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International Deaf & Hearing Alliance’s Alternative Spring Break Program in Queretaro, Mexico

During spring break, the International Deaf & Hearing Alliance worked with CAM Helen Keller, a primary and secondary school for deaf and disabled students. Each IDHA member was placed in a different classroom, ranging from preschool to high school, to provide additional support to the incredible educators and staff at the school. In preparation for our service-learning experience, we learned Mexican Sign Language (LSM), but were able to practice and learn more LSM during our experiences. We are extremely grateful to CAM Helen Keller and the Deaf community of Querétaro for welcoming us into their community to build relationships and engage in this intercultural service-learning experience. The following is a compilation of various members’ reflections on their experiences working with the Deaf community of Queretaro.

Jazmine Johnson

“Working with deaf communities in Queretaro, Mexico has broaden my perspective on people with disabilities. Before going on this trip, I did not take into consideration how huge the deaf community is and the magnitude of the struggles that the students face. It went beyond just their disability but the resources that were afforded to them, in regards to their education and family support. This humbling experience also made me more aware of my identities that I hold and made me more cognizant of all the resources that I am privy.

While I enjoyed my interactions with the students, I am really valued my time with the teachers as well. One of the teachers spoke a little bit of English, and she would inform me of a lot of the issues that the students and staff faced. One in particular really took me by surprise. For instance, a lot of parents do not like to accept that their children are deaf. As a result, they don’t try to learn sign language to communicate with them. I was astonished by this information because I would expect a parent to want to better communicate with their child. Sign language is very important as people who are not hearing should still be able to communicate with others and sign language is their medium to do so.

I didn’t know what to expect when working with the deaf community and other students with disabilities. I just know that my goal was to be engaging and open, despite the communication barrier. I really just wanted to help the students to the best of my ability and build a relationship with them. I am glad that I kept those expectations in mind, when first visiting the school. I was so nervous at first because I only knew a little bit of Spanish and sign language. However, I didn’t let that stop my efforts in getting to know the students. I’m so glad that I didn’t let my language barrier to affect my interactions and engagement with my class. This experience is one that I never will forget and I can’t wait to continue working with the deaf community.” – Jazmine Johnson

IDHA members learning LSM (Mexican sign language) at the Cross & Beat festival activity tent with other members of the Queretaro community.

Julia Alexander

“Going into this trip, I was unsure what to expect. I had never traveled outside of the country without my family and I had never been on a service trip, so this was a completely new experience for me. However, I was excited to learn more and I thought that it would be a nice challenge and push me out of my comfort zone. I hoped that in going to Queretaro and volunteering at the Cam Helen Keller school, I would be able to have a positive impact, be helpful to the teachers and learn more about the community there.

It was so amazing to be a part of this trip. Not only did I feel as though I was able to assist at the school, I also learned so much about the deaf community in Queretaro. It was amazing to see how all of the children in my classroom actively wanted to learn, and helped each other grasp new concepts. It was so different from schools in America, where everything is about getting good grades and competition between students. The sense of community learning was a big theme. All of the activities enforced community learning. In everything that the class did, students were constantly learning and collaborating with each other; whether they were presenting, doing a group project, or simply working on math problems on the board. This was a new style of learning that I thought was very interesting because it led to a more engaged class, and excitement in helping fellow classmates learn new things.

Though it was difficult to communicate with the [students at CAM Helen Keller] on the first day, as the week went on, I was able to pick up on their signs with more ease, and better understand what they were trying to communicate to me. Also, the kids were so patient in ensuring that I understood what we were talking about, so it made it really easy to learn and comprehend what they were trying to get across.

I feel as though this trip has made me more open to new experiences. It has been so amazing to learn about the deaf community in Queretaro, and get some insight into their lives. I had such a great time getting to know the kids and am so grateful for this opportunity to contribute and learn more about this special, unique community.” – Julia Alexander

Malikah Pasha

“Imagine being able to witness a orangey salmon sunset every single day, smiles welcoming you into the door, the freshest of food swimming down your belly, fruit trees growing outside your classroom, warm and cool colors of homes, buildings, schools, and so much more. This was Querétaro.

Querétaro was the first time I left home and I can say it was one of the most welcoming and beautiful city I’ve ever been to.While Querétaro is a very homogeneous city, some of the things were a culture shock. Being that few Black people travel or even go to Mexico—especially small cities like Querétaro—everyone continually gazed at me and even touched my hair. It felt very uncomfortable, but at my school knowing that my children have many questions, I felt comfortable enough to show them my hair and teach them a little about Black hair. That experience was both a win for the both of us, because while they were always teaching me, I got to teach them about America and things about myself.” – Malikah Pasha

Carmela Garita

“Volunteering is something I enjoy doing, but in the opportunity that I was given this past week, I was able to discover a joy for working with people more closely. The first day in the classroom with the sixth graders, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I soon started to learn that the kids were really patient with me because they quickly found out I barely knew LSM. From that first day I made it my goal to know more sign language in order to have, at least, small conversations with the kids. The rest of the days at the school got better progressively. I think what also made my experience at the school enjoyable and great was the staff there, especially Josefina, the teacher I was placed with. She would try her best to get me involved with everything the students were doing, and would even interpret her class lessons in order for me to be up-to-date to what they were learning. Something else I enjoyed were the mini-quizzes at the end of the day she would give me. This consisted of telling her what a certain sign meant in Spanish, or just me showing her what new signs I learned throughout the day. If I was given the chance to go back to Queretaro and volunteer with these kids, I would say yes in a heartbeat. I also need to give credit to the people who were in this trip, that made this such a great experience for me. I felt that there was never a moment where someone was left alone because everyone was inclusive, and willing to do different thing with different people. We all for sure got to know each other on a deeper level, rather that just knowing their name and the person who we always saw at weekly meetings. I can’t imagine having a better experience without the people and the circumstances we were all given.” – Carmela Garita

Rebecca Lee “I went to the first IDHA meeting after seeing the poster at Festifall was because I thought sign language was cool. Now it is a completely different story. I realized both through interacting with new friends and with the students at the school that knowing sign language is having an ability to communicate with people who often feel unable to do so themselves. Deafness can cut people off from others around them because of the unfortunate rarity of people who know sign language. Now that I have experienced this culture and this community, I feel driven more than ever to continue learning and improving upon my own skills in sign language. I want to continue practicing LSM and build my fluency, but I also want to start learning ASL. If I were to do so, I might be able to use a signed language in my own community, which would be rewarding both for myself and for those I would be able to communicate with. In addition to discovering a passion that I have for sign language, I really believe that this experience made me a different person. I am more patient, not only with others, but with myself. I am truly thankful that I had the opportunity to travel to Querétaro this year. The experience helped me to grow as a person, and to help my interest in sign language grow and thrive. I hope that someday soon I will be able to return to Querétaro. Even if a trip back is not in my future, this city and its people will forever hold a special place in my heart.” – Rebecca Lee

 

By Brandon Bond

Spring Break at Middle Way House

During spring break 2019, we traveled to Bloomington, Indiana to spend a week working with Middle Way House, an organization dedicated to working with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Among the work that Middle Way House does, such as provide temporary 90-day housing, semi-permanent 2 year housing, and other services to survivors, one of their more unique programs is their after-school Youth Program.

We worked in the Youth Program from Monday March 4th to Friday March 8th, from 3:30pm to 8:30pm. Each day we would arrive at around 3:20pm and put our coats and belongings away, before going to the program room where we spent most of our time. We would wait for the HeadStart students to arrive, and when they did we often started the time with them by playing Just Dance 4 on the Wii or running around outside on the playground. As the different buses dropped students off throughout the first hour, we engaged the kids by playing games, dress-up, doing piggy-back races, or reading stories while we waited for snack time at 4:30. Snack time was always followed by some programming, which ranged from art club, science club, techie time, cooking club, dance club, and even building healthy relationships club. We were able to help out with programming, which was mainly run by Indiana University students who are regular volunteers. The kids in the Youth Program love programming time because they got to do different activities each week. After programming we had homework time, which was probably the most difficult hour each day. The Youth Program currently has kids ranging in ages from 3 years old to 14 years old, and the difference in engagement for homework time was a challenge. Obviously, the 3 and 4 year olds did not have homework, and the majority of kids under age 11 did not have homework either because elementary schools in the area have been moving away from required homework. During homework time, for these students, we were supposed to read to them, or if they could read, have them read to us. Even with older kids who enjoy reading, being forced to spend an hour reading when you could be playing with all the awesome toys that the Youth Program has could be kind of difficult. We did find that it was rewarding to engage the kids with reading, however, and be able to then transition to educational games afterward to finish out homework time. After homework time, there was more free time and sometimes even more programming, and then the kids would begin to be picked up from the program. By the end of each day, we would be completely tired, but satisfied with the fun we were able to provide for the kids.

We had hoped before the week began that we would be able to gain a better understanding of the impact of domestic violence, to learn about how a domestic violence shelter supports survivors through programming, and better grasp how to return to campus with plans to bring awareness about this issue back to our communities. We were definitely able to recognize the impact of domestic violence, mainly through the behavioral patterns and engagement differences with kids at the Youth Program. The programming we worked on during the week was both engaging, educational, and age appropriate, which is really important for kids who have been affected by domestic violence, who are sometimes unable to just be kids. Finally, we were able to return to campus with a drive to bring this issue back to our communities. We are hoping to have a dialogue event about domestic violence awareness, possibly with a panel, but that is still in the works.

One challenge we encountered was leaving at the end of the week. We knew from the very beginning that we would need to make it clear to the kids that we would not be returning after the end of the week. Even though we discussed this issue nearly every day in reflection, when the time came to begin saying goodbye to kids, it was hard not to get sad ourselves. The staff at the Youth Program really helped us out, reminding the kids gently but firmly to say goodbye to us, and to thank us for coming. Most of the kids left without incident or being really upset. It was difficult to leave the program and recognize we probably would not be going back and that we may never see any of those kids again. However, given that we were able to spend our time on spring break productively by playing with those kids every day, we hoped that we were able to have a net positive impact for the organization, while also learning a lot ourselves to bring back to our lives here on campus.

The leadership skills of each member of our trip shone through when we were faced with challenges at site. Before the trip, we recognized that we all had different starting places of background knowledge, that we would have to spend a lot of time reflecting on our experiences, and that if we needed help, we would have to lean on the staff, who have much more experience than we did. When faced with challenges, we worked with each other to solve them, and when we weren’t able to find solutions, we enlisted staff at the Youth Program to help. Every night, we reflected on that day’s experiences, usually discussing at length any of the challenges we had faced that day. As the week went on, we found ourselves developing and growing as leaders and volunteers within the organization, learning how to tackle challenges and dilemmas with less worry than at the beginning of the week. This growth and development was invaluable for the first hand experience it provided us to be able to bring back to Michigan.

By Meredith Days

Alternate Reality Initiative (ARI)

“The Alternate Reality Initiative (ARI) is the first student organization at the University of Michigan centered around virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (XR) technology. After seeing a lack of hardware access and learning opportunities, we created ARI to provide opportunities for students to explore, learn, build, and connect with XR technology. Through weekly meetings, ARI is fostering a community of the next generation of XR innovators by hosting development workshops, discussing industry news, and connecting students to opportunities in the greater XR ecosystem.

Over this summer, our team worked with four key stakeholders: ARI members, XR student organizations, XR faculty, and XR companies. After interviewing past members, we learned that it was difficult to discover us, so we increased our marketing and recruiting efforts. From other universities’ student organizations, we learned best practices on supporting project teams and also gained a better understanding of our growth potential. From faculty, we learned that they’re excited about our student-led organization, and we are working with them to provide resources and research opportunities to more students. Finally, from XR companies, we’ve been able to hear their perspective on the XR industry, and we are working with them to invite them as speakers.

Our efforts this year led to an increase to over 500 members on our email list, and we’ve had an average attendance of 24 members per meeting. In addition, we are also launching a pilot program to support student XR project teams next semester. Finally, we will hosting the first ever XR Midwest Conference. We believe that there is enormous potential for more people to be involved in XR in the Midwest. This is why we want to highlight the XR industry professionals, XR faculty, and XR tech talent in the Midwest to create a greater industry presence.”

 

Check out their Capstone poster here!: ARICapstone Final Poster

 

Team members:

Michael Zhang, Business Administration, 2021
Matthew Kosova, Industrial and Operations Engineering, 2021

Constellation: A Culture Show

On November 9th, the Global Scholar Program’s Advisory Council hosted “Constellation: A Culture Show” with help from the BLI Small Grant. As a part of the event, individuals from the community performed cultural dances, sang, played instruments, gave cultural presentations, and performed comedy routines. In addition to performance-based representations of different cultures, we also displayed photography and art, played multicultural music, constructed a photo booth, and hired a henna artist. Furthermore, we had individuals who came to the event write their name, fun memory, or tidbit on pre-cut stars and place them on a “constellation”. Additionally, we also provided cultural dishes and desserts from various restaurants around Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Constellation was a night in which people from all different backgrounds and cultures were able to come together and celebrate. It provided not only a space for people to showcase their own customs and cultures but was a space for people to learn about the cultures of the individuals around them.

Constellation provided a space for people to come together to celebrate our cultural differences and our multicultural university community. With over 250 people attendance, we were able to come together as a diverse community to celebrate ourselves, our heritage, and our diverse experiences.

By: Emily Currier

Project Lazarus – New Orleans, LA

We want to thank BLI for the grant support that allowed us to significantly subsidize travel expenses for Alpha Epsilon Delta’s ASB trip to New Orleans! We spent the majority of our trip volunteering at Project Lazarus, the oldest and largest residential facility that supports people living with HIV/AIDS in the Gulf Coast region. In addition to housing, Project Lazarus provides services not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and cultivates a close-knit community among residents. Further, many residents utilize the facility’s serene outdoor spaces in beautiful New Orleans weather.

Justin Pawloski and Emily Lerner work on fixing a bike

During our mornings at Project Lazarus, we played Uno and basketball with the residents. Occasionally, we participated in some of the classes and excursions set up for residents including a photography class, acupuncture, and a walk through the Margeny area to Crescent park. In the afternoons, we primarily helped the ground technician, Carol, with weeding and planting flowers, but also helped with other miscellaneous tasks including fixing the tires on a couple of the residents’ bikes and cleaning up common areas.

 

Emily Lerner and Carissa Bartkowiak take a break from gardening

The night before our last day of service, one of our group members got sick. Through discussion with Project Lazarus, we came to the conclusion that it would be best if we found somewhere else to work for our last day. We spent Friday morning contacting numerous non-profits in New Orleans and ultimately found two great organizations: HandsOn New Orleans and Green Light New Orleans. HandsOn New Orleans connects volunteers with service opportunities in their community. Green Light New Orleans empowers individuals to addresses climate change through use of energy efficient light bulbs, rain barrels, and vegetable gardens in their backyard.

Group members huddle in for a selfie with a resident after a game of UNO

On Friday afternoon, half of our group helped HandsOn New Orleans with demolition on a home owned by the executive director who could not afford to finish his repairs. His work is centered on providing volunteers to help other people, therefore it was rewarding to serve as volunteers to return the favor. The other half of our group split their time between painting rain barrels and gardening at the Green Light community garden.

Megan McKenzie paints a rain barrel for Green Light New Orleans

Out of all the BLI habits, the ones we used the most were ‘Pause and Reflect’, and ‘Expect Challenges’. ‘Pause and Reflect’ was a central habit of our trip given that reflection is one of the essential aspects of a successful alternative spring break trip. Every night after dinner we sat down, discussed our highs/lows of the day and reflected on service and our social identities. Specifically, we had discussions about what motivates our service, how our definition of service has changed or stayed the same, and how, if so, our awareness of different social identities has changed throughout this experience. On our final night, all ASB members wrote a letter to themselves about their experiences on the trip, which we will be meeting to reflect on again in the coming month.

Justin Pawloski, Lauren Weinberg, Brennan Metzler, Tyler Adams, Tosin Adeyemi, Zach Hoisington, and HandsOn New Orleans Director Chris Cameron smile after a long day of demolition

‘Expect Challenges’ was a habit that we wish we had contemplated a little bit more before the trip, but was also a habit that we definitely appreciated and understood more during our last day of service. It was challenging trying to find new organizations to volunteer with last-minute on Friday, but searching through all of the non-profit organizations in New Orleans also opened our eyes to all of the incredible service going on there. Our experience serving at Project Lazarus and at two other amazing non-profits instilled an appreciation for service that many of us will reflect on and carry with us for years to come.

 

By: Tosin Adeyemi, Emily Lerner, and Lauren Weinberg

The Community Coalition — Ann Arbor, Michigan

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As the community coalition, our mission was to create genuine, positive connections among our peers at the University . We planned to do this by bringing students together for small, informal gatherings that would allow them to connect with one another through intentional dialogue. So that’s what we did: we hosted an event where we ate yummy foods, played games, and talked about things that really matter to us. We booked a room, ordered food, wrote up a game plan, and each brought our own energy to the space, all as a way of helping and encouraging students to engage with one another in an authentic way.

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However, even though we started out with a common goal (to advocate for diversity and inclusion at the university), we each had different visions for approaching the common goal. Initially, a few members of our team believed it would be better to invite a larger group of students in order to bring awareness. However, after a long conversation about our desired impact, we decided to have a much smaller event where we could ensure that each person involved had an opportunity to actively communicate and share their experiences here at the university.

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Additionally, many members of our group were nervous that our event would be misinterpreted or forgotten about in the wake of the election. However, the event itself went better than any of us expected, and everyone seemed to be comfortable sharing, listening, and learning from one another. One our favorite pieces of feedback from the event was: “I felt like I was in a position of learning, which seldom happens to me anymore.” We were beyond excited to see real connections forming and people learning from each other in such an intentional space.

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Although this was merely the first step, in the future, we hope to create even more opportunities for intentional dialogue between students at the university as a means to build a more connected campus and world.

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