I took my first short-term medical mission trip the summer after my junior year of high school. Our team of twenty American teenagers embarked on the 24-hour flight to Uganda bearing one brain surgeon, two nurses, and suitcases full of stickers and children’s books.
Working alongside Ugandan doctors and nurses, I couldn’t help but wonder why our English presentation of poorly-Googled health information warranted the $3,000 trip across the world when a Ugandan medical professional could have easily done the same thing in greater depth and without a translator.
Image from OFTW (http://www.1fortheworld.org/)
Most Penn students want to make a positive difference in the world, but many aren’t sure where to start. One For The World (OFTW) is a Penn-founded organization that makes giving back easy. Their goal is to encourage students to pledge 1% of their future incomes to effective charities that are in desperate need of help. These charities are carefully reviewed and selected each year by a group of Penn PhD students, along with Wharton MBAs and undergrads. The OFTW concept was originally intended for MBA students, but has since expanded to undergraduates thanks to two current seniors, Lauren D’Amore and Shayna Fertig. The MBA students have been extremely successful in encouraging fellow graduate students to take the pledge, rallying as many as half of MBA students to take the pledge. Last Fall, the MBA chapter raised $28,000 during pledge week. Now the undergraduate co-presidents Lindsey Li (W’19) and Lauren O’Mara (C’19) are trying to increase the numbers of undergraduates taking the 1% pledge. They have had success with many students, especially seniors, and are looking to reach more seniors as graduation approaches. Li and O’Mara interviewed two seniors who have taken the pledge, Lindsey Sawczuk and Kyle Kroeger. The co-presidents hope to inspire other Penn students to take the pledge after reading the firsthand perspectives of Sawczuk and Kroeger.
Many students at Penn believe in fostering social change, especially right here in Philadelphia. Kate Zipin is one woman who also wants to make a difference in society, one summer at a time. Upon relocating to Philadelphia, the former teacher founded Own Your Awesomeness – a camp meant to empower girls. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Zipin and ask her about the need for empowering girls in society and discuss how her camp is impacting the girls she works with.
Q: Hi Ms. Zipin. Can you please introduce yourself and say, in your own words: What is Own Your Awesomeness [OYA]?
A: My name is Kate Zipin and I am the founder and director of Own Your Awesomeness, a Philly nonprofit that empowers high school girls. Our programs focus on skill-building workshops, like how to change a tire and developing financial literacy, and conversations about being a teenage girl today, like body image, women in the media, and health. We pull it all together in a one-week program in the summer where girls connect with female mentors and build a community as they explore new passions, tap into their strengths, and own their awesomeness.
The picture above is by Dread Scott, an activist and artist whose chosen mediums include everything from performance to graphic design. This specific piece of artwork is called– not surprisingly – “HATE.” What struck me first was the uncanny resemblance it has to the familiar pop-culture icon we all know and love– the LOVE statue on Locust Walk.
In 2006, my family moved into a brownstone in Harlem, New York. Though I was young, I remember other family members being skeptical about the decision. They questioned my parent’s choice to live in the ‘sketchy’ and supposedly dangerous neighborhood. For years, my parents and I were met with the question “Do you feel safe there?” whenever we disclosed where we lived, and we spent a great deal of time assuring people that whatever conception they had of Harlem was incorrect.
However, the nature of these conversations has rapidly changed over the past couple years. I haven’t been asked about my sense of security at home for some time, and people frequently comment about how ‘nice’ it’s getting in Harlem. Bodegas and empty storefronts have been converted into nook-in-the-wall coffee shops and barn-aesthetic restaurants. Businesses are more vibrant than ever, and now there’s always a group of children playing outside Alexander Hamilton’s house in St. Nicholas Park.
“Calling all poets and visionaries,” read the post on Instagram. It was a Saturday, and my friend and I had taken a trip to New York to explore for the weekend. She had been scrolling through her feed when she found the post on one of those creative, feminist, empowerment accounts (you know the type). They were having their first spoken word event and they wanted anyone who had a penchant for poetry or opinions to come along.
So, of course, what else do you do on a Saturday night in New York? We navigated our way to a cafe tucked into the side streets of Brooklyn, hidden behind a long green hallway and a door covered in mistletoe. Inside, the air was warm and buzzing. The room was filled with familiar chatter, everyone waiting to listen, perform, and make a temporary space in their lives for spoken word poetry.
4/8/15 - Pine Ridge, South Dakota
When I stepped out of the tiny airport in Rapid City, I felt culture shock;
I’ve never seen so much nothing. Now in the car, the yellow grasses fly by
in a blur as rock formations roll on like waves. This place is unlike any I’ve
experienced, but it does hold its own beauty. As the mist settles on the black hills,
there’s this quality about the plains that reminds me of water, a familiar stillness,
not unlike the ocean at dawn.
(Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Effective Altruism: a growing social movement focused on the desire to make the world as good a place as it can be, the use of evidence and reason to find out how to do so, and the audacity to actually try. (via Centre for Effective Altruism)
Not long ago, I stumbled across a video in which bioethicist Peter Singer posed the question: would you save a drowning child, even if it meant ruining your boots? Yes, of course—is that even a question? He then reveals that the money you had spent on your boots in the first place might have saved two lives elsewhere. I couldn’t help but think of my own volunteering experience. I’d spent the last two summers volunteering at the Joybells Orphanage in Dehradun, India. Although I’ve built lifelong friendships and experiences that I would not trade for anything else, all the while I couldn’t help but ask myself– was I truly helping? If I had donated the money spent going abroad directly, would I have made more of a difference in their lives than mine? So, was it a selfish choice?
Such ethical dilemmas are indeed common in humanitarianism. To anyone who has volunteered domestically or abroad, such questions often linger: Am I doing enough? Am I making a permanent difference? A burgeoning social movement known as “effective altruism” addresses this dilemma and suggests a new humanitarian approach to creating the most difference in the world.
This past summer, I came back to Penn a week before NSO to go through PennCORP student leader training. A pre-orientation program for freshmen, PennCORP focuses on getting incoming students involved with civic engagement and social justice work in Philadelphia. Daily workshops and site visits are designed to provide participants with different approaches to service, with the hope that at the end of the program freshmen will stay involved with the communities they encounter.
During student leader training, we threw around concepts and slogans that would be labeled key ideas throughout the program, and one resonated with me above the rest: “Self care is community care is whole care.” The domino effect-nature of the saying was particularly striking to me: by taking care of ourselves, we help our immediate partners, which helps everyone around us. The concept seems simple: a machine can’t function with broken parts.