Build a Wall! Build a Wall! – Day 7

Written March 10, 2017

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Today we toured the Separation Wall, which separates Israel from the West Bank. It was supposedly built along the Green Line, which divided Israel and Palestine in 1949, but significant parts of the wall actually cut into the West Bank. According to Wikipedia, only 15% of the wall is in Israel or on the Green Line. Our guide said the wall was extended into Palestine to encompass Israeli settlements, but the configuration ends up isolating a lot of Palestinians, cutting them off from the rest of the West Bank. The Separation Wall was built during the second intifada, when there was a wave of violence. Israel calls the wall a security barrier against terrorism, and terrorism has dropped since it was constructed. Some people, however, believe the wall does more to promote racial segregation than it does to decrease violence. According the one of our guides, the wall doesn’t stop people from getting into Israel illegally to work. The determined wall-jumpers just wait for the guard to walk by, climb up a ladder, and use a rope to get down the other side. One of our other guides disagreed, saying the wall is very hard to get over. It’s difficult to figure out what’s really going on. Either way, at this point most of the barrier is actually a fence. Continue reading “Build a Wall! Build a Wall! – Day 7”

Welcome to Jerusalem- Day 2

Written March 5, 2017
Posted March 27, 2017

After arriving yesterday evening at the Tel Aviv airport and having dinner with T. Melissa’s friends Orna and Rami, we checked into the Azzahra Hotel in East Jerusalem.
For some background, Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and now occupies it, although even using the word “occupies” would be controversial to some. Jerusalem has so much religious significance that its future is key for any peace plan. President Trump’s recent proposal to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was explosive, as this move would have signaled farther reaching U.S. intentions. Even after studying the Jerusalem situation in several different classes and in the pre-trip meetings, I still hardly understand it. Someone on the trip reminded the group of a saying that if you are here for a day, you can write a novel, if you are here for a week, you can write an article, if you are here any longer, you can write a sentence. The whole situation is too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain it to anyone else. The main problem in understanding it is that every word you use has some sort of political significance. Before this trip, I hadn’t realized that even calling the city East Jerusalem means something (many Palestinians call it Arab Jerusalem). In fact, it’s difficult to avoid making a political statement when talking about Israel and Palestine, which some would call the Palestinian Territories. The nuances in language can totally change the meaning.
Probably the only thing I can tell you for certain is that the Azzahra Hotel has really good hummus. Breakfast was at 7 a.m., earlier than I get up for school, but not a problem because most of us jet lagged travelers were up at 5 a.m. After a delicious breakfast, we headed off to the Old City.

Continue reading “Welcome to Jerusalem- Day 2”

Back home

IMG_3490.JPGMarch 25 2017

I’ve been back from Ghana for a little over a week and I’ve been reminiscing about my time there. It is crazy how things are so different but some things are so similar. I wanted to write my last blog and let you know what I learned.

What I loved about Ghana was the sense of community and respect everyone had for each other. They took pride in what they did and everyone was responsible for their friends and neighbors. They respected and valued their elders. I learned about a new culture and made friends with kids who seemed so different at first but actually we are not that different after all. I learned what it was like to stand out in a crowd and I also learned how to handle it.

In the US everything is so fast paced and material focused. Everyone seems wrapped up in their own little world and are sometimes unaware of their surroundings. Then there is the phone and social media addiction that is just our way of life growing up in the US. (If you know me, you won’t believe that I’m actually saying that it is so restraining.) Continue reading “Back home”

An Unforgettable Week

As my time in Colombia comes to a close, I feel an immense sense of gratitude. I am beyond thankful for my experience at Hogar San Mauricio. These young children changed my view on life completely in just five days. While I was spending most of my time teaching them how to say silly words in English and how to cross the monkey bars successfully, they were teaching me something much more powerful. They taught me that no matter what happens in life, you must push forward and smile along the way. As I have mentioned before, these children come from horrible situations and to see them smile and laugh the way they do is truly inspiring.

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In addition, this week has made me realize how privileged I am as a person. I am lucky to have caring parents, a home, and the ability to attend The Westtown School. Everyone always says that there are bigger problems in the world, but saying this and experiencing it are two completely different things. My eyes have been forced wide open throughout this week and I couldn’t be happier with that. Continue reading “An Unforgettable Week”

A Safe Place to Call Home.

As I described in my first post, while in Colombia I will be working a non-profit organization called Hogar San Mauricio. On Monday Juliana and I visited the organization and were given a tour along with important information to know. While walking around and trying my best to understand our guide, I couldn’t help but feel that this place was a miniature Westtown, if not more. The founders of the foundation truly thought of everything, there were more than enough beds, toys, and any necessity a child or teenager might need. They even had a room designed as a mini hair salon! This place is a home to many children and young adults, just like Westtown is to its students.

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Most of the people who live at the foundation were sadly left there or taken away from their families due to unsafe domestic conditions. The ages ranged from infants that are only a few months old, to college bound teenagers and beyond. At the conclusion of my tour, I learned that I would be working with young children, between the ages of 3-5, for the rest of the week. Juliana and I were even given the opportunity to play with the kids before our departure. We entered a small park area, that once again seemed to be equipped with everything. The kid in me was thrilled to see numerous swings (hand-made), a set of monkey bars, a hand painted treehouse, and most importantly a ball pit. Continue reading “A Safe Place to Call Home.”

From 118,872 meters above ground, to 180m below…

Only a day after my arrival in Bogotá, I was whisked away to the Catedral de Sal, the first wonder of Colombia. This landmark is an old salt mine that was converted into an underground cathedral within the last century. Although uneasy thoughts about traveling 180m under the surface of the earth crept into my head, I tried to keep an open mind as I followed Juliana’s family through the entrance.

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After a long trek through different caves and tunnels we finally made it to the grand cathedral.  As I walked into the space I immediately felt much smaller than 5, 4″.  I guessed this room to be about 50m high and at least 100m across. I was simply awestruck for awhile, not really knowing what to do with myself.  Believe it or not, people make this journey regularly, as this cathedral is not just a tourist attraction, but it is also a functioning church. Continue reading “From 118,872 meters above ground, to 180m below…”

March 14th – Dance Off

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14 March 2017

In a totally un-Rachel-like fashion, I opted in to going to church this past Sunday. Let me just tell you that it was nothing I had expected or even experienced before in my life. Though I’ve been to church numerous times in the past, my family identifies now as Quaker, so I’m now used to Meeting for Worship and sitting in silence for an hour. This church though, while Christian, was so different from everything I anticipated. There was nonstop dancing and singing and music. It felt like a huge happy party to me, but at the same time people were really getting into it and letting it move them. There were tears and shouts and lots of “Amens”. It was an awesome experience and the whole congregation welcomed us so openly. They provided us a translator as the service was in Fonte, they also  welcomed us to the front at the end to introduce ourselves to the congregation over the microphone. It was truly an amazing and moving experience. I’ve never been so happy to have gone to church.  I can not reiterate enough how kind and welcoming everyone has been to us.

The rest of the week thus far has been pretty normal, we are in a routine with teaching  in the daytime and service project in the late afternoon. We eat dinner at 6:30 which all of us look forward to because the food is amazing. Then we  have free time for the rest of the evening. Some days we play Bananagrams, watch movies, or  buy sodas from the “convenience store” outside the house. The kids keep us entertained and make us feel at home. Or we can opt to take a walk to the local town (as we did tonight). Continue reading “March 14th – Dance Off”

March 11th – Gators

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11 March 2017

It felt like we spent longer at the resort than we did the previous time there. It was extra special too because Victoria, Isaac, and Dorthy (the children who we are living with) came with us! I think they’re the funniest children I’ve ever met, and despite not being able to swim, they kept up with the best of us in their pink and lime green floaties. Isaac even decided he was a strong enough swimmer to hit the waves which caused a little bit of anxiety with the adults. There was a nasty undercurrent, hidden rocks and waves bigger than any of us. Despite all that, it was beautiful and the water was quite warm (though the pool was my preference). Continue reading “March 11th – Gators”

March 9th – Stella’s Day

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Stella

9 March 2017

Today was an interesting day… I acquired a new shadow in the form of an elementary schooler named Stella. She waits for me when I arrive in the morning and during recess! Her presence makes me miss home less, that smile, her eyes and especially her hugs…what more could I ask for?  Though Stella and the younger kids at Heritage don’t have a grasp on English just yet, we seem to be communicating just fine. We talk through hugs and waves and giggles and by holding hands. The kids at Heritage have me totally smitten. They’re insanely polite and friendly and are always trying to make you laugh. Elementary schoolers, universally, are the best. Continue reading “March 9th – Stella’s Day”

March 7- Market Day

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7 March 2017

Hiking in near a hundred degree weather is an experience… especially when you’re walking uphill through a jungle with seven suspension bridges as your destination. Alas, I soldiered on and climbed that mountain and conquered those bridges. It was probably the coolest thing that I’ve ever done. The whole experience was made even better as the entirety of Kakum National Park was full of students on field trips. Today was a school holiday apparently, and we the lone tourists, didn’t seem to grasp what a holiday meant. It was crowded!

Other than the breathtaking views, and the terrified shrieks of my friend Mercedes (who is massively afraid of heights and has been renamed Scared Woman by the girl we’re staying with, Vic), my favorite part of the day was when a tiny class of elementary schoolers came up to us and asked for pictures. We hung out with them for probably ten minutes and took pictures individually with each of the girls. We even took a full group selfie with the girls and their teacher. Ugh, they were so sweet and so so adorable.

We also went shopping today which was magical. My wallet full of newly exchanged Ghanaian money was burning a hole in my pocket. I got sooooo much stuff and negotiated some killer deals (shout out to Katie for being a total animal and negotiating a guy down from 120 cede to 60 cede). My favorite buys of the day had to be these tiny stuffed elephants made of bright boutique fabric (I believe it’s called boutique at least, I vaguely remember Kwesi calling the handmade fabric that) that could be cuddled with or propped on a shelf. They were so cute that I had to buy two. Oh and we’re going to the market  again tomorrow!! But this time, for fabric, not trinkets. We’re getting dresses custom made by Sister Sarah.

Much love,

Rachel