Monday, December 31, 2012

Blessings in Disguise

7:00 am came early this morning for the first day out at the work site. We each signed up for a different site. One site was working on building a house for a very poor family, some of the others played with children all day and most of us from AFLV went to the site where we are building a school house.

As we departed early this morning for our work site, I felt many emotions going through my head. I was just hoping I could really put my best foot forward. As we arrived on the site, Cuidad de Arce; I really got to see what kind of schooling these children are being taught in. It was a humbling experience because it made me think of all the things I take advantage of with my education.

We started work immediately, with the direction of Lynette. She started by showing me how to dig up the grass with a hoe and also where I don’t hurt myself. After digging up the grass for a while and water breaks, Laura and I decided we would help make support braces for the concrete that will be poured into the trenches to brace the walls for the school. We felt all work was an important job on the site.  I have also realized that this was hard manual labor. These people do not have machines and other technology to get the job done. It is all hard work and these people are more proud of their work.

As lunch approached, we walked up hill to this picnic area that the school is fortunate to have. This was an amazing view of mountains and the city as we ate, it was really breathtaking. For lunch we had our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we made that morning. Lunch came to an end and it was back to work. Sister Lynette offered us to take a taxi (tuktuk) ride through town for $2.00. Sonja, Laura and I were the first on this ride. It was really eye opening to see that these people are just like us in the United States. They are just as excited about the New Year as we are on selling fireworks and other celebration items. We got to really travel further and see more of the mountain side on this part of town. I say it was well worth my money. As we arrived back at the work site, we found children from the neighborhood that wanted to play with the volunteers such as coloring, cards and soccer.

As the children were playing, Laura and I decided to continue to work.  It was amazing to see all volunteers we had in the community to help us at this time. I even saw the father of some of the children that were playing working with us on the work site. This was a blessing experience that I don’t see in America. Volunteers that just took a few hours of their day just help us out because they know it is for the betterment of the community. Laura and I worked hard and made new friendships with these people. We held many deep conversations, as I was in amazement with the contribution. I was so thankful for the wonderful people in the community.

Few hours later, we cleaned up the work site and headed back to the house. I know at this point we were all ready to get cleaned up from the day’s work. Dinner was served shortly and soon our reflection followed.

Reflection helped me understand everything that I know I take advantage of and I felt today was a real blessing in disguise. I could not have asked for anything better than really immersing myself in the culture. I have realized how privileged I am and I should be more thankful for the opportunities I am given.  And knowing that happiness is all I need.

Chelsea Braune is a senior at Tarleton State University and a member of the Alpha Gamma Delta Fraternity.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Many Questions

When I woke up this morning, I awoke at around 5:30 am. Realizing that I had to wake up two hours later, I decided to continue sleeping forgetting that my wakeup call would be hearing a bull horn. Sure enough, a little after 7:30am, the sound of a duck noise (which was the bull horn) woke me up. It didn’t help that when the sister using it asked if the boys were up one of the guys from Villanova said, “No.” Upon him saying no we got up, but she still proceeded to come in our room and make noise a couple of times. It was an interesting first day to say the least.

Following the glorious wake up call, we got ready and went to breakfast where I chose to have frosted flakes and cantaloupe. Though simple, it was nice to get up without being in a rush and taking my time to finish my cereal and think about the day ahead.

After breakfast we all bunched in a van (that can hold all 25 of us, if I may mention) and made our way to mass to the Maria Auxiladora Church. It was a wonderful service given by the priest and the church had beautiful murals, statues, and stained glass windows. While there, it made me appreciative as I started to think about my upbringing and my ability to understand the Spanish being spoken for mass, but also the message that was being expressed by the priest.

Once mass was over, we visited the tomb of Archbishop Romero who was a very important figure for the lower class people of El Salvador. To be in that room and to hear about some of the history regarding this man was humbling and it was also tragic the way that he died. I am glad that I had the opportunity to learn about a man who said, “As long as people are starving in El Salvador, the walls of my church will not be decorated.”

From there, we went to a market in the area that had many small shops where I was able to purchase several things for family and my sponsors. What was important to me, however, was to get to know some of the shop owners as much as it was important to get souvenirs for people I care for. I met a woman that had a small shop for 35 years, had two sons and one of which was helping her in her shop. I went to her shop twice and the second time I thanked her for her service and left her with a warm hug and a big smile. Sometimes we take for granted the living conditions and jobs that we have in the U.S and rarely take the time to reflect that our opportunities are far greater than other people. To be there and have a conversation with that woman, made me appreciate what I do have and to be happy for those things. We then left the shops and went back to the house for lunch.

Finally full from a couple of tuna sandwiches, we hopped on the van once again and made a one hour trip to an orphanage. Once there, we started playing basketball with a couple of the children and at one point we had a four on four game going. It was an enjoyable time and at one point, Griffin, a participant from Fort Hays State University, took video of me playing with the kids. After looking at the video I came to recognize something that I hadn’t before. As I had mentioned before, we have more opportunities in the U.S. than most people do in other countries and something as simple as playing basketball came to mind as one of those things. When we played with the kids they traveled, double dribbled, fouled like crazy, and didn’t take it back to an imaginary three point line after our team missed making a shot. In the U.S these things are considered to be incredible mistakes that would have anyone ousted from a basketball court. With these children, however, I realized that it’s not as simple. The norms in the U.S are things that are overlooked especially when the people here are poverty stricken and worried about having a decent job to help take care of their families. Hanging out with those kids and reflecting on that experience on the way back made me truly appreciate many things especially the power of a smile that with its genuineness can transcend anything and brighten someone’s day.

The day ended with dinner and a talk from a man named Eugene Palumbo who has worked for many publications including that New York Times. His talk included information about the country as well as other information that was truly helpful to understand the reasons for why the Salvadorian people are the way they are and why difficult times have come about in this region. I really appreciated his visit and the wealth of knowledge that he was able share with us.

 It was a busy and thought provoking day that brought about many questions for me to ask and find within myself what I truly value in life. I hope to continue to have more experiences that I can challenge myself with.

Miguel Acero Jr. is a Senior at the University of Arizona and member of Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Opening hearts and opening minds!

After a long day of traveling, we all have arrived safely in San Salvador! There were a few glitches and delays for some members of the group, but smooth travels overall. Tricia didn’t waste any time exposing us to the true culture of El Salvador. We met our van driver, Miguel, at the airport and we were off in a flash. The speed, intensity, and chaos of drivers here was a bit of a culture shock for most of us.

The first stop of our trip was a brisk afternoon hike to the top of El Puerto de Diablo. It was a bit more of a workout than some of us anticipated, but the breathtaking views and photo opportunities definitely made our hard work pay off. Our group really enjoyed this first adventure because it allowed us to see some of the people of El Salvador in a natural setting. This area wasn’t a tourist stop, but a place where normal people would spend an afternoon.

After seeing a bit of the city and culture, we went to the Casa Voluntariado Santa Rafaela Maria, where we will be staying all week. We enjoyed meeting the Sisters and hearing about their mission and why they are working to help the people of El Salvador. Dinner tonight was a traditional Salvadorian dish: papusas!

Our first reflection of the week followed dinner.   We opened our discussion with a quote from Rabindranth Tagore, “I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure: I woke and saw that life was service; I served and discovered that service was pleasure.” While discussing this quote, it was great to see that even though each of us comes from a different part of the United States and has different backgrounds, we all have a common purpose. We have given up a week of our time to come to this community to make a difference and serve. An open mindset is something that each of us possesses and we know that the people of El Salvador will make a large difference in our lives as well.

Even though this trip is only a week long, we know it will impact the rest of our lives. It will help us remember that service is a strong value that each of our organizations have in common. We must allow this week to motivate and empower us to bring a passion for service back to each of our communities. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds!
Laura Mason is a member of Gamma Phi Beta Sorority and a senior at the University of Southern Indiana.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Consciousness of Self

My name is Kelly Griffith, and I am a a sophomore and a proud sister of Alpha Xi Delta at Florida Atlantic University.

On site today we continued to put our hard work into this house that we aspire to make into a home. In the past couple of days we have made incredible progress on this house as a team, and I believe that the positive energies that are being exuded from each and every man and woman on this trip have been a huge contributing factor to that progress. I have been thinking that these nails that we are hammering into these walls aren't just nails; these nails, walls, and windows represent a new beginning for a family that might have not had one otherwise. They represent a reinforcement that their home will hopefully be safe, God forbid, if another storm like Katrina were to hit this area again.

In tonight's discussion we talked about "Consciousness of Self" and how self assessment and awareness of our personal beliefs, values, and attitudes, is a integral part in the leadership process. We also discussed what growth and changes we had personally experienced so far this week. That gave us all time to think about our experiences, what we've learned, and how we are going to internalize them and use them to lead in the future when we go back to our organizations in the Spring semester. A beautiful quote was brought up in the group conversation today by a gentleman of Pi Kappa Alpha named Scott Cunningham. He quoted, "Service is love made visible", he explained this quote by saying that you can serve your financial wealth or material wealth and it will show that that is what you love, or you can serve your community and it will show that you love others and that you are willing to sacrifice your time and energy to help another person. As the Dalai Lama said, "As long as space remains, as long as living beings remain, I will remain in order to serve."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Is Privilege?

Today was our first full day on the AFLV immersion trip to New Orleans, where we are working with Habitat for Humanity as well as living together in a neighborhood home for volunteer. We are all affiliated with fraternity/sorority life in some way and have answered a call to serve others in New Orleans.

But why have we answered this call? I can't answer for everyone, but for me, it revolves around something covered in tonight's discussion: privilege and poverty. The house we are working on is in a low-income neighborhood that has been severely affected by Hurricane Katrina. It was impossible for me to not notice the homes that were essentially uninhabitable in the neighborhood; several homes and other buildings still had noticeable damage, despite the fact that the hurricane had occurred several years ago. We discussed the concept of poverty at length upon returning to our bunkhouse, and toward the end, we covered a pretty broad spectrum of the subject.

One thing that affected the discussion was a quiz we took called "Are You Privileged?" This was important for me because I personally connect strongly with those who are impoverished and who are struggling, because I see myself as someone who knows struggle. However, upon taking the quiz, I realized that I am actually more privileged than I had thought. Although I feel connected with those in poverty, I have to realize that I know a different form of struggle than these people do, and I might not know everything about what these groups of people are experiencing. For me, it was eye opening to realize how fortunate I have been to have all of these things when other people were having very different experiences.

We also talked about the idea that although we may have financial privilege, it doesn't necessarily mean that the people we are working with are poor in every sense of the word, as many people noted in our conversation. These people might have fewer material resources to work with, but they often have values and intellectual currency that we may never accrue without connecting with these people. By allowing them to teach us instead of focusing on teaching them, we can both benefit each other in amazing ways.

Miranda Huber is a sophomore at Elmhurst College and a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Fraternities and Sororities Are Not Stupid: Reason 6

Santa Claus would like you to stay safe this holiday season and follow all local laws.

Do you have an entire chapter that rages 24/7? No? That's what we thought.

Reason 6: Alcohol consumption among fraternity and sorority members has decreased.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Obvi, we still have some work to do when it comes to alcohol-related incidents. But, compared to the 1990s, alcohol use has decreased among fraternities and sororities.

We think part of this has to do with the way we are recruiting. As dry recruitment is better enforced, we do a better job of explaining what we are about. While we do like to have fun, when we put alcohol front and center, it makes it seem like that's all we're about. By recruiting members who are more interested in our values and leadership opportunities, we'll get more members who aren't focused on getting wasted. Isn't that what we're looking for to take our chapters to the next level?

Related to better recruitment practices, students are entering colleges with different priorities. In 2011, the amount of drinking and time spent partying in high school was at an all-time low for entering freshmen. With more academically-focused students entering college, we are able to recruit members who can prioritize.

Another factor we think has contributed is improved alcohol education by our higher education professionals. We are seeing many more educational programs happening on campuses across the country, more programs like GreekLifeEdu, and more resources developed by our inter/national organizations that make us confident that the information is being presented to our collegiate members. By doing our homework and performing legit research, we get numbers that support our claims and hard work.

We know we still have some work to do. We get stories and reports every day that tell us that. But don't let them call all fraternities and sororities just a bunch of drunks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is Your Party Racist? Because These Are

Well, if you've been paying attention to the news this week, you've likely seen this story.

While the Nu Gamma chapter of Chi Omega at Penn State has made the news this week, this is a much larger problem. We're really tired of reading stories like this, this, and this.

Seriously though, haven't you gotten the memo by now that these parties are offensive?

However, we're thinking we shouldn't be so angry right away. The more important question is do you understand why these parties are offensive?

  • By throwing these parties where guests show up in stereotypical garb, you are reducing entire cultures and groups of people into a caricature.
  • It's pretty basic. By making other cultures into what you think is a joke, you're basically saying you're better than them. We can't think of anything more condescending and arrogant.
  • As members of values-based organizations, we talk a lot about how our fraternities and sororities make us better people. How are these parties congruent with that at all?

If you are having trouble with this issue, reach out. Your Multicultural Affairs office on campus is more than happy to help you understand how this is not inclusive. We have some different resources here, here, and in our Summer 2012 issue of Connections, as well.

So stop being racist. It's not cool, bro.