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.)

Ghana was so refreshing because it gave me a break from the fast pace that I was used to and allowed me to be in the moment. My phone wasn’t in my hand 24/7. I didn’t feel the need to be texting or on social media. I was aware of the world around me and wasn’t so focused on the tiny world inside my phone. It reminded me a bit of being a kid when there was no phone or people to impress. It was amazing!

The kids are genuinely happy and thankful for what they have despite it being nothing by our standards. They are grateful for the little things, food, clothing and a chance at education. It was amazing to walk into town to Jimmy Com, a small restaurant bar and local dance place. They welcomed us, we felt safe and respected. We were able to see where some the kids lived and also meet their families.

We met one girl from Heritage Academy who walked 5 miles to school starting in pre k. Heritage has since started a bus route. When I try to visualize a preschooler walking on the side of the rode it reinforces to me what we take for granted. The children we met didn’t want things from us. They were curious and happy to spend time with us and thankful we came to teach them and get to know them.

It’s amazing that maybe they have it figured out. It sort of gave me a glimpse or took me back to see vaguely what it was like in the old days before internet and the wired world. Back when playing, talking and being in the moment was life. Hopefully, I will be able to keep a part of that with me as I go through life.


The people of Ghana and the kids especially taught me more than I could of ever taught them and for that I’m thankful. Kwesi and Westtown gave me an experience that will never leave me. The kids gave me unconditional love, affection and a renewed hope in society.

They have a word for foreigners, Obruni, and despite the Obruni’s being different from them, they’ are welcomed and embraced fully.

It felt so freeing to be in a place where life wasn’t self-oriented. Everything was inclusive and group centered (even the meals).

Our county could learn a lot from this tiny village in Ghana. I wish others could have the chance to experience it. The kids in Ghana made me realize its the little things and moments that make you happy. They were also amazing at giving hugs and I miss that too. To them photographs and pictures are truly treasured and I’m thankful because I have so many pictures to remind me of this wonderful Village.

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.

kids 2


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.

kids 3


This is a trip that I will undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life time.


Philly here I come!



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.

foundation 2

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.


foundation 4Overall, I am very excited to work with these wonderful kids. These children could have been exposed to an extremely chaotic lifestyle, but thanks to Hogar San Mauricio, they now have a safe place to call home.


Until next time!



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.

cathedral 5

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.Salt Cathedral 2


As we began our return to the surface, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by an immense feeling of gratitude. Never in my life have I seen something so strikingly beautiful. It truly seemed that every detail within the mine carried some sort of meaning, whether it was spiritual or factual. I know that this will be an experience that I will never forget.

cathedral 4

This is a photo of Juliana’s family and I, whom I am also very grateful for. They are simply the most patient translators an amateur Spanish-speaker could ask for.

That is all for now!




do O.R. die!

3 March 2017

In two days, I will scrub up for the first time. In line with me at the sink will be medical interns, doctors, anesthesiologists, and other professionals. These medical professionals have an unthinkable amount of experience in their fields, more experience than a naive high-schooler like me can fathom. Once we step into the operating room (hence the O.R. mentioned in the title of this post), however, we are all equal in our pursuit to prolong the life of the body in front of us.

For my Senior Project, I will be shadowing a pediatric surgeon at the DuPont Children’s Hospital. She will be on call, which means any medical emergency (at any hour in the day or night) will be placed at her hands. Through this experience, I hope to learn more about what it takes to be a surgeon. While most of the knowledge I gain will be through the practical application of surgery, some of it will be more intimate. Since most surgeons develop a deep understanding of the relationship between life and death, I hope to reflect on how to deal with these final moments as well.

I’ll be starting this Monday, so if you’re not too queasy, feel free to check out my blog posts starting then!

-Lili Ladner, O.R. mini-intern

Who Am I and Where Am I Going?

Hello Everyone!

My name is Julia Pavlov, a senior at The Westtown School and from the small town of Royersford, Pennsylvania. On Thursday, March 9th I will embark on a lengthy and treacherous journey to a land unknown, or in other words, I will be making the five and a half hour flight to Bogotá, Colombia. After I arrive I will begin my work with a foundation named Hogar San Mauricio, where I will be working with young children. My jobs at this organization may vary from helping care for the children to teaching them basic English-speaking skills. In addition to this, I will also be observing the Colombian way of life. Unfortunately there is a massive amount of negative rhetoric surrounding this country and I really want to prove these assumptions wrong. I would hate to go on this adventure alone, so if you like, stay tuned for updates!

That’s all for now and thanks for reading!


Riddle’s Elephant Sanctuary

March 1, 2017

After years of hearing about how amazing my cousins Elephant Sanctuary in Quitman, Arkansas, was from my father and uncle, this Friday I will finally get to observe it for myself. Earlier this year I became in contact with my cousins, asking if they could spare two spots for my friend and I to come and intern there for two weeks. Luckily, they had some extra room and the plans were finalized.

I saw this opportunity to work with elephants as a way for me to do things that I really love- working with animals and the study of the brain. Elephants have some of the best memories in the animal kingdom, and as someone who is interested in neuroscience I saw this as a perfect time to learn from them. Although there may be other research projects going on at the time that I might be a part of, I hope to observe and work with the elephants and do some basic research myself. When I come back from this project I hope to have a greater insight on the habits of elephants and the responsibility that comes along with caring for such a large creature.

Jesse Strommer


5 days, 34 shows

After attending SXSW, I reflected on my experience a lot. I thought about what it meant for me personally and me as a music blogger. My biggest takeaway from the festival was that music is the biggest connection that we share with other people. My experience at SXSW was completely different from any other musical event  I’ve attended. The crowd and the artists were much more accessible, relatable, and humble than I’m used to. Since the majority of concerts I go to are in Philadelphia or New York City, I’m used to a certain type of audience. Here, the audience and artists are usually unresponsive and just there to perform or listen. SXSW had a completely different vibe where people were willing to bond over the music and actually talk to each other. I met so many people that were super kind and open and it was all because of music. SXSW is really incredible because it brings so many people from all over the world come together for a few days of music. It didn’t matter where people came from, what they looked like, what presidential candidate they wanted to vote  for. In a time where everyone is divided and categorized, music still has the power to unite everyone. SXSW encouraged me to continue finding ways to connect with others through music.

As a music blogger, I was amazed by the talent that I saw. There were so many artists showcasing tons of genres over the 5 days. It was impossible to get to every concert, but I was very happy with the 34 bands I did see. I was assigned to write a ‘8 best discoveries’ piece after SXSW, which is exactly what I did. It was surprisingly difficult to narrow down my list to 8 artists, but I wrote the article pretty easily after that. It is up now and it can be read here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Austin and I will always keep it in the back of my mind as I continue my love of music and my music blogging. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to experience SXSW and I’ll definitely try to go back.

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -Stephen Hawking

I did not want to come to Israel initially.  

Israel is often discussed in the context of the occupation, Gaza wars, and violence of the IDF.  Westtown is pro-Palestine, as most Quakers choose the side of the underdog.  During the two weeks I spent studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earlier this winter, I read many articles scrutinizing Israel and uplifting the Palestinian voice.  When the Jewish Student Union brought a speaker from the Anti-Defamation League to speak on anti-Semitism, the Jewish students asked her to speak about the anti-Israel movement prevalent on college campuses, because we felt to ignore it would not address the elephant in the room.  I did not want to come to Israel because I felt extremely conflicted.  I would read one article saying the IDF is a moral military and is always on the defensive side, and then watch a video of an Israeli soldier denying an elderly woman access into Israel to get the medicine she cannot get in the West Bank.

To me, being Jewish means being a good person even in the most difficult situations.  Every Shabbat we read from our prayer book, “When you come across a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it.  It shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow–in order that God may bless you in all your undertakings [Deut. 24.19] Happy are those who consider the poor [Psalm 41.2] May we together with all our people respond to the needs of others, from the fruits of our harvest this week, we share with others.  And so we gain blessings, our lives have meaning, our lives have love.”  Being Jewish means tzedaka, always giving back and helping those who cannot help themselves.  The most charitable people I know are Jewish:  my grandparents; aunts; cousins – every one of them does what they can for the betterment of others.  Wherever I find myself in the world, be that Paris, Cuba, or India, I have found a community amongst Jews.

Among all Jews is an understanding of suffering, persecution, and oppression.  Our holidays celebrate victories – with Chanukah, the victory over the Greeks, with Purim, the fall of the evil Haman, and, most importantly, Passover and the exodus from slavery in Egypt.   But our suffering is not ancient, as every Jew feels the tragedies of the Holocaust when the world turned a blind eye while Hitler ordered the systematic deaths of six million Jews in Europe.  I do not know of any other group of people that has faced as much hatred for as long as it has existed.

If this is Judaism, then this should be the Jewish state.

I didn’t want to come to Israel, yet here I am.  I wanted to live as a Jew but I wanted to be separate from the State of Israel.  The separation was more comfortable than accepting the reality.  After 18 days of touring the country and meeting many people working for the advancement of Israeli life, I see that the reality is far from the dream of Eretz Yisrael.  I have a choice – I can go back to America and forget the stories of the people here.  I can be a good American Jew, read JPost, support Israel without question, do a Birthright trip, and turn a blind eye to the injustice.  But if you know me, you know I cannot do that.

I believe the future of Jews is intertwined with the future of the Jewish State.  My future will reflect Israel.  Jews believe that life is full of tests from God.  I believe that our relationship with Palestinians is our current test.

After living here for 3 weeks, I am less confused but more conflicted.  I feel like I can argue both sides of the conflict.  On the one hand, Israel needs to be safe.  There cannot be stabbings and bombs going off on a regular basis.  It not only kills innocent people, it also perpetuates a culture of fear.  When Israelis hear that Palestinian children read books in school calling Jews rats, it evokes memories of the Holocaust, when German children were taught Jews were like rats and Hitler used pesticides to exterminate millions in gas chambers.  When I asked an Israeli what he thought of the IDF, he looked confused. “What do you mean ‘what do I think’? There is nothing to think about, it is a must. There is nothing to question, it must exist if we are to exist. The IDF does what it needs to do to protect the citizens of Israel against people who detest us.”  

But if a Palestinian mother loses her son when he is shot by an IDF soldier, she will hate the soldier who shot him and the country the soldier shot him for.  In effect, she will hate Israel- the Jewish state.  So on the other hand, the majority of Palestinians do not hate Jews; they just want to exist in peace and have freedom, but can not because of extremist groups that perpetuate fear.  Animosity grows every day under the occupation.  

I have come to see corruption in both governments and believe they lack the leadership and courage to bring peace.  Some say there has been no effort to make peace.  Some say treaties and negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been created but are not being honored. Unlike many who feel truth lies between extremes, I believe it lies in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone seems to have their eyes on Israel and the more eyes that are on Israel, the more truths there are.  

As outsiders, we choose to see the side that enforces what we already believe, which is why it is so hard to see the truth in the other side.  It has become clear to me, however,  that there is always another explanation as to why things are the way they are.  Yet, suffering has no boundaries, politics, or religion.  

I can spend hours fighting both sides in my mind, reading articles, watching videos, and praying for peace.  I do not choose to retreat in the face of suffering but I do not know what I am supposed to do to; I have a feeling it will become clear when the time is right.  As a Jew, it is my responsibility to manifest the Jewish state, a state in which Judaism exists in its true form:  love of all humanity.  Religion, like everything, can be a force of evil.  Yet I have seen spiritual leaders use religion as the greatest force of good.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Israel is not the only place with injustice.  My Dad once said “history does not repeat itself, it rhymes,” and I am slowly understanding what he means.

I do not walk away from this trip with bold assertions about what needs to happen for there to be peace, nor with a firm grasp of everything that already is happening, for that would be naive.  I will not speak on behalf of all Jews everywhere nor will I speak on behalf of Israel to people who want to start arguments or people who believe they understand everything.  I will, however, continue to learn and to listen because I choose to be invested in the wellbeing of the state of my people.

I know when I go home distance will make it easy for me to forget the sense of community I feel here.  All I  will have are pictures and memories of the breathtaking nature and the kindhearted people.  I did not want to come to Israel, but things have a funny way of working out.  Now, I do not want to leave.





P.S. I wrote this post during my last few days in Israel but did not have time to edit it. I am home now.


March 23, 2016

It’s hard to believe, but my time in Hawaii has come to an end. Tomorrow, I will board a plane and leave this place, and it’s possible that I will never return. If that sounds overdramatic then I would say you’ve never visited these beautiful islands. You’ve never felt the tug of your soul as you looked at a calendar and realized you had to leave a place that is like no other. IMG_0785.JPG While I was here, I had the unique privilege of being a tourist, but experiencing these islands how the locals do. I arrived with an itinerary that I was eager to fulfill, but when I reviewed it with my host, I was politely told that we wouldn’t be doing much of what was on my list. Needless to say, I was very disappointed, but I would soon learn that I was also naive. He explained to me that there are two Hawaii’s. There is the Hawaii that is sold by travel agencies and souvenir shops, this version is manufactured to be beautiful and memorable, but lacks grit and authenticity, and then there’s the real Hawaii. The real Hawaii could never be described with pen and paper – it’s a sensation.IMG_0188 copy.jpg It’s a heartbeat that resonates through the land and the existence of the people that call it home. It’s a secret to the passerby and hides under the blanket of lush greens and easily attained exhilarations, revealing her self only to those who are daring enough to walk at her pace. This island is alive. She exploded from the ocean floor over 40 millions years ago.  With violent force, she came into existence and gave home to ancient civilizations. She offers the best mother nature has to offer: forests full of wild fruit, clear emerald blue waters, towering ridgelines and a race of people that have founded a culture based on a concept of love and hospitality.  Hawaii is not a vacation, it’s a life changing experience. It’s a place of fairy tales and mind-numbing beauty.IMG_0775.JPG If you ever get the chance to come to one of these amazing islands, don’t get caught up in the tourist traps, don’t go to trip advisor and look for things to do. Buy yourself a map of the island, rent a jeep and explore the real Hawaii. The land the locals are lucky enough to call home.

Aloha, Maddie IMG_0787.JPG