Tag Archives: community

CommUnity

This experience has transformed my understanding of community in a number of ways.

We’ve seen how the border lands can harden the hearts of people through grueling physical challenges of the desert and the threatening control of the cartel, but we’ve also seen how the community there can heal any physical or emotional wounds. For every heartbreaking story, we heard two hopeful stories of people working together towards justice.

Community is the fuel of every fire there — fires of hope, justice, dreams, spirituality, friendship, and family. There is more of an emphasis on community than anything else. Poverty emphasizes living within the means, and finding faith in reality, however simple.

Living simply without man-made pressures of excessive materialism has allowed these people to focus on community and relationship. These people don’t work for nicer cars, branded watches, or giant houses — they work for their families and children to have better lives. They find joy in community — the intersection of communication and unity.

Communication, in its many forms, connects people across different realities to unify us all in the common threads of our humanity. Laughter, smiles, tears, hugs — the kind of communication that does not require words, are the types of gestures that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Where norms, expectations and values vary across different political and economic cultures, these types of communication remind us that no matter our differences, we’re all created in the same likeness of God. We, as humans, possess all of the same emotional capacities of love and compassion, but also heartbreak.

A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora
A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora

It has been fulfilling to be reminded of these consistencies of humanity, and carry those memories with me beyond the border lands. In addition to that, I am particularly grateful to have been able to record these intentional conversations (i.e. interviews) and images of the reality of Nogales and bring them home to share with the world.

I was reminded of the way communication can unify the communities of migrants and activists in Nogales. I was reminded of the way communication allowed us to be in solidarity with these people, despite cultural barriers. And I was also reminded of the way documentary-style communication can bear witness to the rest of the world. Our documentary has taken on a life of itself. Now the stories we heard won’t end with us, they’ll continue on to plant seeds with anyone willing to listen.

A Community Unfolds

Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona
Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona.

*I wrote this yesterday but I am posting it today due to lack of Internet access*

May, 22. Nogales, Arizona. 10:24 p.m. 70 degrees.

When you can’t think of what to write, start by looking at what’s right in front of you.

I, along with five other students, sit around a table for 10, staring aimlessly at mini iPads and attempting to think of what to write. Two, 12-hour days in a van has left us delirious, giggly and definitely not focused enough to write a blog.

But as I look at all of us, sitting around this table, I realize how analogous this is of the trip, or pilgrimage, so far.

Through conversing and sharing around this table, we continue to discover community at a gathering place. I’ve felt this community throughout the trip a number of times.

I experienced it first in the reflection before we left, and then in the car on the way down. To be honest, I thought the drive down here was so much fun. It was full of good conversation, beautiful scenery, long naps, good reads, lots of dancing and well-spaced bathroom stops. It was a time of bonding and getting to know one another.

When we arrived in Nogales, Ivan, a Jesuit priest, greeted us and gave us a tour of the home we’d be living in the next two weeks.

The basementless house splits into two wings, each wing offering large empty bedrooms filled with mismatched air mattresses, all dressed in a blanket and pillow. In the center of the house you’ll find the common area, the big table I’m sitting at, along with the kitchen.

I’m not really sure what feng shui is, but I feel like this house has good feng shui. It is here, in this house and at this table, where the theme of community has continued to unfold. The space is designed is such a way that it promotes community, while allowing for seclusion.

Initially, the thought of being in the same small premise with 15 others for two weeks was worrisome to me, someone who needs time and space alone. However, while I know there are times in the next two weeks when I might get uncomfortable or annoyed, these will be growing opportunities for me.

Uncomfortable situations and moments are inevitable in a person’s life. The learning comes in when you have to evaluate why you’re uncomfortable, and what you can do to overcome it.

So far, the group’s dynamic has been one of rooting for one another, working together and learning about eachother’s backgrounds. The reflections, road trip, gathering table and living space have only helped foster this naturally growing community.

 

 

The Goose goes South

The first week of bootcamp was officially over and I was more than ready to get on the road.

After 10 hours of driving through Nebraska and Colorado, we found our way to Raton, NM. We will get up early once again tomorrow to set off for our final destination.

My van members that let me sleep on their shoulder, talked in weird voices, and sang for the ten hour drive.
My van members that let me sleep on their shoulder, talk in weird voices, and sing for the ten hour drive.

There are two other Marias on this trip so my companions have taken to calling  me “Goose.” In high school, my friends gave me the title. At first I despised it. There’s nothing cute about geese but they refused to change my animal because it was “perfect.” I couldn’t make any sort of connection besides the fact that I walk with my feet out.

Their reasoning was deeper than I had originally thought. They explained that I tend to not be afraid to confront people if something is bothering me. They talked about the exuberance that I bring into a room when I walk in. I’m protective of my friends and committed to team work. I had never really thought of myself like that and once I reflected on it, I became a proud goose.

Once my classmates had brought out my spirit animal name again, I decided that I really wanted to use those traits these next few weeks. I’m excited to get to know the traits and qualities of my other classmates and give them an animal to be proud of. Geese are team players and I want to build up my incredible backpack team. I can’t wait to encourage them to do their best work and see all of us develop as not just as individuals, but as one.

Waves of emotion

Like I said in my reflection in class today… I can’t believe today is Friday already!  This week has flown by so fast.  Coming into this week I had fears that we were going to have 9 hour days full of lectures.  In reality, we have had some lectures but the majority of the time has been devoted to hands on education.  From learning the basics of filming to setting up interviews, it has been a hectic but enjoyable week in the classroom.

So far I have had mixed emotions about this project.  From the moment I signed up for backpack journalism I have been excited to be behind the camera.  That is where I feel the most comfortable and have the most experience. But interviewing is something I am a little nervous about.  I have absolutely no experience in journalism so having the opportunity to interview someone down at the border is terrifying to me.  I would really like to give it a try so hopefully I will have enough courage to step outside of my comfort zone and do it.

One of my biggest fears is going all the way down there and not doing justice to the people of Nogales.  We have tremendous power as journalists in portraying situations and in forming opinions.  It is our duty to tell the truth and not to mix the message of the people of Nogales and the surrounding area.

We talked in class about how you can feel a sense of guilt when going into areas of poverty.  The thought has crossed my mind but I feel that it is my duty as a privileged person to tell their story in a way that is not harmful or misleading.  We also talked about how everyone in the class is in the top .8% of the world’s wealthiest people.  This comes with tremendous power that can be used for doing good or bad.  It will be interesting to see what I am feeling throughout this journey.  The experience in and of itself will be beneficial for me both mentally and spiritually.  We are going down to the border to present a story and to depict the reality of life on the border and of the immigrants who cross it.  To see their daily struggles up close and personal will be a life changing experience.

With all of these emotions and fears, how will I stay strong through this journey?  My answer is simple.

God.

The one who died on the cross and who forgave our sins is my confidence.  I have had times in my life where I didn’t think things would ever get better but through it all God was always there.  My past experiences are part of the reason why I am considering being a theology teacher.

Another reason for my confidence are my classmates.  I know that we all have each other’s back and if I needed help with something someone would be there.  The community that we have built is already good but I am excited to see how far we will go.

I will be going somewhat off the grid for the next two weeks.  Besides the blogs I will be writing and the occasional check in with my parents I will not be using my phone.  I believe this experience will be enhanced greatly without our first world distractions.

I hope you all keep up with our journey as we embark tomorrow morning on our own pilgrimage to Nogales, Arizona and Nogales Sonora.

Note:  CU backpack journalism now has a Snapchat!! Not only can you read our blogs on this website but you can also follow us on Snapchat.  Below is the QR code.

CU Backpack Journalism official Snapchat
Official CU Backpack Journalism Snapchat

Faith That Does Justice? Faith in Injustice?

After 72 hours of backpack journalism bootcamp, I lie in my bed absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed at how much information we’ve received, but confident that we’re making notable progress.

So far, we’ve spent some time learning about the art and technique of videography, foundations of feature writing, and introductory theology. More than anything, I feel as though today marks a huge turning point — the foundation has been set, and it’s time now to dive in.

We all have the skills now to “fake it ’til we make it” and from this point forward, I feel as though we’ll be applying these last three days of information constantly, pushing ourselves to live and breathe light meters, to begin to raise questions about our own personal definition of church, and to think about how to ask those same questions of others in a respectful but intentional manner.

Much to my surprise, I’m pretty excited to see how the theology class ties into our project. I was expecting videography training, dos and don’ts of interviewing, and a crash course in good storytelling, but the biggest curveball for me so far has been wrapping my head around tying theology into our agenda.

We’re working our way towards a better understanding of ecclesiology — the study of church. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the definition of church within the context of border culture in Nogales.

This past fall, my understanding of church expanded tenfold when I was blessed with an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to join a million and a half others in celebrating Pope Francis’s visit to the US. As we held hands and recited the Our Father, giving each other peace in the streets of downtown Philadelphia, I had goosebumps witnessing faith and mass ritual bring people from all over the world together in prayer. My own definition of church changed that day, and I’m looking forward to seeing how migrant culture challenges that even further.

Christian traditions are practiced all over the world, but with each culture brings a new interpretation and understanding of faith and community. As we continue to prepare ourselves technically and emotionally for this border immersion experience, I have found myself newly ecstatic to experience and absorb a new and different definition of “church,” as understood by the people of Nogales.

In the midst of such trial, transiency, and systematic injustice, how do migrants keep their faith? How do those serving humanitarian purposes in that area find strength to keep working towards a distant goal? How do those negatively affected by an increasing number of immigrants strive to live like Christ?

A Difference Maker

Thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.
Wearing my Alaska hat and taking in the beauty surrounding me. A special thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.

At the start of this journey, I was looking for adventure. I hoped to learn and grow in my journalistic and video skills. I was excited to travel to Alaska, a new and fascinating place.

Now that we have completed our final day of the Backpack Journalism Program, I can say that I have accomplished all of this and so much more.

I can’t even come close to adequately putting this experience into words. It has far exceeded my expectations, and I feel so grateful for these past five weeks.

The Backpack Journalism team traveled to a place at the world’s edge, often unseen or forgotten by the lower 48. There we stayed in the small but welcoming community of Bethel where we learned about the Yup’ik culture, the people’s connection to the land and the effects of climate change. I was amazed by the openness of the community and how willingly people shared their stories with us. If they had not taken the time to be interviewed and filmed by us, the creation of our documentary would not be possible.

After learning about how climate change is affecting Alaska, this trip allowed me to reflect on my own life and how I live. Over the years, it has been easy for me to be critical of others who do not believe in climate change or chose to ignore it. But because climate change is a collective problem, I am as much a cause of this environmental crisis as anyone else. I recycle and walk to school, but I still drive a car and feed into the consumerism that is much of the cause of climate change. In the next few months, I will make the changes in my life necessary to live more simply and reduce the amount of energy and resources that I use.

Because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I also gained a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I feel that I can now take on any challenge in life, which will be especially important as I begin my senior year of college and look to the future.

The memories I shared with my team members will be ones I’ll cherish forever, from watching the magnificent sunset during a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to the beautiful tundra walks to the countless games played in the social hall. The perpetual laughter of our group, no matter what the circumstance, made this experience unforgettable. The amount of joy that I have felt in the last month has renewed my spirits and inspired me to continue fighting for what I believe in.

I already miss the people and landscape of Alaska, but soon I will miss spending time with the 19 incredible people on the Backpack Journalism team. Thankfully we will always have a connection to each other and Alaska because of this film-making and community-building experience. Even though it was our last day of class today, I know that the journey is not over. We still have a great deal of editing to do on our documentary, and then comes the most exciting part of this project: sharing our film with others.

I feel blessed to be a witness to a part of the world that is hurting but still lively, rich in culture and appreciative of the land and community. I can end this five-week experience feeling as though I made a difference in some way, but I know that Bethel has made much more of a difference in me.

Treasure amongst the trash

Written by Mari Heller and Claudia Brock

Watch our video project on this topic here.

While in most parts of America, trash receptacles are not anything note-worthy. However, in Bethel, Alaska the dumpsters around the area are painted in bright colors and are even considered a tourist attraction by the residents of the city.

 Reyne Athanas, the current Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center Coordinator, runs the children’s art camp in the summer and is responsible for the dumpsters being repainted annually. With her Masters degree in Fine Arts and her 25 years experience as an art teacher, Athanas uses her expertise to guide over 60 kids during summer art camp sessions through various projects, including painting the dumpsters.

 “My sister-in-law, Janet Athanas, with the Bethel Parks and Rec. Department started that [painting the dumpsters] as a contest and that was probably, I want to say 2000. So the best dumpsters in the community got prizes. When Janet started it was communities or individuals would paint them but that kind of stopped, so with the art camp we decided we’d take it over,” said Athanas.

 The art camp, which has been holding sessions since 2005 has been growing every summer and offers a week of hands-on arts and crafts projects to children ranging in age from 8-13 years old.

 Most institutions in Bethel have their own painted dumpster, like the Bethel Health Clinic and the Cultural Center. Some dumpsters around the city do not belong to an organization but are used to promote a lifestyle choice such as birth control, being active, and engaged parenting.

 Because the art camp has become responsible for the maintenance of the dumpsters, Athanas must call around the city before the art camp starts to secure the unconventional canvases for her students.

 “I call the people who are in charge of the dumpsters and ask them to drop off I try to get eight per camp but this year they didn’t give us quite that many. So they drop them off, we paint them, they pick them up and put them back,” said Athanas.

 Athanas has not heard of any other city or town in Alaska who paints their dumpsters and believes that this form of urban art sets Bethel apart from other communities.

 While the dumpsters are made for disposable items, the messages and imagery on the outside of them are forms of lasting beauty in the city.

Jesuit Volunteers Make Lasting Impact on Bethel Community

by Hayley Henriksen and Leah Renaud

It’s not hard to believe that a flame quickly spread when Jesuit Volunteers (JVs) first came to Bethel in 1964. Since then, JVs have remained in Bethel, and their roles have progressed from year-long volunteers to unfading members of the community.

Erin O’Keefe and Justin Brandt are two JVs that decided to stay in Bethel after their time as volunteers was over, similar to many other JVs that came to Bethel before them.

“It was love at first sight for me,” Brandt said, who served as a youth minister for the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church for two years.

Having put that particular position as his top choice during the selection process, he was determined to come to Bethel and seek a new adventure. His undying love for the outdoors drew him to one of the last truly wild destinations in the U.S.

O’Keefe first heard about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) from her mother, who was a JV herself and encouraged her children to pursue it.

When O’Keefe learned that she would be a JV in Bethel working at the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, she didn’t think too much about it or the possible impact it would have on her.

“When I think about how I was a JV, I think about the worlds that it opened up for me in Bethel and Alaska,” O’Keefe said.

As stated on the JVC website, a part of their mission is “to be conscious of the poor, attuned to the causes of social injustice, and dedicated to service informed by faith.”

JVs spend a year or more in assigned locations in the U.S. or developing countries. In its beginning, JVC saw a need in Bethel and other parts of rural Alaska.

“One of the purposes of JVC is to expose people to poverty that they may not have experienced themselves and put them in positions where they are questioning their own life choices and to live in greater solidarity with those people,” explained O’Keefe.

Bethel’s 6,000 residents have struggled with various social issues, including homelessness, substance abuse and suicide, in one form or another.

“Bethel has a large number of problems for such a small number of people, and because it’s a small number of people, the problems are much more well known,” Brandt said.

Despite the needs of the community, Bethel is home to an enduring Yup’ik culture and lively people, making it a special location for JVs who serve there. While working with the community, JVs are immersed and embraced by the people of Bethel. They participate in traditional practices alongside the natives and develop to be unforgettable additions to the Bethel community.

“Bethel is a great place for JVs, and certainly Bethel does more for JVs than JVs do for Bethel,” O’Keefe stated.

View our video on this story here.

Sarah at the Saturday Market

Early on a Saturday morning, craftsmen and artists set up their tables in the Bethel Cultural Center. Traditional ulus, handmade jewelry, and beautiful wood carvings are laid out in a gorgeous array. Browsers stop to chat with vendors about the goods that are displayed. One of those vendors is a woman named Sarah.

Sarah sits at a corner table, threading beads onto a wire that will eventually become a pair of earrings. Her young nephew sits beside her, also hard at work threading beads.

“I’m teaching him so he can sell his own one day. He’s working hard so he can get an iPod,” she says with a smile.

In front of her, Sarah has a table full of colorful jewelry, as well as some wooden and ivory pieces off to the side. This day, she is looking after two sets of merchandise. Her friend is the one who creates the necklaces and bracelets made of vibrant stones. Sarah specializes in walrus ivory and wood.

The Saturday market is not just a fun activity, it is an important part of life in Bethel. Many people, such as Sarah, rely on the market as a second source of income. Prices of everything are sky high in Bethel, and hunting can only stretch limited budgets so far. The craftsmanship of the vendors has been passed down from generation to generation.  In order to balance out those costs, many families participate in the market for at least part of the year. Sometimes though, the extra money still doesn’t cover it.

“People can come here and trade for the things that they need,” Sarah says. Even if a person is running low on money, they can count on the Saturday market to supply at least a few of their needs. Although the markets were only started in 2005, the long tradition of trade and community support continues to flourish here.

By scanning around the market, one can see the great diversity of both the people and the products. Elders sit behind tables of traditional Yup’ik dress, while young girls are knitting their own variation of the latest trendy hat. Despite the differences, everyone is conversing. Both instructional and lighthearted conversations fill the air.

“I like coming here,” Sarah reflects. She takes a brief pause to correct her nephew’s beading technique. “It’s good to be here where I can talk to family and friends. We help each other out. I like coming here.”

See our video of Sarah at the Saturday Market here.

Story by Morgan Ryan and Hannah Mullally

Oh I Was Born a Ramblin’ Man

Well, I’m hooked.

Fishing puns aside, ((Brad Dice, I hope you’re reading this) Actually they use nets up here, not hooks), my experience in the YK Delta of Alaska has further affirmed my choice to pursue journalism as my career choice.

Author’s note: I usually put a lot of thought into my blogs, thinking hard on structure and creativity. This one is more of rambling thoughts, quickly putting my thoughts into words for my own sake. Thus, the title. And as a music enthusiast I must pay my respects to those who rambled before me:

The Allman Brothers Band-Ramblin’ Man

Led Zeppelin-Ramble On

Additionally, it’s an excuse to use my SUPER AWESOME FISHING PUN. 

Anyway, I always liked the idea of working a job where I simply had conversations with people, thought about it for a while, and wrote a story. Up until now, my experience with this has largely been confined to what’s known as the “Creighton bubble”. I enjoyed working on stories about my own community, but I craved interaction with people and places different from me.

Well, this trip has more than satisfied that craving.

The people of the YK Delta more than welcomed us. They embraced us.

From visiting fish camps:

 

Chris, Donna, and Zohn's newly discovered and beautifully rustic fish camp
Chris, Donna, and Zohn’s newly discovered and beautifully rustic fish camp

to tasting an amalgam of native foods at the parish potluck:

Seal stew, Moose stew, corn bread, grilled salmon, and friend bread all in one meal
Seal stew, Moose stew, corn bread, grilled salmon, Moose stir fry, and fried bread all in one meal. Not Pictured: Life-changing salmon chowder.

I was afforded an opportunity to peak into peoples’ lives, and that’s a big deal. There is a fine line between observing respectfully and invading rudely. Yet another fine line sits between a story as a vessel of truth and as an objectifying window. The people we have met with, interviewed, and filmed ran the risk of invasion and objectification, yet they trusted us to observe and narrate truthfully.

I really think this team can fulfill that trust.

Our team has been stellar on this project. Each person has prioritized the documentary above all else, including personal comfort (lack of sleep, limited showers, zillions of mosquitos, dirty clothes, the list goes on…). No one complained. Rather, we embraced it. I honestly think that commitment will shine through in the final cut.

Alas, we leave Bethel tomorrow. I have been witness to so many cool/badass/transcendent people and experiences, I need some time to process it all. It’s all jumbled up at the moment. But two experiences in tandem provided a clear bookend for my Bethel experience.

Last night, our crew gathered in the church for a reflection. John encouraged us to sit in silence for a while, practicing the Ignatian spiritual practice called the Examine. Sitting there in communal silence, we each went into our memories to center ourselves and our thoughts. After a while, Carol spoke aloud, expressing her feelings and thoughts on the experience. Every person eventually shared something they were thinking about. Often there were several minutes of silence between speakers. I remember sitting there with my eyes closed, hoping that John wouldn’t call an end to the reflection, simply so that I might spend more time in communion with the people I had worked with, slept with, dined with, played with, and learned with. I went in with a heavy heart and lots on my mind. I came out with the weight off of my chest. At peace.

But the night wasn’t over.

We realized that the clouds had cleared, so Nico suggested that we go to the Tundra to get a time lapse of the sunset. A few of us piled into the truck and went out there. We set up the cameras and sat down to watch:

 

You have seen the river sunset, now here is one on the tundra
You have seen the river sunset, now here is one on the tundra

Nico, Hayley, Hannah, Tony, Catherine, and I sat until nearly two in the morning in a cloud of mosquitos, just talking, looking, and listening.

As they say:

Everything in front of me was beautiful

Everything behind me was beautiful

Everything above me was beautiful

Everything below me was beautiful

Everything around me was beautiful