Alternative Service Experience (Protecting Our Parks)

I’m a little baffled at how smooth this program unfolded.

For a week, 8 of us, some of which barely knew each other, said yes to an alternative spring break. We traveled to the Chesapeake bay, specifically Kiptopeke State Park–a sanctuary for migratory birds to learn about conservation and gain insight to the work of those within state parks.

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Surrounded by cotton fields and a ghostly downtown dominated by art galleries, the town displayed an interesting contrast that sparked curiosity. Locals spoke of how difficult it was to merely get a cup of coffee because of the infrequency of shops being open.

One of our first days grocery shopping, we noticed a lack of fresh foods, particularly tropical fruits. There were no bananas and a few rotting avocados. Our sense of privilege immediately dawned. Why did we expect to find tropical fruits in a non-tropical climate?

It was windy and more frigid than I anticipated. My fingers experienced a numbness most days, but moving our bodies kept us warm.  Work was unpredictable at times. Some moments, we would clean up camp-sites or leaf blow roads, and others we were fixing bikes and removing fences. After fixing the bikes, we were able to ride them to deliver trail maps to kiosks. This was definitely my favorite task.

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during our free day we explored a place curiously named Savage Neck Dunes

Both my co-leader, Cherokee and I had never facilitated a program before. Our personalities, perspectives, and passions were different, but somehow it worked.

Cherokee and I can’t take full credit for how smooth things unfolded because we were quite lucky with the group of participants + our learning partner, Robin. All were mature, willing to take initiative, and open to uncertainty.

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I was nervous about maintaining authenticity as an introverted leader, as well as driving an enterprise van, but both unfurled effortlessly!

I did my best to integrate moments of stillness, inviting others into quietness on beach walks, reading Osho cards, as well as allowing space for recharging during our breaks.

My favorite part was our ritual of nightly reflections. We thought deeply about what conversations and emotions we wanted to spark. I love thinking critically about the work we do.

Sure, conservation sounds good, but are there times when it is not?

Yes-there are many examples, but we read an article and discussed the 20 million indigenous, eco-wise peoples displaced for the mere creation of parks.

Service also sounds inherently beneficial, but even this we attempted to detangle. Good intentions without skills and knowledge of the community’s needs might demand one to question the extent that one’s motivation could be stemming from a place of self-fulfillment. This is not to perpetuate the belief that service is selfless; it’s mutually beneficial. You are always receiving, but the community may not be.

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Savage Neck Dunes

I felt asked to understand the feelings of others in every reflection. In the “Privilege Step Forward Game,” people were asked to be vulnerable about their life experiences. Equally, I allowed myself to speak through tears to process emotions to normalize expressing our authenticity. Participants later expressed that they were nervous to cry or were holding it back, but it felt important to dismantle the taboo against simultaneously being a leader and being vulnerable. 

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Sea foam

Through this program, we gained awareness about sea foam. Being on the coast, we were intimate with the consequences of unsustainable practices, like the excessive use of fertilizers which may indirectly catalyze sea foam through eutrophication + algal blooms.

Ultimately, I learned how to be a better facilitator. It’s an interesting balance to not be dominating, yet have my voice heard. I have a dream of facilitating healing experiences for people, through wilderness immersion, plant relationships, and ritual.

This feels like a subtle leap toward that dream.

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