Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections from West Virginia: Energy, Army and Opportunity

Last week, Washington Quaker Workcamps led the annual Sidwell Friends School Workcamp to Caretta, WV to work with Big Creek People in Action, partnering once again with the great folks from Upshur Helping Hands from Buckhannon, WV.
 It was another great week of fun, fellowship, hard work, community-building, deep conversations, love, and learning - all the things that create opportunities for on-going bridge-building across economics, faiths, and geography as we do what we can to promote global community visions and action that belie notions of socio-poltical-economic "bubbles" that really do not exist.

As with all Workcamps, each person has a different experience, high point, or takeaway.  One of the biggest ones for me this year is this:
One evening, Chester Ball made his annual visit to perform, entertain and engage the group in music, games and dance.  This year, he brought with  
him three teens and one pre-teen.  The teens played guitar and sang with Chester - part of his way of preserving a music tradition from this troubled region while nurturing positive activities for youth.  At one point during the evening, I sat with the teens to thank them for coming and to learn more about them.  When asked about post-high school goals, the female among the teens stated she planned to go to cosmetology school.  The males all stated that they planned to either work "in coal" or join the Marines.  I asked whether they wanted to go to the Academy or enlisted; they all said they wanted to go enlisted so they could get to the front lines fully armed and ready to fight.  Coal or Army.  That was it as far as options.  College is prohibitive because of rising costs as well as the fact that they live in a community that does not nurture the pursuit of higher education.    

As I engaged with fellow program participants in sharing this conversation, it led to even more conversations. The wonderful thing about conversations as opposed to arguments and debates is that conversations seem to lead to new insights.  One such insight I had was the irony that, in the circles I tend to float in, there is a unified sense that coal and the military are bad.  The military often is engaged in fights to protect and acquire
Testing a coal tram
fossil fuels (notably, oil), and what we need to be doing is steering people to careers in sustainable and renewable energy.  The ironic part is that the military is starting to step up in a big way in developing alternative energies, with the goal of having 50% of its energy come from sustainable/renewable sources by 2025.  

It's a dilemma.  We want to be a part of creating opportunities as well as supporting people in following their leadings.  At the same time we know that better stewardship of human and natural resources is vital to a healthy world.  For these young men, their leadings right now are to coal and/or the military.  When it comes to renewable energy, we know that coal is not the way, but the military does open that door.  I don't see easy answers, but if I did, then it would not be a dilemma.  I do find that these Workcamp experiences create opportunities to become more open to creating a safe space and talking about the issues rather than choosing sides and fueling partisanship.  Last week affirmed that.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Workcamps, 2013: Breaking Barriers, Nurturing Leaders

As we get ready to shift into high gear with the summer Workcamps and programs, I have also been reflecting on ways to integrate new ideas and opportunities so that we do not fall into a rut of relying on a template, but instead keep things new and fresh.

For starters, I am ever-more convinced that the responsibility that comes with planning and running service programs is to not just meet the expectations of participants (i.e. to feel good about making a difference, or understand a social injustice better), but to also challenge these expectations in a way that promotes thinking critically about what kind of world they envision and what else they can do in their lives to move closer to that vision.  It is in this kind of conversation that we talk about the importance of relationships - you don't create your vision of the world that includes others without including them in the conversation and the creation of that world - and about the role that privilege and responsibility have in social justice work.

In addition to these "continuing revelation" conversations, here at William Penn House we have an added dimension of progress this summer: we are focusing a concerted effort on nurturing the leaders of the next generation in leading these conversations.  Our summer intern, Nate Anderson-Stahl, joined us last summer for 2 weeks on Pine Ridge.  Prior to that, he had attended Baltimore Yearly Meeting summer camps and the teen adventure program.  Now he will be applying his knowledge and experience of Quakerism, Quaker process and Workcamps to developing and leading them as part of our team. In addition, we have three rising seniors from a DC-prep school who will be joining us for 2 weeks in late July.  The first week will be to experientially learn about Workcamps, the kinds of service we do in DC, the importance of relationships in doing service (I often think that, without a relationship, there usually is not service), how things are connected, and the importance of critically thinking and questioning things.  The second week, these students will then be leading the process for a Workcamp group coming to DC and, hopefully, taking the relations they establish with them to their school, bringing a new dynamic of service and opportunities with them.

It is always an honor to be able to work with the leaders of tomorrow.  My hope is that this summer will be the start of breaking down the compartmentalization we sometimes create around programs and issues, as we weave more connections into the fabric of community.  One vision: to create a flow where youth who have been introduced to Quaker ideals (in schools, Meetings and/or camps) and had an opportunity to practice them in a larger arena (Workcamps), become the farm system for Workcamp organizers, creators and leaders where they get to experience facilitating visioning and implementation built on relationships, and then take these experiences into the rest of their lives with greater consciousness of stewardship, compassion and persistent hope that overcomes the frustrations and disappointments that are sure to be there as well.  This is something I have been envisioning for the past few years; this year is looking like it is starting to take root.  As with all things, patience and perserverance seem to pay off, but now the real work begins.  
-Brad Ogilvie