Why?

Just Because

There have been many moments at Project Just Because that could be considered “life-changing”. Considering the organization has been operating for around two decades and I’ve only volunteered for 2 of these years, this means there have been so many more that I have never witnessed. And it’s interesting because these moments of realization don’t change your entire outlook on life, but they make you realize how important what you are doing is.

I very distinctly remember my “life-changing” moment. I began volunteering in September 2015 and this moment occurred in January 2016. In between the beginning of my life at Project Just Because I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer and PJB was the closest option I had. By January I had built better relationships with the other regular volunteers once they realized I was actually coming in on a regular schedule. I had been promoted from sorting clothes to distributing them, and let me tell you, I’ve never been happier. Now this is going to sound kind of weird, but I remember vividly what this woman looked like. I had just walked out of the backroom after completing the children’s portion of the order and I looked up and saw this woman just standing there wearing a tank top and leggings in the middle of winter. And since PJB is really sensitive about keeping client’s identities private I don’t want to say what she looks like beyond that. The other volunteers and office manager are kind of frantically rushing around and talking to this woman trying to figure out what they can do. Routine is that a request form is sent in and then a week or so later you come in and pick up your order, but this woman had never submitted an online form and she just came in hoping we could get warm for her children.

She kept repeating that she only needed stuff for her children and she didn’t need anything if her children weren’t going to get something because she did. I was instructed to go get some winter coats and clothes and eventually we got her clothes for herself and her children. I came back into the main room and I caught onto tidbits of the conversation as she explained her really troubling situation that I won’t go into detail about (again for privacy issues). And it wasn’t until later when I got home and I could not stop thinking about it that I realized how important my work is at PJB. So many of the orders that I fill everyday are changing someone’s life somehow and it’s an easy thing to forget. There are occasionally times when I don’t want to sort through 6 bins hoping to find 32×34 pants for Adult Male #2 that I’ve never met. But then I think of how important it is for these people to have size 32×34 pants because they can’t just go out and buy them. These kinds of moments when people come in with their heartbreaking stories are the ones that remind me to keep pushing. And for those 4 hours a week I’m able to be a part of something bigger than myself.

It may sound silly, but the best parts of my days are the ones where I get to go to Project Just Because. It’s such a loving, calming, healthy environment. The other volunteers who are all retired act as my mentors and treat me as one of their own. I owe so much of my growth to this small, local charity. Sometimes I forget how integral volunteering is to my existence. It makes me so much happier and excited about my future of changing lives. I believe that for the rest of my life I’ll try to find some place as wonderful as Project Just Because.

Project Just Because is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that serves as both the Hopkinton Food Bank and a donation driven clothing redistribution service for all of Massachusetts. There are also seasonal programs such as Back-to-School and Christmas. If you or a friend are in need of services from Project Just Because or would like to donate please visit their website. 

A Random Ramble About a City I Love

Boston, Boston, Boston

In my mind, I have possessed the city of Boston since I was young. In reality, I have never possessed something so magnificent or grand.

Only a few days of my childhood were spent shopping for overpriced Christmas gifts for my mother and playing in the fountains near the Mother Church after Sunday school. Of course the airport and field trips to the Science and Children’s Museum were sprinkled in there as well. Yet these fleeting moments accumulated and allowed me to believe that I’ve known the city better than my peers. I don’t know street names, nor do I know what color T line connects South Station to Back Bay. How far away is TD Garden from Fenway? I couldn’t tell you. I have never known what the streets smell like in summer or how it differs from what they smell like in the winter. I’ve been misinformed about the history of the city and the injustices that have occurred on the same streets that smell of molasses on a warm summer’s day.  

The Red Soxs were the last MLB team to desegregate. When I first heard this fact I thought I had hear them wrong. “You mean Austin, as in Austin, Texas?” No, Boston. I would continue to repeat “Boston, Boston, Boston” until the word sounded foreign on my tongue. The word sounded nearly as foreign as the possibility of Boston being a racist city. How could my cherished city be one that harbors a racist history?

My sister wrote her capstone about the desegregation of busses that occurred in Boston from 1974-1988. In history we read about the bussing problem and saw a picture of a white man trying to stab a black man with an American flag. An unexpected, and unwanted, surprise. How much do I really know about the city I claim to have grown up in? I can recognize the skyline, but I can’t recognize the continued displays of racism. The tradition of singing “Sweet Caroline’ at the bottom of the 8th inning must have made me deaf to the racial slurs chanted at the players on the other team. It makes me wonder to what other injustices I have been ignorant to.

Boston is a beautiful city with an ugly past. I loved walking on the streets with my cousins and siblings during hot summers, but I loved marching with my mother, sister, and little brother to stand for women’s’ rights even more.

A Love Letter to Getting Mail

What Time Does the Mail Truck Come?

There’s something quite romantic about receiving a handwritten letter. I always love to see a letter waiting on the counter with my name written on it, although recently it’s almost certainly an advertisement for a certain college. But sometimes it’s not. It could be a ‘thank you’ or a birthday card, or hopefully it’s a love letter from Harry Styles. No matter who wrote it or how much they wrote, opening a letter is always lovely. I don’t know why it’s the best feeling, but I have some assumptions…

  1. Someone spent time actually sitting down to handwrite a note just for you
  2. Typically the reason people write instead of text nowadays is because the contents of the letter aren’t urgent, so getting mail means something good or exciting has happened
  3. You can keep the letter forever and never accidentally delete it (unless you throw them out)
  4. The person who wrote it probably loves you a lot
  5. It’s a pleasant surprise
  6. Letters are a simple, but thoughtful gift
  7. They feel more professional and more heartfelt
  8. Opening envelopes is extremely stress relieving and gratifying

I assume my letter loving addiction was founded soon after I first attended camp in Maine. Homesick and friendless, I waited for mail time each day hoping that my mom replied to my tear stained letter. It was the only way we could communicate so letters were often lengthy and took my mind off missing home. One year when my best friend wasn’t returning to camp with me, my sister packed 21 letters (one for each day of camp) into my trunk so I could open one each day. A thoughtful gesture that helped me feel a little less lonely and inspired me to not waste my time at camp.

Writing and receiving letters has got to be something that I most love.

An Essay on Human Trafficking

How Capitalism Perpetuates Modern Slavery

Note: This is my most recent Lang essay and I wanted to post it because it’s a subject that I’m extremely passionate about and want to inform others as much as possible.

It is ironic that the exploitation and enslavement of humans in the modern era has prospered due to the expansion of capitalism. Human trafficking, hidden in the backrooms of nail salons located in the suburbs of Boston and on Bangladeshi shrimp boats, is a more delicate way of saying modern slavery. It’s easy to ignore and even easier to unintentionally fund. Every day thousands of dollars move through the intricately connected global economy into the hands of human traffickers and slave owners. It is fast and easy and so very discreet because regulations of business are effortlessly stepped over. The entitlement that developed, capitalist nations take for granted comes at the very free price of a human life. We must recognize the liberties granted to business and then examine the effects they have on humans across the globe.

The privacy and intimacy of business has compromised the privacy and intimacy of the bedroom. Worldwide, the total profit for the illegal sex industry was $35.7 billion in 2007 (Kara 19), and that was amidst a global recession. It’s an illegal business, but a business nonetheless. A common misconception is that sex trafficking happens solely in the red light districts of impoverished countries, but the 2016 U.S. National Trafficking Hotline reports that there were 5,819 reported sex trafficking incidents this past year (“More Assistance, More Action.”). This number fails to account for the thousands of undocumented and past cases. There is a huge demand for commercialized sex and as a result there are people willing to find a supply. We naively call it prostitution; it’s not. A thirteen year old cannot legally be a prostitute. Those who are impoverished and neglected often fall into the hands of pimps, men who offer love and a life of disguised imprisonment. They are then advertised to the world through secret websites where the buying of humans for sex is rationalized because “the industry is inevitable” (Lloyd 219). The ideal of free enterprise has people continuously justifying and funding slavery. This universal understanding that business is business and that because there is a free market it’s okay, is completely misinformed. We’ve come to the point where freedom is our mantra and free business is a right, but oftentimes we are ignorant to the fact that our freedom comes at the cost of other humans.

Labor trafficking is the most abundant of the types of slavery and as a result, the most normalized. We’ve established that slavery is a business, but we have not quite examined the scope of it. These trafficked victims are everywhere numbering at about 28 million, although the total number is impossible to determine and is estimated to be much larger. America’s Fortune 500 companies are often under fire for having factories overseas that violate human rights in some way. Apple has been scrutinized for using Foxconn, a Chinese factory in which workers are submitted to harsh and dangerous working conditions just so manufacturing costs are lower. Companies participating in free market economies usually abide by local laws that prohibit child labor or uncompensated work, but the lack of labor laws in third world countries make it so incredibly easy for large foreign companies to invest. Capitalism thrives on competition, but many are unable to compete with lucrative businesses who can afford to subjugate others. The shrimping industry in Bangladesh is beating out shrimp farmers in Louisiana because laborers are slaves. The cost of production is significantly reduced when wages are nonexistent and labor is replaceable. In the U.S. 85% of seafood is imported and of this 50% is shrimp (76 Bales). In Bangladesh, the capitalists are profiting on the backs of their slaves. Ghana is plagued by a similar problem; gold pours out of illegal mines like blood seeping out of a wound. The most common form of enslavement in the gold mines of Ghana is debt. Miners are in perpetual debt to their bosses, which essentially makes them slaves. Phone companies obtain the gold through an intentionally long chain of salesmen; the more distance placed between the consumer and the producer the more feasibly the company can claim ignorance. But the government is unable to claim the same ignorance as foreign businessmen. Slavery isn’t invisible in Ghana like it is in America. How could it be? Ghana’s economy is dependent on gold, government officials are entangled in the industry, and villages are built around mines. Sometimes foreign companies deal directly with the Ghanaian government (Bales 160). It’s acceptable for American companies to buy and sell with whomever they please under the Dodd-Frank bill with the condition that companies are transparent with what products contain slavery tainted materials. The products we so thoughtlessly buy have a careless impact on people far away from us.

Slavery happens in our suburban town and on the streets of Cambodian cities. The products we buy and the services we use tie us all to the dangerous industry of slavery; when we import chocolate we are also importing slaves across borders. Capitalism itself isn’t capable of supporting human trafficking, but it’s adaptable rules allow us to slip the buying and selling of people into the picture. Johns fly into the Miami airport at 5pm, stay for an hour of sex with an underage virgin they bought on a website, and then leave at 6pm to fly back to their families. How could the airline know? Did the hotel know that the room they rented out is the murder site of a young girl’s innocence? All of this unregulated industry are accessories in a huge crime network. Wealthy families have a Cambodian house slave and churches have a choir of Zambian slaves (Batstone 212 & 225). These labor practices and industries play a big part in our economy and lives. We are unable to imagine the damage done and unwilling to admit that we have played a role in this destruction. The shrimp is in our stomachs, the gold is in our phones, and the blood is on our hands.

Sources

Bales, Kevin. Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016. Print.

Batstone, David B. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade – and How We Can Fight It. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print.

Kara, Siddharth. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.

Lloyd, Rachel. Girls like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale: A Memoir. New York: HarperPerennial, 2012. Print.

“More Assistance, More Action.” Polaris. 31 Jan. 2017. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

What makes us ‘smart’?

The Distinction in Intellect

Have you ever read a novel so well written that you have to pause to appreciate how each sentence somehow transcends the previous? Or have you seen a painting that was so beautifully done that it consumes your every thought for the next 8 weeks? How about that time the boy from your english class captured the attention of every student in the room, even the boy who watches lacrosse videos all period, with an explanation on how well the journalist uses commas?

We all have this quintessential image of a ‘smart’ person. Our definition of a ‘smart’ person changes as we move throughout our schooling years and eventually our professional lives. You start to realize that being able to do the whole times table in less than 5 minutes doesn’t make you smart. In high school ‘smart’ is having a 4.0+ GPA or getting a 2300 on the SAT. But the problem with these definitions is that a. they’re one dimensional and b. so many people can reach this level through tutors and hard-work. Not to belittle these methods because they are most certainly understandable and acceptable ways to get ahead, but it’s not genuine intelligence.

We can all be book smart to some degree, granted some will be more book smart than others, but we can all know what the square root of 4 is and the correct spelling of ‘conscience’ (I just had to use spell check for that word if you must know). It’s all accessible knowledge. These people are those who became our class valedictorian and the ones that got into Stanford. You go about your whole life wishing you were them, but then you come across a person who is on a whole other level of intelligence.

It’s truly humbling when you find yourself in the presence of a genius. It’s like every single cell of your body realizes how inferior they are and how they’re all okay with it. It’s fascinating that an experience so rare can be so universally recognized. We must establish something though: this feeling isn’t produced every time you stumble across an above average intelligent person and it’s not only unique to those who can get into an ivy league college.

Intelligence isn’t something they have to work for. It just is. Some do things with their gift and some don’t. Being exceptionally smart is just another trait that some are lucky enough to possess, like beauty or a natural singing voice. But with this realization we must understand that being this ‘natural smart’ doesn’t make them better than the person whose textbook is their bible.

 

Dedicated to the boy in my english class who is so humbly brilliant. You somehow awe me each day. Your wit, wisdom, and unmatchable control of the english language is something I appreciate everyday.

My Current Bookshelf (Jess)

My Top 5 Favorite Books

I hate choosing my favorite books because I have SO many. But here are the 5 books I would consider my top 5. I’m not going to give a summary of the books, but the reason why I like them so much. If you want to find out more about them, read them! Or just google them.

  1. Pride & Prejudice Jane Austen. This is easily my favorite book. Once I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. It’s good, very good. However it’s not for everyone, if you don’t like romance or historical-fiction, you probably won’t like Pride & Prejudice, but if you do then you’ll love this book. It’s an easy story to get involved in and doesn’t require analytical analysis.
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez. I don’t know how to put my love and respect for this book in words. Márquez is the best author that I know of. His control of the words and plot is impressive. You feel like you’re in a dream as you read, you get lost in the story. It’s weird, but in a good way. Definitely the book I would most recommend.
  3. Half the Sky – Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn. THIS BOOK. This book is what awoke me. My goals and aspirations became clear and concrete after reading this book. This was the book of “realizing things” (Hi Kylie Jenner!). It opened my eyes to the injustices around the world and the desperate need for radical change. Before this I was a feminist hater (another story for another time) and after this I was a full fledged feminist. The style of writing and informational narrative is extremely educational. There is also a multi part documentary that is on Netflix. So worth the read and watch.
  4. Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card. What a book. Ender, the main protagonist, was who I wanted to be when I was younger, and still who I want to be today. There was finally a kid that was respected by his peers and adults alike. He is not just good, but untouchably good at everything he does. It was one of those books that just makes you feel good the entire time you read it.
  5. Blood and Earth – Kevin Bales. This isn’t really a “fun” book. It’s an extremely informative, well written account of human trafficking and its effects on humans and the environment. It’s a unique take on why we should get rid of human trafficking as well as engaging. Like Half the Sky it awakened something inside of me and has helped educate me in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, a topic I’m passionate about. Even if you aren’t interested in modern slavery the book acts as an important resource.

The Double Standard in Pop Culture

Sports Fans = Boyband Fans

There was a period of my life where one of my bedroom walls was completely covered in cutout One Direction photos. Yes, I was that kid who spent an entire weekend cutting up all my One Direction magazines and hanging my 5 posters on my Honolulu Blue wall. 40 Harry Styles saw my naked ass every night for six months.

My family loves to make fun of me for my juvenile obsession.  Constantly reminding me that my existence is unknown to the *four boys I’ve dedicated hours of my life to. Or mocking the tears shed over Zayn Malik quitting the band in 2015. Oh and let’s not forget that they take every chance to mention that One Direction is on an indefinite “break”.

But as my brother taunts me when I swoon over Harry’s magazine cover (#blessed), I remember that time he chased Patrice Bergeron, 1st line forward for the Boston Bruins, down Commonwealth Ave.. He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked over the paparazzi like pictures we took of Bergeron walking.

It’s easy to scorn teenage girls at a concert for screaming so loud and singing at the tops of their lungs, but for every teenage girl at a concert there is an adult male at a football game screaming just as loud. When was the last time a violent riot broke out over a boyband? How about a violent riot for a sports team? I don’t think there has been a violent riot over a teenage heartthrob; however in 2011 a large scale riot broke out in the streets of Vancouver, BC after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the 7th game of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Why is there a double standard? It isn’t fair to shame boybands fans if we aren’t going to ridicule sports fans. Either way, neither should be ridiculed. If something like a concert or sports game can invoke so much positive and passionate emotion in someone it’s completely worthwhile .

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*Rip Zayn

Throwback to that time I flew to Peru just to recreate this photo with my friend……okay so maybe sports fans don’t take their dedication that far.

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I’m just kidding, this photo was an after thought.

Do.

The Meaning of Life

Do More. That’s the answer, not 42.

Existing isn’t living. Existing is breathing and living is doing. Life is meaningless if you never do something more. That doesn’t mean travel to every country or find a cure for an incurable disease. It means don’t do less. Always work towards something, and don’t just work, work hard. Fit 30 hours into a 24 hour day. We can always do more.

People will tell you to wait. But what is the point of waiting? Your limited time will pass while you just sit by and wait. Life isn’t a given, we have no clue when or how we will die. It’s completely unavoidable. Life won’t wait with us.

Make it Count.

Make life worth it. It coincides with doing more. Make everything you do count. There is nothing more wasteful than living a life that has no purpose. Give it purpose. Push your limits and think beyond what you’ve been told to do. Don’t play it safe. By playing it safe, you do nothing and don’t live. Make the most of your time here.

Do what makes you happy. Following the beaten path is meaningless. If you die today wouldn’t you want to make sure everything you’ve done thus far was purposeful. That wasted hour spent worrying about how you’ll afford college could’ve been spent do something you love or meeting new people. Never waste what you have.

There is no meaning unless you create one.

Do more and make it count.

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“Teachers don’t fail, only students do”

Here But Still Forgotten

An anticlimactic and disappointing article about Trump was why I first picked up the Boston Globe magazine sitting on my kitchen table, but it left me unsatisfied. To fulfill my want for a good morning read, I continued to flip through the magazine to find the cover story about the future of my state’s standardized test, MCAS. I discussed my opinions on standardized testing in the past so I wasn’t planning on writing this post, but a quote jumped out at me and I just had to respond.

Linda Hanson was introduced as a literacy tutor/teacher for the Arlington schools who applied to the state’s committee for redefining the test. In response to not being selected she offered up this quote “Teachers are the only ones who really can see how students react to the tasks that’s put in front of them. Why would you want to produce something that doesn’t have strong teacher input”? I wholeheartedly agree because this is something I have been saying for years, although I typically argue that students should have the input.

There is a lot of money, time, and effort spent on bettering schools and improving education. Tests are created and recreated constantly; new curriculum is introduced each year, but student input is never asked for. Us students are more aware of our needs than a committee of adults who attended school 30 years ago. Naturally they are stuck in the past, an era of less stress and less tests. A picture from the article shows test creators sitting around a table, 3 out of 6 have white hair. Yet here they are designing more tests because they are blissfully ignorant of the students’ reactions.

It’s almost as if the education board forgets that the students are living, breathing children who don’t want a state test every other month. Not only this, the test questions are scanned by adults who know the material better than the students. How is that fair? If a 59 year old man can answer this question, then surely an 8 year student can as well. It’s impractical and clearly not well thought out.

Yet despite being a test designed solely for children and teenagers, the article focuses primarily on how tests affect educators. But what about the students? A question I’m sure is never asked at these meetings. How are the people most negatively affected by testing forgotten? The students are the ones losing sleep, developing depression and anxiety, learning how to test rather than learning, not eating, becomingly dangerously stressed, and feeling the need to cheat.

Students continue to be forgotten and left behind although they are the ones most affected. It’s tragic.

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