Pulling Out Weeds

Our train from Wilmington arrived in Washington D.C at 11am today. We walked eight blocks from Union Station to our hostel, heavy suitcases rolling behind and bags weighing down our shoulders. As soon as we arrived, Brad – the place owner- greeted us with a smile. William Penn House is not just a lovely and cozy community home tucked in a corner of Capitol Hill, the economic and political center of District of Columbia. It is also a Quaker hospitality center that sponsors programs and seminars on social justice and community service, targeting issues at the heart of Quaker values such as social and economic justice, sustainability and community building. Through the William Penn House network, our groups will connect with many non-profit organizations that address these concerns. Today, we spent a chunk of our time getting acquainted with two of them: Groundwork Anacostia and Capitol Hill Village.

Groundwork Anacostia DC- also called “the center for green urbanism” – is a part of Groundwork USA, a non-profit organization that works to renovate public lands through sustainable environment care and enhancement. Their hands-on programs have made tremendous improvements in the area’s landscape, fostering a much safer and healthier environment for the community. Groundwork reminds me of  another “green” NGO founded by Majora Carter  (she was a Shoemaker at Westtown last fall if you remember) called “Sustainable South Bronx” where she started green-collar job training programs that get workers out of their underemployment status, an approach that pairs together economic and environmental solutions. Even though they differ in their approach and vision, Groundwork also aims at building and improving community through tackling environmental issues.

Capitol Hill Village is a non-profit organization that takes advantage of volunteers in order to provide senior citizens the means to live comfortably in their own homes as they grow older. Today we helped clear out the weed-covered path in front of Capitol Hill Village building. As we raked through the dead leaves, the brown surface was gradually replaced with green shrubs. Little by little, our minds are also transforming, filling themselves with new realizations and understanding of the world around us.

During two weeks, how many “weeds” from our mind could we get rid of and replace them with budding life?


It’s Only The Beginning

Kim Lien came into my life during the summer of 2008. She is two years older, but six inches smaller and fifteen pounds lighter than me. Lien can neither hear nor talk, but she has the biggest smile on her face. I met her while volunteering to teach homeless children how to read and write at a community center on the outskirts of Saigon. I was the “teacher”, yet she taught me to listen and showed me what it means to live life passionately despite circumstances. Meeting her has inspired me to get involved more deeply with service. And since then I have been a part of Ho Chi Minh City Red Cross, working with orphans, handicapped children, homeless people, and low-income families living in slums. The spurt of economic growth in recent years have widened the already gigantic income gap between the rich and poor and made Saigon needier than ever.

In 2010, I was whizzed off to a foreign land for the first time in my life. More opportunities of what I could do awaited me. As I was exploring new options, I found myself engaging in everything but service, from singing and dancing in a musical to climbing trees on the ropes course. I was learning new skills and challenging myself in many ways, yet something was missing. I need to feel that sense of human connection through giving and receiving again. I miss the feeling of putting another person at the center of focus, step back down from the usual  “I” chanting, and let he/she teaches me about life.

Therefore, when the question of what to do for my senior project arose, I knew immediately what I wanted to do: the school-sponsored service trip to Washington D.C. In less than twenty hours, I along with six of my classmates will be at the nation’s capital for two weeks. We will stay at William Penn House and work with different service organizations in the District of Columbia.

Stay tuned!

– Trân