Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The service learning co-ordinators at LDC have asked me to write 3 reflection papers while im here. The first one is just about the initial reaction to being here, what i've struggled with etc. I sat down and wrote it all at once and its kind of just a bunch of random thoughts exploded onto a page, but i think I got out almost everything that I needed to say. So here it is:

My first impression of India was, in a word, overwhelming. When I first stepped off the plane the heat was stifling, there were so many smells, there was a vast pit of garbage by the airport, there were cows blocking traffic. I had spent the last 29 hours in various planes and airport terminals and it had been a good 32 hours since I had slept. It was too much to process all at once and all I could think about was letting my family know I arrived safely. Lack of sleep and jet lag meant that the next few days were just as bewildering, trying to get organized and not really knowing what was going on. That first week really felt like I was going through the motions...a word of advice to future BBers: please sleep on the plane, your sanity will thank you later.
I’m the type of person who likes everything to be neat and organized and who needs everything scheduled and arranged, but that’s simply not how things are done in India. Everything is much more loosely scheduled if scheduled at all and things just happen when people get around to it. That was a hard adjustment for me. I would say that it still is. Some days I am great at just going with whatever happens, “oh that class I planned on isn’t happening? Ok I’ll do something else. “, “oh my auto driver is half an hour late? Guess I can’t go to the orphanage; I’ll go to Peoples Watch instead.” The fact that everything runs just a little late is something I have adapted to well, with a few exceptions and I am very proud of myself for easing up on my need for schedule and control; I’m getting much better at just going with it. But some days, especially when I’m not feeling well or I’m particularly homesick, I get frustrated. At home, structure is what I cling to for support when I’m having a bad day, and that structure just doesn’t exist here. Some days I get frustrated that things don’t just work the way I’m used to. One day last week I tried to go to the post office to mail a package and I was there for an hour and a half and nothing got done. They didn’t take visa, so would have to go change money but still they insisted on proceeding and opened, weighed, repackage and reweighed all my gifts, they stood around and talked in Tamil for a while and no one explained to me what was going on, then they hand-sewed the parcel, I paid and when the parcel was done they asked me for more money and would not explain why – that would be the illusive foreigner tax – and then finally told me they were closing and I would have to come back another day. At home this process would have taken 10 minutes and I could not understand the lack of urgency and all the standing around. Peolpe would tell me to sit but I didn’t want to sit I wanted to know what was going on. Talking to my fellow foreigners once I returned all I had to say was, “I went to the post office” for this statement to be met with “oh no”, groans and hugs, “it’ll be alright”. As foreigners they understand my complete bewilderment and frustration, but here that’s just how it works. I have a phrase that I have been using with my family when I try and explain my frustrations and am met with “well why don’t you just ___” , There is no such thing as “just” in India.
As a foreigner everything takes so much more effort. I can’t pop over to the corner store and grab whatever I need, I don’t even know where to begin to look. And so I have to rely on other people. For me this has been I huge struggle. I am very independent at home and I like to be in control. I love that I can just hop in my car or on my bike and run into town. But it’s not so simple for me here. I have a hard time relying on other people and feeling like a burden. On one hand I realize that I can’t do some of the things that I want to do on my own, but the independent side of me still wants to try. I had a hard time adjusting to the gate card and having to let someone know where I am at times. As a 20 year old at home I do not have to ask permission to go anywhere. When I am at home with my parents I tell them where I’m going out of respect or because they asked but when I am at school I just come and go as I want. And that’s clearly a cultural difference. I’ve noticed that girls, even women, don’t go out much on their own and especially not at night and that is very different than what I am used to. I fully understand and accept that these precautions are in place for my safety, it was just a difficult adjustment to make. From making observations about student life and talking to the other foreign students I appears that socially there is no real equivalent age/peer group for 20 something year old Westerners. Women my age are either married with lot of responsibilities or still living at home, maybe attending college but not living independently. I would really like a chance to just talk to some girls about what their lives are like, hang out during unconstructed time where everyone is free to talk and there’s no pressure. Then maybe we will be able to bridge the gap. I have made friends with a few of the students and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.
I have heard Madurai called the most India part of India, one of the most authentic Indian experiences. At first glance it is chaotic but the longer I am here the more I figure out what everything is, where everything is and I am feeling more at home. I have been here 5 weeks already and I feel I have barely seen anything, there is so much here. I usually get accustomed to a place by walking around seeing everything and really getting a feel for it. Until recently I hadn’t done much experiencing of Madurai but know that I have begun, I’m feeling more confident about being out in the city. I like the freedom that I feel when I can go out on my own and the sense of accomplishment at a successfully negotiated auto ride or shopping trip, it feels good.
That’s also what I liked so much about going to Pondicherry. It was just a little quieter and a little bit more manageable to right away I was free to wander and explore and I did really well. It’s a beautiful area plus it was great to be able to speak a little bit of French to people and it didn’t matter so much that I don’t speak Tamil. I also got a chance to visit Auroville which was very different and thought provoking. On one hand it would like to be a place that is free of the constraints of everyday society, free from socio-economic, cultural, national, and religions prejudices or biases, where people can live free and in contemplation of the greater universe. It suggests its members give up materialistic desires and possessions, and the whole system runs on credit, not money. It sounds wonderful in theory. But in reality, on the other hand, there are a number of problems. While they preach anti-materialism they run gift shops to make money and their meditation centre is a giant marble sphere plated in gold. They also enjoy some sort of tax free status akin to what a religious organization would have but they present themselves as anti religion. They call it a place for all “mankind by all mankind” but it is a closed community and not everyone is allowed in. These types of contradictions aren’t just present in Auroville but all through India. There are such lavish, bejewelled clothing, fabrics and jewellery and some of the finest silks I have ever seen and yet step out of the store and into the street and you see squalor and poverty, and even in such modern and progressive times I still see clear segregation of men and women, and I still see women treated poorly, or at least differently, when compared to the men. It was a culture shock to be so clearly aware of the gender divide here. I don’t feel that I am treated badly by any of the men here, but I do feel like my feelings are not always considered. I am a novelty for them to enjoy. No man has been rude or derogatory towards me as I have seen them do to other women, but they walk up to me thrust their hands at me, stand to close, bombard me with questions, with no real consideration of what I happened to be doing or whether I want to be touched or photographed etc. As I discovered in the Gandhi Museum men will treat me differently than they will treat Indian women, but it’s just as disrespectful and rude.
I find this a lot actually, that I am treated differently because I am so obviously foreign, and its not always something I feel comfortable with. A friend explained it to me as, “you are a foreigner so there are no expectations placed on you.” Sometimes this is nice, I don’t follow clothing restrictions as tightly as other would be expected to; people are thrilled when I make small efforts like wearing a bindi or bangles etc. But a lot of the time I am really uncomfortable with the attention and special treatment that comes with my foreigner label. Recently when we went to the Monkey temple I was blown away by the special treatment we got. We had just gone for the fun of the hike, to see monkeys in the wild and see what the temple looked like, but there were people who were there for religious devotion, and who had come from far away to worship and get healing water. Yet they pulled us out of line, we paid a little extra and got a guided tour, line cuts and all. I could not believe it when the tour guide took us to the front of the line and scolded others for taking so long and making us wait, the priest stopped in the middle of the puja he was doing and took us aside to do a special puja, and took flower garlands off of an idol to bless us with. I felt sort of like we had cheated, and I felt so bad for all the people that had to wait or who were scolded. Nothing gives us the right to get to go first or get special treatment, or that makes us any different from anyone else, and I was very uncomfortable being treated as if there was.
There are so many cultural norms and social niceties at play every day in Indian life and I’ve come to the realization that no matter how long I am here I am not going to fully understand all there is to know about Indian and Tamil culture, it is just so different from my own. In order to truly appreciate the finite balances and the complexity I would have to be spending years here rather than months. But I want to learn as much as I can in the time I have. I can observe, participate, learn and listen and approach every day with an open mind and heart and make the most of this extraordinary opportunity.

Friday, April 2, 2010


On Monday I travelled down to waterloo for our last class together. It was fun, it was inspirational, the food was great (as always) and it was so nice to see everyone. A few familiar faces were missing but hopefully I will them soon! I have to admit that it does feel a little strange to have almost everyone else heading off to their various placements and me just going back to school in May. We had such a motivational wind-up to the program sending us out into the world and I can’t help but feel like things for me are a little anti-climactic. I’m so excited for everyone going and we got so pumped in class, and it really made want to go, but I have to wait 5 MONTHS still. So Joanne, just so you know, I may need another motivational pep talk in August! :D This week I also finished my volunteer hours at the supper club. It’s nice to have something to hand in to Joanne, but it’s not like I won’t be back again next week, so getting Val to sign off on the hours seemed strange too, like somehow signing the sheet made it the end, even though I’ll see everyone next Thursday. So while I couldn’t quite relate to the excitement of leaving in a few short weeks, I didn’t have to get my shots yet, or pick my departure date, and I ‘m not really wrapping up my volunteering, there was one topic we discussed that really hit home for me.

Near the beginning of the class Joanne asked us all to think about who we were when we came into the program and who we are now. This is a topic that I have tried to broach a couple of times in my blogs, as recently as last Sunday, but haven’t always found quite how to say what I was trying to get out. After talking as a group I feel like I have figured out how to articulate a little better at the time but we moved on to others topics and I didn’t get out everything I wanted to say, and truthfully I wanted more time to mull things over. So here it is, I want to use this blog to reflect a little more on my progression in summing up the term.

Who was I in my interview? Who was I when I was asking them to pick ME? I think that I was pretty naïve. I knew that I really wanted a chance to give back. I knew that there were millions and millions of people suffering everyday and if it was within my power to do something to help someone else, then I needed to do it. I knew that I wanted to challenge my perspectives on the world. I knew that I was a little too comfy and that it was making me itch to do something new. And I was so enthusiastic to get out there and to good in the world. I knew all of that but I was still pretty green. I had a basic knowledge of global issues but had never really studied global crisis before or gone to lectures about bottom up solutions to poverty, or really challenged my views of the world before, I simply hadn’t had exposure to this kind of thing before. I just lived my life, volunteered where I could, avoided conflict and just tried to be a good person.

And now? One thing that a lot of people said in class was that they feel like they know less now than they did when they started, or at least that they are less sure about things that they thought they knew or believed at the beginning of class. I can certainly relate to that feeling. This program has exposed me to all kinds of new ideas and I now know that there is so much that I still have no idea about. However, overall I don’t feel like I know less. I feel so much more aware and educated about the world and our impact in it. Now don’t everyone worry, I absolutely know I don’t have ANY of the answers, but I just feel so much more secure in what I want to do with myself . I knew so little coming in and I was so nervous in sharing my previously uneducated opinions and now I don’t. Now I can talk to people about big global issues that I might have avoided before and actually know what I’m talking about. I knew before that I wanted to give back, and advocate for people who could do it for themselves and now I know how I can do that as part of my everyday life; I am empowered.

And I think that even though there is an endless list of things that I know that I still don’t know, I know for sure that Beyond Borders mostly about the personal journey, is not just about this one placement, or about school courses, it’s about discovering who you are, what is really important to you and what your place in the world is. Student, human rights advocate, crusader for change, engineer for sustainable resources, environmental advocate, it really doesn’t matter what, just that each of us have found our way to make our lives make an impact.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Me, but New and Improved

Whew!! I just stepped in the front door from 10 hours of driving today and 8 hours yesterday and man I am exhausted, but at least I get to plop down and fall asleep in my own, familiar, comfy bed! I can't imagine what it’s going to be like to go through the 2 day trip to India, just to arrive somewhere completely foreign and have to be awake and alert. All I want to do is sleep right now!! lol

We always love the drive down to Hilton Head. The mountains are beautiful to drive through and it’s so nice to watch the season change from snowy winter here to summer there! This year I got to share the journey with my boyfriend Michael for his very first road trip down the US east coast. I was so excited to show him all my favourite stops, like the Fayetteville Bridge and the Morgantown Cracker Barrel we stop at every year. But this year I noticed more so than ever, that the mountains, although they offer beautiful landscapes, are also spotted with trailers, and falling down houses and lean-to type shelters. Even in Hilton Head, which is dominated by beachfront mansions and resorts, I noticed houses fallen into disrepair.

Now I don’t know if this is due to the downturn in the economy, or if these things were always there and I just didn’t notice until now but it definitely reaffirmed for me that there is need everywhere, even in the places we associate with beauty or luxury. Personally I have a feeling that a lot of what I saw this time was always there, but when you are a kid all you see is gigantic houses and fancy pools. Now as a university student and as a Beyond Borders student, I am seeing things differently. I have mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again to make my point, after last semester a lot of my friends commented that I had changed. Not in a bad way, or in a way that they could even put a finger specifically on, but I think my outlook is what changed and a lot things came into focus for me. Coming in to this program I was expecting that I would be changed and moved by the experience, but what I really thought, was that I would go on the placement and it would completely change my perspective. But what I wasn’t expecting initially was the impact the courses would have on me. It has really been throwing me off all week - was this always like this or am I just actually looking for the first time? I like to think that I always socially aware, I mean I always volunteered in my community, donated where I could, tried to be environmentally conscious, but it now it seems like I’ve been just as good as anyone else at putting on the blinders. Not so golden as I thought…

To some extent I am still expecting that life changing placement, but reflecting on Beyond Borders so far I can really see the journey and the progression. It’s not about just getting on a plane and having the blinders ripped off the moment you get there and blowing your view of the world out of the water. For me at least, it have been about opening my eyes to the things that aren’t so nice to see, and about becoming comfortable – or maybe confident is a better word – in my own view and my own opinion of the world around me. I so loved the fact that this program didn’t set out to make us into anything other than globally aware and that everyone has a chance to get something different and their own out of the program. Part of me just can’t wait to be back from India so I can tell people about my experience and tell new BB’ers just how amazing it is and help them on their journeys!! Hearing from BB alumni, listening to Joanne’s crazy adventure stories or thoughtful lessons, hearing everyone’s insight into topics I’d never brave on my own, it has made all the difference for me, and it would be just as meaningful as the whole experience for me to share my passion with others!! Until then however, I’m going to do what I can with the new and improved me that I’ve already got – AND follow everyone’s blogs wiiishing I was there!! xo

Friday, March 19, 2010

19 Going on 30-something Soccer Mom

Welcome to the end of one of the most hectic weeks of the semester, but also one of the most rewarding. My parents left last Thursday for Hilton Head, SC – and I am currently on my way to meet them - and left me to fend for myself for a week. Monday involved a luncheon presentation to Rotary on Beyond Borders that – gulp – I had to write, practice and present without any parental guidance. Tuesday I stayed late at work to make sure everything got done before I left for vacation. Wednesday night I ducked out on a St. Patrick’s bash to do laundry. Thursday I spent my lunch packing instead of eating and running errands to pick up all the last minute stuff I needed for Hilton Head – sunscreen? CHECK! , advil? CHECK!, gravol? CHECK! Bathing suit? CHECK! And today I narrowly avoided 2 meltdowns trying to get everything done in time to go, not to mention I work all day!! …. Ok now read that back…. I sound like my MOM, who, the last time I heard from her, was having partying it up at the beach… role reversal much??

On Tuesday I will turn 20, but honestly this week felt like I was 19 going on 30-something soccer mom - minus the kids, I was busy enough on my own! This is coming from the girl who learned how to do laundry via skype in rez in first year, who’s mom picks her up for lunch everyday, drives here wherever she needs to be, and makes sure she get everything done she’s supposed to. (thanks mama!) But as odd of a sensation as it was to be in completely responsible for maintaining a house and packing and getting everything ready to go, it felt great!! On top of that, I had a great week at work AND Mike and I re-did our room with new furniture and bought gorgeous houseplants! So this is what it feels like to be grown up..... I can do this!

Ok so I realize that the moment I turn 20 people aren’t expecting me to all of a sudden have it all figured out and be able to do it all on my own, but this week was really a confidence boost for my independence. I know that the thrills of responsibility will fade with time and it won’t be nearly as exciting to buy plants, but it really felt great to realize I guess that I really am growing up and not just getting older lol.

So how does this relate to Beyond Borders? Well, for one thing I certainly attribute a whole lot of my growing up to the reflection and self-awareness that this program has forced out of me, and it has certainly matured my view of the world. But also it relates because as different as living at home by myself and living in India by myself will be, I feel that much more strongly about my ability to be alright on my own. It’s a really strange feeling, almost a physical feeling of being that much more grown up. Does that sound weird? Probably but its true. All week I just kept thinking about India and I considered, possibly for the first time, that no one is going to be responsible for me except me. I need to make sure that I’m safe, that im fed, that I know where I’m supposed to be, that I’m on time that im healthy. Just me and me alone. And this week was just a small glimpse into what that feels like… so far so good!!

Maybe I’m just imagining it because I’m nervous about being 20, or maybe I’m just proud of myself for not burning the house down, but I will take it, because it feels great!

Sorry for the short post, but I have an early morning and a long drive ahead of me and I need to get some sleep… I promise I will update you soon!

Friday, March 12, 2010


From some of the blogs that I have read this week it feels like the passage of time is dawning on a lot of my fellow BB'ers as most of them will leave in less than two months. You are all vamping up for departure, making sure deadlines are met and all of a sudden it’s really real. But months away from my trip and 3 hours away from all the action, I’m feeling a little different.

Last semester Beyond Borders consumed so much of my time and energy and I was feeling so focused and driven, but these past months I’ve been so busy with work and family that when I do surface for air, I feel disconnected from the whir of activity that is going on back in Waterloo. And as frustrating as sitting in front of this computer looking for blog inspiration is some weeks, I am so grateful that I get to do this because it's really my only Beyond Borders connection right now. I feel bad that I haven't been there to support all the hard work everyone has been putting towards fundraising, I feel out of the loop when I can't be at impromptu meeting or group events because I have to be at work, I feel frustrated at not knowing how to change it and I feel like I’m missing out on the best part of beyond borders - the people.

And to bring this back around to my favourite semester 1 read, Becoming Human, I have to admit that I feel like my sense of belonging is under siege. Here at home I have belonging in my family, I have belonging in my relationship and I belong to many great friendships. As far as belonging is concerned here at home I have a comfy place to fit right in. The problem is that now the groups that I belong to aren’t all in the same place, and once you have formed a community you’re in. But when that feeling of community dwindles even a little, whether because of time, or distance, there becomes uncertainty where that security used to be. And that’s really scary.

And if this is what I'm feeling from three hours away what is it going to be like when I’m on the other side of the globe? There are a few things of which I am certain – 1. India will challenge my faith in myself and in my independence more than anything I have gone though yet; 2. It will mess with my sense of belonging; and 3. That I will be a better person because of those challenges.

So yes I started this post in a bit of a low mood – I swear this weather is getting to me – but reading back what I have just written I realize that I can change the things that I’m worried about. I can stop myself when I get down and realize that the communities that I have built will be there when I come back, and just because the world keeps turning while I’m not looking doesn’t mean I don’t belong in those communities anymore, it just means I can contribute something new and different when I get back.

I apologize for the long, drawn out ramblings, and thank you for reading as I worked out my latest dilemma. It might not make as much sense to the rest of you as I would have liked, but it helped me mull through my thoughts just a bit and I’m feeling better already. Next week I will be writing to you from the sunny south and hopefully in a much better mood! It’s this crummy weather, I swear!! So hello Vitamin D here I come!!

xo Jenn

Friday, March 5, 2010

When At First I Don’t Succeed, Cry, Cry Again….

I’ve been meaning to write this since our last class when Joanne talked about needing to recognize our triggers and since Nev asked me what I thought the challenges for me going to India would be. So here goes…

I’d like to tell you all about my latest adversary - cross country skiing. Now before you laugh I would like to qualify this by saying that it involved far more hills than “cross country” would imply and its way harder than it looks. I found myself at the bottom of a rather large (probably not that large at all but seemed big at the time) hill. I got half way up only to slide all the way back down and land on my butt. Eventually I managed to get stranded halfway up the hill unable to do up and unwilling to go back down. For anyone else I’m sure it would have been hilarious to see me, skis crossed, one pole up one pole down, just barely hanging on, when I’m sure kids could figure their way up that hill, so I commend Michael on not falling down laughing at the sight of me. But somehow I managed to get untangled and up that hill and managed to hold back the tears of frustration welling in my eyes.

About a half a kilometer later I found myself at the top of an even bigger (I think? It seemed like it…) hill. More than slightly afraid I made Mike go down it first, and as I watched him sail down the hill with ease I felt a little better. But about half the way down things weren’t going so well and I fell the rest of the way down on a combination of my back, knees, and shoulder. That was the last straw for me and the tears came flooding. Partially from the many scrapes and bruises, partially from embarrassment and mostly from frustration. And not just little a little bit either big, messy, sobbing tears. (Sooo attractive on my skiing date) But honestly! What’s wrong with me?!? I felt like such a baby. I wasn’t crying because I was hurt, I was crying because I couldn’t do it. Try as I may I am NOT good at cross country skiing. And that is endlessly infuriating to me!

This is a weakness that I have been aware of for some time. I don’t handle failure very well. Not like sore loser temper tantrums but I get frustrated very easily when I am not good at something. I work myself up to a point that I’m so upset that I can’t even make myself try again! I get so frustrated when I feel out of my element and even to a point that I would rather not try again than be bad at something! Umm Whew! That took a lot to actually write down and admit, I tried a couple of other phrasings but no, I just needed to say it. Also, WOW that sounds even more horrible when it’s out there in the open!

But now that I’ve said it I have to deal with it! And I have realized that I’m just going to have to suck it up if I want to do well in this placement. Trying to get up that hill it felt like the skis work a handicap and I just couldn’t make them work, but wakeup call!! EVERYDAY in India is going to feel like that for a while. I won’t know how to get myself where I need to be, I won’t be able to communicate effectively whenever I want, I won’t know the proper way to go on a bus, to greet people, or pretty much the proper way to do anything when I first get there. So what am I going to? Cry, give up and go home? NO WAY! So I’m going to have to find away to be okay with struggling. I instantly felt silly for crying and pouting and that is a big step for me to be able to admit it, even to myself. GIRL! You’re going to be twenty in a couple of weeks! Get yourself together! How am I ever going to make not being able to communicate if I can’t deal with not being able to ski?

I need to fix this, and fast! So I am setting a goal for myself – when I am getting frustrated I am going to consciously will myself to take a step back and breathe…It’s not the end of the world if I can’t get to the bottom of the hill without falling! It could be fun to slide all the way down on my bum! There are much bigger problems than my own.

Preparinf for this trip is a lot like climbing up that ski hill. Some days I gain a bit and feel unstoppable – put me on a plane today, I’m ready!! And some days I slip a bit and feel like there’s no way I will be able to do this by myself. It’s hard, and it’s going to take work and willpower … but I’m determined to make it to the top of that hill!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thoughts on Fundraising

I hope everyone's fundraising is going well! A couple of weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a booth at the Gravenhurst Canadian Tire selling my cards. This was my second time selling cards there and once again I was overwhelmed with the response. I absolutely love talking to people about the program and I love it even more when people tell me about their own stories!! Unfortunately though, there are people at the entirely the other end of the spectrum.

I can really appreciate what charity canvassers go through when they are out there at malls and stores on a regular basis. As fun as it is when people come over and talk to you and share with you, it is endlessly frustrating when they pretend you don't exist.

From my years as a tour guide I think it has just become second nature to make eye contact and smile at everyone and for the most part people smile back. But those same people, as soon as you are there with a booth for a charity will do everything they can to avoid looking at you. I lost count of the number of people who became fascinated with their receipts or something off in the distance, or the floor – but only until they are past my table. I promise I won’t bite! I don’t care if they don’t want to buy or donate anything it would just be nice to be treated like a human being, like I’m worthwhile. I was so frustrated I just wanted them to look at me, acknowledge that I existed. It feels so strange to be intentionally disregarded. For me it offers even just the tiniest glimpse into what it must feel like for all the Dalits who are treated like that on a daily basis and far worse. All it would have taken was acknowledging I was there!

The people who did approach me more than made up for the alienation of the others. I met so many people that had been all over the world and they were so excited that I was doing the same. It’s nice to hear from people who have been there and done this already and gives me more confidence that I will be able to do it too. I was really touched by this woman I met who travelled to Bangladesh years ago. She was so excited to meet someone going to a similar area that she immediately graded a pen and gave me her number. She said it would mean a lot to her if I would take her sari with me when I go, then at least someone would get use of it. She was so nice and so excited – possibly my most enthusiastic customer of the day. I really need to call her back. So she knows I still want to, it just still seems so far away.

I feel like the cards are in a lull, I’ve sold hundreds and in a small town I feel like I may have saturated the market. I’m still going to keep up the cards but on a much smaller scale. I think I need something new and fresh and im considering asking the high school if they will have a hat day, where you can pay $2 to wear a hat and have the proceeds go to Beyond Borders. I’m still not sure. I’d love to hear what other people have planned. The ones I have heard about all sound really neat.

In a couple of weeks I will be presenting to my Rotary Club and I will let you know how it goes. I’m nervous though! Wish me luck !! :D


Thursday, February 18, 2010

People That Eat Together Laugh Together

I want to talk this week about my volunteering because I haven’t been very good about keeping you up to date. (Just as a recap I am volunteering at a local Supper Club on Thursday nights at Trinity United Church)

I really enjoy me weekly get togethers where we make a yummy meal for a wonderful group of people and have a great time. I feel almost guilty – it’s not work at all. We have so much fun in the kitchen joking around and teasing each other or coming up with new recipes or doing impossible puzzles one of the men always brings and the night passes by so fast. I have trouble linking it to the big issues that we have addressed in our courses, because it’s just a part of my Thursday now. I read Cat’s blog a few weeks ago about people at her placement looking down on the people they were there to help and I have to say that I have experienced the exact opposite. After we have finished plating all the food and making up the to go dinners and if there is leftovers- and there is always leftovers- we each make a plate of the exact same food everyone goes out and sits at the tables. There is a great companionship between the long time volunteers and the long time attendees and its fun to watch everyone joke around. Last week my mom and I got talking about the food that we serve there and really what a special place the Supper Club is.

Prior to this term my impression of a soup kitchen was line ups to get donated castoff food like slightly stale bread and lots of beans and rice and canned food. Yet week after week this is not what I have seen. When patrons enter there are tables of snacks, fresh fruit, veggie trays, cheese and crackers, chips and dip and always a new and interesting food to learn about its never the same twice. Each week features a unique fresh made menu offering lots of variety for our picky eaters. Every week there is dessert and goodie bags for all. Last week we served roast beef, with horse radish, gravy, sweet potatoes and carrot, the week before we made pork roasts and all kinds of sides. All the food is bought at the grocery store. And all the meals are the same as you or I would for make with our own families at dinner. And we realized that it’s not about giving whatever can be spared or won’t be missed just so these people can have a warm meal, it’s about making something special for a community. People come who don’t need the food but come for the company, to share a meal with friends. It gives everyone a place they can go once a week and forget about whatever else is going on and go have fun together. Today we had cotton cane ice cream sundaes for dessert, hardly a necessity or staple food but it was a huge hit. Everyone needs spoiling sometimes. I don’t come away on Thursdays smiling just because people got to eat; it’s simply contagious how much fun everyone is having.

Despite the fun it’s still tough to see that these are mostly people that are struggling to get by, but what is even worse for me is the fact that this is a fairly new program. It has only been a couple of years at the church, and though I know there have been other smaller projects over the years there isn’t really much offered in a small town. It’s sad that there was probably a time that there wasn’t anywhere local to go to get a hot meal. There are consistently around 50- 60 in house diners each week plus to-go meals and sometimes there are more. Poverty is not all that visible in Gravenhurst I can count the number of homeless people I saw growing up on one hand. But it’s there none the less and it was really never addressed this directly until now. The Supper Club is not organized by a recognizable charity or sponsored by a company; it is run by one young woman who does this on her own time. I don’t know a lot about the organizer but she seems to be involved in a lot of charity work and I really want to talk to her more about what made her start the program and when she became aware of this unmet need. Hopefully in a few weeks time I can update you on the roots of the Supper Club.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Undeducated Verdict on Education

It was so great to be back with everyone on Monday and so neat to learn more about where everyone is going!! I certainly didn't used to know anything about funny superstitions in Ukraine or that one Buganda, is a Muganda who lives in Uganda. I'm going to have so much fun following your adventures this summer.

Also, thanks so much for all the great book suggestions last week! :) The sneaking suspicion that I have had all week that my mom bought me Three Cups of Tea for Valentine’s Day is now confirmed and I can't wait to get started!

So for this week I had an entirely different post planned and even drafted but I found this online today, linked to one of the webpage of a lawyer, and I was so annoyed that I had to share it with the rest of you.
National Post editorial board: Women's Studies is still with us - Full Comment

This editorial was posted on the National Post’s Full Comment Website on January 26, 2010. It goes perfectly with my discussion of Women’s Studies from last week, and stands in stark contrast to Lady Doak’s take on Women’s Studies.

The author has proposed that society in general, but more specifically the legal system, takes some sort of affirmative action in favour of women over men. And he blames this apparent disparity on Women’s Studies courses. The author (identified only as “NP Editor”) outlines all the ways he feels Women’s Studies has ruined society and the family court system.

There are too many things wrong with this article to address in one sitting, but as a legal studies student I want to make sure I cover the legal inaccuracies and the misleading comments that this author makes.

Working in a family law office I see numerous clients a day who are going through separations and divorces. First hand I know that there are tedious and painstaking calculations that take place when determining what each party brings to a marriage and a predetermined table of support that outlines, based on income who is entitled to what. Women don’t just pick numbers out of thin air and get a judge to sign off, it is a computerized calculation and it doesn’t get much fairer than that. If the man makes less money and has custody of the children then he is just as entitled to support as a woman would be. I admit that I see a higher proportion of women with custody than men but we have worked successfully for multiple fathers and won custody. It’s all circumstantial! I also need to mention that in today’s legal system children can have access to their own lawyer called an OCL that will listen to the children and present their position in custody battles.

I won’t say that women’s rights issues didn’t affect the legal system, because if I did I would be as blind to the truth as the author of this article. But the scale is hardly tipped in anyone’s favour. “NP Editor” claims that women as a whole are considered a “disadvantaged” group. This is twisting the wording. The court is not directed to “give preferential treatment” to traditionally disadvantaged groups, but to give special consideration how their circumstances affect the case. Take for example a woman who forgoes education to start a family and raise the couple’s children while her husband works. If there is a breakdown in the marriage then the woman – and here comes that controversial word – is at a disadvantage because she has no formal education and can’t get a high paying job to support her family. According to the legislation a judge has to consider this in his decisions, consider but not necessarily account for or agree with.

So yes, what the author is saying is based somewhere in the truth but it has been so diluted with anti-feminist ranting, and the terminology so twisted to support it that it is being used to mislead people. I would chalk this article up to a disgruntled ex who is unhappy paying support. He or she obviously doesn’t have any background in law or in women’s studies and yet feels justified in commenting on it.

I encourage you all to read the comments of others that are posted below the article. There are comments that blame the feminist movement for the number of children in the ghetto, and that a feminist can’t be a scholar, and so on. This proves exactly the point that I was trying to make last week – here are people who have obviously never been educated in women’s studies – or legal studies for that matter – and look what it has lead to; to a stereotype of all women as radical feminists, to name calling, to misquoting, to blaming feminists for everything thing from poverty to corrupting children. Maybe if these people had taken some women’s studies courses they would see things a little more objectively, or at the very least have firsthand experience to justify the claims they are making. In the same breathe that these people complain about feminists generalizing all men as victimizers, they are generalizing about all Women’s Studies courses and profs. Yes there are radical feminists but that does not extend to every woman who chooses to call herself a feminist, chooses to take a Women’s Studies course, or chooses to work in a male dominated field. If anything this article, though it is intended to disparage Women’s Studies, is exactly why we need Women’s Studies and need to educate people.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Better Together

Even though I will be telling my BB family all about Lady Doak on Monday, I am so excited about the program and the campus that I want to share with the blogging world as well! So for all the BBers I hope this doesn't spoil anything for Monday!

Lady Doak College is the Christian women's university in Madurai where I will be spending my volunteer term. From what Elyse talked about in class I knew a little bit about the school. I knew it was a school for women only, I knew that I would be staying on campus with the students and I knew that all of the young women are required to take part in service learning projects throughout their community. This sounded great to me and I, until recently, didn't dig too much deeper. In preparation for my presentation I had started to gather more information, but it wasn’t until earlier this week when I was actually putting together what i had found that I realized what a powerful and inspirational place that Lady Doak is. The school itself and all its activities are centered on the empowerment of women through holistic education and promoting women as leaders in society. Not only are every single one of these girls educated in women’s studies (no matter what faculty they are in), but these same students also run service projects with women in the community, offering skills classes and other support programs that promote independence and self sufficiency. They also run outreach programs that promote further education for girls in primary schools. Every project that the school takes on is aimed at bettering the lives and position of women in their society.

And now I want to pose to you a question about what it is to be disadvantaged. A lot of people would say that others are disadvantaged when they don’t have all of the things that western culture would tell us we need. Someone is disadvantaged when they don’t have to right clothes or the latest technology. The village that I will be going to is filled with people that would be called “disadvantaged”. And held to the above standards, even Lady Doak would seem disadvantaged, with its 2 AV capable rooms and its 4 computer rooms. But look what they are teaching in their school; it’s in their curriculum to teach about equality, and to push each one of their students to get out there do something good for the sole purpose of helping someone else grow or be empowered. So their facilities may not be as new or high tech as ours, but look at the values that they are instilling in their students. Then think about the competitive nature of Western schools; programs like this aside, the drive is often to be the best, to make the most money, to get the best job, all the while leaving others in your dust. Is that the kind of morals that we really want our leaders to have? So aren’t we the disadvantaged ones, aren’t we the ones missing the point? Now I’m not saying our way is all bad, we need a push to do well, but does doing well have to only be about that one person? Each university will have isolated groups that push for empowerment or equality, and work to better the community outside of the university, but think how powerful that would be if it was school mandated; if every single student worked to help others in their community –it would completely change the value system of our society. Rather than being the best on our own, we could be better together, as a whole.

Friday, January 29, 2010

In Need of Some Inspiration

I’ve been so busy lately, I feel a little out of touch with what is going on in the world around me. I love being back home with my friends and family and I love that I have found a new place hat I can feel like I’m giving back even just a little to my supportive community, however I miss the global learning and exposure that the diversity that university life allows me. At school there are always new issues brought to light, always students working toward a new cause, there is always someone to learn something new from especially when working with people as dedicated and compassionate as my fellow Beyond Borders students. Today I found some time to catch up on some of your blogs. You all share such inspirational and insightful stories and it really made me realize how much I miss getting to talk everyone! As I was pondering what to write my blog about this week I couldn’t help but think that my blogs would be a whole lot more interesting if I still had the same depth of discussion with other students as I did last semester. As stressed as I would get, trying to get through reading whatever book was due for class each week and trying to come up with some deeper, more insightful message that I felt would be up to par for class on Tuesday, those discussions were extraordinarily beneficial. It was weekly reassurance that the stress was well outweighed by the work that we will all being getting the chance to participate in. Even in classes where I would feel less comfortable sharing my thoughts, and I would opt to do more listening than speaking, I grew so much from hearing all of you share your thoughts and opinions and letting my view of the world grow. I loved running back from class and sharing what I learned from all the readings and discussions with anyone who had never read the book or article. My boyfriend Mike got a phone call every Tuesday like clockwork, during which I would just gush to him about all the amazing things I had learned or about how he just HAD to read such and such a book because it would just totally change his outlook on the world!! But now I feel like getting slightly off topic and I want to make my point. I really miss getting to read books and articles by authors like Jean Vanier or Paulo Freire or Ursela Le Guin because they truly made me think about the world I live in, the impact that I have on others and what is truly important to me. I realize I am missing that constant motivation, reassurance and growth that reading these authors’ stories gave me. And so, I have decided that what I need right now is to get back to reading those kinds of works. I have some books in mind that Joanne mentioned over the course of the term but I would also like to reach out to my blogging community for some suggestions. If there is anything that any of you have seen or read lately that made you think twice or inspired you I would love to hear about it! Hopefully next week I will write to you with a renewed outlook!!

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cards That Care

With less than a month until Valentine’s Day, I’m buried under a mountain of cards and card orders, and my finger tips have become permanently dyed pink! The response to Cards That Care has been overwhelming. You would think that with time I would get faster and faster at putting together these cards, but time has proved just the opposite. The more cards that I make, friends that I talk to, and craft stores that I visit the more intricate techniques I learn, and the more new tools I find that I need. What used to take 30 minutes now takes hours! I must say the cards have greatly improved but my stress level hasn’t! Check out some of the new stock:

It sounds strange but I get attached to my cards! Some of them I don’t even want to sell I like them so much. When you invest this much time working on something it’s hard to just let it go. People ask to see them and I’m almost hesitant to show my favorites in case they like the cards as much as I do and want to buy them before I’m ready to part with them. But this is a fundraiser and I sadly that is something I’m going to have to get over. I will have to part with them all if I hope to raise the rest of my money. Only around $700 to go thanks to all who have bought cards or donated money!
It has been an interesting experience doing all this fundraising. As if classes weren’t stressful enough, we also had to worry about meeting our fundraising deadlines. And I remember as the first deadline got closer I was scrambling, calling all my family to see if they could help me get together the funds. At that point I wondered how I was ever going to survive 8 months of that kind of stress. But from that point it’s been pretty much uphill. The cards are a tone of fun to make and I’ve had an overwhelming response from my community as well as people I’ve never even met. I love that often when people call about cards or donations they share their stories with me. They tell me about places they have travelled in India or missions trips they or people they know have been on and I really love hearing how excited they sound. Hearing from them makes this journey seem that much more real for me. Right now next September seems really far away! Although, if I keep living from one card holiday to the next, the time is just going to fly by!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Supper Club

I’m a few hours out of my first night of volunteering with the Supper Club at Trinity United Church in Gravenhurst. It consists of a vibrant group of volunteers who come together each week to cook and serve a warm meal for anyone who needs it. I am going to be volunteering there every Thursday night and I'm happy to say my mom is going to come and volunteer with me. On the menu tonight – chicken burgers, perogies, sausages, bean salad, coleslaw, and trifle for dessert! I had a lot of fun getting to know the regulars. I was very touched by the sense of community that was shared between the volunteers and those coming to eat. The guests pop by the kitchen regularly to joke around and even lend a hand in preparing the dinners. On my way in I met a young man. He was the first to welcome me and talk to me as the rest of the volunteers were busy in the kitchen. I assumed he was a volunteer but he was there with a group of his friends to have dinner. Instead of sitting with his friends right away, he stayed in the kitchen and helped us plate food until everyone else had been served. After the meal was over this same young man and a couple of his friends stayed behind to help put away tables and mop the floor with the rest of the volunteers. The program and volunteers are all there to help them and yet these young men are going out of their way to help the volunteers wherever they can – and it wasn’t just these young men. Most of the diners were jumping to help where they could. For me it was a brilliant example of how the spirit of helping others spreads. Even in helping in what may seem like a small way can inspire others to do the same.
On the same train of thought: Earlier today my family and I got talking about making donations to charity organizations as Christmas presents and different people who I know that have done that. A conversation which concluded in my parents deciding that sponsoring a child in a developing nation is something that they would like to look into. I was so proud of them :) Hopefully soon I will have a sponsor sibling to tell you about!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Welcome to Month 5

Heres a chance to catch up on the last 5 months and learn a little bit about me!

A Little About Me.
I’m a second year Arts and Business student at the University of Waterloo and I am majoring in legal studies. I’m not so sure where that will take me yet but I am hoping to work in international or family law. I grew up in a small town but my community is about to get a whole lot bigger. As a University of Waterloo student I have gotten the chance to be involved with a program called Beyond Borders. BB is a program through St. Jerome’s University that allows undergraduate students a chance to use their studies for the benefit of others while promoting involvement in the global community. Not only do we get to spend a term volunteering abroad in a variety of placements, but we also spend 8 months preparing for the trip. Welcome to month 5!! We have each set up a blog to share our journeys with people like you. Thank you for your support!

September 2010.
Next September I with be travelling to Madurai, India to volunteer with a service learning program at Lady Doak College. http://www.ladydoak.org/ Lady Doak is a Christian women’s college where service work is requirement for graduation. I don’t know what I will specifically be doing there yet but it is my understanding that they are involved in multiple service programs including work with orphanages, inmate rehabilitative services, and children with disabilities to name a few. I am really interested in working in India but beyond that I’m pretty open to any kind of work. I would be happy in any of these placements. I am really excited to be living and working with university students from another country and getting to learn from them. In the coming months I will have more information on the placement and I will keep everyone posted!

Learning from Last Term.
Monday meant the start of a new term and I can admit with relief that I felt a whole lot more prepared walking into the classroom than I did 4 months ago. Last term in RS 283 we looked at examples of oppression, learned from those who fought against it, explored ways to become a more fulfilled human being and got inspired by people who have dedicated their lives to helping others – and that barely touches the surface! It is hard to describe just what last term meant, but for me it certainly meant a lot of growing up and learning about myself. Going into Beyond Borders I had no experience in looking at these types of issues or exploring humanity. Day 1 sitting around a table with 11 other students who seemed so much older and so much more experienced was terrifying. What had I gotten myself into?? But the term went on and you know what? I made it! It was a challenge- my “Organizational Gold” tendencies were completely thrown by the free structure of the assignments and class discussions. But as frustrated as I got at times I don’t think I would change it. It pushed me outside what I was comfortable with and forced me to adapt – I really don’t think there’s any better prep for life abroad. I don’t really know how or exactly when it happened but all of a sudden I feel like I’m ready for this. Some of my friends have commented on how much I’ve changed this term. It’s not a specific in way or in a type of behavior, I just feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and I’m where I am supposed to be, and apparently it’s noticeable. :)