Memories Over Tea

I’m convinced that it was just yesterday that my roommates and I walked into our first day of pre-service orientation (PSO) and recited the AmeriCorps pledge. The feelings of excitement of the unknowns of what the service year could bring occupied my mind the night before our first day. I’ve been reflecting a lot on these memories lately, especially now that we are just a month away from finishing out our program. I’ve created a lot of new memories since that first week of PSO, and many involve the stories of the individuals that I’ve had the pleasure of serving.

My favorite stories come from hosting workshops with the diverse community groups that I was so lucky to engage with. Although I was there to facilitate conversations that would lead to increased knowledge about environmental health issues, I was actually the one that would leave having learned the most. I got to learn the stories of those I served and the barriers that they have in implementing the changes we talked about in our workshops. My favorite story was the first time that I hosted a workshop with a local support group. The women in the support group were all from Turkey. It was my first workshop working directly with a refugee group where cultural and language differences would have an influence on a workshop. I was so excited to be facilitating the workshop, but was equally nervous of the many routes that it could take.

Each of my fears dissipated away the moment that I walked into the group. The women were friendly and inclusive, and welcomed me warmly into their support group as an equal guest. However my favorite part of the workshop wasn’t when I was facilitating the conversation, but the time that I got to share with them during their social tea time halfway through the workshop. We shared tea, baklava, and other delicious Turkish treats as I just listened to the conversations the women were having with each other. I was initially out of my comfort zone (since the women were speaking in almost all Turkish) but then realized how beautiful it was that I could just be present in the moment with the group even if the language was different. I chatted with the women as they all served as temporary interpreters for me, and I got to learn more about them and the various ways they were building a community here in the States. I feel very grateful to have been able to be a small part of their support group.

Following that first workshop, I was able to come back to the group with additional resources and check in with what we had talked about at our previous workshop. The support group leader even came to one of our AmeriCorps training days and shared her story about resettlement! From one single workshop, a multitude of events and connections were made. Reflecting on the many memories I’ve made over my service year, one of my favorites will always be the time I spent over tea with these incredibly resilient women.

This post was written by NPHC member Lizzet Suarez.

Lizzet serves at Women for a Healthy Environment as an Outreach Coordinator.