Honors Appalachian Experience 2011

12 Sep

Safia, Alec, Liz, and Jeanette at the Phelps Area Habitat for Humanity Center

This August, The George Washington University Honors Program joined the Temple University Honors Program on the Honors Appalachian Experience – a week-long volunteer trip with Habitat for Humanity. Three UHP students – Jeanette Kaiser, Alec Ludin, and Safia Razzuqi – joined me (program officer Liz Sutton) and 21 volunteers from TU in Phelps, Kentucky. We stayed together in a communal volunteer center, “living simply” off of cereal, PB&J, and student-prepared family dinners. Broken into  two teams, we installed a tin roof, gutted a kitchen, painted fences, and put the finishing touches on siding. Taking a break from technology we savored the opportunity to live in a real – instead of virtual – community. We focused on the importance of working with a community to improve and rebuild, instead of swooping in like saviors without understanding the area we were serving. We’ll take the trip again next August – look for more information this fall! Read on to hear from Jeannette and Safia about their experiences.

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The Honors Appalachian Experience was a really unique and interesting experience that I took part in this summer. I have always loved service work, but it is a very different experience volunteering at a food bank for a few hours compared to living and working in an underserved area for a week, rebuilding a roof and getting to know the person who I was donating my time to. Doing all of this with people who are all also interested in helping made the experience about more than just work. It was also about bonding with other students from different backgrounds who I may never have met otherwise and turned out to all be really great people. This was also a great field learning and cross-cultural experience, for I learned a great deal about the current and past socioeconomic situation of this, which I was then able to experience first hand by seeing the area and talking with people. Lastly, I learned a lot about the main industry of the area, coal mining. Specifically, I learned how coal mining has contributed to the socioeconomic situation of this area and I saw how significantly it is entrenched in the US economy and energy sector because it is often the sole source of employment for many areas. This greatly supplemented the environmental and public health knowledge about coal that I had already acquired at GW. Overall this was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in service, learning about the problems of low income areas, and learning about the coal industry in the US.

~ Jeannette Kaiser, ESIA ’12

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I am a stickler about New Year’s Resolutions. My 2011 list ranges from all-too-familiar goals and expectations about improving academics and more frequent exercising. But the last personal project, if you will, is number eleven: BE MORE SPONTANEOUS. Take a risk once in a while.

The all caps was imperative. I spent the first two years of my GW career meticulously planning everything out, from four-year plans that include back-up schedules for every semester to detailed itineraries for study abroad. I am aware that I’m a little neurotic, a sentiment with which most Honors students can identify. But I didn’t think twice when I received a serendipitous email on the first of June from Liz Sutton. The email offered the opportunity to join the Temple University Honors Program on their summer Appalachian Experience to volunteer in Phelps, Kentucky with Habitat for Humanity. I shot Liz and email back indicating that I was seriously interested. I was committing on the spur of the moment to something that I hadn’t fully researched; and I was psyched.

Admittedly, I devoted more time figuring out how to “pack lightly” than making expectations for this trip. This time, I was going to let the trip unfold without my divine intervention. The week flew by and I befriended a group of talented, inquisitive and hilarious students from Temple and GW. My team put up a tin roof over on the house of a caring woman named Dorothy. In the process, we learned a lot more about rural Appalachia, coal mining and the labor movement in U.S. history. Liz encouraged us to engage in a deeper self-reflection, to take what we saw and experienced and reflect on how it informs our daily lives.

My momentary act of spontaneity propelled me to commit myself to a new mantra for the new school year, borrowed from the Temple Honors Appalachian Experience: Live as a participant, not a spectator. The purpose of our trip to Appalachia isn’t to singlehandedly “help out poor, struggling areas”. Instead it is to see others who live their lives so unlike you as fellow travelers alongside you in this glorious journey called life.

~ Safia Razzuqi, ESIA ’13

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