[DC] Gursha

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It was our second day at Parkdale, and building on our experiences from our first day, we perfected our curriculum.

Our previous day had involved a lot of experimentation. We balanced fun with seriousness, comedy with sternness. The second day, we decided to try out a small group setting. After delivering one or two presentations out of seven people, we would have a brief icebreaker, Faben would deliver her financial aid spiel, and then we would break up to discuss the college life and application process.

We realized that these kids wanted to see past the borders of Maryland. They didn’t need to be talked at for 90 minutes, they needed someone to believe in them past their GPA. We saw many sheepish faces that wondered if their GPA would disqualify them from MIT. Our answer: Yes, it might, but it should not disqualify you from success.

The masses of stone-faced, bored high-schoolers on the first day melted into lively, lovely young men and women once we had separated them and held court with them. There were athletes who cared about their future as scholars, and academics who wished for horizons on the cutting edge. There were quiet ones who wondered about the adventurous campus life, and outspoken ones who wondered about everything. No questions were off limits (except for the SAT, GPA, or AP score trinity). We didn’t want anything to be.

In the end, our greatest compliment from Ms. Wendel, the teacher who coordinated this with us. Once the last class had left for the day, she tearfully thanked us for having accomplished in two days what she had attempted to drill into these students for years and years. There were kids coming up to us, with bright eyes and big dreams. They e-mailed us on our mailing list, they became our Facebook friends, and our real friends too.


Starting from that day, and by no means excluding that evening, Aileen put the team on her back and drove us in the church van to DC to eat dinner at Dukem, a well-recommended Ethiopian restaurant. After wandering the city in search of parking spots, we finally found one in a tucked away lot. For three East Asians, one Southeast Asian, one European, and one Great Lakes African, the culture shock of Ethiopian cuisine was an interesting and delectable experience. We were led fearlessly by Faben, who put the team on her back with her native Amharic. She ordered us kitfo and gored gored (raw, marinated ground and cubed meat, respectively; sadly, in my opinion, cooked,), ayibe (cheese), and a plethora of wat (stew) served on a bed of injera (spongy sourdough flatbread). She showed us how to form a proper morsel of injera, twisting it to keep the mouthwatering complements from falling out.

Most importantly, though, she taught us the concept of gursha. Gursha is the act of communal feeding in Ethiopian cuisine. One essentially feeds a morsel of injera filled with meat and stew into the mouth of another, and is an important aspect of the cuisine. The larger the gursha, the greater the friendship or bond (at least, according to Wikipedia). Billy discovered the magnitude of the greatness of the concept the hard way, with an especially piquant bite requiring a whole pitcher of water from the amused waitress.

It was a new experience for all, and afterwards, while the rest fell under a profound food coma, Aileen deftly navigated our way through the dilapidated DC roads and crazed drivers. We returned to the church full and satisfied. Our gursha from Faben, an ultimate expression of friendship, topped off an amazing day where I saw the others make similar miracles happen—convincing young adults to believe in themselves academically and beyond.

Unconditional positive regard, tho.

ASB DC 2014


[FLORIDA] Happy Birthday Drew!

The fourth day of camp was sunny, beautiful, and tiring. Jordan P. and Olivia went mountain biking, Tegan and Jenny helped out at the “build-a-bike” station, Jess and Ryan taught projectile motion with catapults, Maggie and Cody led the leadership activity, as they kids figured out how to move sleds together, and Drew and I (Jordan M.) led relay races for the sports center.

It was pretty interesting to see how much the groups varied throughout the day, and how much group dynamics affected how people performed in the relay races. Some of the groups we had got very into the races, cheering one another on and really getting quite competitive. Other groups were nearly impossible to motivate, and we spent the time just trying to salvage the activity. In the end though, we found ways to get all the kids active and involved! They seemed to enjoy the other activities; I saw some people getting quite competitive about catapults!

I think my favorite interactions of the day were talking to students who were legitimately excited about what we were doing. One kid talked to us about engineering for a while and was really excited about the possibility of going to MIT.

Today was Drew’s birthday! All the kids were pretty excited about this, and took every opportunity (I mean every) to tell him happy birthday and tease him about how old he was. Some of the interns also bought him cake to celebrate. This evening, we went to Steak and Shake for dinner and giant milkshakes (we are clearly learning lots about nutrition at camp this week!) before going to a Panthers game. The Panthers lost – rather pathetically – but we had fun nonetheless. When we got back, we sliced about 70 oranges in 10 minutes for the kids tomorrow, then finished up the evening talking about life…

Happy Birthday Drew!

–Jordan M

[FLORIDA] 100 Calorie S’mores

Today was another fantastic day at FLIPANY. Unlike yesterday, there was hardly a cloud in the sky so we were right on schedule. Today’s science activity, led by Tegan and Jenny, was building some sort of contraption to keep an egg safe from dropping from different heights – otherwise know as Egg Drop. The campers learned about gravity and drag forces to optimize their egg drop container. While a few did end up breaking, most eggs survived safe and sound!

Jordan M. and Ryan led the team-building activity, called “Minefield,” which emphasized communication skills between the campers. The game involved sending one blindfolded camper through a field with various cones, hula hoops, and other obstacles that were to be avoided. The camper could only make it through the field by listening to the instructions of their teammates. The difficulty was increased each time, including not being able to use English, and going through two levels of separation (one teammate who sees the obstacle field can only gesture to another teammate who cannot see the field, and that teammate interprets those gestures and tells the blindfolded camper). The seemed to really enjoy this activity and were engaged the whole time.

The main sport of the day was capture the flag, with bits of basketball, football, and soccer thrown in as well. Jess, Olivia, and Maggie had a ton of fun (and exercise!) both refereeing and playing in multiple rounds of capture the flag. The kids had a ton of fun and became very invested in the game, resorting to “creative” methods such as secretly tying the opponents’ flags to the cone, or masquerading as a member of the other team.

Mountain biking went very well as usual, and the kids loved the 100 calorie s’mores at the nutrition station. After the camp day ended, we decided to cook dinner at home and went for the theme of “Breakfast for Dinner.” We made chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, and fruit salad. It was altogether a great day!


[FLORIDA] Lava Lamps and Inspiration

Tuesday 3/25 
When we arrived at camp this morning we weren’t sure how we were going to pull this day off. Thunderstorms the night before had left the field soaked and clouds overhead threatened to put us all inside for the day.  It did drizzle on and off all morning, but that didn’t stop Cody and Tegan from leading a group of enthusiastic campers in a game of flag football.  These kids love sports and a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop them.  While the rest of us less weathered people waited for the sky to clear up Jordan*2, Jess, and Jenny entertained the campers with a variety of card games, corn-hole, and Ladder toss.  One of the kids, Ja-marcus, had an especially fun time showing us his card tricks and trying to figure out some of our own.

FL2.3  FL2.2

Olivia and I got to play with Oobleck and make lava lamps as we taught the campers about states of matter, fluids, surface tension, viscosity, and density.  We were surprised about what the kids already knew and how interested they were in learning more.  The purpose of the science station is to get kids excited about pursuing careers outside of professional athletics. Throughout the day, while campers were playing with their Oobleck, Olivia would ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Some of the answers we got where: Biologist, Geologist, Aeronautical Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, and Air Force Pilot.  It was really cool to see these inner-city middle schoolers already excited about possible careers and about science in general.  Almost everyone who came through our station told us they were going to go home and make lava lamps and Oobleck on their own.  They reminded me a lot of me when I was their age.  Hopefully the activities we have planned for the rest of the week will help to inspire them and get them excited about learning as they enter high school.


Luckily the weather cleared up after lunch and everyone was able to get out from under the tents.  Jess and Jordan Powell were able to start the teamwork building station.  This involved trying to get bouncy balls to roll through semi-cylindrical tubes from one bench to a bucket on the ground.  I am not sure if the goal was ever accomplished but a few of the MIT students, a counselor from Urban League, and Jennifer’s daughter Jillian were very determined to work together and get it to work.  Jenny taught the kids how to make healthy snacks at the nutrition station.  Maggie and Ryan spent the day helping Lynne take groups of campers on mountain biking rides.  This was by far the most popular station.  The caught numerous kids trying to sneak into other groups so that they could mountain bike multiple times.  Even though the less than ideal weather caused today to be a little less organized we were still able to keep these kids entertained and, most importantly, teach them about mountain biking, nutrition, teamwork and science.


[FLORIDA] Hello from Sunrise, Florida!

Day 0.
We are spending the week working at FLIPANY Spring Break Adventure Camp, a camp that promotes healthy habits and self-confidence through biking, science, team-building, sports, and nutrition activities. We arrived safely Saturday night, and spent the whole day Sunday exploring Fort Lauderdale beach and getting acquainted with the area. The weather was near perfect, mostly sunny and in the high 80s! We had a great time playing Frisbee, lounging around on the sand, and enjoying the ocean waters. We finished off the day with American Hustle, popcorn, and preparing for Monday’s lesson plans.

Day 1.
We arrived at the campsite in Markham Park this morning at 8:30am to start our first day! Jordan M. and Olivia spent the day at the mountain biking station, hitting the trails with the campers and FLIPANY director, Lynne. Jenny and Cody were in charge of the team-building station, where they led activities such as Tarp Flip, a game in which the campers all had to stand on a tarp and figure out how to completely flip it over without anyone stepping off. Jordan P. and Maggie taught our campers the basics of magnetic fields by working through the magnet battery copper wire experiment. Drew and Ryan led kickball games at the sports station. Tegan worked the nutrition station, where the campers made a delicious apple walnut salad, and Jess facilitated each group with coming up with a team name and making a team banner. Overall, the kids seemed to really enjoy their day. They were interested by the fact that we came from MIT, and spent a lot of time asking about snow and Boston. We also got a chance to hang out with other volunteers at the camp, including medical students from NOVA Southeastern University. We ended the day with a home-cooked meal of baked ziti, salad, garlic bread, and ice cream. Looking forward to another fun-filled day tomorrow!


And They’re Off!

Monday morning of March 24: today is the first day when our trip members officially begin volunteering at their respective community partner organizations. In spite of the last minute emails and logistic details that had to be resolved, all five trips are all successfully underway.

As I am writing this post, I cannot help but reminisce about my own first alternative spring break trip in 2012 at New Orleans, Louisiana. I had first met my group as a whole at the airport, in front of the Panda Express. By the end of the week, we had managed to hit up most of the well-known restaurants in NOLA, ate beignets at the Cafe du Monde, put down a bunch of wooden boards to renovate the hard-wood floor, then took it all apart again because we did it wrong… But most importantly, I got to learn about the current status of disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina from over eight years ago. Additionally, I got to meet and befriend MIT students that I would have never had the chance to even talk to otherwise. It was an amazing experience that shaped the rest of my experiences at MIT.

I am confident that this year’s trips, like all the ones before it, would be a great success. Look forward to hearing from our trip members on this blog!