As you wrap up your LSI month, what do you hope to take away from the experience? What have you learned? About yourself? About others?
Gloria – Oakland, California
It hasn’t even been a week since we’ve finished LSI, and I’m having withdrawals. I’m happy to be home with my family, but I can’t help but think about what I would be doing if I were on San Pablo Avenue, in a little brick safe haven surrounded by tiny humans that so quickly grabbed my heart from the jump.
I found myself thinking back on what I remembered from ages 3-5. To be honest I don’t remember much, and that for starters was an important lesson for me: while this month, in all of its joy and complexities, will be one that I will remember for years to come, it will most likely only be a speck in the beautiful minds of these kids that I gave snack to, wiped their noses and played with when the weather was nice enough.
I will takeaway the lessons of having to care for 40+ children day in and day out: the exhaustion, the happiness and the frustration that daily tasks gave me. Things don’t have to be exactly perfect for the work to be appreciated. Things can get done with minimal resources allotted to you. This month was just another reason why I value teamwork so much – in myself and in others. My partner and friend, Courtney, was someone I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity to work with. She is considerate and kind, and when we figured out how things worked around the classroom, we were unstoppable. It’s rare to have that compatibility, I think, so this month was made even better by the friendship and reliability that having Courtney by my side provided.
I was lucky to be witness to a love that only some possess, but many need: a love so unconditional that it requires no family relation. The teachers that run the school, women that I eventually befriended – Quinetta, Lacy, Sonia and Nell – do not have an easy job. But the grace in which they handle their occupation is something admirable. Many things that were needed at the preschool, that some kids needed, even – much of it is purchased out of pocket, by one of them. Coats for kids. Socks. Necessities that are hard to come by at times. And I understand that it’s not only there that teachers spend their own money, but across the country teachers are doing the same thing for the students that they deeply care about. It’s one of the reasons, at the end of the month, I found even more reason (to an already infinite list) to admire and value our teachers. They do so much at often zero recognition.
At the end of this experience, I logged in about 127 service hours. There was a time in my life where logging even 25 hours was an ordeal, but in a month’s time I was able to do 5x that. What I learned this month, working in Oakland, is that service is complex. The way we perceive to serve, and how others perceive us serving, are often contradictory. I’ve been wary of those who go on “service trips.” They travel to exotic locations, get to know the locals, dole out the service they went to do – build a school, maybe, renovate a rundown school – and then leave, thankful for the experience, sure, but more proud of themselves and the work they produced. Put it on their resume to make them seem well rounded. I’m sure there are some that participate in LSI, who think that way. At one point, Lacy, ever so honest with me from the beginning – mentioned this. “This looks good on the resume,” she tells me. Not in a way that supposed to be a dig, I’m sure, but she brings up an honest point – and one that I found myself thinking about more than once throughout the month.
As a person of color, from a place where there are lots of people of color and different socioeconomic statuses and realities, a lot of these kids realities were not new or uncommon for me. In fact I found myself relating a lot to the kids, an understanding that I’m sure not a lot of my classmates could say. So then I had to look at myself: how am I not hypocritical in the service I’m giving, when I often find myself resenting the whole concept of “service” of others? But then, I remembered something I heard at a talk by Rev. Sekou, who came to SMC this month. In so many words, he says: We were prayed into existence by our ancestors. We are here, in college, in this institution, only by the prayers of those who weren’t able to have this experience. So it is our obligation to serve those who don’t have these opportunities. To serve the communities we come from, the people we’re associated with. We make it our duty. It’s only right.
This month I learned about the obligation of service, and that, perhaps, was the biggest lesson that I learned.
Olivia – Pawtucket, Rhode Island
No matter how many times I told myself before I left California not to have any expectations on the impact I will make with the school or the students at Saint Raphael Academy, I did. I wanted to make a difference, change lives, and live up to the perfect expectation that I gave LSI. To be honest, up until the last week I thought that my service was lacking. I would come home most days without the feeling of accomplishment or satisfaction. I would walk by students in the hall I recognized from class but not know them well enough to address them by their first name. I quickly questioned what kind of impact I was actually making if I had not made those bonds I looked forward to creating. Was I even helping the school or was I just being a bother? It wasn’t until this last week that I came home every afternoon with a sense of pride for what I have done. It wasn’t that my service had miraculously and spontaneously improved. It wasn’t that I all of a sudden was given immensely fulfilling tasks to help out the science department. It was my attitude that changed. I started living in the now. I started forming those student relationships that made my final “good bye” so heart wrenching.
Nick van Santen told us that service is not always glamorous, and I can attest to those words of wisdom. I learned that it could be difficult to motivate yourself to serve because some days you would rather sleep in and stay in your nice warm bed. To be honest, this realization was the hardest and most draining part of the month. I wanted to love the entirety of this experience, but to be frank there were days where I would rather be watching Netflix back in the community house than sitting in the back corner of Mr. Babiec’s physics class grading bottomless piles of yesterday’s tests. However when I look back on this experience, it is not the days spent cooped up in the office ordering new textbooks that will stick out to me, it will be those where I taught Mr. Santilli’s anatomy class about the digestive system and Mrs. Costanzo’s freshman biology class about cells. I will remember sitting in the East Cafeteria after school every other week for three hours after school got out talking to Christian, Sarah, Jonathan, and Thomas about what they were going to do that weekend. I will remember Ernest begging me to go watch him play his basketball game that night and me ending up seeing his team annihilate the game.
The overall most important thing that I took away from the most difficult yet rewarding experience of my life was that consistency and patience is the key to gratifying service. Seeing those sad faces on my last day erased any doubts I had about my impact on the school. Having students come up to me to tell me how much they wish I could stay just a little longer and ask if they could give me a farewell hug negated all those delirious feelings. At the very least, these students touched my heart in a special way I will never forget and it took me almost the entire trip to realize that these high school students had grown attached to me too. I learned that service is not about expecting results immediately; instead you need to be patient to see the potential outcome that comes from it. Even though the whole time I knew going into this that I would not be saving the world, it still felt comforting to know that the wonderful students and faculty I grew to love were incredibly appreciative even without always outwardly showing it.
Savannah – Oakland, California
It’s difficult to put into words everything I felt, let alone learned. Those are the bestexperiences, the ones you can’t just leave inside a journal. I carry it with me, because there are lessons, memories, and poems inside me that paper can’t handle.
I look at people differently. I see them for who they are. I see them as stories, mistakes, joyful noises and people. People who just want to be held and told that everything is going to be OK. Handshakes no longer feel appropriate, because you wouldn’t shake hands with your family.
At St. Mary’s Center there was no such thing as an easy day. But there was always love. Always always always love.
I learned how to take advice from a tree. Yes, a tree. I learned how to stand tall and proud, how to sink my roots deeply into the Earth and reflect the light of my nature. I learned how to think long term, how to go out on a limb, and remember my place among all living beings. I learned how to embrace with joy the changing seasons, since each yields its own abundance. By seasons, I mean feelings. I learned to seek nourishment from the good things in life, the simple pleasures. To remember my roots.
Meg taught me many things: how to be present, how to accept the parts of myself that I was afraid of, and how to nourish the fruit of gentleness. She taught me how I could allow myself to be both a masterpiece and a work of progress. And if love is patient, then so must I be. That includes being patient with myself.
I now know that God has a special place in Her heart for poor people. I’ve seen, as Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou put it, comprehension is not a prerequisite for compassion.
Most importantly, I found a home somewhere I used to run from. I’ve grown rose petals for hands, and for once in my life I feel comfortable with the way my skin blends with soil.
Bella – Oakland, California
In the past month, there have many inspiring people that I have had the honor of meeting. There are a lot of hardworking adults, both teachers and volunteers that really care about the students. However there are also many children at St. Martin De Porres that are just as inspirational if not more.
I was truly honored and touched to meet Louis A. of the second grade class. I am not sure what his last name is, because he always referred to as Louis “A”, due to the multiple Louis’s in his classroom. Louis A has a lisp and glasses and the smallest voice you’ve ever heard. From the beginning Louis was adorable and so sweet, and he always gave his teacher a hug at the start of class. However, when I read one of his stories my heart was quickly won over. He wrote about how his cousin came to visit for a long time and it was so fun for him, but then she had to leave. He wrote that when they took her to the airport his heart hurt, but his heart was also happy that he got to see her for so long.
There is something about children and their ability to so clearly state what they are feeling. I thought what he said was so beautiful and touching, but I was not at all surprised this came from him. He comes back to my table during break and just smiles at me, then I smile back, and he walks back to his desk. He is so shy but so incredibly kind, a smile is all the communication he needs to make someone else feel kindness. Louis has a bad home. I am not sure what the circumstances are but I have heard his teacher talk about it and ask him how home is. I think that is why he is so shy. But despite what he is faced with as a seven year old, he is able to spread such joy just by being present.
I am now inspired by beautiful hearts.
Brian – Bacolod City Philippines
When I saw the prompt for this weeks blog post I was kind of taken back by it. You ask what I had taken and what I have learned from this trip. That made me instantly look back on my trip in a sort of yearbook fashion to see what we had done, who we had met, and what our experiences were. There was three things I will take away from this trip. The biggest thing I got out of this though was how I look at people. The boys at Bahay Pag-asa may have done things in there past that most people would give up on them. However, after meeting them you realize how much good is in their heart, how much potential each one has, and how much they regret what they had done. Each night Brother Dan would lead gospel sharing and each night he found a message in the gospel about the boys or one the boys could relate to. He doesn’t give up on them neither does the staff there so why should everyone else give up on them. I will remember to always think of a person first before I hear an action and ask myself why they did it. I’ll try to judge less and be open any person that I approach or who approaches me.
The second thing I will get out of this trip is generosity. One of the more humbling moments during our service was home visits. We got to see where some boys grew up and the extreme poverty they lived in. However at every house they would either apologize for not having food for us our have a great meal there for us to eat. Each family could of easily not done that for us because of their economic situation but for them it’s important to be generous to a visitor and to be kind to anyone who walks through their doors. On multiple times I told my group members and the boys it would be hard to find that treatment in America. That makes me want to take that mentality and apply to my life here.
Last thing I will take away is an unpleasant counter with a local on the island who didn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing and thought it was meaningless work. Brother Dan, Nick, Nataly, Meagen, Irene, Ms. Anna, and I were all around this women while she bashed us. We didn’t talk back or confront her but instead just left and got out of her company. Later, Brother Dan praised us on how we acted but honestly it was hard holding my tongue. When you are being criticized for something you believe is right, it’s hard to just take that and not act on the emotions she was stirring. However, Brother Dan reminded us that in service you see the good and the bad. Well that encounter we saw the bad in service. We all knew that even with our short time there we were making an impact even if it was only a minor one. Each one of us ignored and didn’t let this lady’s remarks get to us. We banded together and denounced what she said and reminded each other why we came there in the first place. It was a good bonding moment with my group and it was also a good look at how the world doesn’t always agree with the service work your are doing. It’s ok you don’t have to convince everyone. All you have to do is convince yourself that what you are doing is important and is helping.
Meagan – Bacolod City, Philippines
Corinne – San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Going into the month of January, I thought long and hard about all of the expectations I had; there were so many! Everything was so exciting and new. After completing my month abroad, I can say that I reached my goal that I set for myself in the very beginning, which was to be uncomfortable in all 3 aspects of the LSI experience: community, faith, and service. When we first arrived, I was uncomfortable with the community we were being placed in. I didn’t expect the city to be as poor as it was because some of the research I had done on San Miguel didn’t display any of that. When we strolled around town, there were people operating businesses out of their homes, there were some homeless individuals and people on the street trying to make a living. I’d never been exposed to this type of lifestyle, sadly and it was somewhat scary to experience at first. As the days passed, I accepted their way of life and realized that simplicity is key! Jesus always reminds us to live simply, and if these individuals had no problem doing so, why couldn’t I? I learned to appreciate what I had and thought that when I get home, I should get rid of some of the unnecessary items I have laying around in my room. Also, people live at a slower pace in Mexico than the U.S. On weekends, we sat around and just talked with the host families we were with. It was really nice and I enjoyed getting to know them and the family traditions they had shown us. The second aspect was faith, and re-connecting with God was something that I was looking forward to so badly! I expected it to come so easily since it had when I was abroad in Australia a year ago, but that wasn’t the case. Half-way through the month, I was discouraged because I felt that everything I was doing (faith wise), was out of habit. I didn’t want that; I wanted my fire to be re-kindled and have this burning desire to share my faith with everyone! There was a couple living in the volunteer house, Judy and Chris, that were Christian and I asked to talk to them about their experiences with God and other spiritual topics. Both of them were also retired teachers. Judy was so open and we sat and talked about it for about an hour and after that, I felt like that was what I needed to progress, spiritually! For service, I thought that I was pretty comfortable with since all I do is work with kids and felt right at home. I wasn’t all that comfortable though because my Spanish was basic and not many others at the daycare could speak English. I didn’t know the routine of the daycare until a few days in, and had a hard time understanding the language, so as a result, I didn’t speak as much as I planned. For this entire month, I was more of an observer and that allowed me to take in a lot of the country. In the U.S., I’m more independent and comfortable, but that can get in the way of my learning. Here, I felt like I was able to immerse myself in the culture and customs that Mexico had to offer. I hope that I can tell people about my experience serving a different community and help them make the decision to do go out and do it! I’ve learned so much more about myself and my own limitations that I want to challenge those. I did have a hard time adjusting to the lifestyle, but found that I did and want to push those further (like maybe go to a poorer country). Traveling with other people can sometimes be hard since everyone has their own ideas and motivations, but it is definitely more fun. You get to see different sides of people, and I’m very lucky that my group was so supportive.
Sarah – San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
It is absolutely unbelievable that this month is over. It feels like just yesterday the five of us arrived at the Leon airport at 6 in the morning. It has been a whirlwind of a month with a lot of highs and lows, but mostly highs, and I am extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity. After spending the past month at Casa de Los Angeles and being able to interact with all of the families that they help, I have come to realize that by volunteering, I am not necessarily going to change the path of these families in a very significant way. All I hope is that by me doing service, those families in San Miguel were able to have a smile on their faces, knowing that their child was going to be provided with food, love and affection every time they dropped them off at the daycare. Personally, I know that I’ve learned to appreciate every privilege that I have just by living in the United States. There are so many resources that us Americans have access to that most of the moms from the daycare in San Miguel could only dream of having. I know that I should not take these things for granted but also that my access to these resources in no way puts me at a level higher than these Mexican families. I learned so much about how much optimism and a good work ethic are worth just by seeing these mothers return every day and have the courage to leave their children in order for them to make ends meet. Being at Casa really hit home for me considering my mother was a single mother when she raised my younger brother and I here in California. One thing I kept thinking was, “That could have easily been me in the daycare.” I came to realize that everything happens for a reason and that I was able to go to Casa because I needed to see and care for the families that essentially were my family. This trip for me was so much more about community than it was about faith or service, in my opinion, because I was able to create relationships with the families at Casa that helped me learn so much about myself that I never thought I could learn.
Sandra – Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Jessica – Scampia, Italy
Before I left for Naples, I believe that I had a pretty fixed image of my personality and my abilities. I saw myself as a very introverted, thoughtful, adventure-loving person. However, after reflecting on these past four weeks, I realized that this idea of myself was a way for me to set limits on myself. I thought my view of myself as an introverted person came from an understanding of myself but I think that it was more likely an excuse for me to feel comfortable.
The 6,000 miles between Moraga and Naples gave me enough cushion to realize that I had the opportunity of a fresh start, to present myself however I wanted to this community without fear of people comparing my behavior to how I was expected to act, because there were no previous expectations. Being placed in a group with two other introverted people initially scared me to death because I didn’t know if I would be able to speak up for the group. However, I think that it was the perfect scenario for me to be tested in this way, and I surprised myself with how easy it was for me to speak up and share, especially as the weeks went on.
All in all, the thing I gained most from this experience was a confidence in myself across a variety of different situations and more trust in others’ reactions to me being more outspoken. Enrico revealed to us toward the end of the trip that he preferred to teach his volunteers through the method of throwing them headfirst in the water and letting them figure out on their own how to swim. I wouldn’t say that this method taught me how to be the perfect swimmer/volunteer, but I was able to gain enough confidence in my ability to doggie-paddle that I wouldn’t be afraid to be thrown in the water again. And now I also know that being more outspoken and confident in myself has not influenced my relationships with others in any negative way but actually makes me feel like I am able to be more invested and share more of myself with the community.
Lowell – Nyeri, Kenya
One of the themes that had come up in several group meetings and personal conversations during the trip was, where do we go from here, what should we take away from this trip? Does this trip affect our path and continue to shape up us past the month of January, and if so how? This question was answered for me during a brief conversation with Brother Francis, our host in Kenya for the month, on the last day while driving through town. As we were driving, I said, “Brother Francis, we’re all going to miss you.” After a second of hesitation, he succinctly replied, “No, don’t miss me. Take the spirit of serving the poor.” It seemed that the answer to the question of how do we let this experience shape us was given to me on a silver platter. I was enthused to hear this response at the closing of our trip when I needed it most. As the day wore on though this question seemed to develop from the simple answer to a more applicable question, where is serving the poor found back home? In Kenya, we were thrown into a culture of serving the poor. There were no distractions from this lifestyle and we had a community around us that was supportive of what we were doing. So what happens when this scene changes and we’re back home, comfortable with our normal life and are able to avoid those environments of serving the poor? In this situation, the month of January and the fond memories that came about during it have to serve as motivation to find those communities and situations that have that same spirit of serving the poor. In doing so, the LSI trip becomes more than just a fond memory, but a point where our life’s trajectory of helping the poor was either shaped or reaffirmed.
Emily – Nyeri, Kenya
It’s hard to believe that a month which has felt so long is finally coming to an end. As I reflect back on my time and the people who have been placed in my life I am pleasantly surprised to find that i can remember my days! Too often in our contemporary American society we feel as if “we have no time” the hours slip away from us and go towards work, school, friends, traffic, and more… but i can remember the days here and its so refreshing!
As we wrap up with our final week there’s definitely this looming realization that the end of something is very near, the boys, the brothers, our group we are all starting to value our moments here a little more. I’m storing up on pictures, sounds, smells, and memories both physically and mentally. I so badly want to take back with me more than photos and names and faces but living experiences that can be brought to life here. So much of my time here has been simply living in the company of Kenyan society and now that we come nearer to our American society I find myself seeking more ways to connect the two. There is something to be said for a life lived with a mentality of ease. People don’t stress here and that’s not to say that stress doesn’t exist here. There is pain and trauma exists too, I’d argue more so here than in the United States, but what they do with this trauma is different. It is not internalized as stress, no one is purposely working themselves to death to avoid actually listening to themselves and their own realities. Instead, it’s reflected upon and used as a pillar of strength not a crutch to inflict self-pity. These boys desire something beyond their own pain whether that’s a family, a partner, an education, a vocational calling, a far off dream. Their trauma doesn’t limit them in way I feel our trauma in America scares or inhibits us.
What I will take back with me (and this is something I don’t hope for rather I intuitively know it) is the grace, fortitude, and resounding joy of engaging in relationships of a service-love. The kind of service where what matters to me at the end of each day and brings me joy at the start of the next is the desire to remind others of how much they are truly loved. Being present. Being truly present is the most personalized and honest gift i found i could actually give in Nyeri. I’ll never forget my last night at the Saint Mary’s Boys school when I was saying goodbye to one of my form four boys Jimmy. Openly crying/laughing over a months worth of uproarious moments and heart-opening conversations for both of us Jimmy was using his thumbs to remove the tears from my eyes while my hands seemed to be collecting the tears from his. It wasn’t just me saying goodbye (or as Jimmy insisted “seeing you later”) it was Jimmy saying farewell to me in the kind of moment that can only exist in a relationship, a shared path, an intertwined story. And that’s what I’ll remember on day 30 of my LSI experience.
Jaime – Yangon, Myanmar
The people of Myanmar have taught me so much in just 25 days. Every single person we were blessed to come across was so unique but they all had one thing in common, they were so friendly and welcoming. Being almost 8,000 miles away from what I considered home, the people of Myanmar made their country feel like home and they made it very difficult to miss California.
There are so many things I learned from this trip that it is really hard to only pick a couple. I’ve learned that despite our different cultures, traditions, and languages that as humans we can still become one and become close to one another even with very limited communication. Sometimes something as simple as a smile and hello is enough.
One of the Brothers that we had the privilege of getting to know was Brother Ling John. He is the director of the La Salle Center. We were having a deep conversation with him after dinner one day and we posed the question of “what is one thing you would like us to keep in mind and bring back to the U.S with us?” His answer almost brought tears to my eyes. He told us that our families all immigrated from somewhere at some point in time. For my family it wasn’t that long ago, my grandparents immigrated from the Philippines and Mexico. He went on to mention how lucky we are to be born in the United States. With that being said he told us that we have the responsibility of taking care of one another since we were some of the lucky ones. Since our families immigrated we have an even bigger duty to look after one another. Especially those who are still living in difficult situations and haven’t been presented with the opportunity to make a better life for themselves like our families did.
Lastly, the people of Myanmar have taught me how to be more human. The journey to becoming more human is to sympathize, to understand one another, and most importantly to treat each other as equals and with dignity.
It truly is amazing how much you can learn from one another because we all come from different walks of life. Stepping out of our own cultures and comfort zones and learning about others can bring humanity that much closer.