The Power of Theater

This post is Co-written by myself and and new partner in crime er… I mean justice from Concordia College Hannah Amundson (’15).

During our time in India, we focus on global and local structural injustice both in India and at home. As part of our course work, we are given the opportunity to process these complex ideas through a creative assignment of our own choosing.

As two people passionate about both theater and justice, we decided to plan and facilitate theatre workshops with our fellow SJPD students and leaders. We are basing the workshops on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed theory and techniques and some of Anne Bogart’s Viewpoints. These techniques both focus on the body; Boal takes this a step further and focuses on how this can be used to process and resist oppression. It is our goal to use body and imagery to better understand the complex ideas of structural injustice and power distribution.

So far, we have done two workshops in a series of four spread throughout the semester. For each hour-long workshop, we include two to three exercises that are intended to spur ideas from the coursework focusing specifically on power.

For example, in our class titled “Identity, Resistance, and Liberation,” we used Boal’s exercise Columbian Hypnosis. In this exercise, the group paired off, and each pair selected a leader. The leader put his or her palm out and “hypnotized” his or her partner. From that point forward, the leader moved his or her hand any direction or level he or she chose while the follower kept his or her face 4 or 5 inches away from the hand. We also did a variation where one person stood in the middle and put both hands out to lead two people. These two people also put their hands out to lead two more people each.

This activity spurred conversation about an earlier encounter that we were struggling to process. During our first field visit, we toured a wig factory that had inhumane working conditions. During our tour, we met with the owner of the factory.  Our group had difficulty listening to this man praise his business practices that to us were clearly unethical, but to him were a necessary part of business competition that kept his factory running.

For our group, it was easy to label him as a villain. We watched his underpaid workers in unsafe conditions, and as we left, we passed by the owner’s expensive SUV. As we continued to grapple with this experience, we thought about why the owner ran his business this way. He had pressure from competition to keep prices low or risk going out of business. However, for us, this was not enough to justify his actions.

After doing Columbian Hypnosis, one of the participants brought up this experience and connected the factory owner to the person who had to both lead and follow. He could still control those beneath him, but ultimately had to follow the hand in front of him.  By seeing a visualization of the factory owner’s role, we understand that he is accountable for his actions, but we must also recognize that he is subjected to systematic pressures. This helped us understand that removing the factory owner was not the answer. The system we live in is far more complicated than that.

These workshops have been a place where we can address these hard issues in a different way. We can use images and our bodies to explore and understand complicated questions and experiences. For Hannah and I, it reinforces our belief that theatre can impact social change. Theatre has the ability to educate and explore ideas of social justice that is distinctly different than a traditional classroom setting. We play, we laugh, we work, and we learn all in hopes of understanding the world we live in and finding a way to change this world for the better.

 

DSCN1649 DSCN1647

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Reflections on Food

I have never really had an incredibly thoughtful relationship with food. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating and I try to eat balanced meals, but my thoughts about food have usually focused how it tastes. Up until recently I didn’t really see much of a problem with that, or at least not enough of one to make me think seriously about the impact of what I choose to put on my cafeteria tray. However since watching Food, Inc. I have come to understand the greater system of food production (meat in particular) in the United States and the problems with being ignorant about this system.

 

In Food Inc., the film shares the experience of a mother loosing her young son to E. Coli poisoning only to see the meat he ate recalled after his death. After her story, the film explains how E. Coli gets into meat. I was surprised to find out that E. Coli is not a natural occurrence as I had previously thought, but rather a direct result of the cow’s diet and living conditions. This led me to my first realization about the food system. Food born illnesses are not random accidents or unfortunate mistakes, and they are definitely not natural. Rather, they are a direct result of a system that values profit over safety. It was this system of meat production that caused this young boy’s death.

 

The documentary also explained how this system for producing meat is controlled by a few companies. The top four beef packers control more than 80 percent of the market. Not only are these companies dictating how all most all of our meat is processed, but they are also are able to control how livestock is raised by refusing to buy from farmers who do not follow their preferences. This leads me to my second simple but important realization. This system manipulates real farmers into unethical practices and farmers must risk their livelihoods if they choose to resist[1].

 

After learning more about the meat packing industry, I am left frustrated. I am frustrated that I had never thought about the fact that E. Coli was not just a natural accident and I had never thought about how farmers are manipulated into raising meat unethically. But more than that, I am frustrated about the culture of ignorance we have about our food, meat especially, in the United States. This ignorance about where our food comes from and how it is processed allows us to become truly disconnected from the food that we eat. By allowing this distance, we as consumers have given permission to these companies to sacrifice our health and respect for farmers for cheap products and easy profits.

 At the end of the film, the makers of Food, Inc. encourage its’ viewers to go out and vote with their forks. I have to admit, this idea gets me excited. I’m ready to go out and join a co-op, to only eat grass fed beef, and to drastically reduce the number of days I put meat onto my cafeteria tray. We’ve talked a lot about how the most successful change comes from the bottom up, and I get excited about being part of a movement of conscious consumers ready to demand ethically produced food and support local farmers. But I think it is important to pause and think about who is at the “bottom”, what demands are being made and whom we are making demands of.

 

I believe that not only do consumers need to demand affordable and ethically produced meat we also need to demand that our government ensures that there are laws that protect our health and hold companies that cut corners accountable. We also need to recognize that not everyone has an ability and opportunity to “vote with their fork” (which really means vote with their dollar). We must demand from both companies and our government to ensure that safe and ethically produced meat is affordable and available for everyone regardless of socioeconomic standing. 

 

I think that idea of “voting with your fork” is a good start, and I do intend to eat less meat and focus on supporting local farmers, but its not enough. I believe that everyone who has steak in the ethical production of meat should do what they can promote changes in the industry whether its changing eating habits, buying habits or even just thinking and talking about the changes we’d like to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] I want to take a moment to acknowledge that these are not the only two issues with the production of meat in the United States or even globally, but they were the two most striking that have never occurred to me before.

 

 

A Problem Posing Session: Educational Corporate Reform Movement

For our last course essay we got the option to write out plans for a workshop that could be done with an oppressed community to understand and resist oppression caused by  corporation driven development. I chose to look at the corporate reform movement in public education. The workshop method is based on the teachings of Paulo Frire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Objective:

To provide an opportunity for public school teachers to become conscious about the oppressive effects of the corporate reform movement on their profession. To explore how corporate involvement in creating and promoting standardized testing has lead to the demonization of teachers and has been detrimental to the public school system. Also to help teachers find empowerment by exploring possible ways to resist this oppressive corporate take over of public education.

In order to reach these objectives the facilitator will utilize Paulo Freire’s Problem Posing Method. This is an alternative to the traditional teaching method, which Freire refers to as the Banking Method. In this traditional method students are approached as empty vessels by the teacher who possess’ all the knowledge on their given topic. The teacher’s job is to deposit the knowledge into their empty students without the input of the student. The banking method is essentially a monologue, only the teacher is active and the students passively receive the information.

The Problem Posing Method views students as people to come into the classroom with knowledge and experience that can contribute to the learning, rather than as an empty vessel to be filled. Therefore the session will begin with a code that is meant to communicate a certain idea to further the objective. Learners will be invited to share whatever they observe. After initial observation the facilitator will ask a series of questions to promote a dialogue to connect the code to real life experiences. This method is about dialogue; all parties are active in the learning experience. This dialogue supports Frire’s theory that education should be a search for mutual humanization. Each person in the room is invited to share their ideas and have their voices heard. Allowing all people to speak with equal weight to their voice affirms each persons right to speak and therefore their humanity. As a facilitator remember to go into this session with humility and a genuine dedication to listening to the participants, remember this model helps facilitators to learn also.

Background context on the issue:

One of the most prominent educational reform movements in the United States today focuses on accountability of teachers. The movement operates under the assumption that teachers have the greatest influence on a child’s achievement[1]. There are two main pushes that are coming out of this movement, standardized testing and “school choice”. The idea of choosing a school has turned public education into a competitive market allowing charter schools and vouchers replace traditional public schools, which are forced to close.[2] While school choice is a component to this movement this session will try and focus on standardized testing because this is such a large topic.

This accountability movement is more accurately referred to as the corporate reform movement. Educational corporations such as Pearson promote this movement through lobbying. This is because they make a direct profit of the students though standardized testing.[3] The promotion of high stakes testing blames teachers for poor achievement instead of looking at the more influential variables such as socioeconomic status[4]. The heavy focus on test scores not only puts impossible pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” but it has lead to, at least one teacher suicide after the LA Times released teachers average test scores to the public.[5]

Code:

For this session the Code is an image that is to be shown to the participants to observe and discuss. The image should depict a classroom with two adults standing in front of the black board. One will be a teacher holding a paintbrush with a sad expression on her face. Behind her there are devil horns drawn on the chalkboard. Next to her stands the Monopoly man holding a piece of paper marked “Te$t” on it. His top hat is labeled with the Pearson logo and there is a halo drawn on the black board behind him. The board also shows an example of a bubble answer sheet. In front of them sit confused and sadden children. Above the teacher reads “out with the old” and above Mr. Monopoly reads “in with the new”.

This code is meant to show the corporate invasion of the classroom. It is also meant to show how arts are being replaced with testing and how these corporate reformers are praised while teachers a demonized.

Question One: What do you see?”

The discussion should begin with observation. Prompt the participants by asking them to list what the see in the picture. Please encourage participants to share what they see with out a great amount of interpretation. Observations may start with just a simple list or description of the image:

  1. The teacher has devil horns behind her and a rich person with a halo.
  2. The “s” in “test” is a dollar sign.
  3. Testing valued over arts since the teacher with a paintbrush is labeled as “old” and the test “new”.
  4. Someone might interpret the bubbles on the board to show teaching to the test.
  5. The presence of Mr. Monopoly and his “Te$t” and Pearson hat might be interpreted as corporate influence or profit in high stakes testing.

Question Two: “Does this happen in the real world?”

Next the facilitator should ask participants if this situation happens in the real world. Hopefully they agree they have seen it in the real world and the facilitator can continue on to the next question. If there is disagreement, allow for those who responded yes to answer the next question, which will likely resolve the issue.

Question Three: Where have you seen this happen, or where have you experienced it?

Now, the facilitator will invite the participants to relate the picture to their lived experience. The following are some possible answers and background information for the facilitator.

  1. Many teachers have had to administer the state mandated testing each year and will talk about this experience. They might also share about having salary attached to their students scores and feeling pressure to “teach to the test” or even cheat.

Here is some information to help illustrate how standardized testing and corporations are connected:

  • As Frontline explains, the testing industry boils down to four big companies. Hardcourt Education Measurement accounts for 40% of the testing industry and is the creator of the SAT. CBT McGraw-Hill accounts for another 40%, its main test is the TerraNova. Riverside Publishing accounts for the last 20%, producing tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Finally NCS Pearson accounts for most of the scoring of these tests[6].
  • It may also be helpful to note that in 2013 for the first time students found product placement in their tests. In a test designed by Pearson for New York schools, products such a MUG rootbeer and LEGO were mentioned in reading passages, including a trademark note at the bottom of the page.[7] While officially no money changed hands for this placement, Pearson does have investment ties to LEGO[8]. These unofficial ties are very important to note when exploring corporate involvement in education.

2. Other teachers may connect to the devil horns and angle halo drawn on the chalkboard and share how they or their unions have been demonized or blamed by the media or corporate reformers.

This, teachers will probably recognize from personal experience, if not from the Media.

  • This ideology was prevalent in the documentary Waiting for Superman. Michelle Rhee, a DC public school official spread anti-union rhetoric during her time in power in an effort to remove all “crappy teachers”.[9]

3. Many teachers may recognize the confusion or distaste they have seen in their students when it comes to testing. This might be connected to some of the many other things that effect how a child does in school such a poverty or home language.  They might also recognize the cutting of arts programs in their schools so more funding can be allocated to testing.

Teachers may mention other ways corporations have influenced the classroom, such as Teach For America or corporate backed charter schools. While this session is trying to focus mainly on testing these answers are not wrong. If they are brought up make sure they are heard. However there is no need to mention these examples if a participant does not bring them up.

Question Four: What kind of problems does this lead to? Or How has this negatively influenced your life or job

The next step in the guided conversation is to investigate the problems this leads to. As shown by the sample answers the in the previous questions some of these answers may have already started to come up. However their answers are likely to grow when asked more directly about them.

  1. “Teaching to the test” creates boring curriculum with little room for diverse ideas and arts education.
  2. Teachers may have had their school shut down due to low-test scores or lost their job because of their students test scores.

It is important to stay on this thread of thought for a while. Investigate why school closings are a problem if the scores are low. The same goes for teachers, ask why it’s a problem that teachers whose students do poorly on tests are fired. Try asking “Do the tests accurately measure every student?” or “Are these tests fair?” Hopefully the group will arrive at the conclusion that the corporation-designed test are not fair and misrepresent student’s ability or mistake their score. The information below will help support this conclusion.

  • In a Pearson designed test for New York schools featured a passage from a Pearson textbook, giving students who had the opportunity to use that particular textbook an unfair advantage.[10]
  • The grading process for these tests is nowhere from flawless. The computer scoring process have been make mistakes since at least 2001[11] and companies such as Pearson continue to do an inconsistent job on grading free response questions, as explained in an interview with Pearson scorer, Todd Farley.[12] In fact Pearson mis-scored 2,700 standardized tests for New York gifted and talented qualification this year.[13]
  • Furthermore, judging teachers on their students ability to do well on tests just doesn’t make sense since “teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent”[14]

3. Some may continue their thread of focusing on standardized testing and talk about how it promotes a culture of fear and stress in education. They may also mention the incentive for students and teachers to cheat.

  • Because teachers are evaluated based on scores of ineffective or unfair tests, there is incredibly pressure on them if they want to keep their job. Teachers now are forced to do what ever it takes to raise scores. Students and teachers constantly fear the repercussions from failing these tests. Cheating has been document in 37 states, including a superintendent who is serving jail time for forcing low scoring students to drop out.[15]

Question Five: Why does this happen?

  1. Teachers may be quick to note the laws that promote testing such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

However the facilitator should try to encourage participants to investigate this further to see the corporate connection.

  • It may be helpful for the facilitator to know about educational companies involvement in lobbying.  For example Pearson (one of the “big four” from above) has six lobbyists at the Texas state capitol. As the Texas Observer reports “This legislative session, lawmakers cut an unprecedented $5 billion from public education…. Despite the cuts, Pearson’s funding streams remain largely intact.”[16]
  • Another study found that Pearson has spent close to $700,000 lobbying in four states. It is also funds conservative policy advocacy groups that in return craft policy that benefits Pearson.[17]

2. Teachers may point out that much of this movement is based on a simplistic and inaccurate view of the problem.

  • As mentioned before the movement relies on the premise that teachers have a significant influence on their student’s scores, so in order to improve scores, teachers must improve. The problem with this logic is that it only sees the apparent causes of the issue. Apparent causes are the issues that one can see on the surface but result from deeper problems. Apparent causes, such as low test score are really only symptoms of the real issues. At the heart of it, this issue is much more about access to resources that rich schools have and poor ones don’t. This is about poverty.[18]

Question Six: Finally the group should consider real steps they can take to bring about change. Below are a few actions already being used that the facilitator may suggest.

  1. Talk to co-workers, students and parents about boycotting the state mandated test. A group in Seattle successfully did this, after a several month long boycott and protests students and teacher won their case to make the Measure of Academic Progress test optional.[19]
  2. Work thought your PTA to spread information about the Opt Out movement. Parents, teachers and students can access more information about opting out and resources to support them though United Opt Out Nation. The ACLU is working to protect this right for parents and students. They are currently collecting stories of parents and students who have been denied rights or threatened because of their choice to opt out.[20]
  3. Join a Union. If participants are not part of their local union, this can be a major step to fighting back against corporate influence in the classroom. By joining a union teachers will have a strong voice to fight back against those who want to cut teacher benefits or change contracts to make them depend of test scores. Unions help to even out the power distribution between the teachers and corporations.

Not All Who Wander..…


[1] DAVID SIROTA,  “The Bait and Switch of School Reform.” Salon, September 12, 2011

[2] Crystal Sylvia, “The Corporate Hijacking of Public Education,” Truth Out, Accessed October 21, 2013.

[3] Abby Rapoport, “Education, Inc,” Texas Observer, September 6, 2011.

[4] John Tierney “The Coming Revolution in Public Education.” The Atlantic, April 25, 2013

[5] IAN LOVETT, “Teacher’s Death Exposes Tensions in Los Angeles.” New York Times, November 2010.

[6] Frontline, “The Testing Industry’s Big Four,” 2010.

[7] Valerie Strauss,  “Teacher boycott of standardized test in Seattle spreads,”

            Washington Post, January 26, 2013.

[8] “Pearson 2012 results.” Pearson 2012 results, accessed October 24, 2013.

[9] Crystal Sylvia. “The Myth of the Crappy Teacher,” Left Turn, March 11, 2011.

[10] Alyssa Figueroa, “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests,” Alternet, August 6, 2013.

[11] DIANA B. HENRIQUES, and JACQUES STEINBERG. “Right Answer, Wrong Score: Test Flaws Take Toll,” New York Times, May 20, 2001.

[12] SARAH GONZALEZ. “Inside a ‘Scoring Center’ in the Standardized Testing Industry,” NPR, June 4, 2012.

[13] Al Baker “More in New York City Qualify as Gifted After Error Is Fixed.” New York Times, April 15, 2013.

[14] DAVID SIROTA.

[15] Alyssa Figueroa.

[16] Abby, Rapoport,  “Education, Inc,” Texas Observer, September 6, 2011.

[17] Alyssa Figueroa.

[18]  Steven Karp,“Challenging Corporate Ed Reform,” Rethinking Schools, Spring 2012

[19] Amy Goodman, “Seattle Teachers, Students Win Historic Victory Over Standardized             Testing.” Democracy Now, May 20, 2013.

[20] United Opt Out Nation. “Urgent: Read Now” Accessed October 24, 2013.

Education and Liberation

Growing up in America, I was taught to believe that education was the answer to inequality. It’s a notion that’s seductive. There’s this belief that one can come from “nothing”, go though a free system of education, attend college on a scholarship, make a fortune and live happily ever after. Education is all that is needed to go from poor to rich, ignorant to cultured, working class to middle class, middle class to wealthy, foreigner to citizen, oppressed to liberated. I was taught to believe that through education one could essentially change or transcend their identity, that all that was necessary to break free from one’s class was a good work ethic and a diploma.

Being in India I am coming to question this notion more than I ever had before, especially after our visit in Koppal.  During our panel discussion with the former devidasi women, they shared their belief that education provides economic security, by enabling young people to get good jobs, even government jobs. This of course sounds familiar to me. I have often heard that “education levels the playing field”. As we talked about in our debate about Illich’s essay De-Schooling Society, public education is supposed to give each person the same basic knowledge[1] and skills so they can have an equal opportunity in life. This is the vision. However, the panel’s answer to our next question about their hopes for their children, demonstrated to me the tension between this vision and the actual effect of education. The women conceded that their children probably would not get government jobs, but they hoped that their kids would still have some sort of choice in what job they would do and that they job they picked would be a steady one. Through this second response I understand that while they hoped that education would help their children transcend cast and class all the way to government jobs, that in reality, it would not be able to wash away their identity as Dalits and they would still face discrimination in the job market.

I think one reason it is so hard to transcend identity through education is because one’s identity often determines the type of education one gets. This seems to be true in both the U.S. and India. As I learned from the children in Koppal, the caste you are in determines how the teacher treats you, even how close you can sit to them. Not to mention your location, class, caste and gender influence the schools you have access to, and what type of curriculum you are taught. If you come from a high class/caste back round or are a boy, you are more likely to have parents who can and want to send you to a private school. As I understand from conversations with Indian college students, your curriculum is likely to be more rigorous at a private school, since students at government schools are underestimated and unchallenged in the classroom.

This is similar to school in the U.S., while it is not as overt as who can be close to the teacher; schools in affluent areas are able to get more tax based funding, and usually have parents who can afford to spend time being involved in the school. Private schools have smaller classes and more opportunity for individual attention. The list for both countries could go on and on.

The educational playing field is not an even one. Yet, I still find myself holding onto this idea, this hope, that education can be powerful. That it can be life changing. I think part of the struggle I have with this, is that I operate under the assumption that the easiest way out of oppression (primarily economic oppression) is by abandoning your underprivileged identity and attempting to adapt to a different class, status, and set of practices and norms. Perhaps this is what public education, as we know it, really seeks to do? It seems to be what Bell Hooks felt forced to do when attempting to join the academic community from a working class background as she writes about in Class Matters. The more I think about it, this change in identity to escape economic oppression isn’t really liberation, it’s assimilation. Maybe this is why we see failure on the part of school to “liberate” its underprivileged students.

Perhaps, at best, public education only gives students the tools to assimilate. However, I question if elements of assimilation are automatically bad or ineffective. After all many successful rights movements have centered around the argument of “we’re just like you”.[2] Is peaceful liberation even possible with out some element of assimilation? I’m still not sure about this, but I do know this strategy definitely has its shortcomings. One can’t assimilate their skin color or caste. So, shouldn’t we work to help oppressed communities while honoring their history and diversity even if it’s more difficult? Perhaps our lesson plans need to be changed to “I’m not just like you, but I still deserve respect, dignity and equality.” Maybe this is what’s at the center of life-changing education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Although it is important to ask, who gets to decide what qualifies as “basic knowledge”.

 

Mind Your Movement

Lately, I have had a lot on my mind. Almost Every moment of the day here is filled with and educational and cultural experience. Whether it’s a debate in the classroom, going to a festival, conversations with Vistar staff and faculty over lunch or even a walk to the local market to get some snacks. However this afternoon, I got a moment to clear my head by focusing on my body in a Butoh (Japnese Physical Theater) workshop. It was lead by another group staying at Vistar called Asia to Asia. The group is on its second stop of a three-leg tour, coming from Japan and heading to Malaysia next. They focus primarily on movement since the group is made up of people from different language backgrounds but think the mainly use Japanese and English.

 

During the workshop one of the things we focused on was motivating our movement by pushing or pulling the center of our chest. At one point I was able to push my chest out so it was the only that part of my body was initiating movement and it almost felt like my legs were just trying to catch up. During the break one of the troupe members pointed out that we were focusing on the same technique that a Michal Jackson in some of his movement. Needless to say we shared a laugh We also did lot variations of free movement. I left the workshop feeling refreshed, calm and energized.

 

It was great to have the opportunity to spend time focusing on my body this afternoon. Last spring when I was in Machinal we spend a lot of time on focusing on our bodies and how we can make them move, especially to tell a story and create mood. During this time I realized how much I tend to ignore my body and get caught in my head. This afternoon I was reminded that as I continue though this semester I don’t want to ignore my body. Not only do I feel better when I spend time stretching and moving, but as I have learned though work with I Am We Are (the social justice theater troupe I participate in at Gustavus) that we can use the movement of our bodies to help process complex ideas that our minds get overwhelmed by. The more I read Boal (a theater activist & author) and think about the concept, am get more curious about the I can use movement and Boal techniques (and theory) to process these complex idea we are focusing on this semester.

 

Asia to Asia is also doing a performance tonight, I’ll try to add some more about the performance when I can!

 

~Leah 

An Auspicious Moment for a New Year.

*Just a quick disclaimer for this post, its a little heavy on reflection and light on details of what I am actually doing, I don’t think they’ll mostly be like this, so please stay tuned for more detailed posts about what I am doing. 

Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) is upon us. In the past, for me, this has meant begrudgingly leaving school; missing out on times with friends and actives to sit though long services, that I often didn’t relate to. However over the past few years, I have found myself embracing the time in services to reflect on my year, spend time with my family and be thoughtful about issues of justice in my life and community (especially with last years elections). Most of all, I have recently found this holy time to be a comfort and source of strength in my Jewish identity and community. Last year was a different New Year experience; since it was my first time returning home after moving to the campus of my (Lutheran) school. In fact, being at Gustavus and seeing how others embraced and questioned their own faith, and even made assumptions about my faith, encouraged me to explore my Jewish identity. This has also led me to adopt strong Jewish identity but also be comfortable questioning my faith and the Jewish tradition. This is encouraged, and I believe, even commanded by the Torah and Jewish scholars.

 This year, again the New Year is accompanied with new experiences. Again I am away from my family, but this time, I am in India and will not be able to join them. Again I am in a community of faithful and passionate people, who are about to support and accompany me on this journey over the next four months. This year this community has grown. Not only does it included peers from Gustavus and new ones from Concordia, it includes the compassionate and welcoming leaders from Visthar Academy of Peace and Justice (which is our home base, while we are here). And it also includes the people who graciously shared their experiences living and working in the slums of Bangalore, during our first visit to the city today.

Over the next three and a half months this community will continue to grow around me as our group travels and learns together, and I hope to carry each experience with me and let them influence my both my faith and my perspective, my identity and my future vocation.

During the inauguration celebration to welcome our group to Visthar and to India, our Professor spoke about this being an auspicious day. A moment in time where we are standing in front of an amazing, thought provoking, challenging, heart wrenching, and beautiful journey.  This is what I see ahead of me as I walk into this New Year. Each New Year is auspicious as it provides us with a chance for reflection and a fresh start, and new chance to work for tikkun olam. However this year I enter it with the opportunity of a lifetime, being able to devote all of my time to studying Social Justice, Peace and Development, and a culture that has so much to teach me. I hope that I also enter this year with the humility to own my own ignorance, and the openness to embrace and challenge each new idea.

 

L’Shana Tovah,

 

Leah