Understanding My Activism

The gate at Samaritan Women because we aren't allowed to take many pictures of the property.

The entrance at Samaritan Women because we aren’t allowed to take many pictures of the property.

Farmer Suz that just planted some arugula in the greenhouse!

Farmer Suz that just planted some arugula in the greenhouse!

Something that hangs on a wall on the inside of the residential house.

Something that hangs on a wall on the inside of the residential house.

**Make sure you read all the way to the bottom!** I remember when I first heard about Samaritan Women from the Shriver Center representative that came to our class at the beginning of the semester. I remember reading the description of their ministry and thinking that nothing could fit more perfectly as an activist project for me. A place that uses gardening and farming to help victims of human trafficking? I’ll take it! I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived there for the first time. I knew I would be doing lots of outside work, but I didn’t know exactly what type of work that would be. I have now done everything from chopping wood to planting arugula in the greenhouse! Sometimes it was hard to remember what we were doing as volunteers was actually going to help the women. Since we weren’t allowed to work directly with them, it was hard to see our work as activism. After a few Saturdays of working there, I came to realize that although indirect activism, what we were doing was still important to the continuation of what Samaritan Women does. We would do lots of outdoor chores. In the winter, we used shovels to break up ice and sweep it off of the front walk so that no one slipped. As the weather got warmer, we were able to weed the front flowerbed, spread mulch, and even chop and organize blocks of wood. One day, we arrived and there were lots of cars parked out front which was really unusual. Eventually, we found out that there was an open house on the property that day. Since there was no real work for us to do (no one told us we didn’t need to come on that particular Saturday), we were able to join one of the tours and see more of what Samaritan Women really does. We got to see the inside of the residential house (there are two buildings–one for office and meeting space purposes, and the other for the women’s living space), which we are never permitted to do on any other occasion. It was on this day that I realized how much of an activist project I was really doing. After seeing how much work went in to preparing programs for the ladies, feeding them, making sure they can get the care they need, providing space for them to live in the house, and so many other things, I realized that the majority of the staff was focused on what happens inside the house. Who takes care of the outside and the rest of the property? Volunteers like us. So many different people give their time to come on a Saturday or Sunday (or any other day of the week) to volunteer on the property. The Samaritan Women organization is always asking for more people to come and work. There is always something to be done. The more volunteers come to work outside the house, the more the staff can focus on the rehabilitation of these women who are victims of this horrid crime. There was one other time that has stuck out in my mind when I really and truly understood the meaning of my activism at this volunteer site. One Saturday when we were there, there was a baptism and we were helping to clean up the outside patio for it. Although it was extremely windy, it was such a beautiful day. We put down new mulch, swept leaves off of the patio, unfolded and organized chairs, put the baptismal horse trough (yes, a horse trough–a clean one) in place, and anything else we could do to help out. Samaritan Women is a Christian organization (I know, GASP!) that follows a spiritual formation program as a part of the rehabilitation of the women into society. I don’t think the mission of Samaritan Women is to turn these women into Christians and tell them they need Jesus, but to show them that there is a kind of thing that exists that is about unconditional love, and complete acceptance no matter how crappy you feel about your life and yourself. I might also add that is was completely this young woman’s choice to be baptized. This is such an amazing fact to me because it means that she has come so far in her recovery that she is willing to make such a huge commitment to her faith out of her own free will. I was completely in awe of her actually. I was so happy for her that I wanted to work really hard to get everything to look nice. Some of her family and friends came and were congratulating her while the volunteers were scrambling around at the last minute trying to make sure nothing blew away in the wind. It made me so happy to see their support of her. While I was watching them, I realized something: this is why I am here. This is why I gave up 3 hours of my Saturday for a whole semester to volunteer. For this. Not because the girl was diving into (haha) her Christian faith, but because this was a symbol of her recovery and I got to be a part of it. Not only did I get to help set everything up so that this day could be as special as possible for her, but I was able to be a part of her progress, and the progress of all the women whenever I showed up at 10 am once a week. Everything I did at Samaritan Women had some kind of impact on the women. Whether it was that they got to eat a salad with the arugula I planted or enjoy the flower beds that I weeded, each of these things is an essential part of their recovery and their assimilation back into normal life. For every week after that Saturday, I treated everything I did at that facility like it was the most important thing I have ever done. Since working at this site has had such an impact on me, I have connected the camp where I am working this summer to Samaritan Women. The senior high leadership camp (15 and 16 year olds) gets to do some kind of service learning in their journey to becoming leaders and future counselors. On Facebook, I am friends with the Associate Director and she saw my constant stream of posts about this place. She was interested in this becoming the service project for that group of kids! I connected her to Samaritan Women and found out that special groups with kids under 18 can get an information session on what “modern-day slavery” is and what human trafficking actually means. Not only will they get to participate in an awesome volunteer opportunity, but they will also be educated about this crime that continues to happen! I couldn’t have been happier with how my activism project turned out. The only thing I would do differently is not to volunteer using the PRAC 096 program through the Shriver Center! I don’t recommend doing this. They have you answer reflection questions every week (they don’t have anything to do with your cite specifically), go to reflection sessions, and fill out some stupid surveys. I wanted to volunteer at Samaritan Women because I wanted to help out, not because I am trying to impress grad schools with having a service learning indicator on my transcript (by the way, it’s for no credit). This program made it seem like a chore to volunteer and that is NOT how it should be. Please don’t think of this as an angry rant, but more as a warning to those taking this class and wanting to volunteer for their activist projects in the future! You can totally just contact the site where you would like to go, and they will let you know what their policies are about volunteers and times they can come and all that good stuff. The only thing about not taking PRAC 096 through the Shriver Center is that it means you would have to find your own ride to the site. The Shriver Center has their own cars and vans, and this was actually really useful. But if you have your own car, USE IT! That’s all! 🙂 I still think that volunteering is an awesome way to do your activist projects and I still think that volunteering is for everyone!   -Suz (Susannah) Jones-Hochmuth Environmental Science Major, Gender and Women’s Studies Minor

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