Following my high school graduation I spent a school year abroad in countries across Asia volunteering with International Volunteer HQ and their partner organizations. The work varied from place to place; disaster relief following floods in the Chiang Rai region of Northern Thailand, sweating it out in Southeast Asia’s agriculture, teaching English at open shelters in Hanoi and the slums of Delhi – the latter being over many months of progress that left a still standing legacy, assisting doctors and families in The Vietnamese National Hospital of Acupuncture, documenting the floating slums of Hanoi and it’s inhabitants’ lifestyle on commission for the NGO SJVietnam, and lastly teaching English and science in Buddhist Monasteries in Tibetan-India. Living and working in orphanages in Nepal would have been the last on that list were it not for the earthquake hitting while I was trekking through the Annapurna range.
A few sentences cannot surmise the vastness of the journey and it’s countless aspects, so I encourage you to read the blog I wrote with dedicated passion throughout. Click here to visit the full year of volunteering blog
I began with three questions: How do student immigrants go from surviving to thriving in a new country, how do their identities evolve during that transition, and what are the biggest challenges facing families immigrating to the United States today?
After spending my 2013-14 school year with fifteen different immigrant families in my hometown, and drawing from my own experiences as an immigrant, I have accrues incredible insights into the dozens of issues these student immigrants and their families cope with daily. Culminating in an exhibition and lecture I spent the ten-month period documenting the individual stories and supplementing those with a documentary on my findings narrated by the district lead ESL teacher.
In 2012 when The Camden Street Elementary School, a K-8 school, reopened in Newark as one of many renewal schools in the district, there was an 18% literacy rate among students at the minimum state level. With one art teacher and one music teacher for eight hundred students and nothing in the way of extra-curricular art programs, both literacy and the arts were labeled as emergencies by the new principle Mr. Garrison.
In the summer of 2013, Randolph High School senior Seth Mitchell proposed a project to unite the two school districts in an effort to address and improve those emergencies. The proposed partnership of CSES and RHS would see the pairing of thirty Randolph High School students with eighty of the Camden Street students for the purpose of writing, producing and performing an original musical.
Working as Seth’s right hand man I lead the writing of the musical, its direction, the documenting of the process through writing and images, filming and post-production of the documentary and as a promoter of the project.
Over the period of time between first meeting of the two groups in January of 2014 till the musicals completion and multiple performances in June, socioeconomic barriers were shattered by the friendships forged, stereotypes were broken, grades and behaviors were improved, and two completely opposite groups of people were united in pursuit of this one goal.