A Blog Post That’s All Over The Place by Gina

Last Tuesday, we finished watching the movie God Grew Tired Of Us and it was SO good. Not only was it a great documentary but also a brilliant way to raise awareness about what’s going on in Sudan. I encourage everyone to watch if you have not yet.

Our discussion following the film included a focus on what Service Learning is all about and how we can give back to the Refugees we are visiting, for they are giving us an amazing experience by telling their stories. But a conclusion to this was to do just that, sincerely listen to their stories.

In the first couple of weeks of classes we read, discussed and watched what Refugees and survivors of atrocities go through. I have incredible respect for these people, for they haven’t given up.  But I can never empathize through their actual experience. I suppose this could discourage me from “helping” them out, perhaps the differences in our privileges would offend them if I claimed to be “helping” them. But helping someone does not always necessarily put you on a pedestal above others. God Grew Tired of Us showed such culture clashes between Sudanese and Americans. Every culture values different things and in the film the refuges in America were so confused with our concept of Christmas. They didn’t understand why a majority of people celebrated Santa Claus more than the Birth of Jesus Christ.

Reminding myself that every culture has different ideals took me down from that pedestal.  I am in no position to tell anyone that I’m better than “them”. (A term that immediately separates people by level)

Everyone was given different resources in life and its up to them to use them at their best.

Removing such differences between us, I believe that helping is not condescending. It can be seen in a far more positive outlook. As much as the refugees in America have been through, they are now in a safer place and are surrounded by a world of opportunity. They are given the opportunity to share their stories and spread the word because everyone’s story deserves to be heard.

By listening to their stories, my classmates and I can help share them with everyone. People need to know what’s going on in the world. That is the start of a revolution or a call for change. I was baffled by how big of an impact SOPA Internet protesters had on the government. It was inspiring how powerful communication can be.

After last class, I had thousands of thoughts rushing through my head so I immediately called my cousin Dawit, who is majoring in International Development at George Washington University. We spent thirty minutes discussing all aspects of Refugee Camps and USAID in Africa. After our conversation I thought about how one day, Dawit just might be the Ambassador of a country and how all of the thought-provoking conversations he has had with everyone (including the one we had) could make such an impact on his help in the world. The possibilities out there!!

*such impacts are not just limited to Dawit, everyone has the opportunity!


Is There Such a thing as a Self-Less Act? by Lauren

Last week, and which seems to be the trend, our class really got into some deep intellectual life talks.  I love these talks because we all bring up so many great points and are learning so much from these people that for some, we just met a couple of weeks ago.  One thing that I just could not shake from my mind was the topic of “charity work” versus enhancing experiences.  Before last Tuesday I never would have thought twice between the difference but the difference is so grand and poignant it deserves to be bolded, highlighted, starred and glittered in every dictionary around the world.

Let me first start off by describing a couple of ways people may describe volunteer work and charity.  Giving back to the community, helping the less fortunate, donating time and money, a resume booster…… So many different things that yes in reality are probably true but then truly what is the meaning of that work you did then.  Where is the significance and where is the story?  Charity work should not be “a white rich male, female etc;” paying money to do some work in another town, and then come home not being changed whatsoever.   Not sharing their story, the stories of the people they help nor not affecting anymore lives.  It should not be a 4-6 day retreat yet it should be a lifetime experience.

The way I see it is, we are so fortunate and lucky to have the necessities and also luxuries in life.  We wake up each morning, go get a great education, spend time with friends eat some delish Asian Salads and go about each day truly not worrying about our existence in the next day.  Yet, miles and miles away (or even close) people are starving for food, not getting an education and for some praying with everything inside of them for their families and themselves to make it through another day.  So my big question (yes, I have a lot but I will narrow it down to the most luminous), why them and why us?  I think this is one of the hardest questions for my class and myself to answer and it is the hardest because we do not have an answer for it.  So, we try to bridge the gap.

These people are given more than their fair share of “who said life was easy” cards that it’s sometimes so hard to find the light that keeps them going.  Being the firm believer in optimism and trying to find the good in situations and people, I would like to think that these people that are receiving the “volunteer” work have the most important story to be heard.  By these terrible actions happening to all of these people, whether it is from genocides or just pure homelessness, they have stories that need to be shared that will most certainly affect people.  So therefore, these “volunteers” that experienced these amazing encounters with these people will feel so empowered that they will share their stories to more and more people which hopefully will in the end bring people together to help find a cause, cure and/or peace.

So this brings me back to my original question.  When people do volunteer work does this mean that they are only doing it to better themselves?  I hope certainly not, but as much as I am going to hate to admit it one person isn’t going to solve prejudices or poverty in one day (although it is the best way to start).  However, even if their impact isn’t earth shattering and changing, it did if went into with the right attitude, change and better themselves.  The volunteer gave their time (money?) and energy back to others, yes, that is what all volunteer work is.  But what makes it worthwhile and a true experience is not just that one-day.  It is forever the way you let the experience change you and the ones around you.  That is, if there can ever be any silver lining, the thing that I think keeps these poor innocent victims of genocide or what have you going, it is to tell their story for it to not only  be heard but listened to and enacted on.  Make the volunteering experience count and mean something to you and those around you.  Therefore, yes you do ultimately better yourself but you also better so many more around you that makes your actions not just charity but a step to making the world be the one you choose to see.

Serve or Receive? by Kelly

This past Saturday, Lindsey and I played in a home volleyball tournament with the JMU Women’s Club Volleyball team. Before each match, captains are called forward to see who gets to start the match with the serve and who will be receiving. Before serving, individuals will sometimes say, “service” in order to let the other team know that they are about the begin. To us, we hear the terms ‘serve’ and ‘service’ at least a hundred times each week; on Saturday we were asked, “Serve or Receive?” probably around 15 times.

Service is said far too many times in our life for us to still be unsure of the meaning, but that’s exactly what we’ve come to realize this week in class. I’ve had classes where we’ve spoken about community service compared to volunteering all while discussing whiteness, but not other class has involved discussions as much as ours. What is community service? What does it mean to each of us? Is it wrong for us to gain more from the experience than those we are “serving?” While all of these questions arose in class, I couldn’t help but be speechless. This is a topic that I think we’ll all battle with for the rest of the semester and even during our trip to Phoenix.

Feelings of guilt and uncertainty arose for hours during class on Tuesday, and unfortunately, I don’t think those feelings will ever go away. I can only hope that through more education of the Lost Boys in Arizona and more discussions about service, we can create our own definitions and meanings to the term community service. After class, we read about what it’s actually like for the refugees in Phoenix to be relocated in such a different environment with a different culture. While we did get a chance to discuss how overwhelming it must be to move to the US, we definitely didn’t get an insight onto what it’s like for them until reading this week’s readings. I continue to gain a greater understanding with each reading and can only hope that by the time we go to Phoenix in the spring, I am prepared as an individual and we are prepared as a group to learn through this experience.

So I’ll leave my blog this week with two questions: Serve or Receive? Can meaning be found in that question outside of volleyball? I sure hope so.

Ally’s Post: Refugee and Resettlement, Near and Far

This week I want to talk about refugee and resettlement in the Harrisonburg area. In the past three weeks, we have covered a huge range of genocide topics. All of which were very distant from us, either because of location, or because of a separation of time periods. What I keep trying to keep in mind is the fact that these topics are not as distant from us as they may seem. This week’s class provides us with the opportunity to hear from someone in town about the refugee resettlement that is present in town. I believe that this guest speaker will have a huge impact on the class, and help us remember that we do have the ability to make changes in these problems- especially if there are people right under our noses that we can meet and engage with.

Reading the article “Refugee Resettlement in the United States” completely impressed me with the actions our country has taken to resettle people throughout the years. In this article, it is stated that the United States has resettled over 3 million refugees in all fifty states. Although this number is huge, it is still not nearly as huge as the amount of people affect and killed by genocides. Knowing this fact makes me even more urgent for the spread of knowledge and change. Even reading the text that distinguished who a refugee is, completely showed me that the standards are different than I first imagined. It is more in front of our eyes than we may have thought, which should only deepen and encourage us to make changes.

As not only a JMU community, but also a class who cares so deeply about this topic, I think that it would be beneficial to us to experience working with refugee resettlement in the Harrisonburg area before our trip to Phoenix. It will give us a glimpse of what kinds of issues these refugees face, as well as open our eyes a bit deeper before traveling next month. 

Refugee agency in the camps

As we read in the Agier piece, refugee life in the camps is stripped down to “bare life” as refugees are isolated politically, socially and economically.  This piece illustrates efforts by the UN to increase the agency refugees have over their lives in the camp.  An interesting complement and applied example to our Agier reading.




To be or not to be, to act or to rationalize by Bits

I have always done my best thinking in the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps that is why it is 4 o’clock in the morning and I am writing on my class blog. Although I am a procrastinator, infamously so, my last minute energy tonight is not due to an approaching deadline. Tonight I lie awake reflecting and thinking, chewing on Rorty’s statement, “[…] we are not doing anything to help the Muslim women who are being gang raped or the Muslim men who are being castrated, any more than we did anything in the thirties when the Nazis were amusing themselves by torturing Jews.”

His statement keeps playing over and over in my head, like the scene in a horror movie that you just can’t shake. But tonight I cannot calm my fears by telling myself it was just a movie it, because unlike a scary film genocide is real, the animals and the perpetrators of genocide aren’t fictional masked men of a movie, they are real.

I tried to write down a list of my thoughts, to relax my brain, to say what I was thinking with no one around to judge what I wrote. After completing my list I looked down my paper, it wasn’t filled with guilt ridden thoughts of my inaction to be apart of something bigger than myself, it was my to do list for the next day. Like a rude awakening I reread my list and decided to revisit Rorty for some enlightenment on why I couldn’t put in words what I was thinking and feeling. Just as disturbing as before Rorty made his claim, but no longer in a horror movie sense, I had an “A-ha” moment! What Rorty was saying became clearer to me, right and wrong is dependent on the individual, but as long as we stand by and watch other humans turn into animals we too become the animals.

“[…] we are not doing anything to help […].” I tossed and turned all night and struggled to persuade myself that I was doing something, that we all were doing something for others, for something bigger than ourselves, for the victims of genocide. But the truth is I’m not. All night I wracked my brain for an answer, desperate to sleep and pacify my thoughts with some sort of rationalization. But there is no rationalization I too am an animal, an animal of inaction.

Although I don’t believe that being nonmale is nonhuman, I seemingly plague the genocidaire and the victims alike, “a plague on both your houses.” Wouldn’t I rather be an animal involved in the fighting game fighting for my view of right and wrong, than a follower of inaction who believes, “[…] no point in human beings getting involved in quarrels between animals?”

If I like the Serbs fight for my belief that every human being should be treated equally then I wouldn’t be awake frustrated with my inaction, I would be an animal carrying out my beliefs, an I would be embraced my Morpheus right now.

I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulder as a weight has been put on, I have found my rationalization for my inaction, but a new weight has been put on – what will I do to join the action?

Now is it almost sunrise, I’m feeling better my thoughts, whether they make much sense or not, I feel enlightened. And for those of you reading this I apologize for my 4am writing skills, perhaps next time I will find a better time to reason with genocide. Good night, or rather good morning!

– Bits

“Us” and “Them” – Lindsey

Luckily for most of us the term “genocide” is not a term that we would consider to be personal. Other than the history lessons that briefly covered the Holocaust; most of us have little experience with the term. The term more than likely evokes emotions such as sadness, sympathy, disbelief, anger etc.; however, those emotions probably fade in and out quickly. We’ve never been severely persecuted or had to witness the persecution of others, so we are quick to sympathize for those mistreated and quick to judge those who mistreat. It is easy for us who have never been in such a tragic situation to label those who commit genocide as evil outcasts.

We like the idea, and it is easier to accept, that human nature is instinctively good; that we are good, and that only the “bad apples” could ever commit a crime so terrible. Yet what about those who have witnessed persecution? Everyday citizens just like you and I. Those that never committed a crime, but stood by silently as others did. Is there a distinction between those who actually kill, and those who idly stand by and let it happen? We place ourselves on a pedestal, and bring to light the clear differences between “us” and “them.” We believe that we could never sit by and let our neighbors, colleagues, and friends be brutally mistreated. But how can we be sure? How can we be sure human nature isn’t instinctively bad and that we must make a conscious effort to choose what is right? Would doing the right thing be as important if placed in a life or death situation?

The truth is that we are more similar to those who have been a part of genocide than we would ever want to comfortably admit. The Milgram and Zimbardo experiments concluded that positions of authority, as well as a group’s determined state of normalcy have unbelievable power over the decisions people make. In the Milgram experiment, subjects a lot like you and I would put a man’s life at risk simply because an authority figure told them to. The Zimbardo experiment was cut short because of the brutality that occurred from simple role-play. The participants of these studies had moral standards. They were not evil nor outcasts yet they failed to make the right decisions.

We can never truly know how we will react in a situation until we are placed in that situation. However, we can decrease our chances of indifference. It starts by first being educated on issues both of the past and the present so that we can learn from past mistakes and be sure not to repeat them. Secondly, we should not exaggerate the differences between those who take part in genocide and ourselves, but instead understand our similarities. If we can be humble and accept the fact that we too are susceptible to doing wrong to others, then we are more likely to understand what it takes to make a difference.