Spotlight On!

The Growing Peace Project recently had the opportunity to catch up with one of our favorite students, Andrew from Houston, Texas!

Andrew attends YES Prep charter school, whose mission is to “…increase the number of students from underserved communities who graduate from college prepared to lead….YES Prep is living proof that different outcomes are possible when students from low-income communities are given access to high-quality educational opportunities.

The Growing Peace Project partnered with YES Prep Houston in 2014.  Below are Andrew’s comments about his experience.

Spotlight On: Andrew!

Hi, my name is Andrew and I was a student with The Growing Peace Project (TGPP) in 2014.  I became involved with TGPP when my teacher, Ms. Bowman, asked me if I wanted to go to Vermont.  I was interested in this program because I enjoy meeting new people and seeing what life is like where they’re from.  I worked with TGPP for one year, and then I was chosen to attend the summer Retreat.

A Retreat day starts with waking up early, going for breakfast and then everyone beginning their activities for the day.  There was also free time sometimes.  Two of my favorite activities / peace projects were when we all hiked up the mountain, and also when we went and made the pizza [in an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven].  One of my favorite moments at the Retreat was when we walked to the hill and I could see the stars and feel the wind.

Peace means that there is no fighting, confusion, or arguing happening.  People are getting along and enjoying each other’s presence.  I don’t think it can be fully achieved but partially, by encouraging people to be more kind to others.  TGPP helps to bring more peace into the world by introducing students to kids who they would probably never see.

If I could eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future, I would choose world hunger.  There can’t be peace in the world if people are hungry, because they won’t be able to be peaceful.  A lot of people die every year because they didn’t have access to food or couldn’t afford it.  I would solve this by having people build huts/tents that gives out free food for the hungry.

As a result of working with The Growing Peace Project, I’ve had some peaceful successes.  For example, in my school and grade we usually defend each other.  We don’t really bully each other anymore and we all get along a lot better.

I would love to revisit my trip to the Retreat and enjoy the wilderness.

Thank you, Andrew!  You rock!

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We’re so thrilled to launch this new page, which we’re calling “Spotlight On!”  Each episode will feature a different person passionate about TGPP – student, counselor, staff, Board, or community member!

For our our inaugural showcase we couldn’t think of a better person than Victoria “Tori” Slavin, who has been with us since the beginning.  She’s become an invaluable, trusted, and amazing addition to our team.  We love her!  Tori grew up in Essex Junction, VT, and now lives in Charleston, SC. She is currently in her first year of college.

Spotlight On: Tori!

tori-and-pup

TGPP:  What’s your role at TGPP?

TS: I have been a part of TGPP since its launch six years ago. I have returned every year since, and my role has shifted from being a student participant to being a counselor. As a counselor I coordinate work groups and assist in group activities.

TGPP:  How did you initially become involved with TGPP?

TS: In 7th grade my history teacher introduced our class to the idea of TGPP, part of a community outreach program that allowed us to communicate with inner city kids. Only eight of us – four boys and four girls – in my 7th grade class were chosen to participate [in the culminating retreat], and I was excited to become a part of it.

TGPP: What made you want to be part of this particular organization?

TS: The idea of helping the community, and then being able to go to a retreat with like-minded individuals who are also interested in “being the change.” To be a part of the project and be able to lead kids that are much like me when I was younger, is heart-warming and really gratifying.

TGPP: What is it that keeps you interested and active in continuing your peacemaking efforts with us?

TS: Meeting new kids and getting to know them in a setting that is very calm and peaceful with the objective of helping communities and working on real life matters, such as poverty, bullying, and homelessness. Each child is unique in their own way, and hearing their ideas and watching them work things out is wonderful. The child’s mind is so unlimited and creative that what they can produce in a short amount of time is amazing. When I was young, the reason that I came back was being able to escape the technology and pressures of modern day society and being able to work on the things that were important to me.

TGPP: What does a typical retreat day look like?

TS: A typical day is definitely an early day, waking up around 7 am to go to the main house from our cabins to enjoy breakfast and have a group activity, then we get started on the main event of the day. Whether it be action plans, an activity at the local food shelter, or workshops, we work on that part of the day for an hour or two. Then we come back together to discuss what we had just done, share ideas, praise each other for our hard work. The next thing is usually lunch, and then workshops or play, going swimming at the pond or working on one of the many counselor run workshops, such as jewelry making, writing, rugby, tie dye, etc. Then after the work and play, the day is brought back to the more serious aspect of the project, and then dinner, and another group activity after dinner. After the group activity, it’s usually about time to head back to the cabins to relax, and reflect on what we had learned that day. The girls’ cabin has created a tradition of tea time at the end of the night where we write in our journals and bond. Then, usually, everyone is really tired, and we go to sleep.

TGPP: Is there a favorite peace project that you worked on either during a retreat or during the school year that stands out?  Why was it special?

TS: My favorite peace project at one of the retreats was when I was in 8th grade. We went to the food shelter to cook food, the preparation alone was fun – picking our own vegetables from the garden. Then, going to the shelter, seeing an actual shelter in 8th grade, which I had never seen because I hadn’t ever volunteered at one. Being there and working together with the other kids to make trays of food was amazing. It was very rewarding and will remain one of my fondest memories.

TGPP:  What about another moment or experience that was particularly meaningful to you?

TS: I believe it was the first or second year, when we had many kids from the city come to the retreat. The retreat is in rural Vermont, and we are encouraged to shut off our electronics. The kids from the city were outside one night just admiring the stars, they had never seen them so clearly. I really understood it at the time, because the stars were something I was used to when I lived in Vermont, but the kids were not used to it. That moment has really stuck with me through the years because something that I possibly took for granted was something that amazed someone who had never seen it.

TGPP:  What is peace to you?

TS: Peace is harmony between everyone, no matter what their beliefs, ethnicity, sex, or age. There isn’t a lot of peace in my everyday world, between school and work, the rush of the world going by never ceases. The retreat gives me time to reflect, apart from the flow of the world, and really appreciate what the world has to offer.

TGPP: What does peace look like?

TS: In my mind, ever since I was young there was a picture in my elementary school that showed all people holding hands around the world. That is what I think of when I think of peace.

TGPP: How is it achieved?

TS: Through hard work, acceptance, volunteering, informing, and teaching.

TGPP: How is TGPP succeeding at bringing more peace into the world? How can we continue to improve at that goal?

TS: The Growing Peace Project is teaching the next generation that there are ways to make a difference as one person, that you don’t need an army to start a movement. That the world is so much more than they know, and that they have a support system for change, even though they really can make a difference by themselves. Having a group of like-minded individuals who want to make the world a better place, and knowing that they’re there to bounce their ideas off of each other is amazing.

TGPP: As you know, we often talk about this question, “Can there be peace in the world if people are hungry?” What’s your feeling about that?

TS: No, because food is a basic need, if there are still people who are hungry then there can’t be peace. Those who are hungry are usually willing to do anything to get food, there isn’t a way that there can be a peaceful world without actions being taken to feed those who can’t feed themselves. I can’t see a peaceful world where you can still walk down the street and see a person begging for food.

TGPP: Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to completely eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future. Which problem would you choose? How would you solve it?

TS: Poverty. About 21,000 men, women, and children die every day from hunger or hunger-related issues. The amount of people dying every day are people leaving behind families and loved ones. There is no reason for there to be a rate of 21,000 people dying when there is so much food being wasted in the US alone. If we were to cut down our food wastefulness and share a little bit, then we would be able to solve hunger. There would be no more people starving on the streets or in foreign countries. We, as a world, need to be more generous, we need to be more forgiving, and we definitely need to stop wasting food.

TGPP: Have you had any peaceful successes in your life, family, or community as a result of the work we do together?

TS: I try to live a peacefully inspired lifestyle. If I encounter someone who is hungry I will usually go and buy them food. I clean out my closet every year to donate clothes and toys to the needy. I will be volunteering at the local animal shelter starting in January. I live by the philosophy that TGPP has taught me, that every little thing helps and that it’s all part of being the change I want to see in the world.

TGPP: Anything else you would like to share?

TS: I wear my TGPP shirts weekly, always trying to spread the word when asked about it. I enjoy explaining to people what I am involved in because it is something close to my heart, and every time I talk about it I think of something else that the project has taught me. I will continue believing, supporting, and participating in the project for as long as I can. I take my tenure very seriously and I am extremely proud of the fact that I believe you can make a difference in the world all due to the guidance of TGPP.

Thank you, Tori!  We love you!

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The Growing Peace Project is a peacemaking and youth activism initiative where youth from diverse communities come together to tackle social issues that are important to them. We seek to empower youth to become “bridge builders,” thereby strengthening community and growing peace.

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