All the Hemispheres by Hafiz
Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out
Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadow and shores and hills.
Open up to the Roof.
Make a new watermark on your excitement
Like a blooming night flower
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness and Giving upon our intimate assembly.
Change rooms in your mind for a day.
All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart…
As has been the custom since the early 1990’s, NDP offers its seniors the opportunity to go on a service trip during spring break. In addition to the traditional pilgrimage to the village of Ignacio Ellacuria, El Salvador and the annual Habitat for Humanity trip to Starkville, Mississippi, this year a third trip to the National Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica (co-sponsored by both the Religion and Science Departments under the guidance of NDP religion teacher, Lucy Strausbaugh) was also offered for those girls particularly interested in animal welfare and conservation. These projects allow the girls to immerse themselves in a completely different culture and environment, to live in solidarity with the poor and underserved, and in the Costa Rican case, to help those whose very existence is threatened.The El Salvador trip is one that the Director of Social Service, Steve Pomplon, calls a ministry of “presence.” While there, the NDP girls live in community with the villagers, learn about their culture, customs, and history and help out in the local school. The Mississippi trip is a ministry of physical labor during which the girls participate fully in the construction of a new Habitat for Humanity house, working side by side with its future owners. And the Costa Rican trip is a ministry of stewardship; one where the girls study the sustainability of the Costa Rican rain forest – the natural habitat for the sloths – in the face of increasing pesticide use by corporate fruit producers. This environmental piece is combined with a service component in which the girls help out at the sanctuary by cleaning cages, feeding the animals, and giving them lots of TLC.
Seniors who are interested in undertaking one or another of the projects must write an essay explaining why they are willing to give up part of their spring break to do so. The girls who were given the chance to participate this year have one thing in common. They are all blessed with the Gift of Openness. Each one has an open mind and an open heart. They are open to ideas, to others, to the world as it is… and the world as it can be. Though the trips were offered as a way to serve, the girls will be the first to admit they also recognized them as a chance of a lifetime. And while it’s true that the places and people they left behind benefited from their presence, it was the girls who were truly transformed. Each came away with a greater appreciation of what they have and what’s really important. And each came back with a far greater awareness of the conditions of the world. And that, after all, is the first step toward living a compassionate life, a life we are all called to. Here then, in no particular order and in their own words, are some of the reasons the girls gave for wanting to participate and some of the lessons they learned while having the privilege of serving others:
Bridget Plunkett (El Salvador): I really had to push past my comfort zone. El Salvador is an underdeveloped country. It was really important for me to see how others live. And the experience taught me patience. Because I don’t speak Spanish, I was reduced to being an observer. It’s amazing how much more you can learn when you simply watch and listen. I realized what I have to say isn’t always that important!
Cat Edwards (El Salvador): Working among the rural poor was a completely unique experience and gave me a lot to think about. I think the test is what I’ll do with the experience now that I’m back. I feel really called to service and would like to do work in urban poverty.
Gabriella Mamo (El Salvador): It was an amazing experience to just see how other people live. Not every one lives like we do, with as much as we have. It’s humbling. It was even more humbling when we saw how grateful the people were for the little we did.
Sydney Tommins (El Salvador): I live a really sheltered life. It was important that I take the risk. It changed me in a profound way. I mean, just to see the way others live. And to realize I don’t need half the stuff I think I need.
Bridget Plunkett: Yeah! Like cell phones! We couldn’t use them down there and it was great! There are other ways to communicate…like face to face.
Cat Edwards: Yeah, It’s funny, even though there’s poverty…the people seem happy. That tells you something.
Sydney Tommins: Like, you don’t need to be changed to be happy. At least, they don’t. maybe we do…
Bridget Plunkett: Honestly, it makes me never want to take anything for granted or complain about anything ever again.
Cat Edwards: I know. I’m really good at feeling sorry for myself. But when I was there, I never saw one kid cry or whine. Not one. It makes me want to choose strength.
Sydney Tommins: I learned a lot from the people in El Salvador. I feel a real connection to them.
Adri Tompros (Costa Rica): I think that’s a common theme with all our trips. Connectivity. Even connectivity to nature. We tend to see ourselves as separate from nature. But we’re all a part of it. We’re all connected.
Oona Peacock (Costa Rica): And we all have a role. We all have a purpose. For us, it’s really important to preserve the environment. And to help those whose environments and habitats are maybe exploited by…
Adri Tompros: …stronger forces…
Oona Peacock: …other people. Sometimes that’s hard.
Grace Dinger (Mississippi): I know. We went to Mississippi with the idea of doing service and didn’t really think of it as work. But, you know, service is not supposed to be easy.
Maria Palmer (Mississippi): We put a roof on a house! We actually did that work! OK, sometimes I had to work backwards and fix some of my mistakes, but in the end, we put a roof on a house!
Elizabeth Galbreath (Mississippi): Let me tell you, the rural south? It’s a completely different cultural experience than here. Everything you’ve heard about southern hospitality? It’s all true. I’ve never met nicer people. I have never felt so welcome. And even though ours wasn’t an “international” trip, we still were exposed to a lot of diversity.
Maria Palmer: Yeah. We ate dinner every night with a different religious denomination.
Elizabeth Galbreath: One thing though…we did see signs of lingering racism down there. Like the Confederate flag and flyers for a Ku Klux Klan rally. That was weird.
Gabriella Mamo (El Salvador): I think everyone’s eyes were opened on their trip. About lots of different things. Good and bad. It taught us to look at life from different perspectives.
Sidney Tommins (El Salvador): Yeah. It taught me that being open-minded is even more important than I thought.
Colleen Frerichs (Mississippi): Honestly, I can’t even put the experience into words. It’s like, you know the experience was awesome even if you can’t explain why. All I know is, it opened my mind. It just changes you.
Happy are those with an open mind for they shall be enlightened.
Happy are those with an open heart for they shall transform the world.