Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chapter 2 - Our Final Week of Gap 2015

The Gapsters finished out their final week in Saint Lucia with flare! Being no strangers to the wide array of activities the Gap Experience covers, they navigated flawlessly between service learning projects, interpersonal dynamics, academic rigor, and adrenaline rushes.
Everyone Together at Dunnottar

Monday proved to be the most bittersweet of days in the Gap Experience. After two weeks of working with Dunnottar School, the Gap students spent their last day with all of the energetic students and staff. They were enlisted to help out with the school marathon—a two-mile run through the hilly streets of Castries.  Spirits and physical stamina were high for everyone involved. Abby and Mojo led the group in some warm-up stretches, and then it was time for glory! The race was a success! Some of the Gapsters cheered on the runners from various checkpoints along the route, while others buddied-up and ran with the Dunnottar students (some even ran hand in hand). You could feel the energy, excitement, and pride as each student--drenched in sweat and wearing a huge smile--crossed the finish line.  Soon after the last runner made it in, the Gapsters had to say their goodbyes—by far the toughest part of the day. The level of compassion that the Gap students extended to the students and staff at Dunnottar over the two weeks they spent at the school, working wiht the kids, was readily returned. It was a joyous occasion to see such a successful exchange betwee the 'giver' and the 'receiver'-- where both parties gain so much from each other! Certainly gives one hope for humanity again. 
Abby Leading Some Stretches
Matt and Chris Running Hand-in-Hand 
And They're Off!

Sam and Shakeem Saying Good-bye

On Tuesday, classroom and history collided. As part of their course, the Gapsters read the book, Neg Maron: Freedom Fighters by Micheal Aubertin. This historical fiction novel tells the story of escaped slaves trying to liberate Saint Lucia of military control. Where better to hold a class discussion of the book than an old military base overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the northern island neighbor, Martinique? Pigeon Island is a National Landmark in Saint Lucia. Although a causeway was constructed in 1972 connecting the island to the mainland, for many years this “island” was a key military base—switching control between the British and French numerous times.  As the Gap students discussed the various social and political themes of the book, they were sitting in the very same place  where the novel took place—an intriguing and powerful experience for many.
Class at One of the Military
Ruins at Pigeon Island. 

In addition to their academic growth, the Gap students grew interpersonally, as they honed their capacity to communicate effectively with one another. this was displayed during an activity called Zen Chair.  The students’ first exposure to Zen Chair occured months before during their Voyager Outward Bound experience. This activity is one that embraces constructive feedback, trust development, and mutual respect for each member of the team. Each student is asked to prepare a list of personal strengths and one growing edge for each of his or her peers. When a student is ready, they quiet themself and listen to all of the feedback one's peers have prepared to share with them—personal strengths and characteristics, and those areas in which there is room for growth. When done properly, the Zen Chair serves as a safe, constructive, and humble character-building exercise. The Gapsters participated in Zen Chair beautifully. The respect, compassion, and commitment they have for one another was exemplified during this activity. Who better to suggest how you can be your 'best self' than people with whom you have lived with for 3.5 months? People who have seen you at your best and your worst? People who care for your well-being and self-development? This activity served as a wonderful way to highlight how much each student has grown during the Gap Experience and encourages them to continue the growth once they return home.

As the week came to a close, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center became eerily quiet. Where was the laughter? Where was all the talk about the students’ favorite video game, Battle Cats? Well, truth be told, the Gaspters buckled down and hit the books hard. They were preparing for their final exam in the Cultural Imperialism & Hegemony in the Caribbean course—the last academic component of the Gap Experience 2015. They formed study groups; some studied as individuals—taking much needed ice cream and coffee breaks in between. Their focused efforts paid off: as they left the exam room, the students sighed relief, smiled, and said, “That wasn’t so bad. I think I did well.” …And they did do well as substantiated by Dr. Laura.

Gapsters Celebrating the End of Their First College Semester
To celebrate the end of the Gap Experience, the students traveled to the opposite side of the island, arrived in the rainforest, and geared up to do some zip lining! Their adrenaline got pumping as they flew down the longest and fastest zip line in Saint Lucia—800 feet of cable! Wahoo! The views of the forest canopy were breathtaking, and looking down to view the Dennery River was exhilarating.  Everyone had a blast and agreed that, “College is the best!”
Jake, Matt, Christian, Jack,
and Abby Ready for Adventure!
Abby, Kate, Nicole, Autumn, Josie,
and Morgan Excited for Zip Lining
Kate Coming Onto the Platform.

Leaving the island of Saint Lucia not only marked the end of another experience within the Gap Experience Program, but also the conclusion of the travel associated with the Gap Cohort 2015!  As this blog post is being written and published, all sixteen of the Gapsters have reunited with their families and are enjoying some much needed time back home. This, the final blog post for the Gap Experience 2015, is the closing of one chapter and the start of another—Chapter 2. Who knows what Chapter 2 will have in store? The only guarantees are that the path each one chooses will be different for each of the Gapsters. Yet, each of this year's Gap cohort most definitely has the confidence, courage, and mutual support to forge whichever path they choose.
Award Ceremony Presented By Abby, Kate, Autumn, and Josie on 
Our Last Night in St. Lucia

Boom, Clap. Go Gap!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Week of Thanks

This week the Gapsters continued to work in two groups--one building homes, and one visiting Dunnottar School and Upton Gardens Girls' Centre. A filling meal was enjoyed on Thanksgiving after a day of cleaning up the local beach. The week ended by attending house blessings for the two homes built over the past two weeks by the Gap students, Good News Project volunteers, and local Saint Lucian staff.

The crew readies themselves for Thanksgiving day... half going to the build site,
the other half going to clear up trash at the local public beach.

On Monday, the building crew from last week headed off to Upton Gardens to kick off their week in the classroom, as the remaining eight students began their building experience. After spending meal times with Pat and Mo and hearing stories about Reggie, Saint Omar, and Boi from last week's build crew, the new building team was eager to start on their building project. These eight students started their project by selecting an old paint shirt, a paint brush and getting a short safety lesson from Pat. Unfortunately Mo had to return home early, but luckily Saint Omar was able to step in and help the crew. The day consisted of cutting lumber and a LOT of painting (which may or may not have turned into a paint fight!). Thanks to Laura, Mo, and last week's building team, many of the house beams and ceiling boards were already cut, painted, and ready to go. This helped make the two days of painting shorter, which allowed the Gapters to escape the intense St. Lucian heat.

On Monday, the 'classroom' group went to Upton Gardens Girls' Centre where all of the students taught and played games with each other. The Gapsters taught the girls Pterodactyl and Ninja--two games popularized during Outward Bound--and the Upton students taught the Gap squad a few of their traditional ring games!

This week's build crew getting right to work on the roof!
On Tuesday, the group arrived in their paint splattered clothes and completed the finishing touches on the painting. Three coats of yellow paint later, the lumber was ready to be made into a home. The work day was a short one, because the all of the Gapsters seized the opportunity to go back to Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and watch the final production of The Ritual. This was a short play performed by six girls in the theatre program at the college, for which we had previously watched the rehearsal a number of weeks ago. We were all excited to see the final product and sit in on a question and answer section at the end.

Sir Arthur Lewis Community College puts on a fabulous production of The Ritual.
While the builders were busy working back at the Pastoral Center, the classroom crew was helping set up Christmas decorations and baking Christmas cookies at Dunnottar School. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday were spent at Dunnottar School and Vocation Centre with the excitable students. The Gapsters played games and taught social skills to the Dunnottar children . Each student of the 'classroom crew' was designated a Dunnottar class, in which to observe and teach. 

On Wednesday, Autumn and Christian were able to go with the kids to swim lessons at the local recreation center. Many of the Gap students were disappointed that they didn't have their swimsuits with them, because the Dunnottar kids looked like they were having so much fun in the pool! Later in the week, the classroom crew ran or walked with the kids as they practiced for their school "marathon." Some of the kids planned on walking the entire two miles, while others--some of the more ambitious students--felt like sprinting! Each Gap student was paired with a Dunnottar student to accompany on the marathon. Working at both Upton Gardens and Dunnottar brought out each Gap students' inner-child during the week.

Morgan Manthei reads with students at Dunnottar
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday the build crew worked at the house site to get the walls and roof up. On Wednesday, the house building team began their day by loading up the freshly painted lumber into a truck and heading off to the building location. The build site was located at the top of a small hill. There was not a road going directly up to the site, so the crew had to carry all of the lumber and supplies up a trail. The path was muddy and filled with rocks, but the students were ready to take it on because of their experience portaging in the Boundary Waters! Once all of the lumber was carried to the site, the builders were ready to start constructing the house. The build crew had extra help this week from Savannah, the mother who will be moving into the home with her two children Jeremiah and Katara. Everyday Servanna and her boyfriend, Rafael, showed up eager to work and ecstatic about the continual progress on their new home. The students got the chance to learn more about Servanna's life and her children over peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade during their lunch breaks. After a week of sweat, hard work, and laughter, the new house was complete and ready to be made into a home!

Using teamwork to muscle-up one of the four house walls!
On Thursday--Turkey Day--most of the students woke up feeling a little homesick for their families and the traditions they celebrate on Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, the Gapsters soon realized that they would be spending Thanksgiving with a new kind of family, and that they have much to be grateful for. The day's activities began by picking up garbage at the local beach. Some of the rare finds included an old radio, bottles, and yes, even a cell phone. After cleaning up the beach, they returned to the Pastoral Center to begin cooking for the Thanksgiving feast that night. A few of the students prepared some of their very own family recipes including Kate's cranberries, Jake's stuffing, and Christian's calico beans! All of the students were asked by Laura to write down five things that they are thankful for and to be prepared to share those things with each other at the evening meal. Students arrived promptly at 6:00 pm, in their finest attire, and were joined by their Lucian friends, Saint Omar and Reggie, as well as the token Canadian--Pat. The kitchen crew at the Pastoral Center was kind enough to make chicken, mashed potatoes, squash, and many other treats to go along with the spread of Thanksgiving foods. After stuffing themselves, everyone read another person's list of five things they were thankful for, while the rest of the group guessed whose list it was. The night was filled with lots of laughter and lots of incredibly good food. The Gap crew was very thankful that they got to spend Thanksgiving with their second family at their home away from home.

Collecting trash at the local beach. They filled over 13 bags of trash!
On Saturday, the two groups merged back into one and ventured out to bless the two homes that the groups had built in the previous weeks. At the blessing, we presented the families with bread, so they never go hungry; water, so they never go thirsty; and salt, so that their life may be full of flavor. A short prayer and song was shared and then the students got the opportunity to talk and socialize with the families. First stop was the first build crew's house that is now home to Michelle and her four children. Second stop was at the second build crew's house which is now home to Servanna and her two children. Both Servanna and Michelle expressed extreme gratitude towards the students and The Good News Project for giving them a safe place they can now call home.

Michelle's House Blessing

Servanna & Raphael's House Blessing
Thanksgiving St. Lucian
Overall, this week revealed the many things the students have to be thankful for. The group realized how lucky they are to have a roof over their heads, a quality education, a supportive family back home, and a new family of Gapsters.