Blog: October 2013
A few weeks ago, the 10th grade class at UrbanPromise Academy travelled to Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. Every year around this time, the sophomore class can be found playing football on the beach, digging for sand crabs, paddling the bay behind Assateague Island, and camping on the beach. The trip is a
favorite of mine; I grew up camping with my family at Assateague and hold the place close to my heart. Students each year are awed by the beauty of the sunrise over the Atlantic and the clarity of the night sky.
One activity that we often do with the students is to walk the Life of Dunes trail, a path in the national park that takes you through the dune ecosystem to the forest and explains how barrier islands function to protect the mainland. It’s the best lesson in ecosystem adaptations you could ever ask for, as students can see right in front of them the differences between a plant that grows on the dunes versus in the woods or how a dune could come to be formed there.
On this particular trip, we had several students along who participated in our Colorado and Utah expedition over the summer. Those students visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, which has a very different ecological and geological history than the sand dunes at Assateague. And as we were reading signs on Assateague about how the dunes come to stand and stay standing there, Tabitha, who went to the Great Sand Dunes, spoke up with a question. She said, “So wait. How are these dunes different than the ones I hiked all the way up in Colorado?” We went on to explain the differences in their formation and function and Tabitha can now tell you the difference between those two sets of dunes.
For me, when Tabitha asked that question in her typical sassy and curious fashion, her travels and adventures with UrbanTrekkers came full circle. Tabitha is a student that takes every opportunity she can get to travel with UrbanTrekkers and as a result has been to and seen more places than the vast majority of students her age. Because of her willingness to jump in headfirst to whatever Trekkers has to offer, she is able to compare and contrast ecosystems from firsthand experience, rather than just from pictures in her science textbook. And for a student like Tabitha, who shows a refreshing curiosity that is often lost in teenagers, learning and making connections like that on a beach will keep her engaged and eager to learn. That’s the beauty of UrbanTrekkers.
It’s here! UrbanTrekkers Honduras has officially launched! Though still in the beginning stages, I was amazed at the responses and involvement from the youth and volunteers living in Copán Ruinas to the newest program offered by UrbanPromise Honduras.
Founded in 2004 by Jim Cummings in Camden, NJ, the mission of UrbanTrekkers is to be an outdoor, hands-on, up-close learning and mentoring program, where the world is our classroom. UrbanTrekkers has now expanded to several UrbanPromise sites around the world, including our very own Copán Ruinas!
Looking back at the month of September, I’m blown away that we packed as much as we did into a single month. A weekend retreat in Siguatepeque, our first annual Trek for Peace, a volunteer opportunity with a macaw release program, and a local 8 mile (13 km) hike! Though there’s so much to share, I’ll start with what I would say was our greatest event of the month.
What does peace mean to you? That was the question that each of the thirty five youth who participated in the “Trek for Peace” asked of community members during our 5K walk through town. Our “Trek for Peace” was held on September 21st, in honor of International Day of Peace, sanctioned by the United Nations in the 1980s. 35 youth and 12 adult volunteers walked approximately five kilometers through the streets of Copán while engaging in discussions on the meaning and significance of peace, completing teambuilding and leadership initiatives, serving those in the community, building relationships with other youth, and learning what local organizations are already doing to help bring peace to others.
We heard from representatives of the Red Cross to learn about local volunteer opportunities, learned about the Hebrew greeting, “Shalom,” which when translated, means “Peace,” visited a local café which also works with local schools to raise awareness of reforestation projects, filled several bags of trash from the streets along the way, and did our best to plant seeds of peace along the streets of Copán in whatever way we could. One girl was so inspired after our talk of “Shalom,” that she reached in her pocket and handed a homeless man the cash she had on her. Several boys grabbed the extra bags of water we had with our group and started handing them out to people who looked thirsty in the park.
The day ended in a cookout and with the challenge to look for opportunities to bring peace to their community. What stands out to me most from this day was not the distance we walked, the activities we completed, or even the fact that 35 youth listened and understood all my instructions in Spanish, but the fact that so many youth and adult mentors showed up to be part of this experience. We had teenagers from UPH, the Red Cross Youth Association, Mayatan (the local private bilingual school), and the public school systems. Our volunteers showed up from UPH, Mayatan, the Red Cross, Heart to Honduras, and local businesses. That to me is a testament to society’s longing for peace. The Trek for Peace was a chance to unite those in the community in an endeavor to bring lasting peace between nations, communities, family, God and man.
So what is peace? Well according to those who walked the streets of Copan on September 21st, peace is far more than just a nice word or slogan. Peace is wholeness. It’s a lack of fighting and war, but also it is replaced by a fullness. “Shalom Shalom,” or “Perfect Peace,” is something God offers us through His Son. Perfect peace means all our relationships- with God and with man- are complete; there’s nothing lacking. This is the peace we hope to see in Copán someday. And slowly but surely, Shalom is coming to the lives of the youth, children, and families living in this city.