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Duke Civic Engagement Magazine Fall 2009 Issue 2


FALL 2009 Synergy 2

Synergy Team Editors-in-Chief

Kirsty Fang Olivia He Suanna Oh

Editors Serra Aktan Jordan Nicole Hardy Hannah Hunt Design

From the Editors


are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles,

Kirsty Fang Olivia He

Publishing Chamblee Graphics Advisor

Eric Van Danen

Special thanks to Bassett Fund for its financial support and for believing in our mission. Photo courtesy of Deviant Art and Flickr.

rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How do we judge success of our four years at Duke? Some will take a look at our GPA or the jobs we land after graduation, while others will start counting the number of dates we had, beer cans drained and tossed, or nights spent in K-ville. Certainly all of them are great measures of success in their respective ways; and we do not proceed to make headlong claims like the number of hours spent volunteering should be a measure of our success at Duke. However, we believe that any minor part of our college experience—whether we consider it a success or not—, will inevitably be linked to the way we shape our future. In this second issue of Synergy, there is an interesting debate that rises from the essays presented. Taking the role of a volunteer, everyone seeks to be of help and leave some positive impacts. But while some are deeply satisfied with the ways that they have helped people and served the community, others begin to question whether they have brought about any change, since we are merely college students with minimal commitment. We think both sides of claims offer much to muse over, and we encourage you to explore these contrasting opinions through the issue. This issue’s feature story takes place inside the domestic frontier, at an elementary school in St. Louis. It introduces a volunteer initiative established by Duke’s own students as well as presents a personal essay by one of the participants. We think this feature story is a great representation of a volunteer scene at Duke, and also contains many unique insights that we are sure everyone will be able to appreciate. We have received many submissions to Synergy this time and it is regretful that we can only share a few of them with you here. We hope you enjoy peaking into their lives as much as we did. Kirsty Fang, Olivia He and Suanna Oh Editors-in-chief

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St. Louis, MO Elad Gross, Lauren Lee-Houghton Zarren Kuzma







South Korea




New Orleans, LA





Matthew Keshian

Anna Brown

Albert Ha

Bethany Hills

Lisa Bevilacqua

Jerrica Becker

Meng Kang

Elad Gross Lauren Lee-Houghton Zarren Kuzma St. Louis, MO

Feature Story With a clear mission and a strong initiative, Duke students’ summer project turned into a nation-wide service organization. It is our pleasure to share with you the story of Education Exchange Corps, co-founded by Elad Gross and Lauren Lee-Houghton, as well as the personal experience of Zarren Kuzma.

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Elad & Lauren



o I should have feared St. Louis. I should have questioned what I would find. Instead, when I saw Elad posting the flyers for a DukeEngage group project involving the public school system in St. Louis, Missouri, I told him to put my name in the pot.  I didn’t have anything planned for the summer, so why not?  I knew enough about public education.  My parents worked for a combined total of over 30 years in the public school system in inner city Philadelphia.  I had heard the stories.  I was prepared.  With this line of thinking, I practically stumbled into St. Louis.  This was before DukeEngage engineered itself into the more competitive opportunity that it is today.  Back then, just a few years ago, it was still an experiment.  I got an email, filled out a few questions, sat through some seminars, picked up a check and was on my way to Missouri.  I was enthusiastic, but I should have known.  I should have feared what I would see. When we arrived at Lexington Elementary, a few things stuck out: the school building itself was clean a new, standing in stark contrast to a bad surrounding neighborhood; this would be the first summer ever with a nurse; the school would be understaffed, so rooms such as the computer room and even the library would remain closed; finally, 115 children were registered for the summer from two different schools, giving a student to faculty ratio of about 10 to 1. For the majority of the first day, we helped a retiring teacher clean out her classroom. To me, this was absurdly ironic: we were brand new, and our very first task was to assist someone who had been at it for over 40 years.  This irony was only amplified when we were called into the faculty lounge to celebrate the culmination of a younger teacher’s Teach for America experience. Here we were at the start, and there they were at the end. So I should have feared St. Louis.  Both of those teachers looked old and beaten, even the girl from Teach for America.  She might have been four years older than me.  Probably less.


ore adults in the classroom to give more attention to students.” It’s a simple idea that’s not so simple to implement. Two summers ago, in St. Louis, Missouri, we began with a group of college students who worked as teacher’s assistants in seven elementary school classrooms. What began as a summer project evolved into a service organization, the Education Exchange Corps that aims to connect kids, colleges, and communities. But before we explain the importance of our organization, we will provide context to the educational crisis of St. Louis. The city has a recent history of public school struggles, but we must take you back even further, to a time when whites upheld segregation, blacks were not citizens, and public education was in its infancy. Missouri was a slave state before the Civil War. Today, the remnants of legal segregation still overshadow the St. Louis metropolitan area, with many communities still racially homogenous. Until 1954, St. Louis public schools were completely segregated. Today, typical classrooms don’t look much diferent—81.8 percent of students are black, and several schools exclusively teach to black students. The history of racism in St. Louis has had dire consequences for the city. Blacks were forced to live in segregated ghetto areas of the city. When discriminatory housing market practices were legally abolished, the “white flight” began as wealthier whites refused to live near their new black neighbors. A relatively poorer population paid relatively less taxes, and with less tax revenue came less funding for public schools, city improvements, and other renovations and additions that maintain a successful city. In 1950, over 850,000 people lived in the city. In 1990, this number was less than 400,000. According to the most recent Census, the population has stabilized near 350,000. Without people and money, the city’s economic standing and reputation has gone into a virtual free fall. This economic trend has undoubtedly had an immense impact on St.

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When the students arrived, I was assigned into a classroom of kids headed into kindergarten for the coming fall. The principal was the one who placed me there, preferring guys to be with the younger kids and girls to be with the eldest.  It didn’t make any difference to me, so I just walked into Ms. Lee’s class, picked up a crayon and started coloring with the kids. Right away, I noticed that some of them needed more individual attention.  The children in the 5 to 6 age range with which I dealt were all very self-centered.  Every other sentence they spoke had either “I” or “Me” as the subject.  Even though we were just coloring and talking casually, I began to see places were their want for personal connection was silenced in favor of obedience. I remembered from looking at the handouts through which we were sorting during our first day and from listening to various teachers speak that one of the major goals of the faculty was simply to get students to obey.  I wondered if all schools put such a heavy stress on obedience.  I also couldn’t help asking myself if conformity and rule-abiding were indoctrinated to the point where creativity and flexibility were oppressed.  I could never answer this question for certain, but I am fearful of what it means if the answer is yes.  How many Mozart’s have we shut away because we want a kid to shut up rather than sing? But the school was, of course, a place to learn cooperation.  While it may have enforced direction and rules above all else, the obvious place where these kids should have seen more personal attention was at home.  The home is meant to be self-centered.  School is ultimately a place where you learn how to interact and operate within a system. Admittedly, I couldn’t provide the personalization that they needed.   Some kids were advanced, but most needed help in almost every step of their exercises. Even communication was a problem. These Pre-K children spoke in something of a pseudo-English.  Marlon, for example, communicated with an extraterrestrial combination of “dees,” “doos,” and “doys.” In speaking with the kids, it occurred to me that communication is actually astoundingly difficult to instruct.  Lots of the children used Ebonics. We had to correct one guy, Terrance, about ten times in order to get him to say, “I have...” rather than, “I got...”  He would begin every sentence with, “I got,” and Ms. Lee would shout the correction, “I have!”  The exchange looked something like this:         Terrance: I got-        Ms. Lee: I have!         Terrance: Um. I have... um. I got-        Ms. Lee: I have! Along with this, there was an entire dimension of speech inflections which they had not yet mastered.  One day during lunch in the cafeteria, Kristopher stood up and suddenly shouted out, “I have a fork!”  Only he phrased it like a question, like he was surprised to have a fork: “I have

FALL 2009 Synergy 7 ...continue from Elad & Lauren Louis’s public schools. In the 2007-2008 academic year, almost half of high school students in the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) dropped out. The district hasn’t been accredited for the past 10 years. Yet, even in the face of all of these obstacles, St. Louis has found a way to push forward. The city of St. Louis is experimenting with fundamental systemic change, such as the inclusion of magnet and charter schools. Some of the SLPS schools are participating in new experimental academic initiatives. The district is also willing to accept help from volunteers, organizations, and local colleges, but the mass mobilization and organization necessary for lasting improvement has yet to be centralized. And that’s where we come in. Why do we focus on elementary summer schools? We want to support learning before student achievement gaps become too wide. We work with kids who complete 1st and 2nd grade but cannot spell 3-letter words. One 2nd grader did not know the alphabet. Many students who are supposed to be in the 5th grade are unable to pass the required exams to progress from 4th grade. The summer is an opportunity to bring all of these students closer to grade level. How are we doing this? Our organization, the Education Exchange Corps, encourages community engagement in local urban school districts. This past summer, we teamed up with DukeEngage, which ran a group program based on the individual project we started two summers ago. Duke students served as teachers’ assistants in elementary summer schools and worked on projects with the directors of various departments at SLPS headquarters. We are also working with many local colleges and universities in St. Louis to create a sustainable program bringing students of higher education to nearby elementary schools. Targeting local colleges furthers our mission to foster community interaction, and expanding the program locally

raises awareness in a community that clamors for change but has yet to realize effective reform. In total, we placed over 90 college students in three summer elementary school sites, serving close to 900 SLPS students in only our second year of existence, and we are currently running a pilot program bringing over 40 college participants into one elementary school. Ultimately, we want these experiences to impact everyone involved, and we work with college participants to take their experiences back to the classroom in the forms of discussion, reflection, and research. And St. Louis is only the beginning. In the longterm, we plan to export our model to urban centers all across the nation in an effort to improve opportunities for all of this country’s children. Through the service expansion, the research component will grow as well. A student researcher working in one city will be able to link with a student researcher in another city, and the collaboration will make both research projects stronger. Fact: Poor students do worse in school than wealthier students, and much of this achievement gap can be attributed to disparities in summer opportunities. Fact: Students do not get enough attention in the classroom, but the results are often only measured in high school. Around 7000 students drop out of high school per day. Fact: There are no networks connecting college student researchers working in the field of education. The Education Exchange Corps aims to address all of these issues by focusing on at-risk schools, engaging college students in classroom assistance, and encouraging research to make reform efforts more impactful. Simple ideas, but ones that have been neglected for far too long. We cannot let our negligence rob the futures from today’s kindergartners before they can recite the alphabet. u

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a fork?!” Ms. Lee and I were completely confused by what he was saying.  In fact, Kristopher didn’t have a fork at all, and he was asking if he could go get one. In the end, I only became accustomed to their language when it came time to say goodbye. Of the systems within the school with which I took issue, the cafeteria ranked very close to the top. In the last week of school, things got better, but before that I couldn’t believe what was being served. One of the most consistent day to day lunchtime options was nachos with cheese. Other days, the breakfast menu read something like this: Pop-Tarts, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and chocolate milk. This absurd food selection was a contributing factor to Terrance telling me that his favorite fruit was Kool-Aid. One day the cafeteria made pizza, but they didn’t make enough for the entire school. For some reason, they gave out pizza to three of the five kids in my class. The other two kids, Arthur and Debryant, obviously got nachos. What on earth was the lunch worker thinking? These kids were 4 and 5 years old. How do you expect them to understand something like that? Usually, we had 8 or 9 kids in class. Who knows what a disaster it would have been if the majority of kids didn’t get pizza. Arthur bawled and bawled until Elad came over to talk with him and calm him down. There was literally nothing else that could be done. Everyday, I would help Ms. Lee run a set of learning stations geared to help the children learn the alphabet, write their names, and count from 1 to 10.  At first, this process was extremely frustrating.  The kids could easily sing the alphabet or recite the order of numbers, but, in general, just because they could say a letter didn’t necessarily mean they could pick it out from a group. Most could only recognize 2 out of 26 letters. One of those letters was “A,” and the other was the first letter of their name. Apparently, children should be able to write their name by kindergarten. I could already tell that this was a lofty, if not impossible goal for the summer. At least, Ms. Lee explained, they were mostly up to

grade level with their numbers. They didn’t have to know number order until the middle of kindergarten. I wish I knew that before I let myself get frustrated telling them over and over that 6 came after 5 and so on. One of the kids who really drove me nuts with the numbers and spelling was Kristopher. I would tell him again and again that his name began with “K,” and when I asked him after our twentieth repetition of the letter, he would make a random guess! He was a really nice kid, and I liked him a lot, but I just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t absorbing the simple information I was making him repeat. It got to the point where I was beginning to get angry with him. So I should have feared St. Louis. A few weeks in, I learned that Kristopher had sustained a high order of lead poisoning when he was younger. This made it difficult for him not only to recall information but also to focus on any work at all. I felt terrible. It was absolutely idiotic of me to get that frustrated with a child, let alone a child who’d been lead poisoned. Another thing about Kristopher: The class spent one afternoon making Father’s day cards, and he stood up and said, “I’m gonna make this card for my daddy, but I don’t have one.” I thought about that for a long time. Every so often something like that would come up. One of the kids would say or do something that really made you consider the structural and community problems that they faced. One of the most disturbing moments of my entire time in St. Louis came when we were playing with Lego blocks during free time. Along with coloring, the Legos were an effective tool for exercising the development of finger muscles. So I should have feared St. Louis. As we were building, one kid made a gun from the Legos and pointed it at my head. He shot it, reloaded, shot it, reloaded, and shot it again. After sitting there for a moment, I snatched it out of his hand and broke it in half. I yelled at him, but he simply didn’t understand. In a neighborhood where gangs and violence were

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everyday occurrences, this imaginative performance struck a chilling link into the reality. It’s hard to say, but one of these kids might end up actually doing something like that. I died three times that day. Something that I learned very quickly in St. Louis was that the kids simply don’t respect or listen to people my age. The first time we met the principal, she guaranteed that we would never be left alone with the children. I found that statement promptly abandoned, and whenever those moments arrived, chaos broke loose. It would come to the point where I just had to sit them all on the carpet and make sure they didn’t kill themselves. I did everything I reasonably could to get those kids to listen to me, but there would always be one or two that made the rest of them freak out. I still wonder what age I have to be in order for the kids to see me as someone “grown” rather than as one of their peers. This is not to say that the kids were absolutely well-behaved when the teacher was around, however. The kids had an elaborate system of methods that they used to distract themselves, especially when they were in trouble. The distractions could range into any variety of small machinations: slipping foot out of a sandal, playing with shirt, putting head in hands, dropping pencils, scratching. Anything and everything was used to pull attention away from the here and now. These were the tiny things that I became accustomed to during my time at Lexington. The so-called grand transformation that I had undergone was revealed to me in one of my final days. I was by myself, setting up a bunch of different stations for a school-wide game day. As I was working, I would occasionally notice things that I thought might improve the organization and effectiveness of the learning games. For example: when I noticed two tables were too close together, I spread them apart; when I saw the stations organized in the middle of the gym, I moved them along the walls; when I noticed the piano bench near a station, I flipped it over and put it out of reach. Each of these adjustments were a kind of preemptive attack against distraction and mischief. I wouldn’t have known any better at the beginning of my time in Lexington. In other words, my experience in the classroom had granted me with a certain “sixth sense” that alarmed me when a situation or setup might be wired for exploitation by a group of goofy kids. I wouldn’t have even noticed this transformation myself until a teacher passing by said, “Good idea! Now you’re starting to think like a full-time teacher!” It understood then that teaching is an art of execution and planning. Almost every minute of every day must be planned out. It’s a taxing, thankless job. I crashed to sleep after nearly every school day. I came to know my parents even better than before. I had experienced a fraction of their stories first-hand. To make a career of this must have truly been a labor of love. At this moment, I would like to share the list of my student’s names.

I tend to use the words “kid,” “children,” and “student,” so a lot of the humanity gets lost. This was my class: Tiye Hyler (really intelligent and the only girl), Kendryck Cotton (smart, but misbehaved), Terrance Davis (the class clown who could talk with the best of them), Debryant Davis (no relation to Terrance, mohawk), Kristopher Crawley (what more can I say?), Martez Freeman (really nice kid almost to a fault), Marlon Allen (skinny, hilarious, I finally understood about 80% of what he said at the end), Arthur Leonard (smart, but cried a lot), Trosodas (smart too, but really REALLY bad, never got his last name), Psalms Lee (Teacher’s daughter, older than the rest and not really in the class.) Ms. Charita Lee was the teacher (might be misspelling her first name.) I, Zarren Kuzma, was the lowly helper. So I should have feared St. Louis. Yet I did not. I look back now and see how little I’ve done. I am nothing but a blip on the radar in the lives of these kids, and I can’t help but ask myself: What did I really accomplish? I won’t be able to recognize them in ten years. I have no clue where they’ll be. Will they be in college? Will they be on the streets? Will they be dead...? Most of the kids left so fast that I didn’t even get to say goodbye. And so I’m left with this paradoxical notion that I have done something and nothing at the same time. I think of those kids a lot, almost everyday. It’ll probably be like that for the rest of my life. I think of them, and I think of the world, and I can’t help but feel downright sad and downright afraid. u

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or a long time now, I have firmly believed that the person venturing into a foreign culture to serve a community’s needs ultimately derives more benefit than the people who are the object of the civic engagement project. Sure, we have skills such as English proficiency and computer literacy that are much sought after in these developing countries in which we go to serve o so selflessly, but do we really believe that these people can’t get on without us? Unfortunately, I often hear this question answered in the affirmative, but to do so is to grossly misunderstand the people who we are purportedly serving. Cambodia has endured an especially torturous recent history, neglected by the French imperialists, ravaged by the brutal Khmer Rouge, and mismanaged by corrupt leaders, yet its people retain a remarkable resiliency. Everywhere you look, whether beset with problems stemming from a marriage forced at gunpoint by the Khmer Rouge, crippled by one of millions of land mines littering the country, or mired in poverty and living on the verge of survival, Cambodians defy conventional logic by remaining resilient. Raly, one of the scholarship students who I have gotten to know well throughout my stay here, has endured a similarly torturous personal history, but like her compatriots, has preserved an impressive tendency to forge ahead. Born into extreme poverty in one of the far-flung provinces of Cambodia, her family farmed for a living, and Raly grew up working in the fields when she was not attending school. Falling victim to gambling and drinking, and lured by another woman, Raly’s father left when she was a child. After finishing primary school, she made the difficult decision to leave her family to continue pursuing her education, which required her to move to Phnom Penh, because there were no high schools near her house. She initially moved in with her father and stepmother, but after severe abuse by her jealous stepmother, Raly moved into a boarding house alone.

Matthew Keshian Cambodia South Asia

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Because she had exhausted her finances on high school, Raly was looking at a lifetime of hardship on her family’s farm, but because of her academic record and perseverance, she was awarded a scholarship by the organization for which I am working. Sitting here talking to this student, hearing about her arduous journey to university in Phnom Penh, I am awed by her resiliency. We’ve all heard the bromide ad nauseum, but seriously, we Americans are spoiled. I doubt that I could summon the strength to fight like Raly did, and I harbor similar doubts about others I know back in the US. If Raly endured what is unthinkable to most Americans, what do we really have to offer her and the thousands of other Cambodians with similar stories? They’ve made it this far without us, so what makes us think that we’re indispensable to their empowerment? Ultimately, these people who have endured the unendurable have more to teach us than we have to teach them, so why do we insist on believing that our civic engagement work is indispensable to these people’s survival and well-being? If we are to truly understand civic engagement, we must shed all our messianic delusions and dismount from our moral high horse long enough to understand the people on the ground. Only then can we recognize that we benefit more from them than they do from us. u

Anna Brown Honduras S. America


t is a bit unsettling to think that in eight short weeks my whole perspective on life could be plucked up like a coin and spun round and round, giving me the thrill of my life but also leaving me dizzy with the overwhelming feeling that I’ve only just begun to see the world as it truly is – a blur. And I don’t just mean a blur in the sense that there’s a lot of gray area – though that’s certainly true – but also that so many problems that people encounter don’t have a definite beginning nor end. It’s as if life starts and we’re already caught in the thick of a blurry indefinite continuum that doesn’t ever quite slow down. In a more tangible sense, my eight weeks in Honduras this summer lent me a new outlook on service. Rather than attempting to clarify the “blur” of health issues in Honduras by imposing some type of black-and-white lens to see a clear-cut problem and solution, I got right in the thick of the “blur.” I interviewed Honduran villagers in the first month and truly listened to their views on health and environmental concerns. I observed that clean drinking water, toothbrushes, band-aids, and even toilets were luxuries in Honduras. I worked with other Duke students to bring Project HEAL to life and to do four health education camps for kids. I picked kids up and hugged them and shared my enthusiasm for living a healthy life. I hope I touched their hearts as much as they touched mine – through moments of laughter and coloring food pyramids, doing jumping jacks and singing our lungs out to the “Canción de Salud” (Health Song). It was heart-warming to sit with villagers and get a glimpse into their simple, relationship-driven lives and yet heart-wrenching at the same moment to see the crippling effect of problems on their health and happiness. Much like two sides of a coin spinning round and round, the simple values intertwined with the complex problems twist on in a slow, steady rhythm.

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It was difficult to witness the harsh reality of poverty and its cruel ability to deny people what I view as basic human needs. It was perhaps more difficult to feel helpless in my service to villagers, to know that interviewing them would simply offer me a better perspective on their problems rather than a clear definite solution to their troubles. What I grappled with and eventually came to terms with is that life is different in Honduras. Unlike in the US where convenience trumps all and we’re independent and inventive enough to find a solution for our daily troubles, there is not a clear-cut solution to many problems in Honduras. As one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras lacks infrastructure and resources that we enjoy in the US – clean tap water, paved roads, hospitals, reliable education, welfare, and services for the poor. In the midst of this notion that no one issue is separable from the others because all are intricately interwoven into the fabric of life – I had an epiphany. It was not really grandiose or even gratifying, but it was true nonetheless. Life may be a filled with problems, but there is beauty in the strife to find meaning in surviving the difficulties. On a basic level we are all driven by the same essential emotional needs - we all desire to love and to feel loved.

I came to this epiphany in a bit of an unexpected way – through an improbable friendship. It was a friendship formed on a small act of kindness. I’ll bring you back to that moment… Rosalinda is a special child. The volunteers here at the daycare know her as the 8-year-old girl who has boundless energy, a contagious laugh, and an annoying tendency towards mischief. She is eager to raise her hand at any opportunity, to play whichever games she can - even if she is a bit too young to understand the rules fully, and to get her hands on every book, spare pair of sunglasses, or camera that may cross her path. She is a bit hyperactive, but I find her endearing for her cute laugh and seemingly endless supply of energy and enthusiasm. At a daycare in my fifth week in Honduras, the 10-year-old girls were playing “bate” - a game similar to baseball but with minimal equipment needs. The basic idea is to toss a foam ball to the batter, who uses her arm to send the ball flying and then runs to different landmarks - a tree, a rock on the ground, and other bases. The older girls had asked me to play and I agreed. Rosalinda, of course, wanted to play too - and walked to me with her arms outstretched, shouting “Yo! Yo! Yo quiero jugar!” (I want to play!) with her characteristic enthusiasm. The other girls groaned and told me that they didn’t want Rosalinda to play, that she couldn’t play. Ignoring their complaints, I offered Rosalinda my turn at bat. She smacked the ball with her arm and ran to the first base, a tree trunk, but she abruptly stopped and seemed confused about where to run next. The older girls and an older boy who is known to be mean at times got quite angry and yelled at Rosalinda to stop playing. The older boy shoved Rosalinda’s shoulders and his angry grunt punctuated the air as tears started streaming down Rosalinda’s cheeks. I had been so accustomed to Rosalinda’s happy, enthusiastic laugh that I was taken aback and quite saddened by her tears of disappointment. I had a decision to make. Many of the girls who were playing were new friends and I knew that standing up to them could change their view of me. However, in my heart I knew that I could not

let them treat Rosalinda with such open contempt and animosity. I had to stand up to this bullying and comfort Rosalinda. She deserved to play bate too. In the next moment, I strode over to Rosalinda, gently patted her shoulders, tilted her chin up, and took her hand. I led her to first base - a tree in the center of the small field - and told the other girls that Rosalinda would run with me. I held Rosalinda’s hand and she ran with me all the way to the sixth base. She was still noticeably upset but she had stopped crying. Tears stained her cheeks but there was a new freshness, a new vigor in her eyes and the way she looked up at me expectantly. It was maybe in that moment and that look that there was a glimpse of clarity in a background of blurriness. I saw through to the heart of Rosalinda and in doing so looked deeper into myself. I saw what had compelled me to stand up for her in the face of doubt and opposition. I saw that compassion is something powerful and sadness, like anything else, is woven into a complex context. Yet being in the thick of the blur, I saw with clarity the undeniable beauty of the human spirit – resilient and indomitable – and moreover the capacity within us all to reach out to those in need and share what we have with those who need it most. To have faith and take a risk – to plunge into the blur of life – is what I advocate for most strongly. Take a risk. Live a little. Choose an action and go with it. Life is ours for the taking. We just need to understand with clarity some issue that is dear to our heart and make it our life’s work to understand that issue more fully and have some great experiences along the way. Service is about understanding and offering our whole selves to others in a selfless way. It takes some time to understand a problem fully and a lifetime to understand ourselves, but we can still do some great work with what we can see clearly, and we can leave the blur to others who will find their own epiphanies.u

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Country profiles


Kingdom of Cambodia

Republic of Honduras

Republic of India

The Republic of Kenya

The Republic of Korea

Population: 294,000 Area: 22,965 sq km Capital: Belmonpan Languages: English, Spanish, Mayan Religion: Christianity GNI per capita: US $3,800

Population: 14.7 million Area: 181,035 sq km Capital: Phnon Penh Language: Khmer Religion: Buddhism GNI per capita: US $540

Population: 7.2 million Area:112,492 sq km Capital: Tegucigalpa Languages: Spanish, indigenous languages, English Religion: Christianity GNI per capita: US $1,600

Population: 1.2 billion Area: 3.1 million sq km Capital: New Delhi Languages: Hindi, English Religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism GNI per capita: US $950

Population: 38.5 million Area: 3.1 million sq km Capital: Nairobi Languages: Swahili, English Religion: Christianity GNI per capita: US $680

Population: 48.4 million Area: 99,313 sq km Capital: Seoul Language: Korean Religions: Buddhism, Christianity GNI per capita: US $19,690

Albert Ha Incheon, South Korea Asia As the number of international marriages increases in South Korea, a growing number of children from multi-ethnic background are now calling Korea home. However, influenced by the homogeneous society that has always emphasized Korean people’s “single ancestry”, many conservative Koreans are still not openly welcoming these children.

DUET (Developing Unity through Education in Tolerance) worked with Childfund International to hold a six-week weekend program and a week-long summer camp that promoted diversity and tolerance. The initial six-week DUET program focused on providing a comfortable environment for the children to participate in weekend activities. The culminating week-long camp allowed the students to engage themselves in a series of interactive activities that emphasized multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity.

Children were assigned to illustrate their dreams on construction paper, create paper airplanes, and let them fly across the classroom. These children have way more dreams than their fingers can count. Although many of them came from underprivileged backgrounds, they were so full of energy throughout the course of DUET day camp.

Bethany Hills

India South Asia


monsoon raged beyond the school walls, as it had been doing for the past two days. Usually students of the Adigmet Government School in Hyderabad, India would be playing in the schoolyard, but the downpour had forced everyone to take cover. The muddy jungle of plants surrounding the school had a lush coating over it. It was if an artist, unsatisfied with the drab dusty colors of summer, decided to paint over this landscape with much more vivid hues. Today, Adigmet was closed for holiday. All of the classroom doors were padlocked shut except the one closest to the entrance. Inside one classroom were two teachers, the headmaster, and about twelve kids. All the children ran outside to see us when we arrived, and the adults slowly followed them, lost in conversation. Other children were playing carrom, an immensely popular Indian version of tableshuffleboard, in the school’s open-air hallways. Despite the fact that students did not have to attend school today, many still came. For some students, school was the only place they could go. The kids gathered around me, but they weren’t shouting and trying to grab me like usual. Something about the novelty of my appearance on a school-less day made them calm. Some went off to go play futbol in a side corridor, others attempted to speak to the Duke Engage team in broken English, but most were just content to quietly talk with their friends while watching our every movement. I had a giant urge to jump at them and yell, “Boo!” just to see them make some noise. The school was never so quiet. The majority of my project in India with Duke Engage was spent teaching English to students who spoke either Telugu or Urdu at

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the local government school. Armed with little teaching knowledge and even less language ability, I assiduously worked to make sure each student was able to have simple conversations in English. Many of my students were unused to the personalized attention that I provided them, and their responses to my interactions with them were often unexpected. On any given day, I was equally likely to break up a fight between students as I was to teach the difference between uppercase and lowercase vowels. However, on this holiday, my role as teacher and mentor was removed, and I was able to simply observe these children with new and curious eyes. Many of the students at this school came from abusive households, and others may have received their only meal of the day through the free lunch program at school. We could not expect these children to understand most of what we are saying, nor could they be expected to afford pencils or notebooks. Slowly, I learned to navigate through this storm of children who never learned how to catch someone’s attention without shouting and fighting. I found it easier simply to listen to them—sometimes too much and for too long if I was unsure of what to do. When even my loudest shouts were not loud enough, I could do nothing but listen. Even though I may have furrowed my brows and grown hoarse from shouting, I still loved those kids. Though they may not have behaved properly, they were surrounded by a certain kind of joy that only came from the enrichment of learning. All of the behavior issues that I witnessed were simple cries for attention—attention that I was able to give to them through teaching. In my Telugu class, there was a boy named Shankar who was one of my favorite students. He sat with the girls instead of the boys, and often tried to sit as close to me as he could. Though he may not have known as much English as the rest of the students, he worked quietly and diligently, and often drew pictures to illustrate the English sentences that I taught to the class. It was his love of food that helped him the most in learning his lessons, and in eliciting sympathy from me. One day, when we were teaching the alphabet, Shankar burst from his seat, yelling, “Ice Cream!” as loud as he could each time I arrived at the letter “I.” Shankar also asked me if it was lunchtime roughly every five minutes, but he did it in such a sweet, unobtrusive way that I could not help but sympathize with his growling belly. The Duke Engage team had arrived at the school a week before the monsoon on a holiday called Friendship Day, which is the Indian grade-school equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Classmates give each other “friendship bands,” which are ribbons with things written on them like “Best Friend” and “Friends Forever.” Like America’s Valentine’s Day, Friendship Day is heavily commercialized but also very sentimental to these children. Both holidays celebrate the profound relationships with loved ones, who share the same experiences as one another. When I came into class on Friendship Day, Shankar pulled me aside and held out his hand. He opened his palm to show me a bracelet with large alternating clear and rainbow-colored beads. Even though it was plastic, it was much nicer than any of the other Friendship Day bracelets, and was certainly not just a ribbon like all the others. “Happy Friendship Day!” he said excitedly, and tried to put the bracelet on my wrist. 

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I wondered why this bracelet was so much nicer than the others. Gently, I gave the bracelet back to him, and tried to explain that I couldn’t accept it, but he persisted. I felt guilty either way: If I accepted it, I would be succumbing to favoritism and knew that some other student probably deserved the bracelet more than I did; if I did not accept it, Shankar would be crushed. I asked him to hold on to the bracelet during the lesson and walked up to the front of classroom to begin teaching. Shankar took his seat and stared at me dolefully, the bracelet still clutched in his hand.  At the end of class, Shankar approached me again.“Please ma’am, for you,” he begged, looking up with a face of complete earnestness. “I cannot accept this, Shankar, it is too beautiful. You keep it,” I replied.   Shankar, believing that he was not understood, enlisted the help of one of his friends to translate. Both of them dangled the bracelet in my face while I tried to convince his friend to take the bracelet, but she would not. Finally, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I placed the bracelet in Shankar’s palm and closed his hand over it. Holding his hand, I looked him in the eyes and said “You have many friends, Shankar. This is a beautiful bracelet--chala bagundi. Give to someone who needs it.” He looked at me for a few seconds, and slowly began to smile. “You come tomorrow?” He said. “Yes, Shankar, I will come tomorrow.” I answered, smiling. Satisfied with my answer, he grinned and hurried off to play a game of “Simon Says” with the other students. In this moment, I knew that our presence at Adigmet would be greatly missed. I did not need a bracelet to remember Shankar. Just as I had taught him the alphabet, he taught me that friendship could come from the most unlikely of places. Soon the monsoon rains had lessened, and the children at Adigmet squealed and ran outside, free at last from the confines of their classrooms. After watching them play, the Duke Engage team waved goodbye to the children and told them we’d be back tomorrow as we descended into the muddy bowl of the outdoors. Some little girls followed us for a while, clinging to our arms, until walking in the rain became too chilly for their thin clothes. They turned back to the schoolyard while we continued home. The raindrops slowly turned our footprints to puddles leading towards the exit. u

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Lisa Bevilacqua New Orleans, LA


mma burn you, white girl.” That was the first, and hopefully the last time I’ll ever hear those words. They were spoken to me by Wallace, a young boy I used to know. In case you were wondering, Wallace didn’t really mean it. We made up shortly afterwards, and the incident was never brought up again. So who was Wallace, how did I know him, and why did he want to burn me? I came to New Orleans for the first time in the summer of 2007. I quickly learned that the city is impossible to describe. Those who have been there can feel, but never quite understand the persistent foreignness, or the distinct movements of the city itself, as if it were a living, breathing creature. New Orleans is a city with a soul that never fails to fascinate even the most experienced of travelers. There is a mystery about it, as if the city has its own secrets and dreams, and you are just a small part of some collective will, without voice or power, helplessly caught up in its roaring inertia. It is a city that survives today on tourism and thus is constantly tread through by curious and strange onlookers. Shop after shop promises the cheapest and gaudiest of souvenirs, and visitors are perpetually shuffling through crowded aisles of brightly colored shirts, shiny beads, and neon lights. It is a city haunted by its demons, confronted by anguish, and yet anxious to move forward. This is where my story takes place, two years after the destruction wrought by hurricane Katrina - after the rain, after the flooding, after the levees broke, and after the city had dried up and left the shriveled remains of its people exposed on the broken pavement. During my time in New Orleans, I was primarily doing construction for Habitat for Humanity in Musicians Village in the Upper 9th Ward. I worked alongside volunteers from across the

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country to erect homes for displaced residents who wanted to return to their roots. When the construction day was over, I would head to the 7th Ward. The 7th and 9th Wards were two of the neighborhoods that were most devastated by Katrina. Located at or below sea-level, this land was flooded more than other areas of the city when the levees broke, and consequently these areas that were already poor suffered the most both during and after Katrina. Each day, travelling from the 7th to the 9th Ward, I would pass by FEMA trailers and derelict houses, most of them marked with a cryptic message in spray paint. I knew the curious combination of letters, numbers, and symbols on each house stood for the height the water had reached, or the number of people dead. After the short drive, I would arrive at a small building on the corner of Urquhart and Touro Street, where my close friend Jacky volunteered at a camp called KIDsmART. KIDsmART’s mission is to use art to teach children ways of expressing themselves, in order to help them learn about and explore the world in which they live. Jacky and the other staff spent their days tirelessly working with a wonderful group of kids from the nearby neighborhoods. Everyday, there were kids painting, singing, dancing, rapping, writing, drawing, sculpting - you name it. For many of the kids, the camp was also a safe place to stay during the daytime, so that they weren’t left on the streets. It was at this camp where I really began to understand New Orleans, and the more I understood it, the more I grew to both love and hate it. To be clear, working for Habitat was an incredible experience. I loved the homes that I was building for their sturdiness, their reliability, and their formulaic simplicity. Humans have known how to build houses for millennia. However children, unlike houses, can be quite complicated. They have their own intuitions, ideas, goals, and flaws, and cannot be arbitrarily pieced together to form a strong, sturdy, and unified whole. Children are not two-by-fours, nor should they be treated like them. It is tempting to simplify the needs of children into an organized, comprehensive blueprint, but those types of solutions do not work. So although I was proud of the hard physical work I was doing, and of the tangible beauty of the homes being built, I felt in many ways a greater pleasure in the small, ephemeral moments of success that I experienced day-to-day at KIDsmART, because I knew that those moments were created from the fateful collision of two individuals with a common purpose at a single point in time, and not from the union of a hammer and a nail. There were many of those moments during my time at KIDsmART. Some were happy and free, and some were wrought with frustration, anger and sadness. Through their art the students shared stories of their lives and their struggles, both before and after Katrina. One boy, Jerry, was noticeably angrier than all the others. When Hurricane Katrina hit, Jerry was separated from his family, and spent days living completely alone on top of a bridge. Many kids at the camp shared similar accounts. What was perhaps most haunting about these stories was the frankness and calmness with which the children told them. They were already desensitized to types of pain that most of us will never come close to understanding. I am not writing this to share the personal stories of the campers. Although I believe they need to be heard, I think that they are best heard through their own voices. Throughout the summer, the boys and girls at KIDsmART were brave enough

FALL 2009 Synergy 25 to share their voices and stories every day. Whether they were writing lyrics for a song, drawing paintings, practicing dances, or writing stories and poetry, it was clear that they were learning to share things that they had never shared before. Watching their development from day to day was truly a pleasure, and I consider myself lucky that I was able to spend some time with them each afternoon. The summer was not without its difficult moments. There were fights almost every day. Much of it was innocent jesting and teasing, but there were times when anger, frustration, loneliness, and other emotions overcame the students. One of these moments was when Wallace threatened to burn me. Although I knew he didn’t intend to act on it, I was still taken slightly aback by the anger in his voice when he said those words. What had I done, I asked myself, to deserve that? Nothing in fact, is the answer. But what I failed to acknowledge at the time was Wallace’s extreme right to be angry. Maybe not with me specifically, but just angry. Wallace, like so many other kids in New Orleans and across this country, have been largely forgotten and abandoned. Nobody has demanded that their schools be reopened, or that their families be given a place to live. Nobody has demanded that they be treated well, or that they be loved. For those reasons, Wallace deserves to be angry - at all of us.

This is not a condemnation. Nor is this a battle-cry. My hope is not that everyone who reads this will fly down to New Orleans with hundreds of psychotherapists, qualified teachers, doctors, etc. While that would be nice, I know that things don’t work that way. Not even close. I understand that the situation in New Orleans is complex, and that what I have considered in this essay is only one example of many issues that need attention. However, I believe that we are not doing enough to support the children of this city, many of whom were not able to return to school for years after Katrina, and whose lives have been permanently changed because of this. At the same time, it is important to note that there are many great organizations and individuals in New Orleans working tirelessly to make the situation better. But there is still a long way to go. We must ask ourselves, in a city that has brought joy to so many, can we continue to ignore the pain? In 2007, before any politician brought a message of hope, it already existed. It lived inside a small concrete building in New Orleans’ 7th Ward. Within those walls, hope grew and lived inside the minds and hearts of kids who were allowed to think, to be, and to dream, free from the chaos that defined their lives. I believe that in those hearts, that hope still exists. u

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Jerrica Becker Kenya East Africa


he word tumaini in Swahili means “hope.” Most Americans hope to be accepted into their first-choice college, hope to be successful in the career path they choose, and hope to have a wonderful family. In Kenya, however, tumaini is not defined in the same way. Their hope is to simply survive by helping one another and by creating a better future for their children. Building hope for the future in this community was my number one priority when I journeyed to Kenya this summer with other United Methodist Volunteer in Missions (UMVIM) team members. We aimed to create relationships and fellowship with people to give them hope by showing them that someone from the other side of the world represents a love and a hope for creating a worldwide community with one another. Hope is a seed that must first be sown into the heart of a benevolent person or group that will cultivate it into fruition.

In my case, Kenya’s hope-garden was found in Eunice Kariuki. She was born in Kenya in 1959 and moved to the East Coast of the United States in 1986. Inspired by an experience with homelessness in 2000, Eunice found her calling in caring for orphans in Kenya by creating a home for children who have become orphans called Tumaini Ministries. The facility is large enough to house 40 children comfortably and accommodates children of all ages from infancy to young adults of eighteen years. On UMVIM’s last day with Tumaini Ministries, we played games and socialized with some of the older orphans, and there was one boy in particular named Albert. Albert is a smart sixteen year old boy who loves to play soccer, smiles constantly, and has a happiness that is contagious. As soon as he arrived on the farm and saw our soccer ball, his afternoon activities had been decided. We had a fun, intense game, and then it hit me--not a

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brilliant idea or a great epiphany-- Albert’s foot against my shin. We were both going for the ball at the same time and, to no surprise, he won the battle. After helping me off the field and getting me some ice, we laughed about the accident that caused the huge bump on my shin which could still be seen a month later. When I looked at Albert that day, I saw a young man with potential. I began to imagine all the great things he would do in his lifetime: the college he would attend, the successful career he would attain, and the family he would have. Then the great epiphany did hit me, but instead of a pain on my shin, I felt a pain in my heart. Albert doesn’t live in the United States, and he doesn’t have the equal options to conquer the world that I had when I was his age. There is a difference in attitude when you come to this part of the world. At one point during the summer, a child in an eighth grade classroom boldly asked one of the volunteers, “Why do Americans want to walk on the moon and study space?” The volunteer paused for a moment, not really knowing how to answer. It seems that being told to “reach for the stars” and to “dream big” were adages that I took for granted as a child. This is why I think our message to the children this summer was so important. We encouraged them to dream big, have hope, and have faith. By supporting their dreams and teaching them how to aspire, I now feel like the definition of tumaini is something that all of these children can now understand. Hope begins with a dream and is sustained by faith and action. I dreamed of going to Kenya and making a difference, and I hope that the people I was in fellowship with were blessed as much by my presence as I was by theirs. But perhaps most importantly, I have faith that they will lead prosperous lives, because everyday people like us will act and give them the invaluable ability to begin hoping for the opportunities they deserve. u

Meng Kang

Cayo, Belize Central America


cannot forget the shock and panic that numbed my brain when I looked up from the story book I clutched, my last hope of getting St. Hilda’s Standard I (3rd Grade) class’s attention. In the span of a few seconds, one tall, scrawny boy somehow climbed over a row battered miniature wooden bench, its companion crippled writing desk, and the three students who had managed to squeeze themselves into the space in-between made to fit two, to grab another boy and punch him in the face. Thirty pairs of curious eyes trailed me as I dashed for the boys who had tumbled onto the ground together, but luckily Erin was already in the process of pulling them apart. The classroom exploded with students shouting various facts about the fighting boys, as well as echoes of “Miss, miss” that engraved itself in my head as the precursor to various headache-causing mischief headed my way.

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The day did not end well, as Erin was forced to carry the boy into the tiny side room belonging to the principle. The troubles did not end there. The tension and utter chaos which ensued drained a few years off of both Erin and me. Over the next few days, I observed a very consistent pattern of behavior. These children possessed boundless energy that, whenever something intrigued them, first transformed into curiosity, then an insatiable urge to be noticed, and when an unnecessary word was uttered or when physical contact occurs, anarchy that rendered even the teachers helpless. Summer 2009, DukeEngage partnered with PeaceWork in continuation to develop education enrichment summer camps for four elementary schools in the Cayo district, Belize. Eight Duke students embarked on this trip in high spirits, seeking to fix any and all problems encountered along the way to complete objective and goals set long before the program began.

Unfortunately, as we found out during the first week “observation period” at these elementary schools, what we had in mind was very different from the reality faced by these children. Contrary to our first impressions, it wasn’t that these kids were rambunctious trouble-makers seeking to destroy the career plan of any teacher daring to step into their territory. The fact is, St. Hilda’s is a community school whose population often consisted of single-parent, low income families whose main priority may not be on their children’s education. Due to the circumstances these children grew up with, many of these children encounter feelings which they do not know how to express correctly nor deal with. Anger, sadness, and frustration at people and events in their lives have pushed these children to become very defensive. Boys in the school mimic the emotionless face and the

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swagger displayed by the older Belizean men as a self-protection mechanism. The boy who started the fight in the Standard I class, as we later found out, was being protective of his younger brother, whom the first boy was verbally provoking. Overall, a substantial number of children in Belize undergo numerous psychological stresses that evolve into an unhealthy environment at school. Thus we dedicated the next four weeks of our lives creating activities for a summer camp that promoted self-respect, team-work, imagination, kindness, and healthy lifestyles. We strived to impart some form of knowledge onto these kids, to redirect their energy from chaos-generation down a path of creative outlet. We desired to show them positive activities they can engage in with their peers and the myriad uses of their imagination that result in a positive setting where learning, friendship, and creativity can occur. We incorporated into our camps an outdoor sports activity each day, arts and crafts activities, science experiments involving marshmallow towers and volcanoes, tangrams, imagination games, puppet shows and acting skits, dancing, and scavenger hunts for the entire group. It was obvious that it was the first time most of these children were taught to “think outside the box,” mediate disagreements with other children, work as a team to solve challenges, and discover the role of science in crazy and cool phenomenon. At camp, these kids were willing to put aside their worries and troubles to show us that they were simply innocent, spirited children who wanted to get handson, a little messy, and then laugh about it. They loved our activities and were very persistent in finding out the schedule for the next day. With a combination of good disciplining and delivering the most of our enthusiasm and passion, there was also noticeable improvement in their behavior. I would like to say that “everyone lived happily ever after,” but a more meaningful conclusion would be that we initiated a ripple effect in their lives. We hope that when school resumes, the children who had the opportunity to attend our camp will share their experiences with their peers, pass along new group games and activities, and remember the feelings of wonder and the senses of achievement learning can instill within them. We were visitors to a foreign country, working with a group of not-so-foreign people – the children. It was a lifechanging experience for us, and hopefully one which revealed and reinforced the happier things in life there is to enjoy and anticipate in the future for these amazing children. u

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What is our goal? At Duke, there is a large population of volunteers who are engaged in both domestic and international service projects. How can we bring their experiences to the on-campus life so that more people can benefit from them? How can others who are interested in volunteering gain more insight into the ups and downs of a volunteering experience? Through Synergy magazine, we hope to foster a light, casual and pleasant environment for students to share their volunteering stories. This on-going communication platform not only provides a chance for volunteers to discuss their unique experiences, but also helps the readers gain an insider’s view. What do we do? We first collect photo and essay submissions from the general Duke population. Then the board members spend some backbreaking and mind-boggling hours together, editing and designing the contents. We publish one issue each semester, and lastly‌ party (of course). What is our style and content? Simple, light, casual, creative and pictorial. There is a feature story in every issue, along with 6-8 shorter essays. Anecdotes, small post-it styled writings are also featured. A large portion of the magazine is dedicated to pictures and photo-essays.

JWeoin the board. Today. are looking for people who are as passionate about volunteering and magazine publishing as we are. If you are interested and have skills in: layout design/essay editing/web design, please email us at

S ubmit to us. If you have volunteering experiences that you would like to share

with us, please submit them to Our editors will work with you to publish it in our future issues.

For comments, feedbacks, and submissions, email


SYNERGY Magazine 2009 Fall  

Duke University SYNERGY Magazine Fall 2009, Issue 2

SYNERGY Magazine 2009 Fall  

Duke University SYNERGY Magazine Fall 2009, Issue 2