Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Haiti 2016

Day 1 & 2- Our Arrival and Camp Begins
By Olivia Gilliam and Kat Harding

After a full day of traveling, we landed in the small and humid Port-Au-Prince airport.  Once through customs, we were greeted by Father Walin and Madame Serena.  They helped us gather our luggage and make our way through a tunnel of eager bell hops. Once past the hectic pathway we began to load our luggage into, on top of, and within a van, truck, and a car. After we loaded all the bags, we piled into the vehicles to begin our two hour journey to Montrouis. This bumpy ride provided us our first glimpse into Haitian life and the opportunity to bond with each other before the work really began. Although it was dark and we could not see very far, what we did see were small residences seemingly piled on top of each other just on the side of the road. Among these precarious homes we saw many people bustling around cooking and socializing only mere feet away from the chaotic main road. Two hours later we arrived at Moulin Sur Mer and prepared for the week ahead.

The next morning we awoke to a sea side view, and ate a delicious Haitian breakfast by the water. Shortly thereafter, we departed, supplies in hand, for the seminary and the first day of camp. On the way there we were in awe of the chaos alongside of the busy road, and our minds began pondering what we had waited months for. After months of planning, our ideas were finally materializing. Upon arrival we organized the supplies and proceeded to introduce ourselves to the kids. Our introductions quickly became playing games of soccer, keep away, passing, and music making. One girl in our group started singing the Macarena and our group along with several others joined in.  Something that stood out to us was how welcoming the children were. Minutes after we arrived kids were holding our hands, braiding our hair, and asking us to join in their games. We thought that we would be more of instructors rather than friends and playmates. Specifically, while we were taking a break from an intense game of soccer, a group of girls came over and began styling our hair. Within fifteen minutes we were sporting new hair-dos that we left in for the rest of the day. Our first day was wrapped up with a tasty lunch of rice, beans, plantains, chicken, and potatoes. On the way back to the hotel, we finally had a quiet moment to reflect on the first day.  The day’s activities did not quite follow the schedule we had planned at home, but nonetheless it was an eye-opening day full of fun activities and new friendships.

Day #3-
By Taylor and Matthew

After the first day of camp, we were moved to create a different approach to day 2 because our previous plan wasn’t as organized as we had liked.   By now we had become more comfortable in this new setting among so many new people.  The plan we created included making tie-dye T-shirt, bags out of T-shirts, and friendship bracelets.  We had planned to be more organized and let each individual group switch between stations during play time. Upon arrival on campus, the day began like the previous day except we were greeted with warm hugs and familiar smiles.  All the kids knew their groups and held on tightly to our hands, arms and torsos when called. Our morning activities included soccer and the ball tossing game “taps.” Halfway through play time, we stopped for an English lesson, in which we taught food, animals, and family members.  After, we started the bags and tie-dye shirts. The t-shirt bags quickly became a group project for us to bond with the kids.  The tie-dye shirts were a little messy, but we had lots of fun decorating them.  We ended with more fun and sports after lunch and left around 4.

By this second encounter, we were more aware of what we were doing, and knew more about the kids respective personalities, allowing us to maintain a sense of order among the seemingly endless wave of soccer fueled chaos. By this time the kids revealed to us that they had iPhones, Xboxes and other technology we (or at least I) had thought to be exclusive to American culture. A frustrating aspect of this was the language barrier which prevented me from acquiring their usernames for snapchat, xbox, etc. The warm greetings of the children on day two inspired us to have more energy throughout the day and cherish each moment we had with the children. This trip has become a great, new learning experience that has given us all a new perspective that we will take from Montrouis to D.C.

By Darius and Malcolm

Today was special for a number of reasons ranging from the music the Haitians and Americans shared to discussions with the children’s teacher. However, what made today especially special for me was that it was James’ birthday. James is a now eleven year old Haitian who has a younger brother Valentine and whose mother works at the seminary. After a day of soccer and reading James grabbed my hand and called out his signature “Hey!” to whisper “aujourdhui est mon annivairsaire.” As important as any eleventh birthday is, James’ really stands out not because what it means for him, but rather what is meant to me. I remember my own birthdays and how excited I felt, so seeing James’ happiness really drove home the fact the he and the other Haitians are above all kids, just like I was and like everyone has been. Even more than the hours spent kicking soccer balls, this experience showed me the humanity that we share with the Haitians. I look forward to our last day of camp tomorrow, but beyond our time here I’ll remember what is the same in Haiti and the US more than what is different.

Also, today was the first day the Haitians were introduced to the musical instruments we brought. These included recorders, kazoos, and tambourines. The children seemed to have had an innate ability to play these instruments. They picked them up and started making music. It was if they had played the instruments before. Some kids sang gospel songs while others played their instruments along with the chorus. These kids showed that they had musicality, something I believe you are born with or without. You can’t teach musicality. It’s different from music theory or the simple act of playing an instrument. It’s those things combined with a certain feel for the rhythms and pitches that go along with what they are playing, and they have that.

Day 5-
By Kendall and Andrew

         For the final day of camp, we made sure to leave an everlasting bond between us and the kids, and we succeeded. Our day started as a regular camp day with a delicious Haitian breakfast and an eye-opening car ride to camp. It continued with sports, bracelet making, and face painting. At first, we were worried that the concept of paint and kids would turn into chaos, but we were surprised to find out otherwise. The kids would sit in front of us and allow us to draw whatever design we felt suitable. They were not picky and did not demand specific ones, instead they were delighted with anything we drew on them. However, the main event of the day was swimming with the kids in the ocean. During that half hour swim, we were treated as family. We would be standing in the water, and out of nowhere a kid would come and hold our hand. Not only that, but they would stay in the same position for ten minutes straight.

        This affection shows how close the campers bonded with us within a four day period. On the first day, we were all timid and unsure of what to expect from the kids. Throughout the next few days, our relationship progressed and we noticed the kids becoming closer and closer to us. They recognized us and knew our names, and they would not hesitate to play soccer or toss a ball. Finally, on the last day we were family. The concept of us being strangers vanished, and they considered us one of them. It was the best good bye we could ask for. 


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Heading to Haiti 2016

So, tomorrow morning, after almost a year of anticipation and planning, I head to Haiti to our sister school, St. Paul's Episcopal School. I am honored to accompany two wonderful faculty members and 14 amazing students on this journey. All have work diligently to prepare to host a summer camp for students with activities from English lessons to soccer games, arts and crafts, and music.

As I journey to this special place, I am fully aware of the privilege I bring with me. As I sit writing this blog, I am fed, healthy and secure. I am fortunate to have a career that supports my family and allows us to live without much want. My life is not perfect, but it is good. I am thankful.

I know many parts of this trip will not be easy, physically or emotionally, but that's okay. Sometimes we need to step out of our comfort zone to better understand the world around us. To understand, in the words of anthropologist, Wade Davis, "The world in which we were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit."

My hope for this trip is that we are all able to embrace the lessons that await us. Those lessons of resilience and hope from a beautiful culture of survivors, of a people of faith. To understand that our world, our wants, our desires, do not define all people; to find joy in the simple pleasure of learning and sharing and connecting to the human spirit.

I am grateful to this amazing community that has supported this trip and the students and faculty who are going. I am grateful that I will get to share this experience with my own daughter, a blessing indeed.

I pray that our time in Haiti is fruitful, for both our Haitian brothers and sisters and for us.
And off we go...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Spain Exchange- The Spaniards say ADIOS y GRACIAS!


Spain Exchange- hear from one of our hosts

As a junior at SSSAS, I had never participated in any kind of foreign relation. Never had I contributed to pen palling in the past, nor had I really spoken to the exchange students the years prior. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Although, what sparked my interest about the exchange was that the experience would benefit me in the long haul. Learning about different cultures and stepping outside of your comfort zone was definitely a risk that I was willing to take in order to expand my knowledge of different cultures as well as build my character.

Once I had received my first message from my exchange student prior to their landing in the United States I could tell that Silvia (my exchange student) was the perfect match. After only a couple of instances of texting back and forth we instantly clicked. I was so surprised to find that we had so much in common and we agreed on almost everything that came up into conversation. Over the next couple of weeks we texted almost every day and I would try my best to Facetime Silvia over the weekends. I warned her that I had been participating in the musical at the time and the rehearsals would take up a big chunk of my time when she was here. She said she didn't mind at all and to my surprise everything worked out pretty well.

The first night that I had met her, we were just finishing up rehearsal when I heard my name yelled from across the room. I instantly recognized that it was Silvia and we hugged like we were best friends. I will never forget her first night with us in the home, she instantly became family. Silvia fit right in. There was one Saturday morning that Silvia insisted on cooking for us. She was confused as to why eggs were a typical American breakfast, because in Spain it is something that they have in the afternoon. Anyway, she decided to cook us "tortilla espaƱola". Although some of the egg did spill out when she tried to flip it on the plate, which was hilarious, it was absolutely delicious!!

Also, during her time here I took her to Old Town and we walked around the torpedo factory and she absolutely loved it! I also took her one night after rehearsal to see the monuments. Specifically, we saw the Lincoln Memorial and after that we went on to Georgetown where she had her first Georgetown cupcake. She loved the city and throughout her time here, our friendship continued to grow. Even the nights that we decided to stay in, Silvia was perfectly content just chilling in the kitchen with my mom and brother. While she and Chris did get in a couple of arguments, because Chris likes to debate with anyone in any possible way that he can. To my surprise, Silvia shut him down and told him exactly what was on her mind. Silvia was a tough cookie, and she told it like it is. I really liked that about her! She was so real, so genuine, and so fun! Each day after school she would always ask me how my day went and how a certain class that she remembered I was worried for went, or even how several tests and quizzes went. I cannot stress how caring she was and I really appreciate her so much for that.

During the trip I endured some heath issues of my own, and I unfortunately spent a couple nights in the hospital towards the end of Silvia's visit. During my time spent in the hospital, Silvia texted me constantly asking if I was ok and that really meant a lot. I explained to her that I felt bad because I should be home with her and I should be spending her last couple days in the United States with her. She assured me not to worry and that she just wanted me to get better. She said she was completely content and she enjoyed spending time with my mother and my brother.

One thing I can definitely say about Silvia is that she was not shy at all. The moment my friends met her in the beginning, she immediately sparked their interest and they loved her personality. When she walked in a room she instantly excited people and filled the room with pure joy.  I remember sharing a bond with her like no other kind of friendship I've ever had. We would practically finish each other's sentences. We were two peas in a pod. Sometimes, we would even just exchange a look and instantly know what the other person was thinking. It was amazing, and it was something I definitely didn't expect when I had signed up to be a host. I miss her every day. She still texts me and asks how my foot is doing, which is so sweet that she remembers to ask and that she cares so much about my well being. She tells me that she wants me to visit Spain this summer or sometime soon. I am hoping to get my mom on board because I definitely do not want this past March to be the last time I ever get to see Silvia again. There is no doubt in my mind that we will continue to keep touch and I hope that this is something that can last a lifetime. I would love to visit her country someday and have the privilege of meeting her family.

Calli Doulis

Spain Exchange- hear from one of our host families

We wanted to let you know how much fun we having with Juan, he's a wonderful young man. Our entire family is enjoying time with him, which is passing much too quickly.

 Juan has become a part of our family, and has made many friends in our neighborhood as well. These bonds will last a lifetime, he's already inviting Alex and Andrew and even big brother CJ to visit him in Spain. We had the pleasure of meeting Carlos over the weekend, when he and Sam visited us in Falls Church.

We are amazed at how well we were matched up, as our boys are very active and constantly playing a game of basketball, soccer, lacrosse etc. Juan has been keeping up and seems to be enjoying himself. He only has an older sister who is 23, so being with our boys and their friends is new for him and he has been engaged and ready to go at a moment's notice! It has been a very positive learning experience for all. We are glad that we participated. We were hesitant at first, but it all worked out! And now have a contact and friend in Spain for life.

 Clay and Barbar Tyeryar (host parents) to Profe Gasper

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Saints in Romania-Photo Dump!

Enjoy photos from our trip abroad in Romania. Although a picture is worth a thousand words, no amount of words and pictures combined could fully capture our time together at Pro Vita.

Long layover in Franankfort!
First meal together in Pro Vita!
Touring the property.
Sanding and painting the front fence.
An afternoon of basketball and coloring.
A morning at the church and the hike back after.
Field games for the afternoon.
Dancing with the kindergarten class and observing a 3rd grade classroom.
Working in the garden.
Hiking to the top of the mountain!
Brasov, the Black Church, and Dracula's Castle
Fort Rasnov and Peles Palace
Deep cleaning the house (complete with dance parties!)
Picking up the kindergarteners from
Playing in the "clubhouse"
Donut making!

What a trip! We all had an amazing time and made memories and had experiences to last a lifetime.