These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad.
This weekend was really amazing. On Friday we left for Livingstone, an 8-9 hour drive. Unlike some of my more adventurous counterparts, I didn’t go skydiving, but Victoria Falls was beautiful. We ate at an awesome Italian restaurant that gives all of its proceeds to supporting vulnerable children, and went to high tea at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. We all felt super classy.
Today, it was back to service learning at Vision of Hope. We’ve managed to sell fifteen rugs to the group so far, and are hoping to sell a few more before we leave. 40% of the proceeds go directly to the girl who made each rug, and the additional 60% go back into the organization so they can sustain future IGAs. The great thing about this project is that they use scraps from fabric shops to make each rug, so they are made at very little cost. When we were thinking about ideas with strong revenue potential, we thought of notebooks because making paper has no cost, and the fabric we are using to bind the notebooks is also very inexpensive. Each notebook costs about two kwacha to make, but can be sold for thirty-five, which gives us really strong profit margins.
While we were gone over the weekend, the girls made eighty-two pieces of paper. Some of them had holes in them or were too thick, but with what we had we were able to make our first two notebooks today. The girls were really excited, and the notebooks look great. With the first notebook the girls made today, we are going to print pictures we have taken of the girls and paste them into it so we can give them something to remember their experience by. I think they are really going to like it, and it will be a good reminder for how far they’ve come.
It was awesome to see our project coming together, and I really hope the girls are able to sell these notebooks successfully at markets. Already, everybody in our group wants at least a few, and we have promised to buy as many as they can make by this Friday. I really hope I can return to Zambia in a few years and see how far Vision of Hope has come. This is probably the most positive experience I have ever had working for an NGO, and it has made me really want to pursue a career in NGO consulting or with a foundation.
I am starting to feel really lucky that I have had such a wonderful experience at Vision of Hope. Each of the girls I have met have been incredible, and I would come back to Zambia just to see how much further Vision of Hope has come. Yesterday we did an empowerment training with the girls, where we went over their future plans. I hadn't realized how long it would take, as most of the girls are just learning to read and write, and needed help with spelling. A couple of them are still illiterate, but are hoping to go to school next year. Their hopes and dreams for the future were just like any other child's, and it was a great experience to hear what they had to say.
Today the girls made their first piece of paper for an income generating activity we secured a small grant for. The girls are then going to make notebooks, which they will at the market. It was a lot of fun for us to see how excited they were, and I am really hoping we can at least finish a few prototypes before we leave at the end of next week. I am really going to miss the girls, as they have played a really important role in my experience here.
"I don't go to school now, but would like to go next year. In five years, I will own my own tailoring shop." -Modesta
"I want to be a journalist. When I am a news reporter, I want to take care of my family and my children. In five years, you will see me on the television." - Sopiso
Over the past couple of weeks, I have really gotten to know a lot of the girls at Vision of Hope, the organization where I am volunteering. It's really striking how so many of the girls we work with are accustomed to tragedy. These young girls have been through a lot, and decompressing their stories has started to take its toll. When I got there today, one of the girls I interviewed earlier last week was lying down outside with a bandage on her head. She says she's 19, but the reality is that she has no idea how old she is. She has been living on the streets for about a decade, and has been dealt some pretty difficult cards. She is HIV positive, but overdoses on her ARVs. She has a third grade education, and uses drugs heavily to escape the harsh conditions of street life. Though Vision of Hope is a safe place for her to stay, her dependency on drugs makes it difficult for her not to return to the streets of Lusaka, where they can be easily accessed. This past Friday, she was kidnapped, gangraped, and stabbed in the head. She was beat up badly, and left to die on the side of the road. A Good Samaritan found her, and brought her to the hospital. For her pain, she was given aspirin and nothing else. Seeing this young girl was not easy for me. I knew her story. I bought one of the rugs she made. More importantly, she was a human being who was treated as somebody's means to an end.
I have had a lot of difficulties trying to understand things throughout these past few weeks. From discovering that fundamantal churches are fueling the anti-gay crusades in Africa to learning that there are a total of five psychiatrists in the entire country, I am at a loss for answers. I can't imagine being exorcised by my family for my sexual orientation or identity. I can't begin to fathom living in Zambia with a mental illness, and I struggle to understand why so many children don't reach the age of 5. In a country where over 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, it makes sense that addressing these issues is difficult. Still, some days are easier for me than others. We talk about compassion fatigue, and I know that it's something I'm confronting. I don't want to detach myself from people's stories and experiences, because to do so would be a disservice to their pain. That being said, I know that it's important to take a step back and think of ways that I can make a difference. When one of the girls at Vision of Hope told us today that she wanted us to know she would never go back to the streets, and thanked us for hearing her story, it solidified for me why I'm here. I may not have enough answers, but at least I know I care enough to ask.
There are a lot of ethics related problems I have with international service learning , but one of the biggest things I grapple with is overpromising. It's really difficult to work with an inspiring organization or individual and not want to just say yes, no matter the request. Some of that is for selfish reasons, as saying no doesn't feel great. That being said, I think that most of us genuinely have good intentions, and want our promises to carry weight- until we get back home. It's so easy to go back and let people and places fade as time goes on. It's almost like you never left, and that's one of my biggest fears on this trip.
I read a book right before I left that has stuck with me throughout these last few weeks. In the book, an American goes abroad, and makes a promise to a girl with a severe brain injury that he will save her. When he gets home, he gradually forgets about her. Years later, she writes a book about her experiences, and coldly assures him he isn't in it. I can't stop thinking about how terrible it is. Overpromising is so easy, but it has absolutely devastating consequences to people who have already been through situations that most of us can't fathom. Letting down somebody who has lost almost everything is one of the worst things you can do to a person, and I never want to put myself in that type of situation. Still, it isn't easy to know what to say when people ask you if you're coming back. Truthfully, I would love to, but I can't promise I will.
It has been a week of firsts. But nothing was accomplished without my new mates at my side. We have already met many international and Australian students from our Uni Village. We navigated the ins and outs (ups and downs) of campus. It was not long until a gracious Australian friend led us to a grocery store in walking distance. Our stomachs and wallets thanked him greatly. Still, we suffered a few cold hungry nights before we ventured into town to find a Kmart for real bedding and crockery. Transportation in itself has been an adventure. Before this week I had never ridden a city bus. But as a planner I took over finding the correct bus routes. Besides a few unknowns and delays I would say the newbie did all right leading a group of 12. We also bussed to Surfers Paradise one day, the popular downtown city center of the Gold Coast, where we finally spent a beautiful afternoon at the beach. The day was finished with our first weekly family dinner- classic spaghetti of course.
My summer in Beijing revolves around eight weeks of intensive Mandarin language classes. Run through the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies (IUP), the classes are taught at the Tsinghua University campus, often named the most beautiful campus in Beijing. The campus covers almost two square miles in the Northwest corner of Beijing, nestled between the 4th and 5th ring roads. In addition to a beautiful setting, the university has a storied history, and was most recently in international news as an alleged target of NSA hacking in the Snowden revelations (it houses one of China’s six major ‘backbone’ networks).
Tsinghua University was founded in 1911 as a preparatory school, with American money, in a generous effort to help China modernize after the fall of the Qing dynasty. Well, sort of – it turns out the funds came from money awarded to the American government as war reparations from China, based on grossly inflated damage estimates. This was in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion, China’s defeat, and the punishing treaties that followed, which heavily favored the coalition of invading Western powers and awarded them massive amounts of money in addition to unprecedented rights to Chinese territory and self-governance within China. After prolonged debate, the U.S. government agreed that the $30 billion-plus indemnity was “excessive” and decided to return the part beyond costs actually incurred in the war. This decision came after several years and much lobbying on the part of Chinese representatives in Washington before an unenthusiastic public, a hostile Congress, and a preoccupied president Roosevelt.
When the money was finally returned, it was returned with strings attached, much to the chagrin of Chinese politicians: it had to be used for the education of Chinese students, who would then be sent to study on scholarship in the United States. From the perspective of the American lawmakers, everyone involved would win: China would get a new generation of leaders educated in top-notch American universities, and America would have benefit from a set of power-holders in China with pro-American views (in reality, many of the Chinese students who would go on to attend American universities suffered intense discrimination that did nothing to win them over to the virtues of the American model). If the American side was enthusiastic about this win-win situation, the Chinese side was not so universally satisfied. The American stipulations about how funds that were never properly theirs to begin with should be used was seen as high-handed interference in domestic Chinese affairs, and their plan to educate the next generation of Chinese students was an attempt at infiltration, a means to pry open Chinese society to further American influence, which would of course carry financial benefit for American businesses.
But with the money firmly in the grip of the American government, there was little room for bargaining on the Chinese side. And so a preparatory school was founded on the site of former Qing dynasty imperial gardens, much like neighboring Peking University.
While Tsinghua evolved from a preparatory school into a full university, and broke completely with the reparations fund after the Communist Revolution in 1949, there are some who consider the source of the university’s founding a reminder of a painfully humiliating time for China. Many versions of the founding story exist, most with details selectively omitted and other, more convenient narratives emphasized in their place. Nevertheless, it is widely regarded as one of China’s best.
Chinese politics has a disproportionate number of Tsinghua graduates in the upper echelons of power, including a group has become known as the “Tsinghua clique.” The two most recent “paramount leaders” (simultaneously General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Commander-in-Chief of the People’s Liberation Army, and the President of the People’s Republic of China) both graduated from Tsinghua. Xi Jinping, the current President, was a chemical engineering major, and former President Hu Jintao studied hydraulic engineering.
For further reading on the subject of American remissions and the founding of Tsinghua University, I recommend “The American Remission of the Boxer indemnity: A Reappraisal” by Michael H. Hunt in The Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 31, No. 3 (May 1972).
|Gardening and landscaping (1)||Alternative (1)|
|Leisure and recreation (1)||Recreation (1)|
|Food and drink (3)||Politics (1)|
|Transportation (1)||Culture (1)|
|Wine country (1)||People (23)|
|Bridges (1)||Locally-produced food (2)|
|Bird travels (1)||Weird (1)|
|Adventure travel (18)||Backpacking (1)|
|Climbing (1)||Environmental travel (1)|
|Europe (6)||Hiking (1)|
|International travel (24)||Regional travel (2)|
|Road trips (1)||Travel deals (1)|
|Bears (2)||Lions (1)|
|Packers (1)||Super Bowl (1)|
|On the road (2)||Values and morals (1)|
|Elk River (1)||Family Fun (1)|
|Outdoors Women (1)||Under the radar (1)|
|Travel (40)||Workshops and conferences (1)|
|Food, beer, wine events (2)||Wine (1)|
|Parks and recreation (2)||Urban living (1)|