Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lessons Learned and Next Steps

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
–Romans 12:12

The experiences I have had this year tested my abilities to live true to this verse. This is my favorite Bible verse; it provides simple, yet direct guidance on how to handle the different challenges you come across throughout life. The challenges I have faced this year have been great learning experiences, where I have been behind the curve more than I would like to admit. I wish I could share everything that I’ve learned from my YAV year, but I feel like I’ve been constantly learning. So, in order to keep this less like a novel and more like a blog post, I’ll give you a few examples.

First, I have learned the true value of persistence, and how to recognize it in it’s many forms. I’ve repeatedly witnessed the dedication this community has. They are driven to be involved in their community, to learning and achieving something for themselves and others. One woman in her 50’s, Mrs. Patsy, has been studying and practicing for years to try and pass the GED test. She is relentless. Every time I talk to her and ask her what she’s been up to she answers with some version of “I worked on my math worksheets all last night, I’m trying real hard to bring up my math score.”  She is so diligent in trying to achieve this goal of having her GED. 
Another example of true perseverance is Mrs. Fatuma, a Somali refugee who has been attending the ELL and Citizenship classes at the CWA Learning Center all year. She applied for U.S. Citizenship, made the trip to Memphis, and failed her first interview attempt. Shortly after, the classes at the Learning Center were letting out for summer break and she would no longer be receiving constant tutoring and guidance, the way she had been. Considering her few months left to prepare for her second interview, I told her that if she could come to the center twice a week I could continue to tutor her for her upcoming interview.  I had no idea the amount of information potential citizens had to know in order to be prepared. There was a lot of information to cover, but each tutoring session Mrs. Fatuma was there and attentive and ready to learn. She was so determined to pass this interview, it made me devoted to helping her. We were in it together. She even studied on her own at home so that she could know the answers to the questions for our next session. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to be able to laugh and learn with her while we prepared for her interview. I am ecstatic to report that I received a phone call from her today, informing me that she passed her citizenship interview! I could not be happier for her. I feel like this entire journey has truly been a case of being “joyful in hope”.
Now, this example showcases how willing the community is to give and be involved in their neighborhood. During the holiday season, I was given the opportunity to lead a project. This project was community blanket making and required no sewing, knitting, or crocheting skills in order to participate. It was an opportunity for community volunteers to learn a new skill while also producing blankets to be distributed out to the babies in the community. The blankets were fleece fabric, and the concept was to cut the edges into strips and tie knots in them.  The community volunteers tied in their hopes and love for each of the babies with each knot. It turned out to be a great way for the community to give back to each other. But it also showed me something that I had previously not seen. The women that live in this neighborhood were eager to participate in this project and donate their time. They enjoyed being able to sit around together making the blankets and talking with each other. The project was extremely successful. In fact, when we finished the allotted amount we needed for our holiday event, they asked for more fabric so that they could continue giving back and having the opportunity for fellowship. I know they feel a true sense of connection to their community when they see a baby in a stroller covered up with one of those blankets. 

My most important lesson from this year would have to be the importance of relationship building. I know this is the most important one because I saw evidence of it every day. Relationships are built on respect, actually on mutual respect. The CWA Learning Center has a computer lab, it’s open to the public Monday through Thursday from 10am-2pm, and all different types of people come in for the computer access. One thing I know is that it does not matter who walks in the door, you have to treat each person exactly the same way. This is the best way of laying the foundation to relationships. I always greet each person and ask how he or she is doing. I basically make small talk with them, but from those conversations they see that I care and am making an effort. This leads to so many things. One woman has been trying to get a job for some time now and has applied to multiple, been on interviews, and actually got a job, then was accepted into a new training course at the YWCA.  How do I know all of this you ask? Because she tells me, she is always so excited to come to the center to tell me her updates. Last time, when she came and told me about the training program, I congratulated her and she thanked me for my support. I haven’t done anything other than listen to her and talk with her about her progress towards finding a job, but that relationship made her feel like she had somebody backing her.  Another woman, a Somali refugee mother comes into the center each time she checks her mailbox. She walks in the door, hands me her unopened mail and says, “What does the mail say today Miss Susan?” This is because she cannot read English. So, I open each envelope and we work our way through what is in her mail. I explain things like solicitations and flyers and then we discuss things like bills and even call offices to set up payment plans when necessary.  Her verbal English is excellent but her abilities to read and write English are at a stalemate. This is because she has three young children that she watches each day at home and has no place for them to go if she were to attend the ELL classes at the CWA Center. There is no childcare provided for the ELL students’ children. This is a perfect example of being “patient in affliction” as she tries her best to navigate her way through with her Limited English Proficiency (LEP) until she is able to find a way to attend classes.

These are only a few examples of what I’ve learned this year, but I think it’s safe to say that I truly could write a novel.  As for my future plans, I will be studying a Master’s Program in Human Rights and Genocide Studies for the next 18 months in Europe. Click here to check out the program's website, if you're interested. When I complete my master’s degree I hope to attend law school and eventually work in the field of international human rights law. Considering the intensity of the field of work that I intend to enter, I completely recognize the necessity for me to be “faithful in prayer.”

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support throughout this year! It's been an amazing experience that will forever shape the person I am.  :)

1 comment:

  1. Susan you are an absolutely beautiful and amazing person. Not just beautiful on the outside but beautiful on the inside. My prayers are with you as you continue to move forward in the direction that God has called you. You truely have a heart for people, not just certain people, but all people. I sure miss you around here daily but I am so happy to hear that you are advacing in such a wonderful direction in your life. With much love!!! Christy Price HPC, LLC