All Posts By

Laura Copping

Learning from Africa

By | 2011 - Kenya | One Comment

We wake up at five a.m., stumbling through breakfast and into the vehicles, some of us more conscious than others.  Without really knowing what we were in for, we travel silently to a school to “help put the kids in buses for their day in Nairobi”.  It seems like a nuisance to be doing this on what could have been our only day off, but we’ve already committed to it.  We arrive and are immediately ushered into a room designated for teachers.  As there is nothing else to do while we wait, we pick up the hymnals in front of us, singing songs that most of us haven’t heard since our early childhood.  And then, one by one we wander off, distracted and unable to wait any further.

Kids are congregated in small groups on either side of the path that I walk; some stare at me and giggle when I smile and wave, others hide further behind another’s head.  I stop once I reach two people who are positioned next to the wall.  They introduce themselves as Daniel and Naomi, standard seven students (grade seven).  Daniel talks vibrantly of his school and what life is like for him.  He tells me his favorite subject is science and his favorite colour is blue.

Naomi, with her bright eyes and shy smile, seems to be flattered that I am talking to her.  She teaches Crystal and I a song and laughs when we look at each other in confusion.  In hopes that it will help us learn quicker, I ask Naomi to write down the words.  She takes the pen that she is handed and struggles to control her grip, fumbling with this absent-minded request that I directed at her.  I notice now, for the first time, that her hands are deformed.  Then, also for the first time, I began to really absorb the appearances of the students gathered around me, looking beyond their faces and into their circumstance.  Tattered uniforms are commonplace in the schools we’ve visited so they only add to the façade of the ‘Masaku School for the Physically Disabled’ .  What really hits me though are the wheel-chairs missing tires and the crutches that are covered in tattered rags in an attempt to provide cushioning for the armpits.  Dorms have 50 beds and only one supervisor; classrooms have little room for walking let alone wheeling.

My heart is heavy as I realize what we’ve been told about physical handicaps being seen as a curse on families in Kenya.  Many of the kids here have been sent away by mothers and fathers who are ashamed of their presence; others have been abandoned for good.  What will the future look like for Daniel once he leaves this school and enters into Kenyan society?  How will quiet, beautiful Naomi deal with the social stigma’s attached to her disabilities?

The heaviness of my heart is countered by the joy and love in the air.  Though each kid has a disability of some sort, they do not hesitate in helping one another out.  The general mood seems to hover someplace between joy and contentment.  Naomi tells me that she loves her family there; “it doesn’t matter how broken your body is, able and unable work together like brother and sister”.

There are many things that Kenyan society can improve upon, but I cannot help but notice that there is also so much that the West can learn from Africa.  I am impressed by the companionship displayed in (what seems to me) a difficult situation.  Where one could easily succumb to hardships, these children find only joy in servant-heartedness.  And though my heart seems to weigh twice as much as normal when I think about the broken world that they’ll soon be thrust into, I am lost in the joy that I’ve found in various smiles and the soft but clear melody of Naomi’s voice.

We finally figure out the lyrics of the song and sing it loudly in our large group.  Ananipenda ni wauazima wa milele.  I am told this means ‘Jesus loves me forever’.

Laura

In all its Colours and Shapes…

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

I have been home for nearly two weeks now and I still have not figured out how to answer the ever constant question of “How was Europe?”  I have been on a journey this summer; a journey to grow in knowledge and a journey to collect experiences. On it I have been surrounded by over thirty friends who have, with or without knowing it, aided in my journey. I have been presented with new thoughts, seen new sights, conversed with individuals far from the comfort of my home. Each of my senses has been involved in the process of experiencing these new places to their fullest extent. And after two months of travelling I am suffering from information overload. I have learned so much that I don’t know where to start when reflecting on the trip.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I have learned was how to have an appreciation for art. I recently wrote in a paper for Walter in which I said, “I’ve always had a 2-D appreciation of art. I would judge things based on the ‘would I hang this on my wall’ factor. It was very limited to say the least”. Through out this trip I have explored art in all its colours and shapes. I have questioned and re-questioned the many definitions of art and have wondered if it can be defined. What I’m saying is, I am no connoisseur of art, I’m just surprised that it is standing out so strongly in my mind.

Stories

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments
I have been hearing a lot of stories as of late.  Stories of war, of the bravery of soldiers and the futility of their fight.  Stories from refugees illuminating the reasons behind their flight and the struggles still facing them within the borders where they find their sanctuary.  Stories guide me through Europe.  They give me a context in which to experience a city and they teach me more intimately of the major moments in Europe’s past.
My mind keeps lingering on the stories I’ve heard from Dachau concentration camp.  I went into Dachau expecting to be disgusted and upset with the evidence of man’s cruelty to man, and sure enough I was.  Dachau’s stories speak vividly of the horrors and brutality experienced by many during World War II.  But Dachau surprised me.  From it I heard of many examples of love.  Imagine loving someone else while you are being beaten; while you are starving; while you are being publicly humiliated and emotionally disgraced.  How?  How do you find love in such a mess of cruelty?  Dachau’s stories still speak to me of the utmost evil aspects of the human condition but even more strongly of the hope and love found in its midst.
Laura Copping

Europe in a Nutshell

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

I have been sitting on the bus for the past hour driving from Assisi to Venice trying to think of a word or phrase that might accurately describe my Europe trip thus far.  I have experienced so much in many different ways and have felt a variety of different emotions that it makes this task a difficult one and though it is not perfect I have chosen the word ‘overwhelming’.

I have been overwhelmed by the depth of history that belongs to each place we visit.  Standing in the Coliseum and imagining the whole place full of people watching Russell Crowe…I mean the gladiators….fight to their deaths.  Walking through the streets of Florence and experiencing the results of people in a different time which made this city a cultural hub for Europe.  Reflecting on the life of St. Francis while in Assisi and being in awe of how one life can influence and inspire so many.

I am overwhelmed by how much beauty I have seen.  In the few moments of consciousness I experience on the bus, I have seen some of the most amazing landscapes, filled with mountains and a glorious coastline.  I have walked through many beautifully designed basilicas and wandered through Gaudi’s brilliant Parc Guell with its elaborate mosaics and unique designs.  And I can’t forget about the poppies.  I have walked through fields of poppies, falling in love with how vibrantly they stand out from their background.

I have been overwhelmed by the power of some of my responses to pieces of art we have seen.  Looking in to the eyes of Michelangelo’s David and at his tense hand was the first time a piece of art really affected me.  On the contrary, I have also been overwhelmed by the times I have remained emotionally unconnected to a certain place or art piece while all around me people are experiencing the opposite.

And I have been overwhelmed by some of the relationships and connections I have made and witnessed within my class.  I have experienced safety in friends and found them to be people with which I can interact with both intellectually and emotionally.  The leaders and professors have been amazing at guiding us through the background of the pieces and places we visit and have acted as a place of grace and guidance for us students.

Needless to say, there is a lot to be thankful for and a lot to process.  With every place I go and everything I see I find myself more and more overwhelmed…but it’s a good thing, I promise!

Laura Copping

Oh my lanta…

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

During my last week at home I hardly had any time to think or do anything aside from my Europe work. I would sit on my couch with books scattered around me, reading, thinking, writing, rereading, rethinking, and then rewriting. I was learning so much in such a short period of time and yet the more I would learn, the more I realized I didn’t know.
I have been excited to go to Europe since I first knew that SSU offered this trip. Mainly I thought about how much fun it would be traveling with a big group of friends (though I realize there will be times where I can’t stand it) and how amazing my experience would be through the exploration of cities I had only dreamed about. But as I prepare to leave during this week at SSU, I find myself growing more and more excited about the academics. I hope to get the most out of this trip (but who doesn’t?) and I am really looking forward to being able to go to these places of history in a mind where I know some of the background attached to them and with the eagerness to learn more. This pre-trip preparation, though tedious as it may be, has been invaluable in teaching me the generalities of art and European culture, while still leaving me with a thirst to know more.

Bridging the Gap

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Our trip to Asia has been a truly enlightening experience. Not only do I know all there is to know about Buddhist temples and Southeast Asian history (ok, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration), but I have also experienced cultures that have taught me extensively about humanity and have inspired me in my own passions through the various nuances of everyday life. I have learnt about sustainable living from one of our speakers, Jeff Rutherford, and about simplistic living from my Filipino and Malaysian host moms. While it is interesting to know about the many kings of Thailand and their history, it is the lessons on sustainable and simplistic living that will (hopefully) have a lasting impact on my life.
Asia has taught me a lot, but above all I have learnt about community. I know that our class certainly isn’t a perfect community but what my experiences in Asia have shown me is that we, as a class, are willing to strive for something deeper. We went into the Asia trip very divided, there were clear lines separating one group from another. As we travelled together, we learnt about each other; we discovered how to bridge the gap that divided our class into their two extremes and how to love (or understand, or have grace for, or be patient with) the individuals that just seemed so different from ourselves. It has been three weeks since we’ve been back and still I am amazed at the connectedness of our class.

Sweaty Wats

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Though I have visited enough Wats to last me a lifetime and I’ve sweat more than any normal human being should, I love Asia.  In the Philippines I spent my time with some of the most hospitable people I have ever met.  Malaysia astounded me with its gorgeous landscapes (I climbed a mountain one day and spent the next snorkeling and relaxing on a fantastic beach).  Thailand however, is different.  Thai culture has been so hard for me to understand, my homestay was definitely less then ideal, and the language barrier made a lot of situations more difficult then they should have been.  Despite these things, Thailand has still been my favorite.  I have learned so much here in so many ways.  The classes were (for the most part) great and from them I have a much better understanding of Asian history, politics and art.  Not only did we have a few really good teachers but our class is full of students who ask some great questions (leading to some interesting answers).  Visiting ALL the historical places and Wats in Thailand (ok, so maybe not all…but sometimes it felt like it) helped in giving me a clearer idea of the history and religious aspects of Thailand.  In some ways it made Thai culture clearer, but mostly it brought more questions (which I think is great!).  Finally, I have learned a lot from the people I have been travelling with and the experiences we’ve  shared.

Today is my last day in Asia and I am still slowly realizing how much I have learned.  I am still processing Filipino, Malay, and Thai Culture and I’m still trying to understand the effects of them on my life.

Barriers

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Jian and Jaylord are twin 6 year old boys.  The moment Nicola and I heard about them (as we were driving to what was to be our home for the next week) we made eye contact, expressing to one another the excitement we felt.  The one thing we both wanted in our homestay was kids to play with.  When we arrived at our home, we tried to interact with the kids and in return we received a pair of identical, blank faces.

It is not uncommon for kids to be wary of strangers, but this particular situation presented a few more barriers.  First, we were told that we were the first white people they had seen, so in an obviously unracist way we were funny looking to them.  There was also the fact that we only spoke English while they mainly spoke Tagalog and Ilocano.  Finally, they were quite shy.  The process of breaking these barriers was slow, but it worked.  On day two, Nicola made them laugh with her dancing while on day three I coloured with them, communicating through pictures.  We quickly found out that it was the little things we did that were most effective in engaging these little boys.  By the end of the week they were dancing and playing with us, hardly giving us a moment’s rest.

Adventuring through Asia has brought me face to face with a lot of barriers.  This has been only one yet it has taught me a lot about the importance of not giving up as well as in taking small steps.  Sometimes the barriers (whether its the food, the people, the situation, etc.) are difficult, sometimes they’re frustrating, sometimes they’re fun, sometimes they’re funny; what my experience here has taught me is that it is worth getting past them.  My heart soared when in the moments before our bus left for the airport, Jian gave me a hug and said “I love you Ate Laura”.

Learning to Love

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When I arrived at SSU in September this year and I met most of the fourth years for the first time, the first thing I noticed was the strong sense of community. I would hear story after story of experiences shared as I witnessed this remarkable bond of friendship and to be honest I was kind of jealous.

I am not nervous about living in Asia for nearly two months (though I likely should be); I am, however, excited. Not for the new foods I’ll inevitably experience or the fascinating places I’ll likely visit. Not for the families I’ll be living with or the culture I’ll experience. As cheesy as it sounds, what excites me most is the people I’m doing all of this with. I’m looking forward to getting to know people outside of their comfort zone. From what I hear, this Asia trip is going to be a place where we learn to love each other through the best and worst of situations. I have no doubt that it will be a trip where endless grace is needed; my hope and excitement lies in witnessing this endless grace being given. Is it weird that we haven’t even begun and I’m already anticipating post-Asia community?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that from witnessing the tight knit community that has formed in the older students, I’m looking forward to continuing the journey towards closer friendships with those in my class. It may be a trying time, but I have faith that it will be worth it.