Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m totally geeking out about my first blog post. I got back from my most recent trip about a week ago, and have jumped right back into the routine of an over-involved college student. Going into the trip, I had very few expectations, if any, considering I knew nothing about the issue, so here’s the story about my New York minute.
As seems to be common now, my college offers service oriented alternative break programs. I was lucky enough to be chosen for my first choice of trips. The trip I went on was focused on HIV/AIDS in New York City, and as a musical theater lover…Rent, anyone? My delightful group of 11 young women went to New York, braved the public transportation system, and we were on our way to volunteer at GMHC.
Our first full day, which was our “cultural day,” unfortunately, because of the rain and unfamiliarity, turned into learning the metro most of the day. After some time sloshing through Central Park and grabbing a pretzel from a food truck, we went back to rest and prepare for our week of service. Throughout the week we made our way to the 9/11 memorial, times square, and a beautiful art exhibit (Art and Aids: Amor y Pasión) in partnership with GMHC at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the first museum of its kind. At GMHC we participated in different workshops; my personal favorite was the “Safer Sex Workshop,” where we learned all about safer sex and helped to create safer sex kits for those who need them. Informative and entertaining. (Goody-goody Leah coming home with a bag full of condoms and lube gave my friends a great laugh.)
Our first day of service was Martin Luther King Day, so service was hard to come by. We volunteered with a school helping guide the children in activities learning about peace then went with them to see the movie Selma, sparking interesting conversation within our own group. For the rest of the week we helped at a soup kitchen in the morning and GMHC for the rest of the day. We met some fun characters with bold personalities, and between all the sass and laughs, friendships were formed. One particular person whom I befriended on our first day at GMHC told my friend and I about a certain poet from Wisconsin named Lorine Niedecker. Adamant about giving us each a copy of the book, on our last day, we each received a book, each wrapped in newspaper smelling of tea tree oil and in their own individual plastic bags.
Moments like that, from which I still remain awestruck, reminded me that although on a grand scale our work may not being entirely significant, my contribution is of value to someone, on some level, even if that person is me. Coming in with few expectations, it was interesting to learn more about HIV/AIDS: the stigma, the truth, and the current advocacy. The people at GMHC, both workers and clients, made their appreciation very apparent. Whether we were serving food, stuffing envelopes, or participating in a workshop, our value was always ensured. I don’t know that this was a necessarily good or bad thing; shouldn’t the goal of service be to do it altruistically? However that delves into the existential questions of altruism and service. Perhaps I will mention that in a follow-up post.
Regardless, it was an experience that was educational in so many ways. From the challenging perspectives of nearly everyone around me, to the new environment and explicit “education,” this trip taught me far more about people (including, but not limited to) living with HIV/AIDS and myself than I ever expected. One post could never be enough to explain one weeklong service trip, but I hope this was at least a small insight.
For more information on HIV/AIDS or GMHC you can check out gmhc.org to see all of their work and ways to get involved. Or if you have some time to kill and a Netflix account to browse: How to Survive a Plague is a documentary style film about HIV/AIDS, The Normal Heart is about the work of Larry Kramer in NYC and I have heard good things about We Were Here, but I haven’t seen it yet.
As your typical college kid just trying to find herself, exploring passions and social justice issues is something very important to me. So what are you interested in??