Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Service and Intellectual Passions Meet: Refugee Youth Project

At the first annual Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network Conference at Fordham this summer, the keynote speaker, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees aid worker, began by telling us he how he had heard that there are two main categories of higher education: the Ivy League and Jesuit education. For certainly Ivies strive for academic excellence, but what sets Jesuit institutions apart? In his Santa Clara address, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. movingly outlines the integrated mission of faith and justice in Jesuit education.

Now that I am in my fourth year at Loyola, I can see how the deeply Jesuit ideals have influenced my course of study here. Kolvenbach writes, “Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection” (34). This is so true! My experiences within and beyond Baltimore propel me to delve into my courses further. Yet I actually think that my study has also led me to pursue new interests in personal involvement in the community. Once I began to link my education to service, a natural cycle emerged. For example, in International Politics sophomore year I studied the United Nations and the global situation for refugees. I was already active in the immigrant community of Baltimore, but I had never before interacted with refugees. In Argentina and El Salvador my research papers and direct experiences focused on examining violations of human rights, a plight which too many refugees and immigrants face. This summer, interning in government policy, I learned more about the legal distinctions between immigrants and refugees.

So this semester I am beginning a new service placement, which I love so far! I am tutoring at Refugee Youth Project at Milbrook Elementary, where I work with children of Meskhetian Turk descent. Kolvenbach states that students at Jesuit universities should let the “gritty reality” (35) of today’s world into their lives. I interpret this as not only the physically gritty, but that which causes us to lean into discomfort. For me, travelling to Milbrook represents a new challenge. First, it is in a new location, en route to Pikesville, whereas I usually interact with agencies in the large Hispanic section of Fell’s Point. Furthermore, I cannot communicate with the children when they start chattering amongst themselves. This pushes my comfort level in a new way, because in the Hispanic community even if someone is speaking fast or in a dialect I am not familiar with, I can always understand to some extent. It makes sense to me to investigate my passions further in the classrooms at Loyola as well as in the community and I am excited to see how my relationships with the children at RYP develop this semester.

Kolvenbach challenges us to incorporate the Jesuit values into our lives. He closes the Santa Clara address with this message: “Faith and justice are undivided in the Gospel which teaches that ‘faith makes its power felt through love.’ They cannot therefore be divided in our purpose, our action, our life” (41). We are not only called to be students of a Jesuit institution when we sit in the desks of Maryland Hall. We are called to live this message in our service, in our faith lives, and in our daily interactions with other humans.

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