Category Archives: Student Work

Second day in Matanzas


by Julia Carrigan ’20 

Today, I awoke to the sound of screaming pigs. Though, others reported they heard a soft and smooth instrumental song play at seven o’clock, I was shaken into consciousness by the morning greetings of our neighbors, the farm animals. We are currently staying at El Semenario Teologíco de Cuba, a school which trains Cubans who want to work in the field of Religion. The campus is beautiful: there are gardens and towers and pigs and chickens. Many other tourists are staying here as well, though we are very lucky to be here to attend the wedding of Roxana and Fernando tomorrow . Roxana did her junior year at GS as apart of the Bienvenidos program.

Of course, during our stay, we were excited to help the Seminary as part of our service too. During the morning, we helped out in the garden, spending all of our time weeding. There was lots and lots of weeding. But we endured the aching of our arms as we tugged at some particularly stubborn grasses, through listening to music, talking to one another, and stumbling through conversation with those who work there. We were also given a delicious snack of bread and pear juice. In particular, I enjoyed the presence of the plethora of snails which occupied the rows and beds. Although, the strongest force that pulled us through three hot hours weeding in the sun was the promise of the beach in the afternoon.

I do not think I can overstate how excited we were for the beach. We love doing service; we love painting; we love playing card games and sharing meals; we love gardening, but these are not the visions that we dream of when we have dreamed of Cuba. We dreamed of the beach. And when we arrived at Varadero Playa, we were not disappointed. The water was turquoise like you see in the postcards, but it was better than the postcards. The group broke out into cries of joy as we walked over the dunes which led to the beach. The sand was hot and soft and got everywhere. It was a glorious three hours. We walked on the shore collecting seashells. We played  spike ball and some other throwing games at which I was not adept. Some made a throne out of sand while others dug an unreasonably deep hole. And of course, we swam. We swam and swam and swam. We dived and floated in the clear waves which softly broke on the shore. Much to the relief of the parents reading this blog, we applied lots and lots of sunscreen. It was so, so, so, so good.

We enjoyed ice cream and relaxed for the rest of the day. Grateful for another productive and exciting day in Cuba.

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Washington, DC Wednesday

by Ava Doty ’20

Martha’s Table is a food bank, provides classroom spaces for teaching children ages 1-4, and has a kitchen that makes food for 200+ people by sending a free food truck to two locations in the city. We were put to work in the kitchen, which was a large clean space. Tammy and Kenzie cut zucchini, Chris and Charlotte pruned broccoli, Anisgul chopped tomatoes, and I started on mincing around 50 cloves of garlic. Having previous experience in food prep from a summer job, I finished the garlic in about 10 minutes. I then moved to the first onion of many. After doing another task in a different room, I then returned to the room where everyone was chopping. All 5 people in our group were simultaneously cutting onions, and as soon as I entered the room I bust into tears from the onion juice. Everyone in the room was balling and sniffing from the sheer amount of cut onions. We prepared and packed tins that would later given to anyone who needed a meal.

by Peter Zha ’20

Today’s D.C. transportation experience wasn’t the best, especially it went from the decent modern subways to the delayed buses. It is a good way for us to have a taste of what the majority of the residents here will have to go through every day. The service facility was a donation center built in a middle school, where they receive a huge amount of various clothing, namely formal clothing, everyday clothing, baby clothing, etc. We selected the clothing in good conditions and put them on display for people in need. There are also other programs for baby toys, technology supports, and school supplies. Surprisingly, the owners of the Marriot Corporation visited them anonymously, and because of their dedication to helping others, the couples gifted them a computer lab for major selection. Later in the afternoon, we had a second church dinner, where we cook food for anyone in need. There were some familiar faces from yesterday, and also new clients. The whole experience was a lot smoother since we all knew what to do.


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By Isaac Lee ’19 Eugene Anku ’20

Today was a half day, we went to the construction site and finished up digging so we can make a lovely house for the family. The work was hard but the sense of completion was satisfying. The fact that we completed the work in one and a half days was just amazing! Before we left, the van got stuck near the creek. The camaraderie involved in pushing the truck showed how much we have bonded over a few days. We gathered all our strength at once and pushed as hard as could to get the van out. We had lunch at Jim’s Drive in and took a picture with the manager who posted it on social media, check us out! Afterwards, we went to the Greenbrier Hotel which is a “secret” declassified underground bunker, it was so cool! They talked to us about the bunkers history and the reasons why it was constructed, mostly due to nuclear warfare during the Cold War. Now we need to get some rest so we will be energized enough for tomorrow’s work 🙂

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Arrival in Matanzas

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by Heather Thaler ’20

Today was our last day in Havana. Before breakfast, my roommates and I packed up our belongings so that we would be able to enjoy some last moments of freetime before taking off. After breakfast, we went to the Jose Marti museum in Havana. I had never read any of Marti’s poetry, but I was very interested to learn more about his impact on Cuban history and society. The plaza, with a tall grey tower and massive statue of Marti, looked to me like something straight out of Star Wars. A tour guide took us around the museum. I thought it was fascinating how closely linked the ideas of Marti and Fidel are. Previously, I thought it strange that the state would fund such a huge museum for a poet, but this experience has provided me some valuable context for understanding this. Afterwards, we went back to the church council for lunch and finished packing. Around 3, we departed from Havana. Matanzas is only about an hour away, and the view of the Cuban countryside is beautiful, so the drive wasn’t too bad. Our accommodations in Matanzas, a seminary, seem like they will be very nice. The other girls and I have an apartment to ourselves. We had dinner in the seminary’s dining hall; they served rice, beans, and meat— which I have gathered to be a pretty typical Cuban meal. After dinner, we drove to the Plaza de Libertad so that we could access the internet. Everyone was anxious to see their grade reports and call their families, but the plaza itself is gorgeous and those who are done using the internet are playing soccer or otherwise just enjoying the city of Matanzas. I am looking forward to seeing what else Matanzas has to offer in the days to come.

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Last full day in Havana

by Charlie Castle ’20 

Today, as yesterday, we went to the Senior Living Home. There, we continued our work painting the walls and making the home nicer for the seniors to live in. One of the things that stood out to me was a woman, old and with little mobility, who continued to sing in the face of everything she faced. Even as she was struggling, she sung to the entire room, trying to cheer everyone up. She continued to meet the day head on, with a smile on her face, and persist in her attempt to make life better for those around her. This stalwart rebellion against her situation in life spoke to me, and made me look at the world in a brighter way, in a way that would let me take joy in singing as my greatest solace.

After we finished in the Senior Living Home, we returned to the Consejo de Iglesias to continue our work around the church. We split into two groups, with the boys touching up the painting that the girls started, and we all worked on yesterday, while the girls planted new ferns and other medicinal plants around the building. From there, we returned to the park that we were at yesterday and continued to play with the family that we met yesterday. When we returned for dinner, we went back to the restaurant, Fress, that we ate at two nights before. There, we had a great dinner, gabbed away, and ate far too much ice cream. We then returned, walking our way back, talking the entire way, to rest and to prepare for our trip to Matanzas tomorrow.

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By Andrew Fellows 19′  Matt Majeske ’19

Today, we started off removing dirt from the house’s foundation, as well as finishing drywall on the interior. We met Mike, a United States army veteran who regularly volunteers with habitat. We got to know him through his stories when he was in the army and as well as his life in West Virginia. After lunch we back filled the dirt after the dimple board was placed around the foundation. Dimple board is there to protect the house’s foundation from frost. We finished are day by packing in the remaining dirt and sharing stories with Mike. We exceeded his expectation of all the work we got done.

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Washington, DC-Tuesday

By Charlotte Kim ’20

On our second day of service our group headed down to an organization called A Wider Circle, where items are donated and taken by people who need them.

When we first got there, we were welcomed by the lead volunteer, who talked to us about the organization and showed us around.

While we were there, we cleaned and placed mirrors, pieces of art, picture frames, pillows, and rugs. It felt good whenever someone picked out what we had cleaned and displayed.

After lunch, we helped organize clothing. We took away clothes that seemed stained, ripped, or damaged, and organized clothes that were in good condition on the racks.

After our day at A Wider Circle, we headed back to the church, where we helped prepare dinner for the homeless. Once the food was all prepared, we sat down and interacted with the guests. It was nice to talk to them and make connections.

Today’s service was truly memorable and fulfilling.



By Josh Saskin ’19

Today was another early day for Kim’s group. We started off by taking the bus to the DC Central Kitchen, where we were greeted by a warm staff. We spent the morning slicing bread and fruit, labeling containers, and organizing meals for shelters around the city. I really enjoyed today because I got to interact with many different people and see how much work goes into the process of providing for those with food insecurities. Afterwards, Kim let us have some time to explore on our own before we headed back to the church, so the five of us went to Reren, where we enjoyed ramen and xiao long bao, which is a staple of shanghainese culture. From there, we enjoyed bubble tea, explored Chinatown, and even got a chance to go inside the National Geographic museum that has an interactive exhibit on Egyptian queens. We then met up with Kim again and headed to the church, and we met Cassie to talk about the upcoming dinner we would be making. Tonight, the YSOP groups had the pleasure of cooking enchiladas and other dishes alongside one another to feed the roughly 20 homeless people who would arrive to have a meal, relax, and maybe even play a game of uno. While I was a bit hesitant at first, I was surprised by how well I got along with the man at my table. Peats was a man who volunteered at the church, wrote for the local newspaper, and had a degree in music. Charlotte, Cat, and I were overjoyed to find out that he had been recently accepted for an apartment and was about to become a homeowner. By nine o’clock, we were all exhausted and headed back to the house. Some of us showered and relaxed in our rooms, while others laughed at the table reminiscing about each other’s earlier years at GS. I’m definitely exhausted, both mentally and physically, but I’m starting to feel like we are making a difference, little by little, in the DC community.

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By Matt McMallen ’20  Cooper Feiner ’20

On the first day of the service trip our first project was putting up drywall. We also met with the future home owner chrissy. She helped us out along with Gerald the drywall expert. Jerald showed us how to cut and put up the drywall. Within 10 minutes we all knew what we are doing and we were on our own. It was a pretty simple project but it was very exhausting.



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Painting at Senior Living Home in Havana

Yesterday we got to enjoy the beauty of the city of Havana by visiting El Muraleando, a museum of murals, and the national aquarium. We danced with Cubans of all ages, and we tried our best to match their skill and passion. We found, however, that theirs is unparalleled. We also got to experience Quakerism through a foreign yet familiar lens. Through those experiences, we were able to learn so much about the people of Cuba and their culture. We shared a lot of our own as well.

Today, we participated in some service for a Senior Living Home in La Habana. The residents and staff of the home were so kind, and they welcomed us with open arms and lots of tasks to fulfill. We began to paint in different spaces of the home, and we interacted with all of the members while doing so. We met a man named Antonio who worked at the home and directed our service for the day. He had the best sense of humor, and he was very patient with us as we worked through painting the spaces. Along with our brushes and gloves for the day, we brought a speaker to make our work more exciting for ourselves and our new friends. One of my favorite moments of the day was when we played Como La Flor by Selena on the speaker. Immediately, the staff and residents of the home were delighted by our love for her music, and they taught us a few new moves as well. Seeing the smiles of many different people from different walks of life connecting through music and dance was beautiful. It is a moment I will never forget.

After our work, we took a trip to a local park that was full of teens, adults, and beyond that were exercising, practicing, and having fun. We brought a few soccer and basketballs, and we joined in. We got to interact with many kids, and they taught us a thing or two about soccer, baseball, and having fun. Spending the evening in the sun with familiar and new friends was the best way to end such an incredible day.

Tomorrow, we will be returning to the senior home to continue painting, and I am excited for the new memories that we are going to make.

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Washington, DC Day 1

Day 2

by Catherine Orescan ’19

Today we visited the Covenant House for service. Upon arriving, the manager of the House gave us a tour, showing us rooms ranging from classrooms to a miniature clothing boutique. After the tour, we split into two groups. Chloe and Josh took on the “Dove Room” where they organized clothing by size, style, and color in order to make shopping more accessible for clients who visit the Covenant House. Mindy, Peter, and I worked on clearing, cleaning, and organizing a room in the back that the staff wants to use for storing and organizing donations. The House receives items including clothing, toiletries, handbags, and much more. Mindy and I specifically emptied handbags full of toiletries and miscellaneous items that we then organized into two sets of drawers. We ended up having to reorganize three times because so many items had to fit into the drawers! What most impacted me and my individual group was the incredible influx of donations that the managers of the House had to shift through and organize. They were constantly overwhelmed by the bags and boxes of clothing that needed to be sorted and displayed. I realized that although it might seem so easy to donate garbage bags full of clothing, the people on the receiving end of the donations often are understaffed to handle everything. Overall, it was an enjoyable day to see how our hard work transformed the two rooms our group worked on.

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