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May 8, 2008

Volunteer Journal

During my volunteer training session at Bethlehem Community Center on March 26, Program Manager Maurie Clipperton told us a story. He told us about his childhood. He said that his father had been cold, had taken no real notice of him, had rarely even smiled or said hello, but that there had been a man at church who always greeted him warmly and saved him he seat. Whereas his father had been distant, the man at church acknowledged him, made him feel valued. He told us that here, at Homework ‘n’ Hoops, our aim was to do as the man at church had done for him. Also, we were given some basic principles to observe, the most fundamental and revealing of all being, “Every young person wants to do right / do well.? This, it seems to me, is something that is often forgotten, but must always be at the forefront of our minds when dealing with children, especially those that appear not to be doing well.
My duties consisted of planning and executing science and art projects. On March 4, my first day, I planned an art project for the next week that dealt with inventing seeds. Students would be asked to create a plant, as fanciful as they’d like––my example was a beach ball tree––and design a seed packet for it. They would draw a picture and include planting directions. When it came time to run the project the following week, however, I couldn’t manage to drum up any business among the students, and ended up helping my co-worker conduct a science experiment about the performance of parachutes of various shapes and sizes. I was a bit discouraged at the failure of my own project but, coming back the next week, I was ready to plan again. I found an experiment that involved running cars down ramps, and figured that some of the kids might be a little more responsive to this. The project consisted of running cars down ramps set at various inclinations and measuring the distance travelled and the time taken by each. I prefaced the whole thing with an overview of the scientific method––identifying the problem, hypothesizing, experimentation, etc.––and also explained that running multiple trials would yield more accurate results. The students responded positively. I managed to round up four students and their tutors. Though their main concern was, of course, playing with the cars, they, with the help of their mentors, were able to conduct three trials at each of the three inclinations tested. Their experimentation yielded fairly consistent results, and I was happy with the way things went. Most recently, beginning on April 8, my co-worker and I have been working collaboratively on a Papier-mâché project. We spent April 8 taking inventory everything we would be needing and planning what would become a three week project. The first week, April 22 (we spent our April 15 session testing our methods), we had the participating students tear up newspaper, mix the adhesive, and apply the strips to glass jars. During our next session, May 6, we had the students decorate their jars with paint, glitter, ribbon, and other such things. On May 13, we plan to have the students make tissue paper flowers for their jars.
To briefly conclude, I very much enjoyed the time I spent working at Bethlehem Community Center with the Homework ‘n’ Hoops program, and am considering volunteering for one of their summer programs.

May 5, 2008

UN MDG Response II

I was quite moved by Sarah and Krista's presentation on MDG No. 4, reducing child mortality, especially after viewing the video they put together. The video juxtaposed the smiling and eager faces of bright-eyed children––the sort of idealized vision of children people often assume––with images of disease and death, images of hollow-eyed children with emaciated, skeletal frames––the stark truth of the matter. The video ends with a quote saying, "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see." Often though we may hear it, and trite though it may seem, children are our future, and it is vital that we ensure their health welfare. First we must do it for their own sakes, but we must also realize that how we care for our children is a measure of ourselves, the present state of society. And if we cannot establish a foundation for future generations, as many prior generations have done for us, then their is a serious flaw in our society, some unsustainable preoccupation with irrelevant objects––avarice or some other such thing. As Sarah and Krista showed, we can work to reduce child mortality. Their topic dovetails smoothly with mine, that is, ensuring access to affordable drugs and health care. Though I focussed specifically on AIDS drugs, all drugs battling infectious diseases are essential––even just mosquito nets, as was mentioned in the presentation. Much of reducing child mortality consists in obtaining medicines to treat and prevent diseases that, though curable, when left untreated will kill. The quote that Sarah and Krista leave us with in their video, "What kind of message are we sending?" really makes us step back and take a look at ourselves, hopefully to the benefit of the many millions of impoverished and disadvantaged children worldwide.