Reflecting on Lessons Learned Through Service

by Jake Malavsky ’15

This summer I have been following the service trip blogs posted by current George School students. Reading their reflections caused me to think about my own service trip experience and how it has shaped my life after George School.

Every George School student spends a minimum of 65 hours participating in service learning. Some work locally while others travel around the world to locations ranging from Washington DC to Vietnam. In the spring of 2015, I joined a group of George School faculty and students on a trip to Mississippi to work with Habitat for Humanity. This trip would prove to be one of the highlights of my senior year.

Mississippi is the poorest state in the country and we traveled to the Mississippi Delta, one of the most impoverished areas of the state. Our trip lasted two weeks and we split the time working at two local Habitat for Humanity sites.

Having grown up near George School for most of my life, Mississippi was unlike anything I had ever experienced. This was evident when a few of us walked into a gas station convenience store to find jars of “koolicles” for sale. The bright red color of these pickles soaked in Kool Aid was an immediate sign of the difference in cultures. Instead of shutting down in the face of these differences we were encouraged to open ourselves up to them.

For me one of the most rewarding aspects of the trip was our interaction with the communities that we were serving. Years of volunteering in this area had created a neighborhood of Habitat for Humanity housing. Every day after we finished working the children of Clarksdale would show up in front of our house wanting to play games. The youngest ones would try and tackle us to the ground as we joined in on their after school traditions. I felt that, even more than the assigned physical work, our real service happened during those afternoons of tag and hide-and-seek.

When I think back on what I learned, I can boil it down to one main idea—I learned to be open. Since leaving Mississippi and graduating from George School I have carried this idea with me. With all the fear caused by recent events, it seems to me that being open to different cultures, ideas, and traditions is a lesson worth learning.

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Our Final Day in Beijing, and China

Our last day in Beijing and our last day in China. We woke up and headed out for breakfast outside. Given the choice between Chinese breakfast and a bakery, almost everyone chose the bakery. After breakfast, we rode over to Coal Hill, a small hill strategically located just south of the Forbidden City. The hill is just high enough to give a wonderful overview of the Forbidden City, a view afforded nowhere else. After going up and down the hill, we headed out to 798. This old factory was turned into artist studio and gallery space several years ago and offers a wonderful viewing and selection of modern Chinese art. After wandering around there for several hours we headed back into the city to meet a number of Chinese George School families for dinner; typical Beijing cuisine. Since we had to get up so early the next morning to catch our flight, we called it a night around 8 o’clock.

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Beijing Day 3

Another beautiful day in Beijing; quite seriously, blue skies and sunny, hot weather. We set off this morning by subway to have dim sum, Cantonese brunch, consisting of various steamed buns and dumplings, chicken’s feet, and other delicacies. After breakfast, we walked about 15 minutes to Yonghegong, or Lama Temple, a temple of Tibetan Buddhism. After another 15 minute walk and a brief stop for green tea ice cream, we arrived at the Confucius Temple. Temple is perhaps the wrong term for this complex, which was a place of learning and the place for the Imperial examinations, which determined who would become the highest-ranked officials. We next walked through the winding hutongs, or alleys, to arrive at a wonderful vegetarian restaurant.

The interesting thing about Chinese vegetarian restaurants is that the foods are made to appear and even taste like meat and fish. After lunch, we got on a bus and headed south to Tiantan 天坛, or the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is where the emperor used to communicate with heaven, and is now a large, beautiful park. Across the street from the east gate is the Hongqiao Pearl Market. Everyone enjoyed shopping in this very Chinese market, full of clothes and shoes and accessories and electronics and bags, and where you can bargain until you get the deal you want. Above back of the hotel where everyone put their stuff away and got a quick shower before heading out again for a dinner of Beijing duck. This is a specialty not to be missed when visiting Beijing, and we were not disappointed.

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Beijing Days 1 and 2

We arrived in Beijing after a ten-hour overnight train ride from Yangzhou. Fresh from a good night’s sleep for some and a not so good night’s sleep for others, we boarded the bus for a short ride to the hotel where we dropped our bags before heading out to do a full day of sightseeing. We drove over to the south side of Tiananmen Square, where we marveled at the sheer size and scale of the square. We looked north toward Mao’s portrait and then headed to walk underneath it on our way into the Forbidden City. Continue reading

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Thoughts on our First Day at the Yangzhou Orphanage

by Savio ’17

We started off the day as usual, with a short rendezvous at Yangzhou high school. We were all refreshed off of our weekends with our host families, and ready for a good day of service at Yangzhou Orphanage. The bus ride was thirty minutes, but it ended up being about an hour because the staff made us wait while they organized. Upon finally entering, we were all surprised about the condition of the orphanage. There was a clean lobby with a front desk, multiple couches, and best of all, air conditioning. After touring the building, we split up into three groups. The first group was to mop the hallways and wipe all the surfaces of the 2nd floor. The second group was to feed some of the disabled babies. And the third group was to play with some of the physically disabled children.

I was in the first group, so we ended up mopping and wiping for roughly an hour and a half. Since we finished fairly fast given the amount of time, we got to hang out with a few staff members in their office. When all the groups were finished, we walked over to their cafeteria, which was in a different building. It had the set up of a restaurant, but the food was on a tray, and of similar quality to the food at the other schools we visited. After lunch, we went to a zoo and many of us were excited to see the pandas. Most of the animals were lying down and panting because of the heat, and rightfully so, as the temperature was about 96 Fahrenheit.

After an exciting couple of hours, we walked back to the orphanage to finish our service for the day. My group rotated to feeding the babies, which was difficult to say the least. One of the staff briefed us on some of the conditions that the kids suffered, and told us to not be too rattled by their appearances. The babies were lined up in the hallway and as we entered a few started to cry. Everybody chose a baby and we got to work. Although some of the babies were relatively cooperative, others were crying continually and not eating. Luckily, my baby began to eat after a bit of coaxing and patience. I used the “here comes the airplane!” tactic, which quite surprisingly works well. Many of the babies had cleft lips, which was off putting in terms of feeding them, but we managed and eventually the job was done.

After the feeding, we went into a room on the same floor, which served as their playroom. Some of the older toddlers that could walk and run were in a large pen that had a bunch of toys, and since so many GS students were with the babies, I decided to play in the pen. It ended up being a blast and I got a game of keep away going with a foam basketball, and they loved it.

My experience at the orphanage was notably different than the special needs school because of the disabilities of the children as well as their age difference. The feeding was a very straightforward job, but it put us in the uncomfortable position of being face to face with a child that looks very different than what we’re used to. At first, it really put me off, but after a few minutes I realized the baby girl I was feeding was no different than me, simply another human trying to survive in a world that can be harsh. If anything, I wanted to give these children the one on one attention and love they deserve and clearly yearn for. It was so fulfilling to see the smile on their faces as we played, or as they hung on my arms and climbed my back. They clearly had suffered from not only physical disabilities, but a lack of human touch. This is clearly some of the biggest areas of impact I, and my classmates, have accomplished during our time here, and I hope that impact lasts.

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Destiny is interviewed by a reporter from Yangzhou Evening News (扬州晚报)

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by | June 26, 2016 · 9:52 am

Last Day of Service at the Special Education School

Today was our last day at the school for the deaf and mentally disabled. After arriving on the campus, we took photos with some of the students and teachers in the school’s dining hall. We then went to the building where the administrators work and we had an arts and crafts class with some of the students. I worked with a nineteen-year-old that was quite intelligent, despite the physical and mental challenges she faced, and her knowledge of music and love for singing sort of surprised me. After doing arts and crafts, we wiped down all the chairs in the dining hall along with most of the walls. After eating lunch, we worked with two groups of deaf students. We were tasked with providing them help with making father’s day cards, which proved to be more challenging for the George School students who worked with the younger group of kids. Earlier in the day during one of our short breaks, we spent time learning sign language that was specific to China so that we could be of more help and better at communicating. Continue reading

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Service Trip Participants Highlighted in Local Chinese Paper

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       The above article appeared in the local newspaper, after we spent two days at the Jiangdu Special Education School.

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Arleigh: Our Second Day at the Special Needs School

 We started off once again on our favorite bus. The bus was full of cards, laughter, and always sleep. The ride is never long enough as we pulled up to the special-needs school that we would be helping out at. Everyone was tired, but as soon as we saw the students we met the day before, our spirits were lifted. Today, we would be cooking with kids we had not yet had the chance to meet. My spirits were high, but I was nervous about the students ability to cook and my ability to help them. As we walked into the dining hall, the students had huge smiles on their faces and were filled with excitement.

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Last Day in Kayenta

by Lea ’17

Today was our last day in Kayenta. I  don’t think any of us could believe that our service trip was already over and that it was time for us to leave the reservation. Kayenta had become our home for the few weeks that we had been there, and it was very difficult for us to say goodbye to our host families and the community as a whole. We gathered up all of our luggage, substantially augmented by last minute gifts, and crammed everything into the suburbans. After our final farewells to our families and to Kayenta, we started on the long drive to Phoenix. Continue reading

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