Monday, April 29, 2013

From "I'm Shy" to "Let's Dance" in 60 Seconds

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.


Unknown said...

Yeah! I love when we can all meet together and share. I wonder is this the same mosaic initiative that Jeremiah and Charity are involved with at the Church of the Nazarene? I think this is such a great idea. I have been working in this same way and bringing my special needs children healthy foods from the farmer's market every summer that I work with here in California. My house is your house. I also work with CHI and LLLI and EF foundation and Waldorf schools. -Erin Brickner

Karen said...

It seems this field trip expanded to include a third facet which hadn't been planned. I imagine this impromptu dinner and the conversations among the students from both groups will be some of the most memorable moments for them. What a beautiful evening that must have been!

Brad Ogilvie/The William Penn House/The Mosaic Initiative said...

Erin - it's not the same Mosaic Initiative (mine is Thanks, both, for the comments.

Apothecarie Brand Co. said...

Thank you for hosting the Harford Friends class. I can speak for my son's experience with this dinner in particular because it is the first thing he told me about when he got in the car and continued talking about it the whole ride home.

His face was absolutely lit up to no end as he was telling me that he and his friends had dinner with some "really cool kids." It was not until near the end of his story that he mentioned that the "cool kids" were from China, spoke English as a second language and that they were high schoolers on their way to college very, very soon. Oh, and sure, he saw the historical monuments of our nation's capital, walked in the footsteps of our great leaders, and even had the opportunity to help with the turnips at the food bank. I know that because he mentioned all in one breath as we pulled into the driveway at home.

What a rich and impactful experience he had. Thank you for being open to giving our children a chance to see a broader world-view in a real-world environment.

That's a trip to DC he'll never forget!

Brad Ogilvie/The William Penn House/The Mosaic Initiative said...

Thanks for those kind comments. It's what it's all about, for me.