A weekend at JMU -Gina

Greetings Earthlings!

Last weekend our friends Sam and Koor came to JMU! It was awesome. We hosted an event that Koor spoke at. He talked to a crowded room (I’m so happy my friends came too! Thanks guys!) about his journey as a refugee and what he does now to help is new country! I felt really excited seeing Koor share his story to my friends and fellow students. It’s almost like they got a clip of our trip to Phoenix because we heard so many inspiring stories and there was no way of me properly explaining to my amigos how I felt when listening.

After the event, we participated in Cover the Night but because our campus is very strict with putting up posters, in fact putting up anything on campus, we didn’t get to decorate as much as I wished we could.

We had dinner with Sam and Koor and the FIRST ASB group who went to Phoenix last year.

On Saturday morning, Jamie and I woke up REALLY EARLY to drive Sam and Koor to Charlottesville for a radio interview. Sam and I sat in the room with Jamie and Koor while they were on-air chatting about our trip to Phoenix. Jamie did an awesome job reppin’ EraseIndifference and our class. Koor was on a roll with sharing his story. I’m not sure how Sam felt, but I definitely fell asleep for half of the interview cause it was too early for me.

We drove back to Harrisonburg a little more relaxed. I think we were nervous and tired before the interview. But Sam and Koor chatted with us about traveling and college.

In the afternoon, everyone went to the Beer Festival downtown but I’m not 21…so I didn’t go. BUT! I was still excited for Koor and Sam to see our side of life in Harrisonburg and I hope they have a fun visit!

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Weekend with the Lost Boys- a friendly reminder

Having been over a month since returning from Phoenix, our class has faced many obstacles and incredible experiences. It has been an enormous feeling being able to transmit our energy from the trip back into the JMU community. However, many of us have struggled with transmitting that energy to the capacity that we are cable of.

This past weekend we had the pleasure of two of the Lost Boys coming to visit. Koor Garang and Sam Ruot flew out to DC Thursday night. I drove up with our professor to pick them up and bring them back to Harrisonburg. Although the Lost Boys were here to speak about their non profit and other things related, I was not able to attend this assembly. However, I still felt that I was able to get the perfect fix of time with them by being with them Thursday and Friday. Being able to show them around JMU and Harrisonburg, the way they showed us around their lives, was an amazing feeling. Having two of the most impactful people, and friends, being in our environment, offered me a feeling of fulfillment. It was as we had the coolest kids in the world visiting us, and that we were able to show them off to all of our friends. One of the most incredible things we were able to do was lobby in Downtown Harrisonburg about the Kony2012 Bill. Having Koor and Sam there helped show our peers how serious and committed we were.

Even the carride home from the airport was a great experience. The simple conversations we had in the car, paired with laughs and funny moments, reminded me of the incredible friendships and bonds we made during our time in Arizona. It also helped remind me that although we are separated by distance, we are also united by compassion. Every single one of us still cares and makes this issue important to us, and having each other to be reminded of that is essential.

This week and next, we will all be working on refugee advocacy on campus, as well as a furniture drive for local refugees. Although finals are in full swing, we all feel so committed to making this an equal priority. Having Koor and Sam visit last weekend was the perfect way to remind us of the changes we can make individually and collaborately. I am looking forward to what will unfold in the near future. Having the summer begin in just a few weeks, I am thrilled knowing that many more great things are to come, and hopeful that more change will be made.

Resonates in my heart by Jami

Last week we gathered in a big room filled with empty chairs facing a long table with
a projector behind it. We were about to participate in a “conference panel” discussion
with communication studies scholars and faculty to talk about our experience. We had
prepared with a few questions but it was kind of happening on a whim. As I walked in
the room, my anxiety level rose and I wasn’t sure why. All I had to do was talk about
my experience to the very few people who had filled some of the many chairs in front
of us, what’s the worst that could happen? The small audience began to settle in as our
panel discussion was about to begin and Aaron approached the computer at the front
of the room. I had no idea why he needed a computer; I thought we were just talking
the old fashioned way but next thing I knew, the video that we had watched the first
day of class began playing on the screen. A tidal wave of emotions hit me like a pound
of bricks as the music began to play and the images moved slowly across the screen. All
of the emotions that I had felt throughout the semester all came rushing back and I was
completely caught off guard.

The second half of the film, Aaron had added in pictures of our class from our trip and
the memories, the smiles, the experience, all came rushing back to me. It was as if I had
forgotten all the feelings I had once felt amidst all the chaos surrounding the end of the
semester and graduation day approaching. I’ve been so lost in the hustle and bustle of
life. Seeing this video again was a much needed reminder. As the video ended and we all
started taking our seats at the long table in front of the room, I tried to compose myself
but that tight feeling in my throat holding back tears wouldn’t go away. I tried shaking it
off, I tried composing myself but as it came time for my turn to speak, I literally couldn’t
get the words out. I spit out a jumbled sentence as my voice was shaking and tears
started welling up in my eyes. I wanted to convey my thoughts and my experience so
badly but the emotions were too strong, I was unprepared to feel them at that moment,
and I had no way of pulling myself together.

After the panel discussion, I have been anxiously awaiting Koor’s arrival to JMU this
weekend. I feel so honored that he is now someone that we call a friend and someone
that we have the opportunity to spend time with. Some might wonder if it is possible for
a bond to be created between people from different continents of the world, between
people who have lived entirely different lives? In my final semester at James Madison
University, I find my life is intersecting with refugees like Koor from South Sudan. I
think back to that simple “click” that allowed me to add a random elective class to my
schedule has changed my life. That “click” brought my classmates and me together
with the Lost Boys of Sudan and in the process discover a passion that none of us ever
expected.

Meeting with Koor and other Lost Boys of Sudan, hearing their stories in their words, in their voice is something you can’t prepare for. On our trip, Koor said something to us that still to this day resonates within my heart. He told us that we are the ones in control of our lives, and we have control of what we do every day when we wake up. I am so excited that Koor, my classmates, and I will be able to share some of these experiences with the JMU community and that, if only in a small way, they too can come to know this truly remarkable man.

ASB Phoenix by Jules

I remember Ally telling me about this trip. It was the week before school started and we were sitting on my front lawn with a few friends chatting about summer and the upcoming semester. She started to tell me about the ASB trip that she was leading. I asked her about it with interest in participating in a trip. I heard talk about refugees and something about Sudan but was immediately interested in finding out more information.

 

Coming into the class I was in my bubble with little worry about problems outside of JMU. I lived with 2 of my best friends and a silly dog, I went to class, went to work, did my homework, as far as I was concerned life was good and I was happy. But, after the first class where we watched the documentary, “God Grew Tired of Us” and watched Aaron’s genocide video, I felt that I was given so much information and had no idea what to do with it, how to process it, or what the rest of the semester was going to be like. Watching refugees eat butter on a plane was funny but I wasn’t impacted. Needless to say I kept living my life. Hotel Rwanda was the eye opening moment for me. I had seen the movie before but, paid little attention to what was going on and was only focusing on the main gist of the movie to be able to write a one page summary for extra credit. Granted it was Hollywood’s interpretation of a genocide but, it was then that I realized that what we were learning about is a big messy situation but, that it was something that needed to be brought to our attention.

 

Prior to the trip I was excited to get out of the JMU bubble, but, was nervous and stressed about many things. How do you look someone in the eye and say, “Why did you have to leave your country?” What happened if they cried, were we supposed to change the subject if they responded that they didn’t want to answer or, were we supposed to ask the question in a different way? Was I going to be upset if they didn’t want to answer? What were we to do if I couldn’t understand what they were saying? All of these questions were milling around in my head with Aaron’s vague answers “They want to talk about it so ask questions.” and “I can’t explain, but when you get there you’ll see what I mean.” The fact that all of my questions couldn’t be answered with a simple answer was stressing me out even more.

 

Phoenix, Az. I remember waiting at the airport for a man named Peter, a Sudanese refugee Aaron had met the year before, to come and pick us up. When he showed up he had the biggest smile on his face and was so excited to meet us, his exact response was “You guys probably know so much about me, hopefully I will get to know all of you.” What a way to be greeted! To be quite honest, while on the trip there were a very few things that could knock me off my happy streak. We listened to stories that almost put us to tears, we watched as others appreciated our presence in their home, we built relationships that none of us would ever forget. While on the trip I found myself only thinking about accomplishing the tasks we had set aside for the day, and doing it with enthusiasm I didn’t even know I had.

 

The Lost Boys center was the highlight of my trip. There were three defining moments that have since changed the way I think about life. The first was watching Aaron reunite with the Lost Boys. When we were walking to the center on the first day I remember telling him, “A, you are walking like my dad does when he goes to a baseball game.” My dad has such a passion for baseball that when he gets the opportunity to go to a game he has this unmistakable pep in his step, Aaron had a definite pep in his step. My dad also starts to quickly talk about random things while his eyes are as big as basketballs, Aaron was bantering on about something with a smile from ear to ear and a glow in his eyes. When we got to the center and he finally got to see the men, it was like he was meeting with a family member that he hadn’t seen in years. At that moment we saw his passion, love, and utmost respect for these men, something that he had been trying to tell us about for the whole semester but he just couldn’t put it into words.

 

The second defining moment was Kuol telling us that WE have the power to create awareness. He told us to talk about the issues because that is the only way that the problem is going to gain attention. Yes, we hear this all the time but it was his earnest plea and honest tone that made it impactful. We had just watched a documentary about his trip back to South Sudan during their independence.

 

The third moment impacted me the most. Thinking about it now, I still get the same chills I did that night in the hostel. On Thursday of our trip we had invited a few of the Lost Boys to our hostel for dinner. We had the pleasure of being in the presence of 7 of the Lost Boys in the Phoenix area. Some we had worked with while at the center but some we were meeting for the first time. After dinner Sam and I were chatting with Koor (if you all are reading this before Friday 4/19 and go to JMU come see him in the Festival Highlands room Friday 4/19 at 4:00). I can’t really remember how the conversation started but Koor laid his words of wisdom on Sam and I. He said he had a hard childhood. He now is 28, he had 2 options when coming to America, he could mess up and risk being sent back to Sudan or he could try to be the best person he could be for himself and those who did not have the opportunity to continue living. He told us that he was granted a second shot at life and he needed to take full potential of everything he was given. He said he wakes up everyday and makes a promise to himself to make it a good day. There may not be good parts of every day he said, but you have to push past those and focus on the good. This may sound like the simplest advice but when it comes from someone who as a child under the age of 10 had to literally walk about 600 miles for his life and see things that we only read in horror stories, this advice to say the least hit us pretty hard. Sam and I had to take a second to think about what to say and how to respond to what he had just said to us. This put everything into perspective for me. Yes, I have tests and quizzes and bills to pay but that all seems secondary after listening to those words.

 

Since coming back from the trip I have tried to live by Koor’s advice. I have also found myself bringing up my experience and what is going on in the world in almost every conversation. I have also become more obsessed with my group then I ever thought I would. These people know what I went through, they understood it. We did some pretty amazing things and we did it because we all somewhere along the line found a passion for the issues we were studying. We all have been impacted differently but understand now, that we actually do have the power to change something and I think we all realize now what we have to do to accomplish our goals.

Peace. Love. ASB Phoenix

I Remember – Lindsey

I remember thinking to myself, “I like genocide.” I mean not in a creepy way. I knew it was terrible and even more so now, but I knew I had always been interested in it. I had been to the Holocaust Museum twice, and both times I was moved tremendously. Honestly, that’s what I was looking for when I added this class at the last minute on Ecampus; to be moved. Something was lacking in the classes I had taken so far. I was learning, but mainly just for the test the next morning. The only reason I was interested in the classes I had taken was because they were going to look good on a resume. But even in reflection, I wondered how much I was really retaining in these classes, and how much they were really going to matter after I graduated. I wanted a class that would make me feel more than just test anxiety. So I clicked the “enroll” button hoping that this class would make the connection between the classroom and the world outside of it.

I remember meeting everyone at a DHall dinner before fall semester had ended. It was the first time I had given the class any thought since registering. I remember meeting Gina, a tiny whimsical freshman who could out eat a football player any day. She was impressive, and not because of her eating capabilities. I remember being a freshman. Upperclassman intimidated me and so did any course that was above a 100 level. And here was Gina, about to tackle a 300 level course not in her major, and with a group of strangers at least two years older than her. I was going to tackle the class with one of my closest friends, and a professor who I already knew was great. I was still nervous. I didn’t know the rest of the group. I didn’t know anything about the topic. And above all of that I was about to spend my spring break in Arizona with them, and not with my best friends somewhere a little farther south. How could I not be wary of it all?  If Gina had any of the same concerns she didn’t show it. Like I said, the girl was impressive.

I remember the first few weeks of classes. It took some adjusting to. “Aaron” (calling him that was an adjustment in itself) kept apologizing for talking too much. That seemed weird since he was the professor and all. But he was sincerely sorry. He wanted us to discuss, and facilitate our own learning. It worked. Listening to my classmates interpretations of the readings was more than any lecture. I still remember specific readings that we looked at months ago. To my surprise it only took those first few weeks of class to feel “moved” like I hoping for. Every night we watched “God Grew Tired of Us” I left thinking about the life I live, how privileged I was, and how I needed to give back. Those feelings never left, and as spring break snuck up on me, those thoughts were the reason for my excitement and anxiety for the experience I was about to have.

I remember not knowing what to expect. I felt so vastly different from them. Our life experiences were nothing alike. How in the world would I related to these refugees? These thoughts made me anxious, because the one thing I wanted was to connect with them. In my mind it was finding a connection between each other that made service learning successful. Ironically the one thing I was worried about, was the most natural reoccurring event on the trip. Every person I met from waitresses, hiking guides, hostel hosts, and refugees, were amazing people and so easy to connect with. Meeting new people with different experiences was without a doubt my favorite part of the trip. Just listening to their stories and outlook on life was amazing.

I remember thinking maybe these connections were so easily made because I was looking for them in Arizona. As I got back into my daily routine at JMU I found it hard to adjust. I found myself getting frustrated with the complaints my friends and I had about schoolwork and other things we considered “hardships.” I was frustrated at the fact that the connections I felt with strangers in Arizona seemed more real than most of the ones I had ever had here. Then I took a look at myself. I don’t take the time here like I did in Arizona. I don’t openly talk with people I meet. I’m quicker to judge people based on there appearance. I get caught up in my daily schedule instead of taking the time to just spend time with people. The experiences I have are the outcome of my outlook and the way I expect experiences to happen. I think of Jany, Kuol, Sam, Koor, and the Gabes. I think of their unbelievable hardships and yet how they still look at life so positively, and accomplish so much because of it. It’s our outlook. It’s our self-thought. More than anything, it is this that determines what kind of experiences we have and what kind of impact we have on the world around us. Before this class/trip I didn’t think there was much I could do to make a difference in the world. But these Sudanese men changed my outlook, and because of that I will be forever grateful for what they did in my life. They have a story that needs to be heard, and I can do something about that.

Owning Up and Owning It by Lisa

It has been a LONG time since I’ve last posted. In fact it was before we left for Arizona. In that time, I have been struggling with my responsibility and my role as an advocate and what that looks like for my life. I finally finished my journal today and I wanted to share it in hopes that my experience might help someone else struggling with their role and their passion. If anything, I want people to know that it is ok to struggle, as long as you don’t give up. Never give up.

“Never be afraid to fall apart because it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along.” –Rae Smith

It is 2 months later and I have just finished writing about the last day of our trip. While on the trip I could never make myself slow down and discipline myself to put my experience in this journal. I was so much happier talking it out with the group.

It’s weird because I am a writer. It was one of my first distinct passions in life. But it was daunting to reflect on his experience when everything felt so big and complex at times. How could I get everything down? The detail, the meaning, how I felt, what I perceived, my journey to understudying, the look on their faces. Even now that I have finally made myself tackle it all, I know I have left out so much. I hated the feeling of tackling everything alone on paper, so instead I talked it out.

I wouldn’t do it differently. Those conversations gave me so much and I wouldn’t want to miss them now, but it upsets me how long I have put off my own work and reflection. Now that all this time has passed, I see the true value of this journal.

First, I should have known this as a writer, but putting it in pen makes it permanent. Thoughts and memories are beautiful but they are fleeting and easily erased. Pen to paper makes it real. It makes you go back and remember more. It makes everything feel more concrete and within reach. It solidifies experiences and feelings. Until I had finished writing it all down, it almost seemed as though it had never happened. It was easier to run from my responsibility as an advocate and from growing more and keeping what I learned in me and my actions. Writing it all down made me confront all of that again. It made me OWN my experience.

Second, While better late than never, I know I lost a lot of time and opportunity by not taking ownership of my experience and the responsibility as someone who KNOWS, sooner. When I was running from writing and reflecting, I was running from everything else too. I stopped posting in this blog, reading articles, and truly engaging in class. I started to shut down and give up. I was ashamed and I was pushing everything else away. And I had so many other things on my plate that it was easy to hid and make excuses.

I regret not pushing myself harder. I know I have missed out on so much. I wish I had realized that this journal was like anything else in advocacy: you take it one step at a time. If i had even written a little bit each day, I could have kept myself better engaged and not let it build up to to 2 months later where I was embarrassed and scared to tackle it all. Each day would, each sentence would have kept me going. That would have made a difference.

It was also like advocacy in the sense that my journal didn’t seem like a big deal. What did it matter what I wrote, how much I wrote, or if I wrote? I didn’t see what difference it made, but like advocacy as a whole, every little action matters and affects something else. Every conversation and every story you tell matters and travels in some way. For me, my journal was my responsibility in my advocacy that I was running away from and that was keeping me from truly engaging. And the less I engaged the less I was engaging and educating others. The less I was supporting my group and pushing them to keep going too. The more I was committing the biggest crime of all–letting the trip and those experiences mean nothing. It upsets me to think I had let it get this far, that that was almost a possibility.

So this is my apology to Aaron, my class, the friends we made, and their loved ones…and myself: I am sorry for getting overwhelmed and running. I am sorry for not taking responsibility sooner.

Though my journey this semester has been imperfect, I just hope what I learned through getting here can offer enough to make up for it.

Although I can be honest with myself and you, and say this might not be my life’s true passion, I recognize my responsibility to this advocacy for the rest of my life. Because here’s the thing: I know. and I know too much to ever turn my back now. No matter where my life takes me, I will live up to my responsibility to never forget, to share, to keep my eyes open, and to speak up where I am. It is the very least I can do to own my experience and do my part.

So Much More than a Class By Lauren Vacca

The semester is sadly coming to an end and this can only mean projects meeting deadlines, saying goodbyes to beloved seniors, endless hours in the library and never ending laughs and good times with friends.  We go about each day trying to better ourselves and set the path that will lead us to our future and career along with making countless memories with the best friends around.  Each day inhabited by the almost same however never dull routine.

One thing worries me about the quest to build a respectable and meaningful life.  As well as another concept that comes to mind that has affected me tremendously post-ASB trip.  Both concepts bring magnitude to my everyday life and are things I think about in a new light after coming back from Phoenix.

The first thought being that there is almost as if there is a secret book that everyone has read that tells you what society says you should do with your life.  There never truly is a chapter in this intangible book saying, “Take time off and give back.”  It is always graduate college, get a job and work your way up the ladder while falling in love, getting married and having kids in between.  Having that unforgettable week out in Phoenix followed by great class discussions with Aaron and my class made me feel overwhelmed with empowerment and that I can take on the world.  I wanted to leave right then and there and give everything back and all of my time to erase indifference and help advocate the pure evilness of genocides.  I only could imagine my years to come being spent in Africa, or working with Invisible Children or organizations out in Sudan.  I could only imagine this because I knew that was what I had to do, I could not suppress my feelings that I felt while in Phoenix and from after meeting Jany and all the other amazing people.  However, fast forward almost two months later and it is hard to put those goals and dreams from in my mind to on paper.  I am filling my days with writing research papers, planning events, looking for internships and doing other things that I am “supposed” to be doing and not to mention fitting in time with friends and fun.  All these things that will help me get a job and graduate.  It is hard to at times to remember those amazingly catastrophic feelings that I felt while in Phoenix because I am so busy with so many other things.  This is frustrating beyond belief to me because I know that is no excuse.  I don’t want to be stupid and be so optimistic and actually not be realistic but then again if I am not optimistic I will push aside my over-powerful feelings.  It is a constant struggle that I am facing and I am learning how valuable time is in every sense.  I need to remember Koor’s words and remember to do what I WANT to do in this very moment and not worry about what everyone else thinks or says I should do.  In the long-run what it really  all comes down to at the end of the day is me making my own decisions and destiny to happiness.  I want to spend all of my time devoted to Erase Indifference but I know that I have other things I also have to spend time on.  While battling with this struggle I knew I had to call the best person I know, my Mom and have her help me sort things out.  Her conversation helped to remember all the feelings from Arizona and put things into perspective.  I am learning to not let time be my enemy but let it be my guider and positive tool.  Taking one day at a time will allow me to make my decision each day as to what I want to do.  Everything that leads up to this moment in time will give me the backbone, strive and motivation to live each day without any regrets and write my own chapters in my book.

The second point is the way I look at new people throughout my everyday life.  I truly feel blessed for meeting and spending a week with each and every one of my fellow ASB members.  I am so proud of each and everyone of them and feel so lucky to have been given even an ounce of insight and passion from Aaron.  I will forever have a special connection with these 12 individuals that I will not have even with my best friends.  I went into this class believing that I would be so moved and affected by the people I met on the trip but I never knew how inspired and moved I would be from the people I actually went on the trip with.  I have made great friendships that I am lucky for, and to think I thought I wouldn’t is something I have really been thinking a lot about.  I can’t go into a given situation feeling so comfortable because than I will never open myself up to things beyond my comfort zone of best friends and what I’m used to.  This can go even further as to opening my mind and heart to all people I encounter.  I can’t be so fast to write people off as not someone I can become close with, or as people that I won’t have any common ground with.  Everyone has his or her own story and every story deserves to be heard to learn from.  You can either learn from their lessons or learn from their teachings to improve yourself and form quality relationships.  You never know what you can learn from another person or the friendship you can make.  If you do not give people chances you are missing out on so many things that can come from a new relationship.  Just because an individual is not like you, didn’t grow up in America or speak your language well doesn’t mean that they can’t be a person that will touch your life in unimaginable ways.

After writing both these paragraphs I have learned that this trip and this class (which is so beyond any class I can ever dream of) have taught me so much more than book knowledge or wordly knowledge but it has also taught me about character and how to improve yourself internally not just mentally.  I have learned a lot about myself in so many ways both good and bad.  I have taken a step back and have been able to look at things with a new point of view and I am forever grateful for that.  I never knew how simply signing up for SCOM 318 on a whirlwind could have genuinely affected me in so many ways.  I am so proud of this class and the people in it.  Even though I am struggling with time and doing what I deep down want to do, I hope and pray that I can continuously use these memories and these experiences has a check point throughout future decisions and plans as a guideline on how to live my life.