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Posts tagged ‘city year’

A month in photos: February 2013

  • The first meeting of Girls on the Rise — a girl’s club that my counterpart Yama and I started at the high school in my village. The club is open to anyone and will run until November. We will teach about health issues, self-esteem, love problems (that one is on Yama), sex, really anything else a high school girl would want to talk about. With 38 teenage pregnancies last year at the high school, we can only hope this club will help girls make the right decisions for their futures. My counterpart rocks and organized all the girls. We will meet twice a month. During our first meeting we had the girls draw and discuss their “self-image”, how they see themselves, which I think they enjoyed! (more to come on Girls on the Rise as it takes off!)
  • Pen pal project with my City Year school Markham Middle School in Watts and also Stevenson Middle School in Boyle Heights of Los Angeles. My former roommates Marissa and Josh are team leaders this year at each school! Hopefully I can send the letters this week, but there’s a post office strike (Africa always wins).
  • Learners helping me label library books, which of course got out of hand
  • Other randoms from February


Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

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How AmeriCorps & City Year prepared me for the Peace Corps

Back in college when I dreamed of becoming a PCV, I met with a Peace Corps recruiter. She told me that my liberal arts degree only qualified for a community development position, which is a small percentage of Peace Corps Volunteer positions around the world. I wasn’t a competitive applicant.

She recommended that I join City Year, a year-long service program through AmeriCorps. I did so, and became a competitive Peace Corps applicant because I then qualified for education and youth development positions.

City Year targets 17-24-year-olds for a demanding year of service in underprivileged areas in major cities throughout the US. City Year corps members work on a team of 10-16 diverse young adults from around the country.

In either an elementary, middle, or high school, corps members are assigned to one or a few classrooms to serve as tutors and mentors.

Corps members follow those same kids throughout the year and take them out of class for one-on-one or small group tutoring.

Outside of the classroom, corps members put on events for the school, paint murals and really do anything that adds to a positive school climate and falls under school beautification.

City Year and the Peace Corps established a partnership not so long ago that encourages City Year alums to join the Peace Corps and vice versa. The Peace Corps loves City Year. City Year alums are given priority in a group of Peace Corps nominees. Score!

I served with City Year in Los Angeles and believe it greatly prepared me for this Peace Corps journey:

  • City Year exposed me to so much diversity — at my school and within the organization. People I worked with came from all over the country and from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They taught me how to work with people different from myself, especially those that exercise different styles of leadership.
  • City Year prepped me emotionally. It’s extremely hard to see the failures of public education and the rampant social issues that exist in our Peace Corps service communities, but it doesn’t eat me alive because I saw a lot during City Year. Kids in communities abroad face some similar challenges to those that live in City Year communities, just in a different setting and culture.
  • City Year gave me the classroom experience I needed to make the next step to become a teacher in the Peace Corps. I basically got my feet wet and learned how to teach students who are far behind grade level and how to implement a supportive learning environment.
  • City Year taught me how “another world” within America operated. Although I was serving in America, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and experienced a culture and neighborhood opposite from my childhood. I gained cultural and social awareness. Now in the Peace Corps when anything frustrates me I am able to decipher problems or my frustrations by looking at the culture, politics and social issues intertwined. Such observation and critical thinking taught me to be resilient, a quality the Peace Corps looks for in its Volunteers. I am calm when working in my Peace Corps village because I can embrace differences and not look at issues from one point of view, but many.

I would recommend this AmeriCorps program for any Peace Corps college hopefuls who either need more qualifications to be considered or think they need more experience before moving abroad. Not to mention, you’ll earn the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to help pay off student loans.

give a year. change the world.
Apply now.

Ripples of hope: serving in the Peace Corps with another City Year Los Angeles alum

It’s a Small World has always been my favorite ride at Disneyland. Not because of the obnoxious music, but because of the message it gave young children: People are connected around the world. Sure, we speak different languages and have different cultures, but we have the same emotions, breathe the same air and well duh, are all humans. We’re all not that different.

Then I came to City Year last year and learned about a Zulu proverb called Ubuntu: I am because you are / my humanity is tied to your humanity. In other words, we’re all connected in some way, somehow.

As known, I joined the Peace Corps quickly after my City Year and found a fellow City Year Los Angeles alum — Katie (corps year 2008-2009) — among my group of Volunteers who served in the same South Los Angeles neighborhood I served in. When I arrived at the Johannesburg airport, boarded the bus and got my Pre-Service Training (PST) schedule, I called Katie’s name across the bus and said, “Katie! We have a training about Ubuntu! Ohhh City Year…” We both shook our heads and laughed.

I didn’t realize the similarities of Ubuntu between my City Year and Peace Corps service until now, but the concept of Ubuntu originated in South Africa. Katie and I are ironically learning Zulu in the same language group with only one other American.

Before Katie, myself and the rest of my Peace Corps Volunteer group were about to listen to a presentation on Ubuntu in South African culture from our Zulu language trainers, Katie and I were sharing City Year pictures and memories. I showed her some pictures from the end of the year. We had already gone through lists of student names to see if I had tutored any of her former elementary students, but today we finally saw how our paths crossed after she saw a picture of one infamous Markham student my team adored. Let me stress again that this is right before the Ubuntu session is about to start (for those non-City Year people, this is City Year’s favorite word).

One of our Markham kids, Sarah*, was one of Katie’s elementary school team’s former students. At the end of a City Year, whether or not some of these students are in a team member’s actual class, there are always a group of kids that every City Year knows and has helped in some way. Sarah was one of those kids for my team AND Katie’s team.

Bursting out in laughter as we flipped through the pictures I had of her, we started to share Sarah stories: Funny things she had said (she has no sensor and doesn’t care what people think, which makes her all the more fun to be around). I was so happy about this discovery that my eyes were tearing up — Katie and I can come from two completely different places in the US (Kentucky and California) and still somehow impacted a student’s life (or in my case, know the people who really did — my teammates Angie, Melanie and Becky — because I didn’t work much with her). This is clear proof that we are all connected through humanity and Ubuntu isn’t just some inspirational saying — it’s actually true.

I’ve written plenty of times throughout my first service year that changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds and one might not always see results. I joined the Peace Corps expecting this, but can finally say that in rare circumstances change can be seen. Maybe Sarah still struggles in school a lot, but she was one of the first students who befriended my team at Markham, which I know had something to do with working with Katie’s team when she was a third grader. Now as a sixth grader, she’s confident, out-spoken, humorous and brave. I can’t completely credit City Year with all this, but the organization must have had some role in shaping who she is today if she decided to look up to the Markham team this year.

In South Africa, Ubuntu is practiced in all households. Batho pele, which means people first, stresses that one must take care of others — including guests and family members — before taking care of oneself when referring to eating meals or anything else. Food must be prepared in large portions in case guests show up to a family’s home. Family members must feed guests — regardless of who they are — before they eat. If one needs food or ingredients, one visits the neighbor’s house to get it. Food is for everyone and is shared. There is no such thing as individual food and it is disrespectful to deny someone food.

Likewise, people come before work. In America, we care so much about our jobs that they often comes before relationships. Here in South Africa, it is not uncommon for people to miss work (which is one major reason why teachers are absent a lot at the schools we’ll be serving at) because their culture emphasizes that they should go to a community gathering — like a wedding or funeral — instead of work.

Now, the South African government is trying to enforce Ubuntu throughout the country — blacks, whites, coloureds —  especially after Apartheid was dismantled.

I wouldn’t call Katie and I crossing paths a coincidence, but fate. I think things are supposed to happen for a reason and today happened to show me that people do impact each other and can make a difference in each other’s lives. In City Year, when one person’s thoughtful actions reach another person, it’s a called “ripple” of hope, which originiated from a speech Robert F. Kennedy gave in none other but South Africa — Katie and I together are the ultimate ripple!

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people. Any interaction that my City Year team had or my new PCV team will have with students will somehow direct and develop who the student becomes as a person today and in the future. And this is exactly why all of those I have met last year and this year chose to do the work we will do or have completed.

My life now makes a little more sense…

 

“Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy

Yours in South African service,

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Teaching my students about South Africa as a farewell

During my last English class, my teacher allowed me to do a short presentation about where I’ll be living and what I’ll be doing next year. My students are pretty interested in it and actually know where I’m going (although South Africa isn’t that hard of a country to remember). I even got them to recite greetings in isiZulu in unison!

Here’s the short presentation I did:

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20120608-103857.jpgSouth Africa is known as the “rainbow nation” because it is so diverse and so many languages are spoken

20120608-104003.jpg They were amazed that I won’t have running water and I might not have electricity. They told me to watch out for animal “droppings” and asked questions about how I’ll survive without electricity.

20120608-104111.jpg I explained to them that I am joining a government service organization that’s kind of like how you give years to military service for America, but instead I’m giving my time to help people.

20120608-104229.jpgThis slide generated a bunch of “ews” except one student said the sausage (known as Boerewors) reminded them of chorizo.

20120608-104534.jpgI’ll be honest, I can pronounce these greetings as well as my students, but we all tried together!

20120608-104607.jpg “You know how I always tell you to get out a pencil or pen? Well, this is what I’m going to have to say when I ask my new students to get one out.”

20120608-104646.jpg Sala kahle: goodbye. I can’t speak isiZulu yet obviously, so I added it into some English. The third isiZulu phrase means “see you later”

20120608-104832.jpgI made my students Hertzog cookies from scratch, a famous South African cookie I found online. I’m not sure if this is really village food, but apparently it’s a cookie that’s made often in the country (maybe urban areas or both? I’ll have to find out when I get there!) The cookie is a vanilla cookie with coconut, apricot and powdered sugar filling. The students enjoyed them and ate seconds!

An end to my first year of service: a reflection to never forget

My worst nightmare has come true. Our last day at Markham Middle School was on Wednesday (actually, one of my students said his “worst nightmare would start on Thursday” because City Year would no longer be on campus).

I can barely write a blog post because so many emotions have been going through my mind this week — I’m anxious that I’m leaving the country in 33 days, depressed that I am leaving my students for good, excited for the future, but not ready to say bye to everyone I’ve met this year.

This year has truly been amazing. I have learned so much from my school, my students and my teammates. At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t have expectations. I didn’t know if this year would be bad, so-so, or great. It exceeded greatness. Why? Well maybe because I learned so much:

  • Markham Middle School and Watts showed me a reality so many others aren’t aware exists.
    I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to experience an urban and struggling school like Markham, as well as a community like Watts. I saw the issues facing our public education system upfront. To name a few, students violently fighting about anything and everything (gangs, gossip, family issues, community issues) before school, during school and after-school. Obviously that affects any learning environment for students — being surrounded by violence at school of outside of school. For example, just the other day when my class was coming back from a field trip on the metro, a rider was walking up and down the train yelling with a gun in his pocket, and then just five minutes later a group of men trying to fight each other at the metro station by Markham. The day after I watched my teammates break up a crazy fight between a boy and a girl before school that was related to outside family/gang retaliation. Scenes like that in the neighborhood and at school I know would make me frustrated and mad, so I’m sure students feel that way.

    I saw how the public education system has failed so many students: so many are behind grade level and unmotivated to keep trying because the work is too hard for them to complete. I witnessed prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse in the community — every morning driving or walking to school. The litter, graffiti and homeless camps throughout the streets with boarded up buildings are a familiar sight. I learned that my student’s parents sometimes work three jobs to support them and traveled as far as 50 miles one-way on public transportation to get to the jobs. I faced the hard reality that some students I knew were foster children due to substance abuse in the family.

    The neighborhood of Watts is also just a bunch of houses, housing projects and convenient stores, soooo, where are the jobs for the struggling families and the kids turning to gangs and violence? The area is forgotten because so many in Los Angeles don’t really realize the extent of the problems here and that it’s a reality for many people. Now that I’ve worked in this reality for ten months, I will never work a day in my life that isn’t dedicated to a cause that will help change this stark reality so many people face in poverty-stricken areas of major cities. Granted I’m not sure if I’ll come back to Los Angeles, but every city has its Watts and that’s exactly where I belong.

  • My students showed me that I have empathy and compassion I didn’t think I had.
    Due to various situations I’ve dealt with with my family, I thought I lost all sense of being empathetic. I usually just think, “Well, that’s your fault for the way you are and you can change if you want to” or I refuse to deal with someone I know won’t change. But that’s not the case in all situations. I found even the worst behaving students in my class to hold a special place in my heart because I saw them outside of their behavior problems and caught them in their squishy moments — i.e. one student always talking about how much he loved his baby brother. That one always got me: “You want to be a role model for your brother, right? Start behaving in class! He’s depending on you.” My students gave me the hope that people do change and will change; now I can believe.
  • It’s chance that my students were born into or moved into Watts and went to school there.
    They have dreams too, just like any other Los Angeles kid. However, it’s going to be much harder for them to succeed based on their reality. Life may never be fair for minority students and students of such communities, but at least we can work to bring some justice to these communities through work like City Year or just teaching in these schools.
  • My team was so incredibly diverse and I tried my hardest to not have first assumptions about people, but let’s be honest, everyone has first impressions of people.
    Everyone is amazing in their own way and every person on earth has an interesting life story. Give people a chance and they’ll surprise you. My team ended up being the most hilarious, intelligent, inspiring and caring group of people I’ve ever met all at once. I vow to not make any assumptions about everyone I will cross in South Africa, whether that be another Peace Corps Volunteer or someone from my village.
  • Time apart shows you who your real friends are.
    This year has been so crazy busy that I lost contact with many people. The best part about losing contact with people is when you see them again and it’s not awkward you know it’s a real friendship.
  • Keep calm and never doubt.
    There were countless times this year that I wanted to give up. I was working toward improving issues that are bigger than myself. I realized that the only way any work would get done at school is if I was calm about it and never doubted the situation. I still doubt a lot of things, but I added a couple of points higher on my positivity scale (special thanks to the teammates and roomies Marissa and Daniel for teaching me this).
  • Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds.
    Change doesn’t come overnight. Any work I did with my students may show in a couple of months or years or maybe even never. You come into City Year thinking you are going to change your student’s academic abilities so much, but you don’t understand how patient you have to be with this process. Maybe I didn’t change my student’s academic levels, but I know I made a difference because students looked up to me and the rest of City Year as friends, mentors and role models.
  • I now know what I stand for.
    I stand for the voiceless of the world. I am here to be a voice for the voiceless through my writing and volunteer work. Whether it’s a neighborhood like Watts or a rural South African village, I will be that voice that forgotten communities lack.

I’ll never forget this year and the students I got to work with; I’ll carry the memory of Markham Middle School with me wherever I go in life and it’ll definitely be a factor in choosing my final career path. Everything I learned will serve me well in South Africa and this year has prepared me more than ever for my Peace Corps adventure.

It still hasn’t really hit me that I won’t see my students next week. I think it’s going to take at least two weeks for it set in that this year is actually over.

One of our students wrote a letter to us and read it aloud after-school when all the corps members and students were saying goodbye (yes, many tears were shed):

Dear City Year,

I hope you guys visit us and I hope you guys find a good job. I will always remember you guys, you guys are like my big family. I hope you guys have fun in your new job and I hope you guys have fun in your life.

Thank you Markham Middle School for changing my life. Next year’s Markham team really has to uphold everything we created this year. My team built the foundation for next year’s team to succeed because City Year wasn’t at Markham last year and it seemed like the school was apprehensive about having us back, but now they can see it worth it and that we really made an impact. The students trust us and love us — next year’s team needs to carry over our love, passion, dedication and care. I have faith they will.

Sadly, we graduate City Year tomorrow, but it’s not goodbye, it’s a new beginning. Three more weeks in Los Angeles. Seriously? Gotta make the best of it.

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Keeping the USC spirit alive. I wrote all of my students letters and gave them a Fight On pin so they hopefully remember to never give up on their dreams.

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One of my students begged my teammate and I for our yellow bomber jacket. My teammate Chariya is giving him one of her yellow jackets. I hope he’ll look at the jacket and always remember what we taught him.

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Got my kids to sign my boots because I’m bringing them to South Africa with me. “I’m gonna miss you bitch” oooohhh Markham; words like this mean the kids really do love you.

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My team leader made pictures of all of us and put them on the wall in the City Year room for students to sign. Once again, to show love, one student wrote “you ugly” on everyone’s, but mine was even more special. “don’t know you, but you still ugly.” Oooohhh Markham.

What will I miss about Markham the most you ask? Based on the pictures above, I’ll miss the hilarity.

Although I’m graduating tomorrow, I’ll still be “yours in service” (South Africa in a month),

Liz

Peace Corps update: SOUTH AFRICA HERE I COME!!!

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Hold fast to dreams and they will come true!

It took a whole week for my invitation to travel across country, but it finally came! I didn’t get to actually open it myself because I went to Las Vegas this weekend with the Markham team to celebrate the end of the year (which was amazing — love my team so, so much!) One of my roommates got it and opened it for me. I couldn’t wait any longer and would have been talking about it all weekend if I didn’t know what was inside that beautiful blue packet.

After a seven month application process, I was invited to serve as a school teacher in South Africa! I will be working in a primary school (ages 6-15) as part of the Schools and Community Resource Project. This has been an ongoing Peace Corps project since 1997 — currently there are 106 volunteers in nearly 250 schools in over 100 communities. I leave on July 10, train from July 12 – September 13 and my service ends on September 13, 2014.

My primary duties are:

  • providing direct instruction to learners
  • supporting initiatives by the government and NGOs that promote HIV-AIDS awareness and education in schools and communities as well as developing strategies for handling the subject in schools
  • initiating, supporting and strengthening programmes in the community that empower out of school youth
  • conducting basic computer literacy training to the educators, learners and community members
  • The hardest part about this assignment, according to my invitation kit, is the use of corporal punishment in schools. Eeek…

    I will be living in either the Mpumalanga or the Kwa-Zulu Natal Provinces of South Africa. I will live in a family structure in the village I serve in, meaning I’ll have my own room in a family’s house (which could be anything from a tin-roofed house or a modern brick house). I likely won’t have running water, but it seems like I might have electricity.

    What am I most excited about? The fact that I get to visit City Year South Africa and connect back to my roots (joking, but not really…)

    I have a lot of research to do about South African culture, education system, etc.

    South Africa here I come! In exactly 52 days. Life is crazy.

    Week 33-34: Celebrating completing the CST!

    All Markham students have been testing for the past two weeks. Four days out of these past two weeks school ended at 12:50. Our after-school program runs until 5 p.m., so we had to come up with some fun things for the students to do for that four hour stretch. Thanks to my teammates Charlotte and Melanie who are in charge of our after-school program there were some pretty darn cool activities:

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    We played an Olympic-type of game where students split into teams and competed for a prize. The first challenge was to assemble a puzzle of the United States

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    My team – One Krew – prepping for the challenges at Ted Watkins park in Watts with my teammates Daniel and Ricky

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    One of the challenges was to get a hula hoop down the line without using hands

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    My teammate Tessa’s mom is an actress and was the lead role in Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. The students watched the movie and then got a surprise visit from a celebrity in the movie! They had a Q and A session with her and were really interested in what she had to say.

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    We made silly putty! (which I had no idea was so easy to make)

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    “Around the World in Four Hours” — students made foods from different cultures, presented them to the rest of the group and got to eat everything while watching a movie about Africa. My group made Alfajores, which is a caramel cookie made in Spain.

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    Made in China

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    Field trip to the California Science Center! Checking out infrared light

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    Looking at the exhibits

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    Just for clarification — he wasn’t looking at the fish, he was yelling at them to scare them

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    Oh — and we made piñatas that the kids will break open next week