Mississippi Day 9

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

by Kerry Chen ’19

As the first day of work at Clarksdale, we woke up to a mild weather and a decent breakfast. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood and were ready to accept a new set of assignment. We waited until the person in charge, Ben, arrived and filled us in with all the essential information we need to keep in mind. His humor, gratefulness, and excitement accompanied us all the way into the worksite.

The morning passed by as Ben explained what we needed to do for the rest of the week, which is much different and fascinating to me: setting down the tiles, installing the doors, and—this is no longer a surprise—painting. Ben spent some time teaching us how to cut and align the tiles, since none of us had this kind of experience; he then showed us how to put a whole set of door in place with great patience. Tired of a week of brushing the walls and longing for something I haven’t done before, I chose to put on door locks. The job turned out to be much more interesting than I had expected, for it added a new perspective to my knowledge. I never knew how pieces of the door are put together and function the way they do, and I never imagined I would be putting together something we see every day. What I did today, however, provided me a chance to get out of my comfort zone—lying in bed and watching Netflix with AC on—and take part in the construction of the asset that would make such activity possible. I took delight in screwing the locks in and hammering the door to the frame, not only because I have never done it before, but also for the fact that I am doing something beneficial for the community.

We had a conversation regarding some changes in schedule over lunchtime, which we resolved later tonight. The workload was the same in the afternoon, and we painted—there’s always more painting—the doors as we finished stabilizing them. In spite of the exhaustion, playing with Ace—the most adorable puppy I’ve ever seen in the neighborhood—was the highlight of the day. As Kaitlyn and I were taking a break on the porch, a small, brown, and fluffy ball rolled under my legs; the scare turned into surprise as I discovered that it was Ace seeking a hug. Though he ran away after I held him on my shoulder, he swept away much of the fatigue and gave me the energy to keep working.

Since the weather became so nice in the afternoon, we decided to take a walk around Clarksdale. I took out my jean shorts and sunglasses, which had been lying on the bottom of my suitcase from the day I got to Mississippi, and was glad to have the chance to put them on. After passing two cafes that were closed, we finally got to Yazoo, a decent café with wifi and nice decoration. We chilled for a while and I got vanilla frozen yogurt, with strawberries on—it was only me trying to be healthy. I really enjoyed the weather and the view around the neighborhood, as well as how we took the chance to come out and get some fresh air. The area of Clarksdale could be described as peaceful and comfortable, where everyone was so nice and friendly. We actually had a lot of fun hanging out with the local kids; playing games with them reminded me of childhood flashbacks, a feeling I seldom have time to relive and cherish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students


by Ben McCormick ’18

Day 8 BBKings bandDay 8 BBKings dancing

A day of pause began with an 8:45am wake-up call in room 231, one of the rooms where our group was staying in the Hampton Inn. The thirteen of us grabbed a quick complimentary breakfast and left at 10:00am sharp to visit Memphis, TN before driving back to Clarksdale, MS for our second week of service with Habitat.

Expecting Memphis to be as typical as any other city, I was pleasantly surprised by the rich musical history and Southern qualities that made the visit a unique experience. Ironically unlucky for the group, the streets were engulfed in the remnants of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. When I say unlucky for the group, I specifically mean Elenor, who stepped in vomit while admiring an adorable puppy tucked away in a woman’s jacket. We continued to explore the streets in groups despite the misfortune. We first stopped at the nearest souvenir shops, which seems to have become tradition these past few days, and then continued down to the banks of the Mississippi River.

By the water we saw a large pyramid that seemed to glow in the distance. The time read 11:25am, but Valerie asked for everyone to meet back at B.B. King’s Blues Club for lunch at 12:30pm and we knew we had limited time to reach the building. We decided to seize the opportunity and accepted the journey along the river to meet the pyramid, which held Bass Pro Shops.

With limited time after arriving 25 minutes later, we raced in and were greeted by hunting and fishing gear galore along with many tasteful candies and arcade games. What specifically caught our attention was the gigantic elevator that led to the top of the pyramid. Admission to the top was shockingly $10, so we decided to shop around downstairs anyway. Our purchases ranged from snapbacks to camo hoodies. If you know me at all, you know that I would never wear something camo or that is typical to hunting or fishing, but this was a special occasion. In my mind, I see this as two things: one, an impulse purchase, or two, that the South is really changing me in small ways. Valerie and Emma were kind enough to come and drive us back, and I happily embraced my new hat for the entire five minute ride to the restaurant. Then I realized I can’t pull off hats.

B.B. King’s Blues Club greeted us with fantastic live music, courtesy of Flic’s Pics, which featured a Grammy nominee on the drums. The food was equally as terrific as the music was compelling. After we finished our meals we had to dance to the music, and we were greeted by a pro on the dancefloor.

Our time in Memphis was a success, and we began our journey back into Mississippi by pausing to place our feet on the grounds of Arkansas and then to immediately pile back into the two crammed vans. We arrived at our new home in Clarksdale after an hour and a half in the vans. The small light blue house was surrounded by energetic children riding their bikes, who I look forward to getting to know throughout the course of our stay. Before truly settling in, we took another trip to Walmart to shop for groceries.

Tortillas and nachos were the featured entrees to our home-cooked meal that evening. While Beau, Susie, and Jacob prepared guacamole, I sliced and diced some veggies to make the salsa recipe my mother taught me, Emma prepared nachos, and Julia perfected tortillas. The joint effort between all of us made this dinner special, and the confusion of the others who were piecing together a puzzle a few feet away added to the home-like environment. During dinner, there was not a single person quiet, and we were all enjoying the food and our new home. Tomorrow we begin our first day, and I know we all are anticipating the new work that lays ahead.




Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

El doceavo día

D and A 2D and A1

This morning we started our day in the primary school with competitive games. I was happy because I was able to contribute to my grade’s win in the potato sack race. Then, all of our group, competed against student the Nicaragüita in a competitive game of tug of war.

We returned to Rafaela’s house for some delicious rice and meat. Not long after lunch, everyone was sprawled out on the floor, taking an afternoon nap. These afternoon naps have become quite a custom.

We were then picked up by the 10th grade class of the Nicaraguita and walked to school. We all sat in the back of our usual classes and took in the language. My grade was having a very interesting debate about feminism but I had some difficulty keeping up with all of the vocab. After recess we competed in another series of games, these were much more difficult to win compared to those of the lower school. We won one game of tug of war but lost every other game.

Afterwards, we went back inside for a party with the 11th grade of the Nicaraguita. They handed out plates with chicken and vegetables and quickly after eating we all danced. All of a sudden Alyssa and I were told to stand and wait in the middle of the room. To our surprise, a live chichero band came in blasting music as a celebration for our  birthdays. We had danced for somewhere around 3 hours switching partners along the way. We were very sad when the party ended and we had to return to our host families for the night.

Yours truly,

Danny and Alyssa 🙂

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized

Mississippi Day 7

Day 7 GS group dinner

by Julia Wilson ’18

Our day started early at 7:30 because we had to get Kailee and Brendan to the airport. We will miss them this upcoming week. Upon arrival at the airport though, we met Valerie’s brother and he kindly found us a hotel and drove us to our next location: Graceland. Graceland was Elvis Presley’s home and easily one of the strangest places I have ever been. It was a huge concrete complex, similar to an amusement park, but 80% empty. There was however a private bell choir who played songs like the Jurassic Park theme song. I think this made the experience a little weirder but also a little more entertaining. Elvis’s home itself was pretty big but not abnormally sized; the decorations are what made it stand out. There was one room that was all blue and yellow, and another that was floor to ceiling a very detailed pattern. There were also mirrors and carpeting everywhere… even on the ceilings. Later we were picked up by Valerie and Emma, our new week two chaperone, and taken to the Civil Rights Museum. There was a lady standing outside the museum, which had once been a motel and was where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, who had been protesting for over 30 years. Members of our group were curious to find out her arguments for this but Valerie had us go ahead with the tour anyway, as we were meeting Fred Davis, who had walked in protest with MLK and also sat on the stage with MLK on the day of his last speech, waiting to walk the tour with us. The museum itself was very nice and very interesting. It covered the civil rights movement and its history and had 22 different exhibits, each of which was interactive and highly informational and included artifacts and historical photos, letters, and more. After our group got through the museum a few of us still were inside so the rest of us relaxed on the lawn across the street. After the museum we went back to our hotel and were met by a great dinner cooked by Valerie’s brother and his neighbors. It was delicious! At night we went to the mall for about an hour and then came back to hang out before going to bed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized

El Onceavo Día

by Hadley Cohen ’19

Today was the first day of our second week of school. It is starting to hit me that we are leaving soon because the days keep flying by. This morning we had our normal breakfast at 7, of rice and beans, eggs and ham, and mangos. The juice of the day was my favorite, flor de Jamaica. After we had breakfast the first grade class showed up to walk us to class. Jordan and I spent the morning with our preschoolers, drawing, coloring, and playing with playdough. The greeting of hugs every morning has become a part of my daily routine, and I will miss it so much.

After spending the morning with the kids we went to our dance class. In the beginning dance class was really difficult because of the heat, but now we are becoming accustomed to it and it is becoming more fun. We learned the last part of the dance that we will perform on the last day. After dance class we went to lunch], which consisted of macaroni salad, plantain chips, rice, and steak.

Today instead of going to the high school, we went to the albergue of the hospital for children with cancer. At the albergue we played with the kids and painted. We painted the playground and the front of the hospital. This was really sad but happy at the same time. Even though the kids were sick, they were able to still have smiles on their faces and play with us. After the albergue we came back to the house for dinner. Dinner tonight was empanadas, rice, and tomatoes. When I got home after dinner I played with my 1 year old host brother and then passed out from the long day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized

What to Pack for Boarding School

340-Amber Salazar

by Amber Salazar ’19

I have been a boarding school student for 2 years now and it seems like each year I somehow manage to forget to pack something important. I’ve always wished that there was a list of things that I should and shouldn’t pack, but I can never seem to find one that is as handy as I would like it to be, so I am going to make a list of my own. Here are the essentials of packing for boarding school.

  • Pack lots of clothes! While you are packing it may seem like you are bringing way too much, but trust me, you’ll need it. Lately the weather has been unpredictable, so make sure to bring clothes for both warm and cold temperatures.
  • Pack different types of shoes. Sometimes you will need sneakers, if it’s cold out you may want to wear boots, or when it’s hot you might want to wear sandals. It is very convenient to have a variety.
  • Bring decorations! The majority of dorm rooms are very bland, so that you can customize it to your liking. Lots of people hang up lights, posters, pictures; really anything that makes it feel more like home.
  • Remember to bring school supplies. You are going to a boarding SCHOOL, after all. Pencils, pens, notebooks, binders, etc.
  • Toiletries! This is probably the most easily forgotten thing to pack. Since you will be living at school, you will need a toothbrush, toothpaste, body wash, deodorant, etc.
  • Bring food. You will be hungry sometimes! If you want a late-night snack or something small to eat in the middle of the day, it is nice to have something to eat in your room.

Overall, the boarding school experience is AMAZING. When you pack the necessary items, the experience just becomes even better.

Leave a comment

Filed under Admission Office, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized


by Alyssa Fread ’18

This morning after a late start, we arrived at the work site to find an enormous pile of dry wall waiting for us to move into the house. Although mildly dangerous, we quickly turned the job into a race, or a more pc name: competitive walk with a winner, with people teaming up in pairs to pretty much run holding enormous rectangles of sheet rock. Even though we all had two people to work with, Lorenzo beat out the competition by a mile and shifted into fourth, out of apparently eighteen, gears and won just working by himself.

During our break Lorenzo led us around for a tour of Tutwiler, where we saw a bunch more homes, the community center, and the funeral home for Emmett Till. It was crazy to see the state of disrepair the funeral home was in, basically one step above falling down, with really only a sign to commemorate the site. If you go around back, you can see the hearse in the garage. One great thing we saw on the tour were the plans to create a really large park. Lorenzo said that within three to four years, the park would be completed with baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and pools, all of which I think would make a huge difference to the community. I would love to check back in four or so years from now and see the finished park and if it’s changed anything for the people of Tutwiler.

After yet another aggressive game of Egyptian Rat-screw, half of our group left to make a grocery run to the Dollar General and the other half stayed behind to play a four on four game of football. Although my team was stacked, with me, Kailee, Lorenzo, and Beau, the other team, Brendon, Jacob, Susie, and Max, somehow managed to beat us out for the win. By the end of the game we were all dead tired, but returned to the work site to finish all of the windows and fiberglass for the walls and ceilings. It was a great feeling. After finishing our work for the day, Sara, one of the nearby homeowners who also had a house built by Habitat for Humanity, offered to have us all tour her home. It was really cool to see what we were working on in relation to the finished product, also she decorated impeccably with a strong burgundy theme that added a very stylish vibe to the house.

We all cleaned up and went to the community center for a pot luck with a bunch of people from the town. The food was fantastic, and although I wouldn’t know because I’m a vegetarian, I was told the fried chicken was to die for. It was really great to meet the families who would be receiving the houses we were working on and made the effort we were putting in all the more meaningful. Overall this was a great day. The more time we spend here the more I don’t want to leave and I can only hope that when we have to move to Clarksdale for our second worksite, we have just as good of a time as we’ve had so far.


Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students, Uncategorized

El Decimo Dia


by Alyssa Taliaferro ’19

This morning was pretty great because we all got to sleep in a little more since we didn’t have to meet to for breakfast until 7:30. After eating breakfast we all piled onto the bus and made our way to pueblos blancos. We arrived at this ceramics school where we had the opportunity to buy different ceramics pieces. A man there went through the process they use to make all of their ceramic pieces. It was really cool because they didn’t use any electricity. They used their feet to turn the wheels, natural pigments to make the paints, and rubbed seeds on the pieces to make them shiny.

Next we went to Catarina where we had a great view of Laguna El Apoyo. We went through a guided tour of the area where we learned the uses of all the plants. There was this one plant who’s name translated to skunk because of its horrible smell. Everyone in the group was trying to get me to sniff it because it is supposed to help with congestion. We also stopped to look at all the monkeys that were sleeping around in the trees. After our tour we stayed in the area to some souvenir shopping.

We went back to Masaya but this time visited another market for those who still wanted to do a bit more shopping and then made our way back to Rafaela’s house for dinner. My host mother picked me up at around 6:30. I went home, caught up on the 3 journals I had forgotten to write then went to sleep.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

Haiti Day 1

Day 1

by Jackie Coren

The students on the trip are Nadia Arenas-Purvinis, Andrew Arth, Michelle Bronsard, Rebecca Campbell, Brandon Christian, Eamon McEwen and Khy Zungu. The leaders are Jackie Coren, Barb Kibler and Rosey Rosetty-Wagner. One thing we learned at the outset is the Taíno, word for Haiti, which is Ayiti (“High Places”). The Taíno were the indigenous people of the whole island and the preferred name here. For our first week in Ayiti, we’ve been in the mountain village of Gwo Jan at the N a Sonje community. N a Sonje means “We will remember,” and the foundation’s mission is to introduce visitors to the people, language, culture and history of Haiti in order for Haitians and visitors (particularly from the north) to come to know each other as real people despite more prevalent stereotypes. All work activities and learning sessions are designed around this idea of building relationships and a wider community. The founder and director of N a Sonje, Carla Bluntschli, is a committed and imaginative teacher and a veritable Energizer Bunny!

Language and Culture:

In addition to the initial greeting from the Carla’s “team” of local Haitians in the first evening the students met their “twins.” Each GS student is paired with a young person in the village with whom they do language and cultural activities together as “siblings” and as a large group. They have all become good friends and it’s wonderful to see that. Our first evening all together was spent listening to personal stories from Carla’s team and the “twins” of what it is like to live in Ayiti and of our sharing why we have been drawn to come here. Everyone spoke freely and movingly and the evening set the tone for the rest of the stay here.

In their own words—Michelle and Rebecca:

A striking part about our trip has been learning about the culture and Kreyol language of Ayiti. Ever since we arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport, we have been greeted in an extraordinary manner. In Ayiti, we learned that it is customary to greet everyone you meet with a smile and a “Bonjou!” This tradition in itself is representative of the Haitian culture of community, integrity and respect. When we first arrived, in order to participate in this culture, and “feel the ground and be on the same level as the local villagers,” Carla had us get out of the van in the mountain village of Gwo Jan where we are based, and walk the remaining ¼+ mile. Upon arrival, we met with local members of her team and our “twins” (“marasa”). The twins are local village youths who take part in the N a Sonje Foundation community. They have become good friends. The existing language barrier was partially broken through mutual Kreyol and English exchanges and lessons. To practice and develop our knowledge, we played charades and a form of “Hangman” in the opposing languages. Overall, the experience with our twins and the Gwo Jan village has allowed us to gain and deepen our insight into the rich Haitian culture.

Food and Village Encounters—Khy and Nadia:

To accomplish the tasks mentioned below, we both worked in the kitchen at N a Sonje and also walked to various homes in the village–about 1/4 mile up and down some steep footpaths. All of the food we helped prepare appeared at one time or another in a meal we ate.

In their words:

On Sunday, we split into 2 groups of 4 to do 4 different activities. We rotated after about an hour at each station. One stop was coffee-making at the home of a villager. We learned how to roast the beans from berries, then coated them in sugar. We waited for them to cool, then ground them with a wooden mortar (hollowed out tree trunk) and pestle. It tasted delicious. This was the same coffee that we drink at N a Sonje.

Another stop at a villager’s home was cassava breading-making which was amazing. We watched how it was made and each of us had a turn at grating coconut with a grater made by punching holes into the side of a used metal can. Cassava is a root that is grated, pressed, and dried. The bread, a sandwich-like bread is our group’s favorite so far. It’s usually eaten with sugar and coconut, and sometimes with herring, onions, and tomato. In our group, cassava bread is also used for our breakfast and night. Nadia, the “pickiest eater” of the group, said that the herring cassava was her favorite. Another stop was roasting and grinding peanuts for peanut butter; and at another, we sorted beans and grains of rice.

Other food we eat included rice, beans, sweet fried plantains, pork, beef, chicken, salad, freshly-roasted and ground peanut butter (another station), breadfruit and freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice.

 On Education– Eamon and Brandon:

Tuesday, March 13, was our “Education Day.” Eamon and Brandon write about House of Hope, a school at the Foundation Ecumenic for Peace and Justice. This program is for children and youth living as indentured servants or “restaveks.” As most restavek children have minimal to no schooling, the Foundation works to provide a primary education to children living as restaveks. We had a long session with older children and youth and adults in a vocational sewing program in which we exchanged questions and views on a range of topics, from the personal to the political. It was a wonderful exchange. It’s important to know that the restavek situation is not an officially sanctioned program, but rather an unfortunate consequence of the economic realities of the country. There are a number of social programs working to reduce the number of restavek children and hopefully some day eliminate the practice altogether. After this we went to Quisqueya University and met with Sara Wolf (’99).

 In their words:

We went to one of the best private schools in Port-au-Prince. At the school, we visited with some of the students. They were well-versed in the politics of Haiti. The students we met with were in grades 5 and 6 and also included profession classes. In the profession classes, we found that ages ranged from teenagers to adults who have children. The school seeks to ready the students for society. In grades 5 and 6, the school teaches many common courses, such as math, cooking, language, etc. While we talked to them, they brought up the topic of second-hand clothing. Many people in Haiti buy second hand clothing [donated from other countries] because it is much cheaper than buying new Haitian-made clothing. As well as taking away from the local economy, the clothes take away from the culture of the Haitian people. They take these classes so that they can be able to make and sell their own clothes which have traditional designs. We also went to another school and learned [from Sara Wolf] about an innovative education experience she and her team have created for Haitian schools. She told us about a morning routine which excites the kids about learning instead of through fear. They gained support from companies like Kellog and partnered with the university they are stationed in. They do data collecting on the education system in Haiti and are starting a data center, which is the first of its kind in Haiti. They are teaching educators around the country about the new process of teaching, which through the data, they proved has been working. The Ministry of Education in Haiti has not done enough in recent years in the way of improving education, so InnovEd has taken initiative to better the education opportunity in Haiti.

 History—Kairo and Andrew:

In addition to Kairo and Andrew’s account, the students re-enacted a guided mimed historical play that Carla and her team created called “Three Innocents and a Spirit.” Over and over in our conversations with people, the history of Haiti is emphasized, and the importance of recounting and remembering. N a Sonje means “We will remember.”

 In their words:

On Monday, March 12 we focused on the history of European colonialism in relation to Haiti. Carla read excerpts of Christopher Columbus’ personal journals, Howard Zinn’s interpretation and other historical texts. The overlying theme of the lesson that we were taught was telling history from non-traditional perspectives. After completing these readings, Carla led us in a discussion in regard to these alternative perspectives, lending additional facts when necessary. For example, we discussed the United States occupation of Haiti, specifically the negative impacts this even has on present-day Haiti. As this topic is rarely emphasized in the American education system, our knowledge of this was quite minimal. This led to not only an intriguing discussion, but an overwhelming informative one as well. In addition to learning and gaining knowledge, our lessons were also emotionally enriching. For instance, Carla passed around a real chain and shackle, found and dug up from the land nearby. It was from the days of brutal slavery in Haiti. This deeply impacted our group as we all saw and held it and reflected on the severity of slavery in Haiti and its effects on the people today. All in all, our new-found knowledge and appreciation of Haitian history will be something that not only impacts the remainder of our time here, but on our lives when we return back home.

Leave a comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students

El Noveno Dia

by Jordan Valdepeñas-Mellor ’19

Today, I was ready for a full day of fun because we had many fun activities planned. We were going to a pool somewhere and we got to bring members of our family with us. I like to wake up an hour before we have to show up at Rafaela’s house, so I woke up at 6:30. Unlike Alex’s mango-filled nights, my house tends to be a lot more quiet. We showed up at Rafaela’s, and had the usual gallo pinto, with the addition of a very tasteful, marbled bread.

After breakfast, we had to get ready for the second-longest bus ride of our trip. But when we arrived at the Centro Ecoturístico Flor de Pochote, the views were amazing as we were at the top of a mountain, with heavy winds. We were all surprised to find that before swimming, we had to go through 7 team bonding exercises which, if I’m completely honest… not my scene. But when we finished, we had an amazing lunch consisting of our choice of meat. After lunch, we took the afternoon to swim, talk to friends and families, look down the mountains, relax, and have fun. When we left, we stopped by a small marketplace, where we bought things made of wood. The bus ride back was long, but if one were to look out the window, one would find that the mountains were nothing short of gorgeous.

We got back to the house around 6:15, and ate quickly because our friend from the school was throwing a party for us at his house. We did have rules, of course, as we had to return to the house at 9 to check in with Sole and make sure we were all alright. Each of us made sure that no one would break any rules that could get us in deep trouble. The thing I loved most about the party was the music. We played a mix of songs both from the U.S. and Latin America. It’s fun to try and dance to a different beat, whether it be salsa or the macarena.

Life in Nicaragua is just great because we all get the chance to show our leadership and responsibility. Spanish-speaking is still a bit difficult for some of us, but we came here to improve and I believe that everyone in this group is improving dramatically, and that’s just awesome. The heat has also been a huge challenge, and it is hard to realize how often we need to drink water to stay hydrated, the water is usually lukewarm and that prevents people from wanting to drink but deep down we know that we need to drink. So far I have had an absolute blast here and I do not want it to end!

Signing off,


1 Comment

Filed under Service, Student Work, Students