I volunteered at the AIDS Memorial Quilt Conference that was put on by one of the LGBTG+ Student Organizations on campus. Going into the event I had no idea what it was about, all I knew is that there would be quilts and that I would be helping at the welcome table helping people to find their way around. When I arrived I was met by the organizer of the event and the leader of the organization Alex who showed me around and explained to me the quilts and the event. Unlike what I had assumed that it would involve the making of quilts, it was actually a viewing of quilts that were already made. Each square of the quilt was for one person who had died due to AIDS. The family bought together images and symbols and things that represented that person and made squares. The squares were then turned into a quilt in memory of those who passed away. I went through the rooms and looked at the quilts and they were all gorgeous and massive but I did not think much of them at the time. I went back to sit at the welcome table and helped people to sign in and find their way around. While passing out buttons and free condoms. The event seemed to be going well when I was shocked by a woman who was signing in when she started to cry. Her daughter and gave her a hug and it was then that it hit me. While I thought the quilts were pretty and that the sentiment was nice for some people this was their family members. One of the pieces of quilt was that woman’s son. I saw the whole event in a different light after that. It was about more than just recognizing that AIDS is still an issue worldwide, it was about the individual people who died, who had families and loved ones. While I went into assuming it would be a rather random volunteering event it ended up being very powerful, and I greatly enjoyed learning more about the community and connecting with people.
I attended Global Fluency Training taught by Brad Gosche who works for the Columbus Council on World Affairs. The purpose of this training was to achieve cross-cultural competence in professional environments. Going into the training I was unsure of what to expect but I knew that Mr. Gosche had a lot of experience in his field and in traveling and working around the world. He started the presentation telling us that in order to gain anything from this experience we had to be totally open-minded to what we learned. No matter how much we thought we understood the topic if we would not really understand it unless we allowed your views of the world to shift. This training was not just about learning specific facts about specific countries that would aid us in working there but instead helping us to have a greater understanding of the aspects of culture and how they might differ from our own. By having this larger world view we can apply the training to not just one country but all countries. One of the first exercises he had us do was listen to an audio clip in English of a story and then answer some basic questions on a sheet. The trick was that the clip was not modern day English meaning we understood one of about every 10 words. The point of this was to show us who non-native English speakers feel when they are in the US. They might understand some of the words but it takes an incredible amount of focus to comprehend and even then as soon as you understand the conversation has moved on to something new. This was incredibly helpful in understanding how frustrating it is to not understand what is being said. The next part of the lesson was focused on Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. These are 6 factors that can be used to show some of the overreaching traits of a countries culture. They include power distance (the degree of power inequality that is considered normal), individualism vs collectivism, masculine vs feminine (whether there is greater value in success and performance, or quality of life and warm relationships), uncertainty avoidance, long term or short term orientation, and indulgence vs restraint. These 6 aspects can help you to understand the difference between our culture and other cultures. One example he gave was that in Japan they are a very collectivist society as well as a high power distance, so when we worked there because he was the guest and therefore important no one would leave until he left. An example that helped me to understand uncertainty avoidance was if public transport ran on time. In Austria where there is high uncertainty avoidance, the trains run perfectly on time. Here in the US where we have an uncertainty avoidance in the middle our trains and buses often run a couples minutes late. The final activity he had us do was to split us into two groups and gave each one specific instruction. The first culture was loud and liked eye contact. The second quiet and avoided eye contact. When the groups came together to try and interact it was uncomfortable and impossible to communicate. This showed us the value of those 6 aspects. If you have a better understanding of another culture you can avoid offending people and instead have productive discussion.
The purpose of this event was to learn about the cultures of the countries where tea and coffee are produced. We got to learn while sampling the beverages from each country. All of the teas and coffees were fair trade which was something I thought I understood before but actually did not. Many products and the majority of all coffee and tea are produced in lesser economically developed nations where labor is cheaper. The idea behind fair trade is that instead of exploiting worker these products have been created by companies that ensure their workers are being compensated fairly. One of the reasons these nations remain less developed is because they were taken advantage of by western nations when they were colonized for their resources. Colonization may seem like it was a long time ago but much of it ended in only the last 100 years, and the effects of it are still being felt today. It is clear when you think about cultures that are associated with tea and coffee that they colonized other nations. For example, Great Britain is known as being a major drinker of tea yet, they could not grow their own for a very long time and depended upon the nations they colonized to grow it for them. I also learned that for many of the main exporters of tea and coffee such as Colombia, Vietnam, China, and Ethiopia, these drinks are more than just a major part of their economy, they also play a vital role in their culture. Colombia one of the largest producers of coffee actually only exports half of it. The other half is consumed by their citizens. We finished the event by doing a mini quiz on the cultures of countries associated with tea and coffee and it became clear to me that I know embarrassingly little about something that is so important to me. It also made me reflect on where the coffee and tea I drink comes from. In the future, I am going to make a greater effort to make sure that my coffee and tea are sourced sustainably and that they are produced in a fair and humane way.
I watched the documentary The White Helmets. It was one of the most emotional things I have ever watched, there were moments where I cried and moments where I could not help but smile. The movie was about a group called The White Helmets that are the first responders to airstrikes and bombing in Syria. Their motto “To save a life is to save all of humanity” really struck me. They had such positive views about the world and constantly talked about how they are optimistic for the future, no matter how bad the days get. They risk their lives each day leaving wives and children behind to go save other people’s families. One of the men said that he did it because “all lives are precious and valuable. A child, even if he is not my son, is like my son”. All of them had incredible drives to do this, and many found that drive in their religion Islam. I wish that Islamophobes could watch this film and see the amazing acts of humanity that were done in the name of Allah. These were acts of peace and love, not of violence and hatred as is often the misconceived perception of Islam. One man even said that he was part of an armed militia fighting the Assad regime but he stopped because “it is better to do humanitarian work than to be armed… better to rescue a soul than to take one”. Even though he believed in what he was fighting for he could not do it because it was not in his heart to harm another person. He also said that “any human being, no matter who they are or which side they’re on, if they need our help, it’s our duty to save them” for the White Helmets it is not about fighting on one side of the war or the other it is about saving the people who are caught in the middle. One of the most touching moments was when they saved who they came to call the miracle baby. A one-week-old baby was pulled out of the rubble after being there for almost 20 hours. He was completely unharmed, and his mother brings him later to visit the men who saved him. He is their beacon of hope that what they are doing has an impact on the world. While not mentioned in the documentary I learned that there are also groups of female White Helmets who rescue women and children in regions where men are not allowed to save women. I thought that it was a very impactful idea that in a culture where women receive such little respect that they could such an important position and show that they too can be brave. The whole organization is not very large but they have a huge impact. They are proof that there are people fighting in the Syrian civil war that have no other intention than to help people. Since 2013, 130 White Helmets have died. And in that same period of time, they have saved over 58,000 lives.
Over a period of under 2 hours, me and a couple hundred other student-athletes, and alumni packaged over 200,000 meals to be distributed to regions of Ohio facing food insecurity. It was the 2018 Kind Columbus service event and it was run by an organization called The Pack Shack that puts on Feed the Funnel parties. There were hundreds of people and we all lined up at tables with 6 people per station. Then in an assembly line fashion, we would pour each ingredient down the funnel and into the bag, each time packaging a meal that could be a dinner for a family of 4. The event was designed to be a fun way to do service. It was very high energy, we listened to loud music and cheered and danced each time we were done packaging 20,000 meals. Before we started the athletic director gave a short speech about how food insecurity affected him, and how when he was growing up it was his responsibility to take the food stamps and go collect the government cheese and bread. He also talked about how privileged we all are to able to attend a university much less a university like Ohio State, and he said in order to learn you need food. I realized that it is not something we always think about, even if children work hard and school and want to work their way out of poverty it will be almost impossible if they have no food. It was really motivational to think about how much giving food to people in need helps their life. Over the course of this month, The Pack Shack will provide 2 million meals to people in need all over Ohio. But food insecurity is so much greater than this. Food insecurity stems not from a lack of food on Earth but instead an unequal distribution of food around the world, and unfortunately, 2 million meals is but a small dent. What the Pack Shack is doing though is a start, by creating a fun event that accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time they help enc0urage people who would not normally volunteer, or who do not have a lot of time to volunteer to make a difference.
I attended a showing and a panel on the documentary by the Columbus Crossing Boarders Projected called Breath Free. The film itself was very enlightening and interesting to watch. The film flipped back and forth between the stories of many immigrants and their journies from their home to Columbus, and the story of a group of artists that came together to use their talents to put on an art gallery portraying the story of such immigrants. The stories the immigrants told were that of incredible bravery some leaving their home at a young age and other fleeing with their children. It was one thing to hear the stories told on the screen but the panel that followed included two of the immigrants interviewed for the documentary and it made their stories that much more real as they sat before me. Both of them after being resettled had chosen to work with CRIS an organization that aids immigrants in Columbus so that they could help others. Among the other panelists was the lead artist for the art gallery featured in the documentary. The way the art gallery worked was that every artist would contribute one piece with a message about immigration then the pieces would be lined up and going with the theme of crossing borders each artist would paint a little bit on the next piece so that they flowed together. The idea behind this was that for artists the idea of letting someone else touch their work makes them uncomfortable. In the same way that immigrating can be uncomfortable for both the immigrant and the people who now have new neighbors. The art showed that while this was uncomfortable it could be done and the end result was beautiful. I was in awe of all of the art and wished that I had a greater talent for art myself. But the documentary did give me a greater perspective of what it is like to be an immigrant or a refugee. After hearing the stories presented in the documentary and in the panel I believe that I am better equipped to deal with people who in our current political climate feel hatred towards immigrants and refugees. I think for anyone with a negative opinion of immigrants that this documentary would easily shift their view point.
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