Serving the community at home and abroad: A VISTA’s perspective

October 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

This post brought to you by Americorps VISTA worker, MPA candidate at the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at OSU, and all around ray of sunshine, Ashanthi DeSilva. -Evelyn
It has been two months since I began working at ECDI. During this time I have learned more about the different communities in Columbus than I have during the past four years as a student at OSU. Everyday I have the opportunity to meet with clients from all parts of the world, each with different stories and aspirations. Listening to their experiences, I find myself reminiscing of my travels and the people I encountered.

Last summer, I began teaching English at Baqa’a refugee camp outside Amman, Jordan. It is one of the largest camps in the Middle East, and poorest. Entire families live in one to two rooms, and unemployment is disproportionately high compared with Amman. However, the students I worked with were eager to learn and the tiny classroom was often filled to capacity. Due to the lack of chairs and space, students would have to stand in the room or hallway to watch the lessons.  The organization was facing a sharp decrease in funding, and they were not able to expand or even afford basic supplies for the classrooms. Our room was without a fan or windows. Students would constantly fan themselves with their notebooks, making it difficult for them to focus. A memory which stays with me is watching the students wait for their lunch, which was provided by the organization. It consisted of peanuts, protein biscuits, and a juice box. I realized these children were coming with empty stomachs to class; some took packages home for their younger siblings. Regardless of the hardships they faced, not once did they let it show; they were constantly smiling.

The teachers I met were volunteers, as there was little opportunity for employment in the camp. Most of them held university and masters degrees, yet making a living and providing for their family still posed extreme difficulties. I was only able to stay for three months, and had little opportunity to work them in developing long term solutions to these issues.

Once I returned to Columbus, I wanted to devote time and effort contributing to my community. This is precisely why I joined AmeriCorps VISTA and am currently working with ECDI. AmeriCorps’ mission is to alleviate poverty, where ECDI seeks to break this cycle and create sustainability within our community. In these difficult economic times, I have seen fellow colleagues and friends with bachelor’s and master’s degrees unemployed or working outside their desired field. Downtown and near campus, I see more and more people sleeping on the streets at night with nowhere to go. Food banks where I once volunteered are now filled to capacity. It is a harsh reality, but places like ECDI seek to address the financial hardships many are facing. What I appreciate most about this organization is its incredibly diverse and dedicated staff. I have met each and every one of them and they are here to work with our clients – to guide and help ensure their successes. I look forward to what this year will bring and learning as much as possible from my colleagues and clients.

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