Tag Archives: Northeastern University

Boston Marathon Tributes

I was hoping to post something on Wednesday with my thoughts on the marathon a year out, but Tuesday night’s events left me exhausted in more ways than one.  I’m glad no one got hurt and that there was no actual potential for violence, and I hope he finds the help that he needs.  I also hope his family gets some privacy and the support that they surely need as well.  There’s a lot out there on the marathon, some better than others.  Here’s a round-up of some of my favorite marathon-related things hanging around the internet.

Jeff Bauman, seen by many as the face (along with Carlos Arredondo, he of the cowboy hat) of the Boston Marathon survivors wrote a great piece at the Guardian explaining how he feels about the famous wheelchair photo, and how he hopes we’ll view it.  I think it’s incredibly powerful for him to take charge of his own narrative and of this devastating thing that was inflicted upon him.  It’s also fascinating from the standpoint of photography and journalism to think about whether taking this photo was a good idea, and to hear Jeff’s thoughts about the image and the man responsible.  If you didn’t see the coverage at the time, you’ll also note that most people who weren’t on twitter at the time or actively seeking it out haven’t seen the complete image, in a self-imposed censorship similar to the images of people jumping from the twin towers.  The images are seen as too much, and too damaging a way for  a loved one to get bad news (as Jeff’s parents did) and too inescapable to be fair to those who suffered.  If you enjoy Jeff’s perspective, check out his book Stronger, out now.

I’m a big fan of charity that harnesses the consumerism of the US.  It’s not going away, so at least let’s harness it for good.  These bracelets, made of last year’s marathon street banners benefit the One Fund and can also lend a sense of solidarity.  A shout out to John Hancock for covering the administrative and production costs of the bracelets, so 100% of the cost goes to the fund.  Over $30,000 has been raised so far, but you can only get the bracelets until Sunday at 6 pm.

I have to mention that the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer for their coverage last year.  There was a lot of terrible coverage (“It’s almost as if a bomb went off…”–someone on CNN) so I’m glad they were recognized for not falling for conspiracy theories (what’s up, Anonymous’s completely inaccurate reporting, say hi to your mother for me), racism, or just blaming random people.  Congratulations, and thank you.

If you liked their coverage, you’ll probably also enjoy their One Year, One City interactive story, as well as the behind the scenes footage.

The great image at the top of this post was designed by Northeastern alums and good friends of mine Jack and Kate of Union Jack Creative.  You can support local art and a local small business by purchasing the poster online, and charity runners get a discount, in honor of Kate’s two years as a Boston Marathon charity runner for the Boston Debate League, a great organization teaching inner city kids about debate and inspiring confidence and academic improvement everywhere they go.

Fellow NU grad, traveler, and partner in crime Kade Krichko was able to interview fellow Reading resident Mark Fucarile, survivor, about his experience getting back to skiing after he lost his right leg above the knee.  I love stories showing people with hindered physical or mental abilities living full lives, not being held back.  You may recognize Fucarile from the stories about his fantastic all-expenses paid Fenway Park wedding to his long-time girlfriend.  They arrived via blue and yellow duckboats, because Boston.

If you have the time, check out WBUR’s Oral History Project on the Marathon.  It’s a mix of famous and not so famous storytellers sharing their experience.  In a similar and somewhat-connected, Northeastern University is collecting a digital archive, including some of my images from NUPR’s special online edition.  It’s called “Our Marathon” and can be seen in part through May 2nd in International Village, which is behind Ruggles and next to the police station.  You can contribute to Our Marathon or the Oral History Project online.

The afternoon memorial was lovely, and I think Patrick Downes had the best speech of the day.  It must be hard on a bunch o regular people, who did not lead public lives, to suddenly be thrust in the spotlight.  People suddenly want them to make speeches, write books, even comfort them, regardless of the fact that they don’t necessarily have any training in any of these areas.  Patrick makes what must have been a very emotional day look grateful and easy.

If you’re looking to contribute to a charity runner, I personally know 3 who are running for great causes, with amazing stories.  Jordyn Parsons is my former roommate and a Northeastern student, and she’s running for the Melanoma Foundation of New England.  She currently needs a little less than $2,000 to reach her goal of $7,500.

Elizabeth Shea, who is from my home town went to Mass General’s Pediatric Oncology Center with hystiocytosis.  Someone ran the marathon in her honor as part of the patient-partner program.  It meant so much to her that once she was healthy, she wanted to pay it forward.   Her dad was also inspired, and ran four Boston Marathons in her name, raising thousands of dollars for childhood cancer research.   She ran the marathon last year with her father but was stopped at mile 25.5, and is looking to complete the journey on Monday.   Donate to her efforts here.

Laura Williams went to high school and college with me, as did her older brother Chris, who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis three years ago.  She is running in his honor for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and she needs to raise just under $1,000 to meet her goal of $10,000.   You can also buy a shirt to benefit her efforts.

What’s your favorite coverage of the one year anniversary?  Feel free to share links, images, or your own stories and experiences in the comments.

See you on race day.

Naman

In October, we lost someone so magnetic that he’s still pulling us together, even in death.  Someone so funny and kind that at his funeral we laughed (almost) as much as we cried.  Someone so good to the core that he was donating as much time and money as he could, without fanfare or pretense.  Someone who is the only person who would know what to say to during all of these raw times.

I met Naman on my trip to the Dominican Republic in May and June of 2011.  He was on my team, Rojo, and immediately became the most distinctive person on the entire trip.  As many have said, everyone felt like he was their best friend on the trip, because he treated everyone like the most important person he had ever met.  As we rumbled in a hot van with too few cracked pleather seats around that wonderful island country, Naman was always there with a song, dance, or imitation to keep our spirits up.  He always took his work seriously, although he never saw it as work.

Everyone grieves in their own way.  But for people like us, people who can’t sleep at night because we can’t stop thinking of injustice in the world, people who are no fun at parties because we keep talking about this great new NGO or social business we just learned about, passive or solitary grief is not for us.  We have to do something, we have to organize, mobilize, and funderize.  We have to do this not just because it’s who we are, but also because it’s who Naman was.

So we have made the Naman Shah Memorial Fund.  The fund will be used to send students like Naman, students who are passionate, smart, kind, and want to do good by being good, back to the Dominican Republic to learn what he learned, and contribute to the organizations, people, and country to which he contributed.  Today, we will be gathering in the Alumni Center of Northeastern to learn about Akshaya Patra from its President and CEO, Ms. Madhu Sridhar.  Akshaya Patra is one of several organizations Naman supported.  They provide free, balanced meals for school children, because no child should struggle in school because they’re distracted by hunger.  We will also have a silent auction, networking, and an opportunity to donate to both Akshaya Patra and the NSM Fund.

While I would love donations, I would also love non-monetary contributions.

I ask for your connections and talents; if you are able to donate anything to our future fundraising endeavors (a gift card or service from your business, for example), it would help us raise more.

I ask for you voice; if you could publicize the event, the fund, or Naman’s life’s message of living every day to its fullest and helping others to do so as well, it will encourage others to give and keep his memory alive.

And I ask for your presence, which is strangely the hardest thing to ask.  Our SEI family has circled the wagons to care for each other and launch this fundraising effort, which sometimes means crying during meetings and other times means pretending I don’t know the person we’re doing this for because that’s the only way to get anything done.  But most of the time it feels like no one in the rest of my life has any idea that I’ve lost someone, or any comprehension of how impossible it feels for that someone to be Naman.  I would love it if you could join me tonight, to learn about a cause he cared for, to hear his family and friends tell his story, and to support this segment of the Northeastern and Boston communities that is still hurting.

For Naman’s sake, I will try to smile.  I will try not to be “so belidge!”  And I will try to do a really good job.  Because that’s all we can do anymore.

Structure

This Dialogue has been reminding me more and more of the Egypt trip every day.  And it must be so, because people who aren’t here have been commenting that it seems like I feel the same way about this Dialogue as that one.  After Esther asked me about the trip that has had the most impact on me personally, I began thinking about it more directly.  I’ve loved all the travel in between, but this trip seems to align the ever-fickle planets of academics, leadership, location and group members.

I love the books we read.  Why the Cocks Fight is maybe a little boorish and poorly written, but is nevertheless entirely necessary as it’s the only real history of the island of Hispaniola as a whole.  I can’t understand why there aren’t more books about this topic, and why the author (Michelle Wucker) didn’t arrange the book chronologically instead of thematically.  But alas, we are able to bypass so many basic overviews of DR/Haiti history when we are on site visits or in the field, and instead move on to deeper issues.  With Drown and The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (DR) and The Farming of the Bones and Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), we have been able to see the contemporary lives of Haitians and Dominicans at home and abroad, and just how important history, race, nationality and poverty have been to their lives.  I highly recommend all four of those books, and those two authors in general.  Nothing could make the 1937 massacre come to life as much as Farming of the Bones, to the point where I know flinch when I see the word perejil.

It seems that being informed about where you go is a basic form of respect, much like learning hello, goodbye and thank you in the native language.  It is a small token of effort and understanding that is overwhelmingly appreciated by every local population I’ve encountered thus far.  When Haitians learn I’ve read a few Danticat books they take me more seriously, and raise the intensity level of the conversation.  While I’m not in expert in the languages, history and culture of Hispaniola, at least I’m making a good faith effort.  I love that in this group, we named our traveling parrot Tousaint (l’Ouverture) and no one has to ask why.  When Junior references “the election thief” in Wao, no one is unsure about whom he is speaking.  We are better travelers, better students, and better…helpers? because of the reading we’ve done.

Beyond that, it is invaluable to my education.  Our discussions are more enriching, due in part to the books as well as to the overall attitude of this group.  I’ve mentioned before that we have a large proportion of freshmen (1 in 4 students on the trip) but that has only been an asset.  On the whole, the group mixes well and frequently, and is full of people who are dedicated to and excited by social business.  People are practical and enthusiastic, and have their head in the game.  Drinking hasn’t been an issue, no one complains about our long or fruitless bus rides, and everyone has taken the workload in stride.

I was a little nervous after our spring break Capstone trip, because there were a lot of areas for improvement.  I enjoyed myself, but I had various concerns and often felt like an outsider.  It turns out that the issues worrying me also bothered the SEI leadership, and are simply not present on this trip.  The readings were required before and during the trip, the intentions of our trip have been clear since the beginning, and everyone in this group is amazing.  On the whole, this is one of the best run trips pf which I have ever had the pleasure to be a part.

Esperanza and Our Project

For the past two weeks, a group of 28 Northeastern students and 20 students from intec (instituto tecnológico de Santo Domingo) have been working with Esperanza International to figure out why the retention rate of borrowers who are Haitian is so low.  This has involved many late nights fighting over survey questions or  analyzing data, and many long, hot days in the field.

To start, Esperanza is an MFI (micro-finance institution) in the DR as well as in Haiti.  They are a Grameen Bank replicant (remember Yunus and that Nobel Prize?) which means they make their services available to the poorest of the poor, especially women.  Women are targeted due to their usual exclusion from traditional banking services and for their direct impact on the well-being of the family. ie men tend to spend the money on vices and consumables, whereas women take care of their children’s health and schooling first and are better at planning for the future of their businesses.  In order to get small loans without collateral, these women are grouped together in fives, and are responsible for the other group member’s bi-weekly payments if they show up without sufficient cash.  Finally, the loans are for business-use only, have interest in the neighborhood of 30% on a declining balance, and are typically for a six-month period.  Also, for those interested, Esperanza is a Christian organization.  But that’s for another day.

So back to our project.  We were given this assignment by Carlos Pimentel, the CEO of Esperanza.  I’m told this sort of interaction between students and MFIs is unheard of in the industry, especially with so much personal attention from a CEO.  We had classes taught by Professor Shaugnessy about Social Business, Social Entrepreneurship and Micro-credit, divided up into color groups (Rojo!) and dove into a survey created by Dtra Lourdes of Esperanza (a Cuban!), which was meant to be used with current and former Haitian borrowers.  In order to speak with these associates, we went into the field in Santiago, Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo Norte y Los Alcarizos which are areas of particularly low retention rate of Haitian borrowers (in La Romana they do just fine).  We gathered over 200 interviews that covered information like literacy, numeracy, and sending remittances to Haiti in order to make recommendations to Esperanza about how to retain more Haitian borrowers.

What I can tell you now is that we have no idea.  Statistically, there is no reason why these borrowers aren’t doing well, and that just doesn’t sit well with me (or pretty much anyone else here.)  Our presentation to Esperanza of our findings was therefor uncomfortably short, and based on observationally-based recommendations backed up by outside research of the micro-credit industry.  While I was discouraged by our findings, the six presenters (4 NU, 2 intec) did a great job.  I was particularly impressed by all the people who did not present but wanted to and still stepped up to do the behind the scenes work.  In the end, I think Carlos and the Esperanza team were impressed by our work, and I’m glad someone at their organization will be digging deeper into the issue in the coming months.

I Got a Job!

For my final coop, I knew I wanted something international. This job will be leading Northeastern freshmen who were accepted to the January semester (Jan starts as we call them) on a fall semester abroad.  I will TA one of their classes, organize their service-learning projects, lead them on excursions, tutor when necessary, help with homesickness and culture shock, and make sure everyone makes it home alive.

No, I don’t know where I’m going yet.  I could be sent to Australia, London, Costa Rica, or Thesaloniki, Greece.  Of course I prefer the developing nations, and the chance to be back in Latin America or the Mediterranean is amazing.  It doesn’t hurt that this position is well compensated, and I felt better about it when Sheff said she feels like it fits my niche well.  What exactly is that niche?  Well I think it’s something like educational, socially-minded travel.

But I still had a lot of trouble with this one.  It all comes back to the conundrum I’ve been having for the last few years: there are a lot of subjects that interest me, and whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t directly help people, I feel guilty.  I feel like I’m slacking, like I’m a coward, like I’m taking the easy way out.  It doesn’t help that so many people told me they think it isn’t challenging enough, hard core enough for me.  Several people, after I told them I accepted the job, referred to it as babysitting.  (side note: I will never understand why people think it’s okay to bash your job to your face, but it happens all the time at NU with coops.)

I did, however, find some great comfort from an unlikely source.  The Global Poverty Impact groups that my friend Kevin started are interfaith conversations about equality, poverty, giving, eradicating poverty, why we care and the best way to help.  We also make small, permanent lifestyle changes in order to spend more thoughtfully and set aside some money to go towards a cause of our choosing.  I love how thought provoking this group is, how respectful and smart its members are, and the “Live Deliberately” ethos that I think anyone can get behind, regardless of their religious views.

But I digress.  Jen, a social entrepreneurship person and member of my capstone class, had great insight.

“Just think abut how many freshman you will be effecting.  You can teach them about all the opportunities they have to do good at Northeastern, and be a role model to them.”

It meant a lot to me to hear this from Jen, someone who has also struggled with how to combine socially-minded endeavors, earning money, furthering a career and getting the most out of Northeastern.  When I think about it that way, N.U.in still helps me with the mission I once (and still?) have:

I want to travel to parts of the world with injustice, spend my time there in a meaningful way, and learn their stories so I may tell them on their behalf.  If I can make people understand and care using the gift of my writing, I can catalyze more action than I ever could have accomplished as just one person.

At the time, I was assuming that fact-based fictional stories, plays, or screenplays would be my method.  I never even considered blogging or any sort of journalism, which now seems like such a silly omission.  If I can use service-learning, reflection and this time abroad (perhaps in a less-developed country) to instill an ethic of global awareness and helping others in a useful way, I can consider working for N.U.in a success, and progress toward my mission.  When I think about how much impact Julie Miller had on all of us in Benin, this seems attainable.  Because of her, we were more thoughtful, patient, cooperative, positive and open-minded individuals.

So I am genuinely excited about this job, and the possibilities it brings.

Worst Blogger EVAH!

Sorry I’ve been so AWOL–in the last month or so I’ve come home from Benin, started a new job (and a new commute…ugh), and had some life stuff to deal with.  Another thing I’ve been working on is blogging for Northeastern’s Study Abroad department, AKA my new employer.  Check out the tumblr here to see my professional blogging side.  Of course if you go to NU you should bookmark it, add it to your RSS or Like the facebook page!

Have a good weekend everybody, and I promise to have some good stuff coming down the pike soon

~delia

What About Benin?

I’ll be going to France on May 8, and after a week in Paris I’ll go to Benin until June 5.

Benny-what?

Benin. It’s a small country in West Africa.  It’s mostly known in history for its sad part in the slave trade as a major departure port.  I’ll be spending some time in Cotonou, as well as the capital of Porto-Novo

The Basics

Map courtesy of the UN website

I’m going through Northeastern University and the Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Instead of taking summer classes, I’m doing this.  I’ll get the normal summer credit for it (8 credits/two classes) and will be graded and such.  It’s like what I did in Egypt, except entirely different. 🙂

French is the official language of Benin, so I’ll be taking some lessons while in Paris and practicing my rather dormant French skills while there.  Many people also speak Fon, of which I know nothing, and Yoruba, a language that found its way to Cuba (and modern Cubañol) via the slave trade.  The country is considered very safe, but is severely lacking when it comes to infrastructure.

For our safety/for the sake of NU’s lawyers, we aren’t allowed to ride on motorbikes and will only be eating from a select few restaurants.  I have malaria pills and got my yellow fever vaccine, whose injection site still kinda hurts.  Blast, yellow fever, you’ve done it again!  I’m waiting with bated breath for my visa to come back (this seems to be a theme with me…) and already scoping out luggage and drawing up packing lists.  Here we go again!

Service-Learning

While in Benin, we’ll be meeting up with local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to learn more about the country, such as development, culture and politics.  We will each be working with a local NGO for a few weeks, ranging from health care to orphanages to micro-enterprise(!) and lending a hand any way we can.  More on this later, since it’s most of the reason I chose this program.

Songhai Center

I’ll be living in the Songhai Center in Cotonou.  There are several of these throughout the country, and they are used for training Beninese people about agriculture and such.  It’s also thoroughly Green with a capital G, with each part of the center helping to fuel another.  Which brings up another point: I’ll be taking chilly rain barrel showers for most of the summer.  Basically, I’m going to refer you to the video contained in the link below, courtesy of BoingBoingTV, because it does a far better job of explaining than me.

Songhai Video link