Tag Archives: spring service trips

A Single Glorious Day

Photo 1

by Avery Stern 

Important Note: Having worked with dogs in many professional settings, I know the mark of both a healthy and docile animal. The dog mentioned in this post was both – I also had him checked out by J.D., our supervisor, who has ten dogs himself and has seen multiple successful adoptions in similar situations to this one…I also called my Vet friend. Everyone was responsible.

So we begin.

This is both a thank you letter for the wisdom each student has granted me, and a letter of wisdom to each of those I have thanked.

I am heading to bed tonight with a tiny hole in my sweatpants from a playful stray puppy. With cornbread crumbs on my heels. With a few small dollops of stucco in my hair, paint-stained finger nails, and wretched stomachache I’ve carried with me for days. (I’ll tell you now that if you’re a vegetarian, eating your first rib in 13 years off a student’s plate in a divey restaurant in Memphis isn’t the way to go. Might I suggest the fried chicken?)

I am also headed to bed tonight, ten days before my 25th birthday with a revelation I swore I would never have: You cannot save the world. You cannot even save a sliver of it. (The 20 year old in me is shrieking at the impossibility of this statement. “Quiet,” I tell her…hear me out).

I came to this revelation through the previously mentioned stray puppy. The puppy, whom I named “King Tutwiler of Tutwiler, Mississippi,” followed me home on a mid-day run. I’d passed a literal pile of puppies the day before, all heaped together for warmth in the rare 34 degree southern weather. But while those dogs showed moderate interest in me, they stayed put. Wiler, however, chased my heels for a mile jog back to the Habitat Dorm at which point I was determined to feed, vaccinate, wash, and ship him home on our American Airline flight this Sunday. (Ugh, I am a bleeding-heart I know).

We can perhaps by-pass the absurdity of what ensued when I arrived, floppy puppy afoot. The kids bottle-necked the door, some smartly cautious about interacting with a stray, others donning long sleeves, boots, and pants, and trusting that if he wasn’t nippy all they would need afterwards was a shower. John called his mom in hopes of fostering him claiming, “he’s the goodest of boys!” She agreed.

Sarah and Storey both agreed to take him for shots and a check-up at the shelter. I indulged the idea. Perhaps my Vet friend could take him in? No, her roommate did not like animals. My sister? An almost mother of two. So “Def no.” My boyfriend? A “soft” no, but a “no” nonetheless. My Parents? “Hahahahahah NO.”

But, I had to save him! WE, the good people of the George School with our house-building and community-engaging and compassionate hearts! As a tiny stray he could get run over by a car, attacked by a larger animal, starved to death. Yes, this is true—but perhaps that is life. Perhaps Wiler was serving as the symbol or metaphor of the much larger implications of this service trip.

We cannot save all of the stray puppies, however phenomenally cute, and we cannot build enough houses for all those in need. Sad? Yes. True? Unfortunately.

What we can do, as the well-educated and privileged people that we are as George School community members, is to acknowledge that we can “mud” all the dry wall in the kitchen, or install support beams for a whole roof, or give a puppy the best day he’s had in this three months of life. And these contributions are good. They are so, so, so, good. And if life is just a sum of its parts—just days all strung together, then one of those days is bound to be the best one of all and I’d like to be a part of someone’s.

So thank you Nodor, Sophia G, Sophia S, Sarah, John, Storey, Micheala, Elvis, and our supervisors J.D. and Ben for teaching me the humbling power of a single glorious day. I hope you continue to treat everyone with the same selfless love, respect, and generosity that you did to Wiler and I thank you for the love, respect, and generosity that you have shown to me.

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Friday in France

by Cynthia ’18

Today I woke up to our last day of service. I was sad to leave the kids behind, as I had finally gotten to know and love them. I gave a few last piggy back rides and even received a few works of art before I left. This service experience is one I will truly remember.

After school, our French hosts took us out for a picnic where we had snacks, played Truth or Dare, Never have I ever, and just enjoyed being outside in the 60 degree weather. Then we headed to town to get some pizza, and we debated if “Texas Pizza” was really Texan. We finished our last night going bowling and Paul won both rounds.

Overall, it was a fantastic last day and I’m sad to be catching the plane tomorrow afternoon to return home. But in two weeks I will be seeing these new friends again, so it’s not all sad.

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Thursday in France

by Julia ’18

Waking up in a French household is like waking up in a movie filled with bread, nutella, kuegelof, various jams and jellies, and seeing the sun rise up from Alsace mountains… and more bread.  That’s how my day begins. Then I go to my service site at the école maternelle Charles Kienzl.

This morning Cynthia, Ethan, and I helped the children with various games, puzzles, drawings and reading books. There is one student in the class, Léon, who is constantly full of energy. The highlight of my day is being able to calm Léon down for a few minutes before he is off again. After the morning service, we met Ben, Paul, and Tucker and our French hosts at the lycée to go to lunch. The lunch at Kastler offered a variety of cheeses, bread, and yogurt. After lunch before going back to our service sites, we played card games. Then it was time to go back to our écoles for the afternoon with the bigger kids. In the morning, we help with the three-year-olds and in the afternoon, we help with the four- and five-year-olds. The older classes are learning math and doing several activities involving numbers.

After the second half of the day ended I went back home with my correspondante, but not before going to her German class. Once back home we ate dinner, played piano, and sang in a mix of French and English. Afterwards, we had dinner and then it was time for bed.

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Nicaragua March 17

Dear families,

I believe you would have been so proud of your children today. Today was their final day in classes at La Nicaraguita, and their job was to graciously and patiently receive the outpouring of affection that was likely coming their way. And come it did. The students in the preschool and elementary school showered your children with hugs, kisses, high-fives, selfies and many keepsakes and hand-written notes that communicated their tremendous appreciation for two weeks of companionship and attention. Attached with this blog are pictures of each of the GS students with their respective classes.

Tonight, we party. That is, the host families and the schoolteachers join us at Rafaela’s house for a celebratory supper and banquet-style appreciation of all concerned. And, yes, in case you wondered, there will almost certainly be dancing.

Tomorrow, we get up early and head homeward to Philadelphia, by way of Miami. It is sure to be a bittersweet departure from Nicaragua, but at the same time we are all looking forward to coming home (teachers included). Consequently, this will be our final posting from Nicaragua. We hope you have enjoyed your children’s writings, as well as Cheri’s magnificent photos. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to learn and grow alongside your sons and daughters. ¡Adiós!

Tom (and Cheri)

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Nepal Images


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This Wednesday instead of going to our service sites, we spent the day with our hosts attending classes at the lycée.  It was very different from GS. First of all, most of the classes have about 30 students in them, and the first class I went to with my host, there were no extra seats so I joined Ben and his host in her history class and then to a French class.  The history teacher asked us a few questions, but the classes seemed long since it was hard to understand what everyone was saying.  After nice lunch with my host, I was able to go to her French class in the afternoon.  Unlike GS, the students at the lycée often have classes from 8:00 a.m. in the morning until 6:00 p.m. in the evening.

Tomorrow we will be back at our “stages” for another day of service.

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Nicaragua March 16

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March 16

by Tali

After a fun day at the beach with the Nicaraguans yesterday, we returned to our routine schedule for one final day working with the students at La Nicaragüita. Once again, we had another great breakfast together and sometime around 8:00 a.m., the sixth-grade class walked us to the school. The second I arrived in my classroom of five-year-olds, about half of the students sprinted over and attacked me with some of the biggest hugs ever. This case was the same for Alyssa, Maia, and Greg as all of their own students were overjoyed to have them in class for another fun day and showed their excitement through adorable embraces. (I assume the same was true for Niccolo, Alexander, Philip and Alex, but I didn’t see them on the other side of the school.) About a half-hour into class, the teachers informed the students that it was another mini-sports day. This meant that each student in first through sixth grade would take part in a variety of games, while the three, four, and five-year-old students would get to watch the older classmates compete since they were too young to join in. We played a few different types of games; one was a running race, one round of tug-of-war, two watermelon and cantaloupe eating contests, and soccer. All GS students took part in the running contest and tug-of-war, and while we didn’t win, they were lots of fun. Alyssa, Niccolo, and Alex played against three other Nicaraguans in the first round of the eating contest (Niccolo won) and Alexander and Philip played in the other one against four Nicaraguans. Niccolo and Philip led the GS team in two quick rounds of soccer. The morning was filled with great effort from all participants and spirited cheers and giant smiles on the sidelines. Once the sports were complete, we spent a couple more hours in the classroom with our students doing our respective activities. We finished off the morning with our final dance class with Roberto; he taught the eight of us a salsa dance routine.

We began our afternoon by having a delicious lunch at Rafaela’s house, followed by some time to relax before we headed back to the school for afternoon classes with the seventh through eleventh grade. Once we got to the school, we split up and headed off to different classrooms to spend time with the Nicaraguan students one last time in the classroom setting. Niccolo and Alex spent time with the eleventh graders, Alyssa and I visited the tenth graders, Maia and Greg worked with the ninth graders, Alexander was with the eighth graders, and Philip assisted the seventh graders. We had to cut our afternoon a little short and we returned back to Rafaela’s house to have an early dinner at 5:00 p.m. Right now, we are waiting to go back to the school to have a get-together with the eleventh graders and spend some more time with them before we leave Nicaragua.

It’s going to be a bittersweet evening with our peers, and tomorrow will be a tough day for all of us as reality sets in that we will be heading back to the United States very soon. We are all so lucky to have spent two weeks in this beautiful country with phenomenal people. It’s been a wonderful adventure and we’re all going to miss spending time together in Nicaragua. This trip is a unique and amazing opportunity and we have created so many memories together to hold onto and cherish for years to come.


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I am starting to forget what I have already shared and what I put in my own journal.

A dog adopted us at Australian camp as we trekked to Dhampus. She did not turn back (with encouragement from the kids) but stuck with us all week until we trekked out, when she headed back that direction.  The kids named her Teshi and snuck food to her. After first worrying about her health, I came to respect how well groomed she was and how she did not seem to have a negative impact on the village. She lay by the side of each student when they were feeling ill, which I learned as a signal.  She watched over the camp each night, and would give a little greeting if you got up in the night or really bark at an intruder (dog, goat, or fox).  She pulled a few kids out of the river when they slipped. I think she was a good antidote for homesickness.

I am sure you want to hear about trekking.  The group will have lots more to share.  There are paths laid down hundreds of years ago.  In places they are grassy or dirt, but more often, stones have been laid down like uneven flagstone with big gaps between. Or they have bee stuck in the ground because so it is like walking a cobbled street in Rome but the stones are wildly irregular.  Now put that on a 30-45 degree slope.  The trek to Landruk included hundreds of steps, unevenly spaced.  Scott said they went up all afternoon yesterday.

They reached the farthest point last night and are working their way back today and tomorrow.

I went up to the World Peace Pagoda today while T rested her ankle.  It sits way atop a hill overlooking Phewa Tal lake and Pokhara.  The view from there is notable, but today was hazy.  The return trip included hiking down the mountain and being rowed across the lake.  Lots of para sailors out.

It was a big adjustment to come back to the city from the quiet of the country.  Pokhara is the trekking start point, so as in every other country, streets are filled with people of many nations, some just shopping, others prepping or resting.  Shops full of souvenirs and trekking gear. Vendors eager to lure you in.  Cows lying on the sidewalk.  Cars and cycles and people going every which way.  First, it is English left side driving. There are no stop signs or lights.  At major intersections there is a small column in the middle, creating a roundabout.  Merging is the name of the game.  Priority goes by size of vehicle.  If you think you can pass a slower vehicle, you honk and do it, trusting that the guy coming at you will yield. You honk at all blind corners ( a lot of that on the jeep track yesterday) and if you want a pedestrian or driver to be aware of you.

I enjoy watching the school children gathering to walk to school in their tidy uniforms. Public schools walk, private bus.  Must get 20 kids in a 10 seat bus. Have seen several Montessori schools.  More high school age kids in town.  Private schools teach all but 1 class in English, public v/v.

Hope you are enjoying these notes.

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I got my Kindle charged up again.

I spoke to Scott this morning and he says that the group got WiFi access last night so parents heard from them. They are doing well with arduous climbing.  Thanks to Steven for posting photos.  The kids are relieved to have seen grades and heard from colleges and job contacts. The senior nerves have run high as they think about how close they are to the next stage.

Health and food:

We have had a lot of respiratory stuff. I think now that it was from the dirt and dust in Kat and Pokhara. They have all the streets torn up with laying water mains and other construction which takes forever. Many people wear face masks.  We encountered it as soon as we got back to civilization yesterday. Wish we’d known that at the outset.  We worked to get everyone strong again for trekking. I think only 1 person may have had genuine travelers bug, but that was a wake up to really wash hands before eating, after work and toilet, and after playing with kids or dog.

The cooks are feeding us well.  The day starts with tea. Breakfast always includes a porridge, bread, egg, tea.  Lunch started with juice then a protein (tuna, beans, chicken spam),a bread like Nan, two veggies, salad, fruit.  Return to camp for tea or hot chocolate before dinner. Dinner included a carb, a protein, soup, salad and 2 veggies with tea and pudding or other dessert. Heavy on the carbs and deep fried but that was fine when we were burning the calories.  Lots of Nepalese flavors. A fave is the chick peas.  And buffalo. Heavily vegetarian which was fine. Kids talked about how much better this was for them than junk food, but the list of what they crave when they get back is growing. The cooks avoided chicken due to bird flu outbreaks in some local areas.

I think it will take multiple showers and laundries  to get Nepal out of your kids and their clothes.  Few had ever worn the same clothes for a week, at least since camp.  But why get everything filthy?

The work day ran 9-12 and 1:30-4.  Except when it rained. After tea til dinner was free time for journals, cards, or games with crew and children. Or naps.  Lots of cards played.  Lots of chatter about school, college, summer, grades…

Most days were clear in the morning and cloudy after noon. It feels like we had rain every day by dinner.  One all-day rain that trapped us together in the dining tent with a single kerosene lamp. Fortunately the sleeping tents stayed dry.  The views in the am are magnificent.

Mornings and afternoons we got a basin of warm washing water.  One the sunniest day several washed out a few clothes as well.  About 11:30 I heard yelling from the work-site (I was in camp) and the kids were lined up on the hill: “Susi, bring in the clothes” which I did in time.

Nothing like washing up facing a gorgeous mountain.

The second day we did yoga at sunrise. This was on my list.  After that it was hard to get up and the crew needed to reclaim the tarp we used in the pasture for a rain fly.  Some took a wander before breakfast and saw beautiful birds.  A cuckoo called all night. Only other wildlife sighting? One deer.

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Washington DC

by Sam M. 

At the end of the shift we wash our hands again, wash the floor again and enjoy a surprise meal. We will be back tomorrow to help prepare another meal.  

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