Sunday, November 30, 2008


If lives were told as stories, then Thanksgiving Day is a much needed punctuation to take a break, breathe, and just be thankful. A typical American Thanksgiving Day usually includes eating lots of good food, watching football, and basically doing anything but homework. This year’s Thanksgiving, however, was different. Instead of football, I watched the news on the developments in Mumbai. After a heavy meal, I started to piece together this horrific episode of terror. With a heavy heart, it saddens me that Thanksgiving Day wasn’t a comma but a period to the many lives on the other side of the world.

How was it possible that there existed people who could indiscriminately kill innocent people? What were they thinking? Perhaps the question should be rephrased, “What were they NOT thinking?” I have no idea.

With a world full of uncertainties before us, may we count every blessing as they come and learn to share those blessings with those around us. For many things about tomorrow we don’t seem to understand, but we do know who holds tomorrow and who holds our hands.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Woohoo, Great Job Ladies!

It wasn’t until the 19th century that women began to project a more audible voice in the male-dominated public square. Just this past week, several of our female S-LCers have contributed posts--I am thrilled! This must be the start of a new era. If women contribute as much to society as men, (actually, I think women contribute MORE than men), then I think it is only healthy that we also have just as many female bloggers raising concerns on this stage. Besides, there are more ladies than guys on staff :)

Contemporary communication theorists think that western culture is very much shaped by a core group of great thinkers, which happens to be an exclusive all-man club of Greek philosophers. Now, how has culture shaped language? How does language shape education? Is language really benefiting the male gender? If the female voice is missing from language, then how are the voices of minorities missing from our classrooms and public domains?

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Artist

Coming up in our next S-LC newsletter will be a phone interview done by Jessica Ennis and myself with a Grand Rapids local named Reb Roberts.

Reb is cool.

Reb is collaborative.

Reb believes in community building.

And Reb is an artist.

More recently in relation the Service-Learning Center, Reb created the t-shirt design for Streetfest 2008. I don't want to spoil the interview, so I won't go into detail about what was discussed.

I just want to explore a quote that got me thinking.

"Every neighborhood has an artist." --Reb

An artist in this sense may not only be someone who is gifted with a paint brush, but someone who has vision, who can view the whole. I think an artist is also someone who can look at fragmented, seemingly disconnected things and sort of connect the dots if you will. So in light of community building, an artist may look at a rather dumpy disjointed community and see its potential of becoming a sustainable community.

I recently read an article by John McKnight entitled "Why Servanthood is Bad". This is a great thought provoker about the role of service systems in community building. McKnight believes that service systems that cause a community to be dependent tend to focus more on the community's deficiencies instead of its potential strengths . This is problematic because according to McKnight, community can only be built upon the unique capacities and capabilities of a given group. I think that artists have great potential to change community because of the unique voice they can bring, and I know Reb would agree. An artist asks questions, an artists complains, an artist is not afraid of the truth (i hope). An artist is bold, an artist heals and hurts to heals. An artist cannot see pain and suffering and go along as if it did not exist. An artist must act, and so creates.

I wanted to put out the question: who is the artist in your neighborhood?

-Is it the grandma that encourages and prays for everyone on the block?
-Is it the little girl with an amazing voice who belts out a solo in church?
-Is it the troubling teenager who voices his anger in spiraling graffiti on abandoned buildings?
-Is it the man who mutters to himself as he wanders alone at night?
-Is it the lady who always has kids coming through the house?
-Maybe it is your pastor

I think that there is greatness in Reb's idea.

Follow this link to RapidGrowth for a great article on Reb:

and of course check out our interview in the upcoming S-LC newsletter! Blessings!


Thursday, November 13, 2008

S-LC Staff in Ghana - An Update

We are writing this post from the beautiful country of Ghana, West Africa. We are studying here at the University of Ghana for the semester through Calvin College. For those of you who don’t know us, we are both in our third year and work at the Service-Learning Center.

Ghana is divided into ten regions and more loosely into the North and the South which are drastically different from one another. The South is green, tropical, and lies on the coast whereas the North is a savannah and generally very dry and very hot. Along with these climate differences are differences in their colonial histories. When Ghana was colonized the capital was established on the Coast and naturally infrastructure followed. Overall, the colonial powers choose not to develop the North because there was no benefit for them in doing so. These historical disparities have had a lasting affect on the development of Ghana.

About two weeks ago our group went on a week-long trip to “The North.” We visited six NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) in various parts of the North. We learned how valuable it is to learn about development first-hand. We couldn’t help but talk to one another about how much seeing these things first hand was helping us understand them so much better than if we had read about them from a text book.

We got to talk to real people about the real work that they were doing. They were able to give us a realistic, and not always rosy, picture of their development work. In going to numerous NGOs with varying approaches and missions, we saw that they were all firm in their methodologies. This was difficult because we could compare NGO A to NGO B and pick out the good and bad in each without being able to find a perfect “way to do development.” It highlighted the complexities in development work. As we sit here writing this post we are having a hard time articulating our experience because the value is truly learned so much better when experienced first hand.

This is just a glimpse into how very much we are learning here and we hope that we can talk more about our time when we get home. It’s funny how in a round-about way a small lesson that we are learning is how valuable learning outside of the classroom is.

Kelly and Becca

Monday, November 3, 2008


Mr. David K. Shipler's The Working Poor and Dr. David Hilfiker's Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, and other such engaging books, accompanied me this past summer as I thought about the issue of poverty. I revisited these two books (and many others) and thought I should post a review.

Hilfiker gives me the impression that what needs to be done is to tweak the social system and everything else will be calibrated. I am not sure if poor people will definitely not malinger or deliberately take advantage of loopholes. I do not know if the Finnish welfare system will work here, but I am more certain that many things in life, unfortunately, fall along ethnic lines. I used to think that only certain ethnic groups think in terms of "this/these are us/ours, and the rest are not." But I realize that from a sociological perspective, this mentality is pretty much universal across many ethnic groups. It is one of the easiest ways for people to create a group identity. Thus, given their common ancestral background, it might be why the Finnish think why they should help one another. Countries like the United States, which is really a gathering of different ethnic groups, have to work on a more challenging goal of building national ideals. Many citizens of the United States do share and pursue an "ideal"-- the American Dream. But I think it is more of a concept where each individual chases his/her own desires individually, instead of as a team or collective body. This is at least how my peers think of it, that it is all about themselves and for different materialistic possessions.

Shipler offers a much more in-depth interpretation to the chronic problem of poverty. I see a spiral so deep, I am not sure if we should be happy because the causes have been found or sad because the problem is so severe. Both books highlight the importance of education. If one cannot read, one does not know how to file a tax return. If one cannot write, one cannot get a job that can elevate her or him out of the minimum wage zone. As I recall a friend’s Teach for America experience, I start to consider more seriously how education features in the social equation.

Note: for those of you who are still debating over whom you should cast your vote for tomorrow, this post shouldn't sway you either way (although it is not entirely free from political philosophies). Either way you look at it, poverty is a real and complex issue. For those who have asked my opinion on this election, my position is still the same: Vote with a clear conscience today, live with your decision tomorrow.