Last week, we hosted two separate groups for a day of Workcamps. One group was made up of 12 students from China who had just graduated high school there and were part of a cultural exchange program before heading to college (some in the US, but most back in China). This group arrived early and headed out to work on the beginnings of a project to turn a neglected bit of land into a healthy community space with a tiered rain garden, community garden and basketball court (this will be a project we will be a part of for the next few years).
The other group, from Harford Friends School in MD, consisted of the entire 8th grade class (all six of them), their Head of School, and one of the parents. They proceeded to go from William Penn House to assist a remarkable woman, Janey Boyd, who has been addressing the problems of hunger in DC since the 1950's. Their work this day was to help unload food that had been gleaned from a local farm and package it for families to pick up at the school where the truck met the group, illustrating the fact that there is good nutritional and fresh food available if we can just get folks to help get it from farm to table.
When it came time to consider what to do for dinner, I thought of simplifying things by having the groups share dinner. I was a bit unsure how this would play out. There were differences in both age and culture, as well as language. But these groups were sharing the house for the night, and Community is one of the testimonies that guides our work at William Penn House, so let's just have faith in it, I thought.
At first, it looked like the groups were going to share food, but sit separately. I encouraged the Harford students to split in two groups at the tables we have.
"I'm shy" was the immediate response of one of the students, but they took the suggestion anyway. Within minutes, what was a quiet room with the exception of some subdued Chinese language conversations became a boisterous room as people talked about everything from video games to dance. The energy and spirit lifted as folks became aware of how much we are not separated by our nations, culture and language, but by how much we are united by our humanity. I remember in particular, the "shy" student who is a dancer reveling in how she connected with one of the Chinese students who has a passion for dancing as well, and how she really wished she could see him dance.
I know this is just one meal, and who knows what impact it will have. I do know that transcending one's fear, stepping out of one's comfort zone, and having a wonderful experience can be the building block for doing more of this. Perhaps one day, the dancers will share that dance.