Thursday, February 28, 2008

Calling All Current and Former Volunteers

I am trying to use this blog as a resource for college students contemplating service after college. Seeing as how we are almost in March, a time traditionally where college students make the decision on whether or not to commit to volunteer work, I am asking for your help to help with their discernment!

I am looking to get new voices with differing perspectives to write a 300-500 word entry on what their volunteer work has meant to them. It can be an affirmation of the choice made, a "wish I would have known this" entry to give people insight you lacked, or an overall philosophical reflection on the value or lack thereof of volunteer work. The forum is open... I want to allow people room to use their creativity and if there is response to this, hopefully get a diversity of views and topics discussed.

If you are interested, please email me at pjfurlong at

Also, if you know anyone who might be interested, please pass this onto them!

I will put the first post up beginning next week and hopefully will have more to follow!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Black History Month: In Ecuador of All Places!

“I have a dream” proclaimed Martin Luther King Jr.. This, being Black History Month, I have to ask, how many Americans can say exactly what he said his dream was? In other words, who can finish the quote?

Last Monday, my high school students stopped me in mid-lecture. “Tell us about the elections in the USA” Wendy said. With every ounce of my might, I tried to side step it: there were grammatical rules of English to be taught and learned. But they persisted. I became suspicious, wondering if they knew of my obsession with American politics. When they successfully named the three candidates in the race, I relented (is anyone really counting Huckabee anymore?). Our discussion of the candidates eventually took us into a history of America I feel too many young people my age don’t know enough about: black history. I tried in a short time frame to cover Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Carter G. Woodson,Thurgood Marshall, the Black Panther, the Little Rock 9, Frederick Douglass, and more...

The questions flew from every direction. Everyone was engaged and voicing their opinion. I gave an impromptu lecture about race relations in the USA and moderated a conversation about relations between blacks, those of Spanish descent, and indigenous here in Ecuador.

I happened to have a mixed CD with the song “We Shall Overcome” on it. I played the song, roughly translating it. As class ended, no one moved. Eventually, one girl spoke up. The voice of the singer was sad she told the class. And it frustrated her that after these powerful messages of “walking hand in hand”, “living in peace” and “we shall overcome” were always followed by the same phrase: algun dia. Someday. It’s an issue of inequality, a universal issue these kids know well. Why not “now” she asked me and her classmates?

In America, more black young men will go to prison than college. Consider that “For every $1.00 earned by a man, the average woman receives only 77 cents, while African American women only get 67 cents and Latinas receive only 57 cents.” Hate crimes rose by 8% in 2006. “African Americans and Hispanics are more than twice as likely as whites to be searched, arrested, or subdued with force when stopped by police. Disparities in drug sentencing laws, like the differential treatment of crack as opposed to powder cocaine, are unfair.” *

There is a great columnist at the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts Jr. Not too long ago, he wrote a piece entitled "When You're Right Beyond All Questions." I wish all white people could read it so they might understand me better when I say there is still so much to be done. Despite all the progress: the Civil Rights Act, affirmative action, a black man running for president with a viable shot at winning- we still have so far to go.

Oh, and as for what MLK said in that famous speech: "And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!."

I’m reading To America by historian Stephen E. Ambrose. He noted how Jefferson, despite the many great things he did for America, followed convenience over conviction by leaving the next generation of Revolutionaries to end slavery. It took until the 1860’s. It took another 100 years to push through Civil Rights thanks to brave men and women of all walks of life. Let’s not wait until 2060 to take that next step: that one day our children will not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.

* Obtained from Barack Obama’s Blue Print for Change on his website,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

How I Became a Morning Person

I hate early wake ups. I talk to my alarm the way an abusive coach talks to his most undisciplined player. Curse words are thrown its way, it beeps back at me, I take a swing at it to shut it up and then… reluctantly, I get up.

A few minutes later I stumble downstairs, grab a cup of strong black tea and a bowl of cereal. Out the door and towards the bus by 6:55 AM, and proceed to try and sleep for the 50 minute trip through the congested, loud and polluted streets of Quito.

It doesn’t have to be this way ya know. The center operates three campuses: one next to our house, and two downtown. And somehow, 1/3 of us were selected to be on the early wake up crew. I prayed with every ounce of my being, expended all my capital with God- begging for the shift that would allow me to sleep in an hour later. No dice.

And yet, I have taken a special liking to my kids that I work with downtown in La Marin in the mornings. They are more urban- more edgy, spunky, and full of so much attitude. And there is something about that which makes me love them even more. Sincerely.

While the early morning clamor of the kids has the ability to devastate some, it somehow ignites a flame in me. That first moment I see some of my students, the whole morning does a brilliant 180 degree turn.

You have to picture it: the kids spot us entering, and all the cacophony ceases and a beautiful symphony begins: beautiful little voices screaming your name as they try and position themselves first in line for hugs. And I am not talking little hugs here. I am talking about the type where they run full sprint, fling themselves into your waiting arms and wrap their little hands around your neck and seem to never let go.

And as luck would have it, these kids are only there in the morning hours when we are. If I had the afternoon shift instead, our paths would never cross.

It’s 7:50 AM, there are hoards of screaming children, giant bear hugs, and some of the freshest cut sarcasm being dished my way from some of the tiniest children. This is my life, these are my mornings. An hour of extra sleep would be nice. But at the cost of missing this? No thanks.

Keely getting some of that early morning love from the kids.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Voting Tomorrow

He looks like me. I passed around a photo the other day of the leading candidates for president on both sides. The kids wanted to know about the United States, about war, about so much, and I figured it was a good seg-way into what was going on. One kid stopped at the Obama photo. He refused to believe he was possibly going to be President of the United States of America. I insisted until we got to the core of why he couldn´t believe it: but teacher, he looks like me. How is that possible? Immediately, not even knowing who was who, these kids liked him. Why? Because they saw a bit of their own story in this man running for the most powerful post in the world.

Tomorrow is super Tuesday and I just urge you all to vote. Living abroad for a year and half I have seen the power of our nations politics on that of other nations. Our decision impacts their economies, and impacts their own dreams and hopes.

I hope you go out and vote, and yes, I hope you go for Obama. It´s given me tremendous hope down here, and it´s given these kids hope too! I wonder how many other poor people around the world look at him and think... he looks like me.

Make your vote count tomorrow.

Finding Your Post Graduate Service Placement: Domestic or Abroad

This blog is meant to be a service, an insight into the life of a volunteer “in the trenches” one might say. It is not a glossy advertisement or endorsement, but rather a true telling that would hopefully leave readers to decide for themselves if a step into the volunteer world after college is for them.

That said, I want to provide some resources to find volunteer programs, as well as make note of programs I am familiar with- either through personal experience or from word of mouth of others in the programs. Click the blue links to get to what I am talking about.

First, the website links…

Notre Dame University’s Center for Social Concern has a great website that lists categories: domestic, international, teaching, and secular. It is an awesome resource for anyone, not just ND students.

Response is a publication by the Catholic Volunteer Network that is comprehensive for faith based programs. It provides a search engine that will allow you to fill parameters such as where and for how long you would like to volunteer among other issues. If you are looking for a faith based volunteer program, this is a great place to use a search engine to discover options that meet certain criteria you may have.

Connections 2008, a search engine hosted by Saint Vincent Pallotti Center is another great search engine. The website of Pallotti is also a great resource for those pondering volunteer work, as well as current and former volunteers. I personally find this website to be incredibly useful and resourceful.

Aside from that, my opinions on other programs that I am familiar with... Keep in mind, these are only my opinions based upon my personal experience or second hand knoweldge from people who have done them.

First, The Working Boys Center. The Center itself is an incredible mechanism. Providing education, technical training, medical care, three meals a day, as well as microcredit, childcare and a host of other needed responses to poverty, it´s hard to find a place more wholistic in its battle against poverty. I love the participants and the employees of the center and am very satisfied with my decision. A downside might be community insofar as we are not really a community so much as we are a group of people living together and working together. No binding decisions need to be made as a group and many elements of community living as I experienced with the Holy Cross Associates are missing. And depending how you feel about your service, a call towards simple living is largely absent. All that said, I would not hesitate to recommend the program. I am in love with the place! The work here is a one year commitment with an option for two. The Spanish skills of volunteers vary.

Next would be JVI and JVC. I hear strong things about JVI and I visited a JVI community in Bolivia and was impressed. They seem to have a healthy mix of life giving work that benefits both the community and the volunteer while at the same time doing a great job with simple living, community, spirituality. Most of all, I have heard great things about the support staff and retreats and the like. As for JVC, the reviews remain a little more mixed (not as much support and stability) but as far as I have heard from people in Domestic programs, they fare better than most.

Rostro de Cristo, based in Southern Ecuador is a program I visited for a week my junior year and for a few days this past year while living in Quito. If you can look past the heat and humidity, I would say I love this program. It’s a one year program that requires good Spanish skills. It’s a program on the rise as volunteer programs go: it is divided amongst two houses in neighborhoods about a 15 minute walk apart and has a large volunteer corps who works on a variety of issues usually splitting time between a job in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s also got an awesome English speaking library- a huge plus when living abroad. Downsides might be that the work is somewhat more fluid than say a JVI or Working Boys Center, but some might enjoy the flexability and variety of working at two diferent places each day.

The Inner City Teaching Corps is a program based out of Chicago. A smaller program as far as teaching programs go, I have heard nothing but good thing from participants who have served two years. A master degree is included in the mix. Emphasizes simple living, unlike some other volunteer teaching programs.

Place Corps- based out of LA is also another program I am familiar with. Simple living is not a tenant but teachers work as teachers in Catholic Schools in inner city Los Angeles and receive a Master’s Degree as well as a pretty generous stipend and if my friends are telling the truth- brand new Mac Laptops to each teacher. Needless to say, simple living is not a tenant.

Holy Cross Associates
, my former program in Chile, is, as far as I know, closed down for 2007-2008. But should it re-open as planned, it was a pretty good program. The biggest thing it lacked on internationally was solid work placement but most people in the Domestic version of the program seemed to enjoy. I wouldn´t put it above a JVC, but if you are looking for other options and moving away from the Jesuits but still being with a big Catholic order of priests- this might be the place.

Peace Corps, most people are familiar with. 27 month program that emphasizes “flexibility is the greatest asset” of their volunteers. Run through the government, the awards and incentives for life after Peace Corps are pretty big. Also helps in that placements are world wide. If there are complaints, it is usually based on disorganization or volunteers being placed in job placements that require a certain expertise or experience they lack. But most Peace Corps volunteers I know and have encountered on my own journey are happy and have a range of diverse experiences despite the occasional and long lasting bursts of frustration with support and placement.

So there you have it. I also have on my sidebar links to blogs of people I know doing service. As well, should you search on google for something like ¨blog volunteer¨ or ¨post graduate service blog¨ you will be amazed at the number of blogs that show up from anyone from a Peace Corps guy in the Dominican Republic to a volunteer in Tanzania.

Lastly, research and investigate programs. Think of things you want, things you don’t want, and when interviewing, remember, you’re not JUST trying to market yourself to them- they too are trying to market themselves to you. So don’t be afraid to be honest and ask the right questions, rather than try and solely impress them and telling them what you think they want to hear. You rather get rejected from a program they know you wouldn´t fit into then manipulate your way in and find yourself unhappy and unsatisifed for one year, maybe two! Nothing is worse than a mismatched program and volunteer.