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Middlebury Privilege & Poverty interns stay the summer in Vermont, engage with issues of poverty throughout Addison County.
This is the first in a series highlighting the work of our CCE Privilege & Poverty Interns, who are working in organizations, nationally and locally, that intentionally engage in issues of poverty. This week I sat down with Cynthia Ramos (intern) and Samantha Kachmar (co-director), of Charter House in order to enrich my own reflection about what it’s like working around poverty.
Cynthia Ramos is one of several Middlebury students who have been thrown into the daily operations of various social service organizations throughout Addison County this summer. From homelessness, to access to nutritional food, to advocating for women and migrant rights, Privilege and Poverty Interns are engaging with manifestations of poverty on a daily basis, and gather weekly to reflect and discuss their experiences.
Cynthia is working at Charter House this summer, a non-profit, volunteer based organization that provides basic necessities like food and shelter. Though her job description might sound simple at first – cooking and cleaning, checking in residents – it has quickly become much more than what it seemed at the beginning.
“This job has been both easier and harder than I expected. I don’t have to know calculus to do it, but I have to have endless willingness to always do more, take on more. I have to be generous with not only my time, but my emotional availability…it’s exhausting, but not in a bad way. I feel more fulfilled now than I do during the school year,” says Cynthia.
Worth it? Definitely.
Samantha Kachmar, Co-Director of the Charter House, agrees that the experiential learning that Privilege and Poverty Interns are receiving is unique in its own right – and difficult to digest at times. “It gives [students] a chance to really see it – in its reality. And it’s not always a pretty really. Sometimes learning and knowing something from material you’ve read or watched is much different than when you’re faced with that reality.”
“It’s exhausting, but not in a bad way. I feel more fulfilled now than I do during the school year.” – Cynthia Ramos
There’s a quote that hangs, pinterest style, next to the front door of my parent’s house that says “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
That’s about as corny as they come (right behind “Live, Laugh, Love”, “Family is FOREVER” and “You can find me at the beach”). Nevertheless, I have always felt unduly motivated by its message. This summer as a Privilege and Poverty Intern through the CCE myself, I am beginning to understand not only the value of living into that quote, but the value of the home that holds that sign up.
At times the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes, where I have been placed, seems not twelve but twelve thousand miles away from the housing, dining, and education that I often take for granted in the middle of a semester at Middlebury. But perhaps the most valuable lesson I’m beginning to learn is that these “different worlds” are not so different; all it takes is intentionality and effort to connect the two.
That connection, perhaps tragically for the more bookish of us (myself included), takes place beyond the essays we read, the money we donate or the “likes” we give on Facebook. Ultimately, however, that connection gives us the chance to discover universal aspects of human nature.
“It allows people to see that though we come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, we have a lot in common. And everyone has the same desire for a stable life, and just different ways to go about it, different resources to attain it,” says Kachmar.
As my first full year of living in Middlebury draws to a close, I have become more and more conscious of the divisions between college and community, wealthy and poor here in Addison County. Whether you are from “up the hill” or “down the hill”, or whether you shop at the co-op or Hannafords, has tangible consequences on how you perceive Middlebury – and how you are perceived by others. Undoubtedly, there are some parallel realities of experience here, just like in many other places.
But (as I’m beginning to see, thanks to my work this summer) more often than not the effort it takes to bridge these divisions is smaller than we think. And I’m grateful to be given the chance to try.
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Experiences in community-based learning though the Center for Community Engagement supported the majority of this year’s Middlebury College Fulbright Fellowship winners. I connected with a few of them to learn about what got them on track for their Fulbright adventures!
Type in “best skills for success” and search for the key words. “Professional communication”, having “business acumen” and “grit” – all pretty predictable. From listening to Mozart in the womb to dropping out of highschool to pursue your genius passion, there is no shortage of unsolicited advice over what hacks are going to help you succeed.
And even though Google may not know it, we can now put down “caring for the community” as one of the best.
Eleven Middlebury seniors and five recently graduated alums will be spreading across the world with Fulbright fellowships for the 2019-2020 academic year. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Middlebury grads will be teaching or conducting research alongside more than 1,900 other recipients worldwide.
Looking at them, something stands out for me. One of the common threads across many of the recipients’ experience at Middlebury? Deep involvement in their communities, via CCE programs.
Eight of the 11 graduating seniors, and 11 of the 16 overall recipients were connected to the CCE in some capacity over their time here at Middlebury. From experiencing the larger world as a result of programs like Middlebury Alternative Break (MAlt) trips and the Cross Cultural Community Service Fund grants, to bringing that world back to Vermont with Language in Motion or being a Community Friends mentor, it is clear that Middlebury’s Fulbright recipients have no shortage of willingness to engage in their communities. Several name those experiences as factors that put them on the track to a Fulbright.
Mary Trichka, ‘19, who led a MAlt trip focused on urban farming in San Francisco, is hoping to engage with her new community as an English Teaching Assistant in the Republic of Georgia this upcoming year. She reflected about how she came to value the reciprocal nature of community partnerships: “The sort of ideals associated with MAlt definitely apply to and will inform my Fulbright experience…this idea of service-learning stems from my MAlt experience. I hope to both give to and learn from the community I will be engaging with.”
Melisa Topic, ‘19, who will be heading to Argentina this fall, considered a lesson she learned from her time studying abroad and, later, using that experience to inform her role as a Language in Motion mentor here in Middlebury. “Getting out of your comfort zone can benefit you more than taking another class or getting an institutional internship,” Melisa says. “Push yourself to be uncomfortable, until it is comfortable.”
Along with the opportunity to pursue research and teaching, the Fulbright grant gives its recipients the opportunity to build a cross-cultural perspective, in order to build relationships that otherwise might have been impossible.
In a political moment increasingly defined by nationalism and xenophobia, Trichka’s idea of reciprocity in service learning and Topic’s motto of embracing the uncomfortable might be just what the global community needs to expand and rebuild our relationships. Here at the CCE, we’re honored to spark those kind of mindsets and look forward to hearing how these recipients deepen their commitment to intercultural learning around the world!