During the summer of 2013, Carley Adams spent four weeks volunteering at an HIV/AIDS home in Cartago, Costa Rica through the volunteer organization Cross-Cultural Solutions. The CCS volunteer program has two primary components. The first and most important is the volunteer placement and experience. Carley’s placement in the HIV/AIDS home provided her with the opportunity to both offer companionship and emotional support to the residents as well as to educate the residents in the areas of exercise and maintaining one’s physical well-being. Carley spent her days at the Hogar de Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza cooking, cleaning, and socializing with the residents, but the majority of her volunteer hours consisted of leading the residents through their physical therapy routines. Based on each resident’s individual needs and progress, Carley designed, documented, and taught the residents physical therapy routines that catered specifically to each man or woman’s physical abilities and necessities. The second part of Carley’s international experience was cultural enrichment. The CCS volunteer program also offers its volunteers opportunities to become involved in the local community. When Carley was not working in the HIV/AIDS home, she spent her time out and about in the city of Cartago, practicing her Spanish with the local people, visiting local markets and businesses, taking weekly visits to la Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, and exploring the rich and beautiful Costa Rican landscapes, such as the Irazu Volcano and the Tapanti National Park. Carley could not have asked for a more thrilling first-time international experience, and she hopes that her future is filled with more opportunities to both contribute to and learn from new and fascinating societies all across the globe.
CEE Title: Smash up the Stereotypes
Our CEE was a workshop entitled "Smash Up The Stereotypes." The workshop took place at the Common Ground Teen Center in Washington, PA, and it was open to W&J students and faculty, the teens of the Teen Center as well as of surrounding high schools, community members, community leaders, and anyone interested in learning more about the roots of conflict within the Washington community. Those in attendance included W&J students from the Gay-Straight Alliance, the Black Student Union, and the Hillel Society, the director of the Common Ground, teens of the Common Ground, the president of the Washington Community Gay-Straight Alliance, various members of the 2013 VIH cohort, and several community members who live and work in Washington and/or volunteer with local organizations.
After everyone introduced themselves and stated one change they would like to see in the world and/or Washington community, the attendees were split into groups. Each group was given a poster headed with the name of a group of people (e.g. LGBT, the disabled, college students, people with non-"conventionally attractive" body types, etc.), and then, each group created a list of all of the ways in which the given group of people was stereotyped or prejudiced against in the Washington community (or on a larger scale). The groups presented their posters one by one, and during each presentation, a conversation was started. Various attendees commented on each and every point, discussing events they had witnessed and even personal experiences that attested to how and why these stereotypes are harmful and what can and should be done to eliminate them.
Several participants with disabilities openly discussed how they are perceived by the community around them and why they think that is. From learning to disabilities to anxiety disorders to legal blindness, people had much to say about the daily struggles they face as a result of ignorance and perpetuating stereotypes. These topics also generated conversations about the importance of special education and what professionals in this field can do to raise awareness for and eliminate misconceptions about people with disabilities.
The college students in the room became heavily involved in discussing not only how they are perceived by the community at large, but how they are perceived by each other. When, for example, the topic of affirmative action and race/ethnicity-based scholarships was brought to the table, the students were able to have an educated discussion on the misconceptions many people have about financial help given to people based on their backgrounds. This provided the college students the chance to both educate each other on the harmful effects of these misconceptions as well as give the teens and community members a first-hand look at the conflicts within the college itself.
Other topics of in-depth discussion included LGBT rights and awareness in Washington, body types and expectations for people of all ages, various people's economic situations and how this affects the way in which they are perceived, and many, many others in between.
The two-hour conversation concluded with an open floor for anyone to share their personal reflection on the conversation, and the conversation finally concluded with encouragement for all to go out into their environments - whether high school, college, the workplace, or anywhere else - and share the message that these stereotypes exist, are harmful, and can be eliminated if we actively address them as we encounter them in our everyday lives.