterloo. We hope to be able to make a positive difference in a completely different culture, as crazy and/or naive that sounds. Over the past semester, I have read about the works of Jean Vanier, of Mother Teresa, of Marc and Craig Kielberger, and of Shane Claiborne (founder of the Simple Way, author of The Irresistable Revolution). These individuals have also lived as ‘ordinary radicals,’ each having a profound impact on the lives of others.

As a class, we have been told (warned?) that we are not going to single handedly change the communities that we will enter into this summer. That our various experiences will more than likely have a larger influence on our own lives than the lives of those we will encounter in Ukraine, in Ghana, in Ecuador, or in Honduras. But part of me is (naively) hoping for something bigger, hoping that through our ordinary actions we will have opportunities to empower those around us to make greater changes.

Mother Teresa did ‘small things with great love,’ Jean Vanier humbly lived among the disabled and the broken, the Kielberger brothers continue to promote children’s rights, and Shane Claiborne has spent time in Iraq, India, and Philadelphia passionately pursuing social justice and ideals of the early church. I think that we have more power than we realize, that small changes really do add up and eventually have a greater impact than we are initially aware of.

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I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparations for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.

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Service learning matters. And here’s why.

“I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbour. Do you know your next door neighbour?”
– Mother Teresa
    In a nutshell, this quote is why service learning matters to me. How many of us actually know our neighbours? I hardly knew the two girls in the apartment upstairs apartment of my old student house, let alone the family who recently moved in next door, or the other people living on my street. Neighbourhoods are not what they used to be. It seems that our communities are more private than in the past, and that people are too busy to make deeper personal connections. For example – we no longer chat with the tellers at the bank; we have ATMs that are more convenient. We can ignore the cashier at the grocery store; the self check-out is a faster option.Service learning, according to the Beyond Borders brochures, aims to prepare students as global citizens in a globalized world, effect social change, and make use of our abilities and education in service to others. But this final reflection requires me to answer ‘so what?’. Those ideals are positive, but don’t say much about what I’ve learned this term or why I’m a participant.I’m a big fan of lists. And so, inspired by the infamous top ten lists of David Letterman, I will convince you of the value and importance of service learning.
     
    top ten reasons why service learning matters:

  1. it holds us accountable. Service learning allows us to (pardon the cliche) “practice Italicwhat we preach.” Through service learning, we are taking ownership of our education by applying what we have learned in a wide variety of circumstances.
  2. it encourages (and requires) dialogue. Through service learning opportunities, we enter into relationships with others. Asking questions, searching for answers, we are constantly in conversation.
  3. you don’t actually need a passport. Turns out, you don’t have to travel overseas to participate in service learning. It can be as simple as spending a few hours a week volunteering with a local organization (i.e., the Working Centre).
  4. mutual empowerment. We are not sent to various international placements with a plan or a solution, to push our Western way of living onto a developing nation. We might not be all that helpful. Through building new relationships in a new culture, we are all on the same footing.
  5. endless possibilities. Service learning is not tied down to any one location or action, it does not have an agenda, it does not have an expiry date. It could be ten hours, or ten months, it could be a lifelong process.
  6. it is frustrating. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means you’re tackling something strange and unfamiliar, and in the meantime, new skills or ideas are likely developed. “It is when you are frustrated, that you really learn.” – Joanne Benham Rennick.
  7. it lays foundations for the future. Talking to Myroslaw was encouraging for Jessica and I, because we are building on success of the past. Five years ago, there were no volunteers at the Internat. Since then, numerous alumni have spent their summer months caring for the girls of this Ukrainian orphanage. In five more years, who knows – the university students of Ternopil may be in partnership with the Internat, working towards minimizing the strong stigma against the disabled. We may not be able to see the impact of our actions, but each individual action is a small step forward. Change is not impossible.
  8. exploration of the unknown. We live in world full of beauty, creativity, and diversity – Henry Miller said it best: “Develop an interest in life as you see it, the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”
  9. the lost art of facilitation. Facilitation is an idea explored in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and is an incredibly valuable skill to possess. We do not use the skill of facilitation nearly as much as we should, and we’re really not that great at it. We do not practice it enough to become good, not to mention great, at it. Service learning opportunities allow us to develop facilitation skills throughout authentic education experiences.
  10. in the end, it all adds up. I’ve previously written about the power of our ordinary actions. Throughout the fall term, Scott warned us that we would not really have a significant impact on the communities that we will be serving this summer. I beg to differ. While things may not be profoundly different once we leave in August, I still think that whatever we accomplish in our various placements, no matter how small or insignificant our achievements are, will be worthwhile. If it only serves to teach us a lesson that we will carry with us, or if our visit only gives a disabled child the chance to venture outside of the Internat for the first time, I’d say that alone is a small victory. Baby steps, people… baby steps!

 

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I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparation for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.

Україна | Reach out.

Continuing on with my recent Ukrainian observations – Relationships 101, a very brief look at Ukrainian encounters .

5. I had read in Lonely Planet that many people throughout Ukraine are more generous than they can afford to be. There is so much truth to this! The Ukrainian economy is not strong; most live on less than $200 CDN per month. Yet the hospitality and kindness of people I have met continues to amaze me. Slava feeds me all day long, from breakfast til bedtime. Literally. Ira went out of her way to invite Jessica and I on her class trip to the Carpathian Mountains (a three day adventure complete with several 16 year old companions). Katia arranged for her friends – complete strangers to us – to take us out one night when she had to cancel. Our tutors, all of them, bent over backwards to make this entire experience less overwhelming. I appreciated everything.

7. Grandmothers (also known as babas, or babusias) are highly respected in Ukrainian society. They work hard to maintain close familial connections, and their children as well as grandchildren seem to honour this. (Side note: women also outlive men. Women are expected to live well past 70+ years, while the odds of men living past the age of 60 are low – alcoholism is a national concern.)

8. There is always more room on the bus. “Personal space” means getting to know your neighbour far better than you would like to. Think of the bus as a cage packed with animals, pressed up against one another, sweating onto each other, and that is just the way it goes. Shut up and move on back, to make a bit more room for a few more.

25. I look forward to my regular nightly tea dates with Slava. I am grateful for the unique friendship that we have built over endless charades, drawings, and reliance on our trusty Ukrainian-English dictionaries.

50. We all need a little more lovin’. Hugs, smiles, quality time, a listening ear: a few minutes of your time can actually make a serious difference in someone else’s day. Phone calls from home or a picture from one of my girls at the Internat can carry me through til tomorrow. The little things matter; they really, really do.

 

 

 

What kind of encounters have you had with others while travelling?

How have they impacted you (then and now)?

Україна | Some food for thought.

If you have been brave enough to venture over to my original blog, you may have caught a glimpse of my Ukrainian explorations and experiences. In order to keep you coming back for more, I thought I’d continue to spread the joy of Eastern European life here at my new home – in small (but regular) doses, of course.

With that, I invite you to reflect with me on some blatant cultural differences, quirks and common sights that I grew to appreciate and love in a way that can only be associated with (mmm) wanderlust.

Foodies, rejoice – todays lessons focus on the culinary world of Ternopil, Ukraine.

15. Most foods have been either deep fried, doused with vegetable oil, or heavily salted. However, I am positive that I have lost, rather than gained, weight since arriving in May due to all the walking we do around Ternopil. Nothing is worth eating without a large lump of sour cream on the side, it would be plain unthinkable. Mmmhmmm. No complaints here.

36. Bread is significant. Included with every single meal, kissed when dropped on the ground, never thrown out, a crumb must never be wasted. The yellow bottom of the Ukrainian flag, in fact, symbolizes the importance of agriculture in this nation. Miles upon miles of golden wheat fields stretch throughout the countryside of many oblasts. Not to mention that ‘breaking bread’ and the time spent together over dinner tables is also a valuable aspect of building (and maintaining) relationships and a sense of community.

18. Potato chips have the power to be an entire edible experience on their own. My cravings for the familiarity of salt and vinegar chips will not be satisfied for a few more weeks – I misjudged the oceanic packaging of the calamari chips, and they’re not quite the same. However, my favourite Ukrainian flavour thus far are definitely sour cream and cheese (you read that right – cheese, not onion) as well as the ultra-unique roast beef and mushroom (for real).

19. More than once, I have questioned the very possible correlation between the mystery meat cutlets (a dinner time staple) and the amount of stray dogs running free in this town. Schnitzel?!

46. A few aspects of my days here in Ternopil are fairly routine: my omelette and кава (coffee) for breakfast, my nap once I get home from the Інтернат (Internat, or orphanage). But for the most part, I have come to expect the unexpected each and every day. Random adventures and chance encounters with local strangers are part of the daily routine – and factor into this overall international experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad?

How were your taste buds affected?

What did you crave most from home?

Baby steps.

I swear I had good intentions, but didn’t exactly follow through with them.

Way back in October, I had lofty blog dreams. I like to think that I still do.  But these innocent aspirations were swiftly squashed by a hectic schedule and admittedly poor life/work balance as I scrounged for those last ounces necessary to conquer my undergraduate career once and for all. This blog, in its helpless infancy, was quickly and unfortunately discarded.

So — to make things short n’ sweet — I have recently reunited with my once forgotten and blatantly ignored blog-intentions. No more school = no more excuses.

Therefore, dear friends, please consider this my humble relaunch. I’m giving this another go. Stay tuned… I mean it this time.

My brief intentions.

 

If you’re reading this, you may have a few unanswered questions. Such as, who does this girl think she is? And what does she aim to do with this here blog? And what’s the point of reading what she has to say?! 

Unfortunately, I don’t have nice, neat, concise, or convenient answers to these questions. I am a twenty something almost-grad who considers herself a constant work in progress. And as for why I created this blog – I figured it was time to be proactive and (according to Nike) just do it. I thought that blogging would be a great way to share my thoughts and ideas, connect with others and begin to network, and spark a few conversations and/or debates.

So here I am, diving back in to the wonderful world of blogging. I have previously dabbled in the blogosphere, as I recently spent my summer volounteering in Western Ukraine and kept track of my (mis)adventures and experiences online. I have been procrastinating in terms of my so-called blog return, I wanted everything to be just right. Get all my ducks in a row before officially doing anything ‘permanent’ with a new Internet home. I wanted to have a snappy name, I wanted to have a specific audience in mind, I wanted to be crystal clear on what I wanted to achieve with a new blog.

However – I still don’t have a snappy name in mind, and am unsure as to who is really reading this. I hope that over time I will be able to narrow down my goals and ideas in regards to what I hope to learn and experience through blogging. But I did convince myself to just do it. To just take a leap, to fly by the seat of my sweatpants, and to get on with it. So it is what it is – and I hope that this space will evolve and grow as time goes on.

Enjoy the ride.

Closing time: an introduction of sorts.

Closing time, open all the doors/And let you out into the world

Over the next two months, I will be closing a significant chapter of my life and embarking on a terrifying, exhilarating new adventure. In other words: wrapping up my years as an undergraduate student and entering the Real World – a world of job hunting, soul searching, and important decisions. While I am looking forward to bidding adieu to the wonderful world of research papers, group presentations, and endless caffeinated nights, I am one hundred percent uncertain as to what I will be doing once January rolls around. Eep.

Don’t get me wrong – I have ideas of what I’d like to be doing. I am an idea machine, changing my mind regularly, constantly adding to my long list of Careers I’d Like to Pursue. My ideas are both short term and long term, realistic and ambitious. For example: obtaining a job within the social services field this winter, as most of my academic years have been spent studying Social Development [although my degree will technically read “Liberal Studies…” But that’s another story for another day]. Though the goal of working within social services is pretty realistic, it is also incredibly vague – where do I start? Loftier goals include eventually earning a Masters degree, maybe become a teacher/professor, maybe dabble in design, maybe start a non-profit organization of my own. These ideas are all valid, but for the most part are unlikely to take shape within the next few years.

In the meantime, I intend to continue learning about possibilities, exploring options, and building connections. I have blogged about my Ukrainian experiences recently, which is just one reason why I’m starting over here. New chapter, new adventures, brand new blog? Voila.

Stay tuned, check back often, and feel free to comment or connect with me over email via jendeweerd[at]gmail[dot]com.

Closing time, every new beginning/Comes from some other beginnings end.