Rebecca Dwyer on the value, variety and depth, of her WIP Experience after Week 3.

Rebbeca Dwyer reflects on some of the standout experiences for her so far.

Wow! So much has happened since my last blog post. We have learned about everything from project management to what the inside of Thomas Jefferson’s library looks like; we have had sessions with people such as Dean William Treanor of Georgetown University School of Law and majorly accomplished speech writing experts, David Frank and Kevin Sullivan; we have made friends and played sports on the Mall with members of SAWIP (South Africa Washington International Program); we have met with Jake Sullivan of the US State Department and George Moore, entrepreneur and CEO of TARGUS; we have argued fundamentals with organizations such as AFLCIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) and The Heritage Foundation; we have had sessions with His Excellency Michael Collins, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, and Kevin Moran, Director at the American Chemistry Council and gifted historian; I am two weeks into my internship at the American Chemistry Council; but, arguably, the three events which have stood out most to me over the past two weeks (and the only ones where I wasn’t to be found furiously taking notes!) have been Sunday Service at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, my community service project at the DC Central Kitchen and the loss of power due to DC’s record-breaking thunder storm bordering on a small-scale hurricane.

Mount Lebanon Baptist Church

On 24 June 2012, I attended Sunday Service at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church on New Jersey Avenue in Washington, DC. It lasted for about two and a half hours and it was simply the best church service I have ever attended in my entire life. I’ll put it this way. If I lived in America, I would attend a church service like this every Sunday of the year! The music, the dancing, the laughter, everything about it added to the sense of unity and community. The love for friends and family literally poured out of every man, woman and child there. It wasn’t even a very big church. In fact, it was quite small in comparison to the church I attend at home. The difference was that I couldn’t help but smile ninety nine percent of the time I was sitting in my pew.

The Senior Pastor, Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds, has a gift. His sermon raised the hairs in the back of my neck and gave me goose bumps on my arms. His words were so inspiring and the way he said them was just phenomenal. It was as if he was playing a Beethoven symphony the way he rose to a magnificent crescendo at the end. As his speech reached its heights, the piano player began to play chords in quick succession and the drummer began to join in. Members of the congregation showed their agreement by shouting proclamations allowed such as “Amen!”, “I hear you, brother!” or “Praise the Lord!”. It was fantastic. It also happened to be the Pastor’s birthday the following day, so, at one stage, the entire church broke into not just a chorus but a pretty lengthy version of Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday. Everyone, including all of the members of the Washington Ireland Program (staff and students alike), stood up and began to sing and dance. It was like something from a movie. I felt like Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. What a feeling!

DC Central Kitchen

On Saturday, 30 June 2012, I, along with 22 other eager WIPers, volunteered at DC Central Kitchen as part of my DC community service project. I spent the morning chopping cabbage, tomatoes and red and green peppers as well as wrapping food trays with cling film. The DC Central Kitchen feeds 5,000 men, women and children every day. Many of the meals they prepare go to homeless people but a large portion of them also go to families and children affected by poverty. In this respect, the DC Central Kitchen reminds me of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The work that both the employees and the volunteers do is second to none. The day was an excellent experience and, again, if I lived in DC, I think I would most definitely volunteer here as often as I could. It was hot work. The cabbage was by far the most difficult vegetable to chop, especially as there was no air conditioning or fans within what felt like a mile radius! A group of eight of us prepared sixty trays of beautifully fresh garden salad to be distributed later that day. I am so glad that I took part in this excellent cause.

I met the other WIP volunteers outside Judiciary Square Metro Station early on Saturday morning and, together, we made our way to the kitchen from there. I got a glimpse of some of the severe poverty and drug related problems in DC before arriving, however. There was an alcoholic center close by and we had to walk past it to get to the kitchen. There were over a hundred alcoholics and homeless people hanging around outside the center. These people had actually formed their own community. It was a very sad scene. As soon as we arrived at the kitchen, we were shown the introduction video and then whisked outside to be suited up with aprons, hairnets and gloves. We got to work straight away peeling and chopping all kinds of vegetables. There was great banter to be had while the salad was in the making. Well known songs with altered lyrics such as “Feed the world, let them know it’s meal time” were to be heard throughout the kitchen. When all of the vegetables had been chopped, we formed a mini production line and made up trays of salad out of all of the food we had prepared. Then, we stacked up all of the trays and cleaned and wiped down all of the surfaces. The full-time employees at the DC Central Kitchen are admirable people. It was an excellent experience and it really opened my eyes to the world of poverty and hunger but also to the world of volunteering and the great work that thousands of people do every day to help their fellow human beings survive.

Power Outage

The evening before I volunteered at the DC Central kitchen was eventful, to say the least. Washington, DC and the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia were severely affected by the extreme weather that caused major property damage and, in some cases, death. I joined my host family for dinner at American City Diner after our last WIP event on Friday evening. I had my first malt shake there and it was delicious! After dinner, we came home and sat down in the living room. The boys began to watch TV. All of a sudden, the sky went dark and a howling wind could be heard outside. The rain bucketed down like I have never seen before. The lights began to flicker and the TV turned itself off. A power surge had taken place. Finally, the electricity failed completely and we were in darkness. Then, the lightening started. The sky turned six different colors in about sixty seconds. It flashed red, orange, yellow, blue, white and purple (no joke!) and this was no ordinary lightening. It wasn’t like the lightening we get at home. This was proper strobe lightening. The flashing never ceased! There was an immediate rush to find torches and candles to extinguish the blanket of darkness inside the house. Thunder began soon after. At the time, it was very exciting.

The aftermath of the storm became clear the following morning. Huge branches and whole trees had fallen on many roads, cars, houses and power lines. Millions of homes and businesses were without electricity. PEPCO was being pounded by angry customers. No electricity meant no lights, no fridge, no freezer and no air conditioning during the early summer heat wave that is taking place. I was unsure whether it meant no metro too but I had to find out, seeing as I was expected at the DC Central Kitchen at 9 o’clock. My host-mom, Leslie, drove me to the local metro station in case the traffic lights at Georgia Avenue weren’t working. Crossing Georgia Avenue is about the most dangerous thing you can do as a pedestrian and that’s with the lights working. Attempting to cross it without lights is like having a death wish! Thankfully, the metro was running but there were major delays on some lines.

My host family and I, like so many other citizens affected by the record-breaking weather, were now known as “power refugees”. What struck me the most, if you’ll pardon the pun, during the aftermath of the storm was the overwhelming sense of community among the people. Friends of my host family who still had power took us in the following day and let us use their swimming pool to cool off, their electricity to charge our phones and laptops, their internet to check our email and even their fridge and freezer to store our food. Driving to their house, I saw various friends and neighbors helping each other to cut and move trees and branches that had fallen. After surviving for two days, thankfully, the electricity in my house was restored when I woke up this morning. My host-mom said she would be opening our home to any more power refugees who have been unable to find shelter.

Conclusion

The three events I have described in this blog post have a common thread running through them. The overwhelming power of community that I have witnessed over these past two weeks is something that I will most definitely take home with me. Life throws all kinds of things at us but, together, we can overcome them. United we stand, divided we fall. It is all part of the WIP experience and of life.

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