Hello friends :)
This is a description of my experience with the YAV orientation so far!
The first week of orientation was in New York with all of the YAV volunteers. During this week we were able to meet the office staff of the YAV program as well as people who have served YAV years in the past. These "YAV alumns" acted as small group leaders and shared pieces of their diverse experiences and advice. Additionally, we had the opportunity to hear from Dr. J. Herbert Nelson (stated clerk of the PC(USA)), Jose Luis Casal (PC(USA) Director of World Mission), and the CrossRoads Antiracism Organization and Training program. Throughout the week we had various sessions about the expectations, values and history of the program. We also had sessions to discuss what we should expect when going into our sites, as well as the values and issues we should be consistently reflecting on throughout the year.
Buckle up, because orientation has been a wonderful, thought-provoking, challenging process of tackling big issues and complex ideas, and I'm inviting you all along for the ride!
In the core tenants of this program, it is outlined that YAVs will work to confront the systemic challenges of race, class, gender, and power, while learning to examine our own lives and actions and that YAVs serve in marginalized communities alongside local people of faith responding to poverty, violence, and injustice in our communities. Throughout the first week in New York, and throughout the past three weeks of Orientation in Lima, many of our sessions and conversations have been centered around how to live in this way, and how to better be aware of the issues that exist in our various communities. This has at many times been difficult and painful to talk about and reflect on, even though these are themes that I am very passionate about.
A large chuck of our time in orientation had been about being as informed and educated as possible about the issues facing social, economic, and environmental justice in our communities. Over the past few years I have increasingly been learning about the many social issues that the U.S. is struggling to work through and overcome. Now I have have come to a country that is experiencing this also, in its own unique way. These issues are complex, diverse, and deeply rooted, and I'm not going to be able to make any grand changes or "fix" anything in my time here. My hope is to develop a better understanding of what these issues are, how they have developed, and how these issues relate across cultural and physical borders.
As part of our orientation in Lima, we've been learning the history of the indigenous people of Peru, the Spanish invasion and conquest, and the terrorism that has existed here in the past 50 years. We've also been learning about how racism, sexism, and the drive for economic development are impacting oppressed and marginalized groups. Honestly, I am overwhelmed. I know that I am here not as an expert with great ideas, but as a learner, an invited guest to cultivate solidarity and a wider perspective on how I can make as positive of an impact as possible. In learning about the social problems that exist in Peru, in understanding that I have been called here but that I am not needed here, I've been doing a lot of self-reflection. What is my purpose this year? What can I do? How can I make the most positive impact with my limited experience and understanding of his place?
What I've decided is that I will learn to better love. I can develop reconciliation with the people in my new communities. I can strive to form greater unity. Having unity with humanity and with all of life is deeply rooted in my spirituality and values, and I have to remind myself that unity isn't something that happens on accident, even though I sometimes wish it were that way. Unity is something that I have to pursue with intentionality because I struggle to live it out fully. I have biases, I have fears, and there are things that I am uncomfortable with because they are different than what I am used to. Overcoming these biases, fears and discomforts begins with love and reconciliation. So now the main purpose of my work this year is to create unity through love and relationships with the people of my new communities, across the differences that may come up in culture, religion, race, gender, class, and life experiences. I believe that love is the most sacred and purest human experience, and when I think about this opportunity to learn more about what it means to love in this new community, I have a deep feeling of rightness. Love and unity are the purpose of this existence, the inspiration of joy, and the connection we have with all of creation. We are all one together, but that pure oneness can't be experienced without love.
I've got a long way to go and a lot to learn, but I'm excited for the journey!