LearnServe Paraguay 2017: Final Thoughts (7/14)

So, I was the first person to blog about this trip to Paraguay, and now the trip has ended and I’ll share some final thoughts.

I started off this trip with fear, passion, and excitement. And now I am ending this trip with those same feelings.

First, my fears. Well, if I told you all of them you might never want to leave your house. So, I will tell you a few. One of my biggest fears was being kidnapped and sold to rival gangs for organ use. I just saw “Get Out,” and I felt like this trip was way too good to be true. I thought they were going to kill me and send another Avery back home. That’s one of my silly fears. 

But my true traditional fear was just like everybody else’s. Fear of being away–not from my mom, but away from the United States in a foreign country that doesn’t like the United States. I was away from the protection and benefits awarded for being a US citizen. But Paraguay eased all of those fears because of the passion and the love I was shown from all parts of the country. People smiling, waving, saying hi. And the care, kindness and acceptance from my host family–especially from host brother, Juan–alleviated all my fears and destroyed the stereotypes I had of this unknown country.

I have done so much in Paraguay in such a short period of time. It truly destroys me that this time has ended. I will never forget my time in Tobati and Santa Rosalia, Asunción, Santa Ana and all of the other places we visited in Paraguay. I will never forget all that I have learned from Domingo, a social entrepreneur, community leader, an innovator and motivator. I won’t forget the passion and selflessness shown by Po, a social business that creates inexpensive prosthetic hands for those without hands or fingers. Po is incubated by a larger social business called Koga.

I especially won’t forget Santa Ana/Tobati. All my fears coming into this trip stemmed from the homestay there. What would it be like? Would they like me? Would be able to communicate with one other? Would they truly accept me? And, well, they did, but who wouldn’t? These experiences shaped me in a way I won’t realize until I set foot back into Washington, DC. Back in the land of seeding social innovators.

I want to take my experiences from Paraguay and do something with them. I want to teach. I want to inspire. I want to change my city.

Avery W., Thurgood Marshall Academy

LearnServe Teacher’s Blog: Final Thoughts from South Africa (7/14)

What’s next? Where do we go from here?

I am pleased to report that we are all back safe and sound in the USA!  Our 16/17-day journey in South Africa has come to a close and we now must answer the question, “So, what now?”

I am sure my EME crew is off reconnecting with favorite foods, family, and friends.  But, I am also sure that many of them are/will be wrestling with the question of what to do next.  It’s a difficult question to answer.  After such an amazing international adventure with so many new and exciting experiences, it’s hard to keep it all in perspective. As we said our farewells to our South African hosts at the airport in JoBurg on Tuesday,  I started to feel sad.  Not sad that we were returning home to our loved-ones, but sad that we had to leave our new friends and experiences behind.  But, I tried my best to hold my feelings in check before my students started to clown me since they already think I’m too emotional!

In any event, I quickly remembered as I said farewell to each of our 14 guys in front of Eastern, that I already know part of the answer.  What we must do now is keep the fire burning! LearnServe EME South Africa was not about a one time trip to Africa.  It was not a summer vacation destination.  It was just one more step in our journey as a collaborative to empower our young men with the tools and experiences they need to be successful in their college, career and life pursuits.  Being reminded of that goal keeps me smiling and keeps me going.  I see how this experience has opened eyes and doors for our young men.  I also see how we now have the power to connect with more young men and women, at Eastern, to share what we experienced and how they too can get in on the action!

So, I would like to leave you with some of my favorite moments from the trip.  The purpose of these highlights is not for us to just re-live the moments, but to cherish them and spread the word to others.  This trip lives on in how we choose to remember it and how we choose to share with those we care about.  It is through these connections that we can begin to think about ways of creating more opportunities for experiential travel for our students of color at Eastern and throughout the District.  Thank you to all who have reached out with words of encouragement and appreciation for these reflections.  They are my way of unpacking all of my personal thoughts about our experiences and I’m glad that so many of you have enjoyed reading them!

Hats off again to the Empowering Males of Color Initiative and LearnServe International for making the last few months possible.  We are only beginning to see the fruits of the seeds that have been planted, but I am confident that the best is yet to come.

My Top 17 Moments (14 Students and 3 Chaperones=17 Great Days and Moments to Celebrate)!

  1. ​​Family Send-Off at Eastern on June 25th Departure Day.  Why in the world is this one of my great moments? Because the pure joy and excitement that I saw on each student’s face was…priceless!  I mean, these guys all looked like my 5 year old son getting ready for his first big birthday party.  It just felt good seeing parents and guardians, siblings, family members, and school officials, hugging and high-fiving each other–some even wiping away tears–all anxiously hoping that the trip would be safe, fun, and a success…it was 🙂  That day showed me that we all “got it.”  We all recognized that this was a big deal and we weren’t taking it for granted. We have to find a way to bottle up all that love and excitement and carry that with us each day to class and/or to work, and within all of our daily responsibilities.
  2. ​Naturena Day with City Year.  ​Our day-long work with City Year at Naturena primary school left a big impression on all involved.  We engaged in great dialogue with students in grades K-7, as well as with school officials.  While I was moved by the ongoing debate about the role of language in education, many of our students were struck by how motivated, gifted, and joyful the students appeared to be despite any personal challenges they may have had.   My hope:  that passion and joy for education will travel back with our EME guys to Eastern and the District, starting a new level of interest in the pursuit of knowledge.
  3. The Homestead Revitalization Project at Grassroots CYCC. Our Homestead work as highlighted in my Day 11-12 reflections, was a great example of community building and youth leadership in action.  As I mentioned before, there was something beautiful about seeing young minds wrestle with what would be worthwhile and sustainable to create in a community.  In the end, we created a space that everyone was proud to be associated with.  It was powerful and inspiring.  My wish:  each EME student will use the Homestead experience to really think critically in the coming weeks about what they can create and implement right here in DC that will be worthwhile and sustainable for the people who need it the most.
  4. ​Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) Gumboot Dance Tribute.  I JUST LOVED THIS!  I mentioned this moment in my Day 3 reflection, but haven’t been able to share the full video until now.  Check out the full 20 minute performance of our great friends in Kliptown through the following special google link (https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ro38E5IVVOdbSLMu2).  You can fast forward to minute 13 to see where some of our brave EME students joined in to show a few dance moves of their own!  I saw a number of our EME students come out of their shell and truly connect with the people of Kliptown, even from some of our guys that are usually too “hard” to smile, to see them dancing and laughing and playing, was quite special.  I hope you enjoy the full video link.  It is now also available through our master google photo link.
  5. ​One-on-One Check-Ins/Chat Sessions with EME Students.  This trip gave me an opportunity to get to understand each of my students a bit more.  Some of them, I have never taught, and so I only knew them through our regular mentoring sessions and activities.  This round-the-clock, 2-week plus trip allowed us to connect on another level.  The dreams and aspirations of our young men need to be understood, celebrated and cherished.  AND, our young men also need to be confronted and challenged, honestly and lovingly, in areas where they need to grow.  Courtney, Ginea, and I were intentional in checking in with each EME student, sometimes one-on-one and other times in small groups, all to reflect on the socio-emotional well being of the student and to challenge each student on how they were performing during the trip.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to connect with each young man and look forward to working with them as they grow, graduate, and excel in life.
  6. ​Birthday Celebrations for Zac and Devon.  Zac and Devon are alike and different in many ways.  The diverse nature of our students was shown throughout the trip, but one thing that remained constant was their sense of brotherhood.  I was honored to be able to share birthdays with both of them during our trip.  On both days, it was refreshing to see how all the guys genuinely wanted to make sure that their fellow brother had a great birthday.  We have to find a way to ensure that this brotherhood continues throughout the school year and that it becomes infectious throughout the larger student body! https://goo.gl/photos/nfz1tux97DdZU17k7 ​and https://photos.app.goo.gl/u9HnXRRnYazBE22l1
  7. ​Dinner with Kim and Corwin.  All smiles during my “ear-hustling” moments at the Friday night dinner where I heard students excitedly reaching for their business cards (completely unprompted by anyone) and sharing it with our dinner hosts.  When Kim yelled across the room, “Look Corwin, they each have business cards!”,  I silently beamed and shouted within.  I’m confident that our students will remain in touch with many of the people they encountered in South Africa and I look forward to hearing amazing updates from each of them.
  8. ​Table Mountain Day.  Table Mountain was a tough journey for most of us, but it was also a triumphant one. Many of my guys were upset going down the mountain because it was longer and more difficult, but we all made it through. Soon thereafter, most were celebrating their achievements and the difficulties were no longer overshadowing the big feat.  I hope the challenge of Table Mountain serves as a useful metaphor for each of our students in school, career, and life in general.
  9. ​Safari.  I already told each of you what made my Safari experience complete was my giraffe encounter!  But, what also stood out about my guys during the 2-day Safari was how resilient our guys are.  They battled through the unusually cold temperatures and even  a power outage to find a way to enjoy themselves.  That resiliency is a skill that we too often overlook, but that needs to be brought out during moments of trauma, crisis, and just daily disappointments.  I hope that I as a mentor and the rest of our students’ support network find new and creative ways to help our students become independent, resilient and consistent.
  10. ​Meeting Huddles.  I can admit to the guys now…our meeting times were intense!  We met almost every morning, afternoon, or night to discuss serious topics about race, gender, class, and division, with some meetings going on for almost 2 hours.  We analyzed texts, wrote journal reflections, invited debate, and shared personal moments.  That’s a lot to ask of young men on any day, but particularly tough during the summer while away on an abroad trip.  I wouldn’t change it for the world, though!  I saw true growth from our students during our huddle times and each meeting forced us to reflect on our experiences in country as well at home in a way that could never be accomplished from merely sitting in classroom with a textbook.  I thank each EME student for engaging during our huddle times and challenge each student to find their own space to reflect and explore the way we did in South Africa.
  11. ​EME Chats with Women and About Women.  It’s worth noting something that I have not explicitly spoken on before.  We had 14 young men, traveling with one man and two women.  Boy, was that interesting :).  Without going into details or breaking confidences, this provided for quite an enriching experience.  It helped to remind me the importance of dialogue when raising our young people and how too often many discussions go left unsaid. Shout out to Ginea and Courtney for being present and engaged with each of our young men, AND for pushing our students to think critically about the language we use when communicating with each other, and how better to communicate within and among the sexes.  More dialogue among the sexes is needed as we seek to produce Men and Women of Excellence.
  12. ​Favorite Food.  So, it’s no surprise by now that I like (read: LOVE) to eat!  I enjoyed trying new meals with my EME guys and seeing their faces when they liked (or not) what they received.  In the end, most of what we loved, wasn’t too different than what we could get in the United States, but when we loved something, we went above and beyond to get multiple rounds of it :).  Trying new things was a teachable moment for many of our guys and I’m glad that they rose to the occasion instead of starving for two weeks!  Here are a few of the food items that left the biggest impression with us:  “Pop,” in all its forms; Amagwynya (fried dough/bread); Braai (South African bbq); BGR’s American burger in JoBurg; RocoMama Milkshakes (the guys were truly addicted to these); and Malva Pudding (a popular South African dessert that made me gain 5 pounds).
  13. Favorite Destinations.  ​There are too many to list here, but I do want to highlight a category of destinations that I surprisingly really enjoyed.  I loved our time at the museums (Hector Pieterson, Nelson Mandela, Dompass, District 6, and Robben Island), even though I don’t usually enjoy museums!  These museums were so well done in telling us a story and in each case we had excellent tour guides that really gave us first hand accounts of experiences that were difficult to re-live.  My prayer is that we find a way to teach history so that it becomes living history that our students feel connected and empowered by.
  14. Homestays.  I can’t imagine doing a student study-abroad experience without a homestay.  So glad that our homestay period was a success and appreciated the feedback we received from students on how to make the experience even more enjoyable for future travelers in the coming years.  Seeing how our guys really connected with their “mamas” and other homestay family was a joy to see.  That period of time was invaluable because it showed a side of South Africa that we could not receive in any other way.
  15. ​LearnServe Student Blogs.  If you have not already, please check out our student blog reflections that have been posted on LearnServe International’s website:  http://learn-serve.org/blog/south-africa .  All 14 of our guys were assigned their very own personal reflection day and we were genuinely pleased with the results. We have been encouraging our young men to pause and reflect on their experiences while abroad, but more importantly, in life in general.  I won’t lie, many students hate the writing process, but I’m confident that they will be stronger writers and more critical thinkers, because of it!
  16. ​Oh, the Pictures.  As a reminder, this link has pictures AND videos from ALL of our days in South Africa: https://goo.gl/photos/2S9GS5pHLF7cMmUKA.  Some cover the big moments, others just capture our silly sides and random photo shoot sessions!  lol  Whenever in need of a smile or some motivation, take a look at these photos and you will be fired up/ready to go!
  17. Upcoming LearnServe Abroad Meetings and Student Presentations.  The work has only just begun!  Our students still have post-trip meetings they will have to complete before their official “LearnServe Study Abroad Graduation” in October.  During the next few months, I challenge each of you to check in with our EME team to see how they are doing.  How will each EME leader present their experience to their peers, school leaders, and district officials?  What sustainable social change initiatives will each EME leader create within DC? I can’t wait to see what each of our young men do in the coming months and I look forward to sharing the details with you all in the weeks and months ahead.

Again, I thank you for listening ear over the last few weeks and hope that together we have sparked something new and sustainable that infects the lives of many more.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or are in need.

All the Best,

Ivan C. Douglas Jr.
Law Programs Teacher
Program Director
Empowering Males of Color Initiative
Eastern High School


LearnServe Paraguay 2017: Andrenae’s Words of Wisdom (7/13)

This was one of the best trips I have ever been on. I got to have fun as well as experience several things that will change my life forever. On this trip, we planted trees, went hiking, stayed with host families, and explored shantytowns as well as the “Uptown or Northside” aspects of Paraguay which consist of museums, big malls, big stores and streets with lots of lights. We fell in mud holes, but lastly, and most importantly, we made huge impacts on people’s lives (in their homes and their businesses).

Before coming to Paraguay I had a certain mindset that was made by the people around me. My friends and family were telling me to be careful with the people in Paraguay and to watch my bags so people wouldn’t snatch them (the basic awareness of my surroundings), but the perspectives my friends and family had on Paraguay were definitely wrong. If you actually spend time in Paraguay and get to know Paraguayan culture and communities, you will see that people are loving, caring, and shows selfless characteristics under many different circumstances.

During our last week, my group spent time decorating a pre-school. It might sound simple, but I assure you it isn’t. Hard work, time, patience and a little grit were definitely needed to make the project successful. In 5 days we put together something so beautiful that now gives the kids an open space to play, relax, and enjoy their school in more ways than just through academic learning.

We also participated with a group called Partidi which used fútbol (or soccer, as we call it in the United States) to interact with kids and develop their social and emotional health.

My group recently had a debate about whether or not Washington, DC has the same connections, programs, or genuineness as Paraguay. Here’s my opinion. What causes you to say Washington, DC doesn’t have what Paraguay has? I feel compassion from a lot of people with whom I interact, whether it’s at school, in my community, or just with strangers. My school and community have a ton of programs that children can participate in and, I can’t speak for anyone else, but my family definitely has a good culture. People tend to assume and judge everything just by one glance. But if you haven’t opened up your thoughts, your heart, and your mind to new people as well as new things, you will never fully experience the opportunities, whether far (like in Paraguay) or near (in the DMV) given to you.

I’m guessing you thought that was the end of my blog, right!? But I still have so much to say so continue with me.

One thing I learned on this trip is that background doesn’t make you, life does. Creating your own path in life makes you unique. When the time comes for you to make a decision about what you want to do with your life, you’re going to have so many thoughts going through your mind. Often your opinions and perceptions about things are based on something you may have seen on TV or read in a book or heard from a loved one, and you’ll decide not to do something because of a negative thought. But don’t let those ideas hold you back. Try that something new! And then try more things! And don’t stop. You may have read my blog to try something new, and I’ll just say it feels amazing because as I’m in the middle of typing it I feel amazing, so you should too!

I’m just about done so bear with me for a little longer. I’m sitting on the plane and to the right of me is Grace and to the left is a complete stranger. I am sitting here and thinking about this circumstance, and I decide to make a new friend and start a conversation with the stranger. But it’s not just any old conversation… it’s a conversation in Spanish! And just a heads up… I don’t know Spanish. But I made it work and, to my surprise, she knew English. It all worked out great. It’s kinda weird though because we didn’t really talk about us. We ended at watching the exact same movie at the exact same time so we were laughing and spoiling the movie for each other. Life has a funny way of showing you things, and I’m glad about that. I can’t wait for the plane to land so that I can share all of these things with you guys, as well as my family and friends. Thank you for listening (and reading) and I hope you enjoyed my post.

Andrenae B., Ballou High School

LearnServe Jamaica 2017: Oneesha and Breunna (6/26)

Hello my name is Vonyae and I have volunteered to do the blog for day 2. Yesterday was my first time getting on a plane. I was very excited and anxious.
Also that was a big travel day for us. We had to get on two planes to get to Jamaica, but we did it!

Today was very interesting. We walked up to Euton’s house (the Blue Mountain Program Manager), and we discussed whether we wanted to go to the farm or to the school. Today I chose to attend the school where there were 3-4 year-olds and 5-6 year-olds in one room separated by a board. I was able to experience the ways they learn, as well as different songs and games the sing and play. One familiar song they sang to us was “Yes Jesus Loves for Me.” They also sang us their welcome song and greeting song, and sung the alphabet.

Talking with the younger kids was a little difficult, but they joined in with the 5-6 year olds when playing musical chairs. The kids who stood out the most to me were Oneesha and Breunna. They both were in the 3-4 year old group. Oneesha didn’t talk as much, but she was very outgoing and it looked like she wanted to say things so I began to ask her questions.

“Hey Oneesha how was your walk to school today”? I asked her

“Good, I like walking” she said very eagerly.

Talking with Breunna was a little different. She told me that she didn’t like her walk as much she liked to have rides to school. The walk to the school was very interesting but difficult for me and some of my peers because we aren’t as accustomed or adapted to walking up the rocky dirt paths.

In the end when we left the school and went back to Euton’s home, we rested and he took us to Jah B’s place. Jah B is an coffee farmer, and he has a nice house people can rent out and stay up in the Blue Mountains. When I was at Jah B’s place me and my friend Dasani asked Tiger (a local) a few questions pertaining to the sugar cane that he had. He gave us some of the sugar cane. It was my very first time trying it, and I really enjoyed it. Today was a great day, and I can’t wait to see what Euton and the Blue Mountains have left in store for us!

Vonyae W., E.L. Haynes

LearnServe Jamaica 2017: Fourth of July at St. Anthony Mary’s (7/4)

It’s the 4th of July, it’s finally here, but I’m spending it a little differently last 4th of July. I never had in mind that I would be spending 2017 4th of July in Jamaica with a bunch of people I don’t know. I mean, it’s something different, and it’s a new experience. I’m spending the 4th of July with the girls at St. Anthony Mary’s child mission home for teen moms. At first I didn’t really care about it until I walked into their home and their faces lit up with smiles. At that point I knew that I wasn’t here just for me. I helped set up their volleyball net and was able to teach them some of the basic moves. I felt good at this because back in Washington, DC I’m one of the people who helped set up the net at my school, and I help to teach new players volleyball techniques.

From that point I let the girls put their own style into it and it turned out nice. Just being in that moment put a smile on my face because I knew I was helping someone else. While at the mission home today I enjoyed different types of food like “Jerk Chicken” and “Ackee.” You know, things I don’t usually eat at home. It was a wonderful experience. I’m bringing back strength as a person. While here today I learned that I can be of help to people. I can go around and help others without people looking. I will bring back responsibility and learn how to make others feel comfortable, not just myself.

Shadae M., E.L. Haynes

LearnServe South Africa 2017: The Greatest Gift of All (7/8)

As I reflect on today, I want to say that I gave the boys I interacted with the “Greatest Gift of All.” I gave them someone their age to talk to that we as teenagers desperately need.  The struggle of dealing with emotions is common and we cannot talk about them easily with adults.
Today, we visited the other part of Homestead. The place was called Homestead: Grassroots, and it houses young kids who have been abandoned and who have been on drugs. It takes “baby” steps, and when the kids finally complete their rehabilitation, they are moved from Grassroots to The Launch Pad.
A boy named Patrick who I talked to had a very inspirational story. He decided at a young age to change his life for the better, so he stopped using drugs and focused on having his own responsibilities.
Another part of today was planning what we were going to do for the Homestead children. In the facility, there is a open basketball court used as a concrete soccer field that we plan on revitalizing to make it a basketball court again. Also, we plan on zip tying the soccer net for the soccer field in the back of the facility. One of my friends is going to bring a game from Johannesburg for the kids to play as well.  We had a great discussion and planning session today with both my peers and the kids from The Launch Pad. I am excited for tomorrow and I can’t wait to change lives. Until next time!
Elijah D., Eastern High School

LearnServe South Africa 2017: Table Mountain (7/3)

Today was full of adventures and excitement. Although today was very tiring, the group and I enjoyed ourselves and got closer to some new friends like Push, Mike, Ashley, and more. It was a very jammed-packed day where the group experienced the type of opportunity that will be remembered for a lifetime.

Today, the group and I woke up very early around 6am and met at “Mama Knox’s” house at 7:30am. We left our home-stay moms and had a very hard time saying goodbye. Each of our moms received a card from us to show how much we appreciated their comfort and support while in their homes. All of the moms were very nice and respectful!

Once we met at Mama Knox’s house, she started selling some of her jewelry and souvenirs for us to take back home and share with our families. Also at Mama Knox’s house, we made many sandwiches for ourselves and other homestead members we were going to meet later as we hiked up Table Mountain.  Once we made the sandwiches, we drove in the van to pick up homestead members and drop off luggage with the backpackers in Cape Town. The experiences with the Home-stays were very unique. We were exposed to all types of cultures and traditions. 

​As I mentioned, we picked up Homestead members and headed to Table Mountain. Push and Mike were very experienced with climbing Table Mountain and had many tips for our group.  On the way up Table Mountain, I believed that this hike would be a walk in the park. I was 100 percent wrong!

The first 30 minutes of the hike was smooth and simple. After that time period, the hike started to become something like a big test that I hadn’t studied for. I am personally afraid of heights and that made the hike worse than it might have otherwise been. The rocks that we had to climb were slippery because it had rained previously. That made the hike feel even harder than it ordinarily was.  On the way up, I took many pictures because I felt proud that I was overcoming a fear. The time going up took about 1 hour and 30 minutes. 

Now on the way down, the hike became very scary for me. There were about 3 ladders going down and it took about 3 hours. This part was what caused my body to become sore. Despite all of the fears and negative thoughts, the hike was a once in a lifetime experience that I enjoyed, but I couldn’t say that I would repeat it!

Tyrone P., Eastern High School

LearnServe Paraguay 2017: Lessons Learned from Paraguay (7/11)

This is my last day in Paraguay. Today we are traveling back to the United States and it feels like we just landed in Paraguay yesterday! While I am very sad to be leaving my new friends and family that I have made, I am excited to see all my friends and family back home. Before we left on the trip Chris Cole, LearnServe’s intern and ambassador, told us about his experience after coming back from his trip to Zambia; he said that he saw the United States in a different way. He said that he couldn’t continue to be friends with some people because he noticed things about them that he did not notice before. I worry that I will experience the same type of realization when I get back to the United States. I don’t think that this will happen just based on how well I know my friends and their awareness of others’ experiences, but the possibility is always there.

I am most excited to see my little brother. I haven’t been away from him for more than 3 or 4 days and this was a much longer time. I was initially worried about him and how he would do by himself but when I called him he seemed great! He was the responsible older brother to my younger siblings rather than a little brother to me. I was relieved! This time away gave me a glimpse into the future when I go off to college in a couple of years.

This trip not only taught me a lot regarding myself and how I operate in new and different environments but also how my family and friends operate with such a drastic change like my being away. This trip has definitely affected my perception of my own life, my community, as well as the people with whom I surround myself. I learned that despite scary or stressful situations, I can persevere and keep the main goal in mind; this allows me to focus more on what we are doing to help other people rather than the conflicts we have with people. Throughout my life this experience will forever be in my memory, affecting my decisions and viewpoints for the rest of my life. Che Rohayhu Paraguay!! (“I love Paraguay” in Guarani)

Morgan M., Northwood High School

LearnServe Paraguay 2017: Facing My Fears (7/11)

Reflecting back on my time in Paraguay I realized I overcame many fears. I was scared and worried about many things such as the water, food, and sleeping.

Paraguay is so far from home and we were going to be gone for a long time. First, I was really scared of sleeping. This time in Paraguay was the longest I had ever stayed without my parents. Until this trip, I had not been away from my parents for more than two days, so two and a half weeks without them was a big deal. I was very concerned that I wouldn’t be able to sleep because at home it usually takes me awhile to fall asleep and I really didn’t want to have any sleepless nights during the trip. I’m scared of sleepless nights and being awake at night by myself. It seems like a lonely feeling. I know I’m grumpy without a good night’s rest and I knew that during this trip we would be interacting with a variety of people. Being tired and grumpy and meeting new people do not mix. As it turns out, I actually never had an issue sleeping. I was so exhausted at the end of each day that I had no trouble sleeping.

I was also scared that the food and water in Paraguay would make me sick. I did get sick once in Tobati because they fed me a lot of food and I drank tap water when having terere. Even though I was sick, I felt better during the rest of the trip. I was able to eat everything with the exception of a couple of foods, such as tomatoes, lettuce and some dairy products. Our trip leaders did a good job of making sure we had good food and water so we could stay healthy.

I had a great time on this trip and smiled a lot and I know the positive experience was partly because I felt so comfortable and faced my fears instead of being anxious.

Jack M., Walt Whitman High School

LearnServe Paraguay 2017: Staying Open-Minded (7/11)

I don’t want to write this final blog post, but I have to be open-minded about it.

After leaving the campo of Santa Rosalia, I struggled to maintain an interest in the trip. Asunción just wasn’t kicking it for me. I was mostly bored throughout the second week of the trip.

Unfortunately, I was forced to do the things I didn’t really enjoy and sometimes I just wanted to… stay in the transportation van. For example, after we left Santa Rosalia but before we headed back to Asunción, we stopped in Tobati for a hike. I had a terrible headache and wanted to go back home to Washington, DC on that day. Nothing was sparking any interest, and even worse, I had to use the bathroom which made me easily irritable.

Despite having bad experiences and being forced into participating in unwanted activities on the daily, I persevered. Some days I resisted the urge to throw on shades and take a seat, and I participated in the activities with my group. Other days, I took care of myself and threw on the shades as a sign of needing some alone time. Having to participate in group work gave me time to think about what I was doing here. A lot of people didn’t understand what was going on in my head and just assumed I was being a jerk. For example, in Santa Ana, we were planing a lesson about tooth brushing for the pre-school children with whom we were working. We designed a poster, created a skit and came up with a clever jingle to show the young children how to properly brush their teeth. Since I was not feeling well that day, I, naturally, didn’t want to participate in planning with the team. One of our trip leaders asked me to draw my feelings since I’m not comfortable sharing them verbally. That process helped somewhat and I was later able to stay engaged and work with the daycare center children to paint a mural on one wall of their building. 

There was a lot going through my head during this trip and it was difficult for me to process so many things and most of of the things on my mind were unrelated to the trip. I found out my dog was depressed without me and I couldn’t get my mind off of her and, in addition to that, I still had Santa Rosalia on my mind. I felt comfortable and connected to that community… I didn’t really communicate my feelings to others but whenever I was told to tell someone so that they could understand, I’d usually forget and if I remembered, I’d have a hard time speaking up.

Apart from work, leisure activities never failed to take my mind away from the small problems I faced. The parties we had at the hostel and the moments of fun always made me happy and now that I think about it. I enjoyed being part of this group.

Overall, this trip to Paraguay and traveling, in general, were things I had never experienced before. Throughout the experience, I have learned to suck it up and stay open-minded and to communicate my feelings in nonverbal ways. When I return to Washington, DC I will use this experience to open myself up to new experiences, environments, situations and friendships.

Jovanni R., Capital City Public Charter School