“Life is busy, but it’s always worth reflecting.”

As I’m scrolling through all of the piled emails from Spring Break, my eyes catch this subject line: Life is busy, but it’s always worth reflecting.  My last post, The Importance of Reflection was the initial start on this blog to share how reflection, individually + collectively can serve as a means for growth, wellbeing and social change.  Almost a month has gone by and I’m astonished of all that has happened in between.  I spent my spring break on a Habitat for Humanity service trip to Taos, NM.  Personally, this was a rejuvenating week spent: meeting new (wonderful + fun) Gusties, reconnecting with hands-on service work, learning about sustainable lifestyles + housing, facilitating small/large group reflection, hiking up, down and around the Rio Grande Gorge, and focusing on ways to intentionally be present.  Another highlight occurred on the way home from Taos and that was having the opportunity to meet up with my dear sister at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs!

Garden of the Gods

Tony, Myself, Vickie + Riley at Garden of the Gods.

Tony and the Gorge

Tony + the Rio Grande Gorge.

Stunning hike down to a natural spring near the Rio Grande River.

Taos Home

We spent the week working on this home for Adrianna, Daniel + Danika.

Gusties

Gusties at the worksite in Taos, NM.

Gusties 2

We love life + Habitat for Humanity of Taos.

Lovely Susan, the volunteer coordinator for HFH of Taos.

Lovely Susan, the volunteer coordinator for HFH of Taos.

Mountains

Pure bliss + tranquility.

Since spring break… 

Organizing.  Much time and energy has been dedicated to meetings + conversations with various student organizations, campaigns, groups and individuals, all part of the Gustavus community.  What came from these meetings + conversations was the creation of Our Future, Our Voices, #OurGustavus, a growing movement on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus that demands student, faculty and staff voice in administrative decisions that will affect our futures. Continue reading

The Importance of Reflection

Reflection serves as a grounding part of my life.  If you asked my parents to describe how I was growing up, they would definitely tell you I was the kid who always questioned everything. “I don’t get it, why?” “How come?”  Around my junior year of high school, I began to realize this did not always have to carry a negative connotation.  I started to become very curious about the world and why things came to be how they are.  Furthermore, I began to challenge my own understandings and beliefs because of this process of becoming more aware.  This not only inspired me to do something; it sparked intellectual and creative thinking from within, which was a place I’d never looked or nurtured before. It was not until college when I began to think and act intentionally about reflection, individually and collectively, as a means for growth, wellbeing and social change.  As I continue to write and share on this blog, I will unpack what this actually means and what it looks like in my life.  For now, I’d like to share personal statements from people of all walks of life on: why reflection is important to them and what role reflection has in their life, including how much reflection/what it looks like for them.  I’d like to give a quick shout out to each person who contributed with direct personal statements and also those who have continued to support and encourage me through the journey of processing all this information, formulating thoughts and writing/sharing/expressing.

Love + light,

Nicole

My life would be dull, pointless, and careless without reflection. Reflection enables critical thinking, which enables understanding, growth, love, and empathy. Most of my reflection occurs while I write because writing forces me to deeply and creatively think, reflect, and understand.” –Courtney Train

“When things go by so fast and the journey is so windy, you have to take time to listen to what is true to your head and heart. If I’m honest, I’m not awesome at it but when I am truly practicing, my quality of life is improved. I believe it (reflection) makes me more alive and open to experiences outside the confines my own mind can create. It centers and places perspective on my life and those around me. I don’t do anything new. I think we can learn a lot from the ancient practices around the world that have been practiced for several hundred years. I try to truly hold a Sabbath, fast 1 day a month and fixed silence or prayer daily.”  –Evan Davies, Youth Volunteer Engagement Specialist,VIE, Habitat for Humanity International

“One of my favorite (and most used) quotes is “We don’t learn by doing, we learn by thinking about what we do.” Reflection is the place where I begin to understand myself and the world around me. It is critical to me as it aids my learning about the world and the way I interact with it. Without reflection, I would float through life without questioning and examining what’s around me and inside of me, and that, to me, seems like an empty way to be. Reflection keeps me from existing in scripted responses and old patterns, and allows me the opportunity to see the world (and myself) in new ways and to explore new paths. Reflection is a daily and critical practice for me. I have no longer set aside time to “reflect” as it has simply become how I operate on a daily basis. My first response to most experiences and situations I face are questions – what can I learn from this? What is the best way for me to move forward? How can I best be of service to the people in the room? Albert Einstein was once asked what he would do if he was only given an hour to solve the world’s toughest problem. He responded by saying that he would spend the first 55 minutes coming up with the right question, because with the right question, the answer would come quickly. I believe this to be true. Reflection can be a simple practice of just asking yourself questions, and it is also important to think about what the questions need to be to unlock your own learning and potential. Reflection, in this way, has become a practice of identifying the questions I need to explore to shape my future thinking and ways of being.” –Dave Newell, Assistant Director for Community-Based Service and Learning in Center for Servant-Leadership at Gustavus Adolphus College

“Reflection to me is evaluating.When I reflect upon something, I try to learn from the negative and turn it into the positive. I think reflection is a key element in the way humans process thinking differently. If you reflect on something positively, you’ll be a happier being. I am constantly reflecting. I try to be a happy reflector. Reflecting upon things takes a lot of energy, but in doing so you develop your self identity. You learn how you process events and countless other things thrown at you every day. You learn things about yourself and you teach yourself.”  –Clara Wicklund

“I reflect in order to learn and begin to take action. Many times, we receive wonderful information and motivation from classes we attend or speakers we may see. We feel great after these enlivening classes/sessions, however, 30 minutes later, we forget all about them. It is important to take even just 30 seconds to reflect on the information you have had the opportunity to take in, and then decide what you can take away from the experience and how you can put some things into action in your own life or in the world.”  –Kelli Remboldt

“If I am not aware of “what is”, there is no way I can change.  It has more of a mindfulness role, rather than a “set time to reflect” role.  I try to be aware, as much as possible, what I am doing and why I am doing it, and am always checking to see if I am doing it truthfully, then readjusting if I am not.”               –Neal Hagberg, Musician and Director of the Tennis and Life Camps at Gustavus Adolphus College

Continue reading

Morning Reflections

Life has been quite frantic as of late, but taking a moment to breathe, being in silence and giving thanks is all the mind, body + soul really needs sometimes. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few weeks thinking about how I must make more time for reflection. As we all know, it’s one thing to say it, but another thing to actually do it.  The last time I’ve written was on January 24 and here I am a month + some later with an actual reflection of some sort. This will be short and sweet, but it will serve reminder to myself to take time to stop + reflect and now that I’ve shared it with everyone, YOU all can keep me accountable. I hope to process, write and share thoughts + reflections every week. BIG TASK, but it’s important enough for me to continue working at. With that said, my next post will be on reflection: what it is, how to reflect, why reflect and you’ll also hear what others have to say about reflection in their lives. If you also would like to join the conversation/give me statements about what role reflection has in your life — I’d love to hear from you!  Email me (nicole.ektnitphong@gmail.com) until next time, take care + be well!

Love + light,

Nicole

“How was India?”

Today, I’ve decided to get back into writing and sharing on this blog.  I’ve been back in Minnesota for a little over a month now and I’m continuing to process and grasps concepts, ideas and perspectives.  It’s always good for me to keep in mind that I will be continuing to do these things throughout life, over time better understanding and unpacking the experiences and stories from my four months in India amidst life here in the U.S.  It has been quite a whirlwind of emotions coming home, especially during the hustle + bustle of the holiday season.  I’ve been thinking about a lot since I stepped off the plane on December 20th.  Where to begin?

We’ll start with the infamous (and valid) question: “How was India?”  First of all, it’s not possible to fully talk about India and ‘how it was’ in passing (but that doesn’t mean I can’t share something or talk about some part of my time abroad).  The question is asked with good intention, but usually catches me off guard in a positive way.  This very questions has allowed me to reflect on how it (my time abroad) actually was.  Learning how to share those experiences has been a valuable part of my reentry process, which I will talk more about that in posts to come.  So, how was India? 

1) Incredible. Crazy, beautiful all at once, but it’s good to be home because this is the community I’m a part of and the community where I can mobilize to create the most change.

2) Valuable.  The classroom was everywhere I went, through everything I did.  Walks to the market.  Dinner conversations.  Tea breaks.  Documentary discussions.  Interactions with community leaders + social activists.  Engaging with locals.  Journaling.  Skyping with people from home.  Reading.  The whole works.  The kind of learning I experienced was valuable, uncomfortable (in beneficial ways), transformative, reaffirming and experiential.

3) Different.  But different is good.  Different doesn’t mean any better or worse.

Those are some of my reactions to this question.  I will continue to be sharing the thoughts + reactions I’ve had upon my arrival.  I want to be clear that I don’t mind the question.  This questions continues to guide reentry process as I find ways to integrate what I valued during my time in India into my life here in the U.S.

Love + light,

Nicole

It’s Human Rights Day (EVERYDAY)

As someone who has consciously become committed and invested in advocating human rights for all, it seemed a little odd to learn about Human Rights Day… as if there was only one day out of the whole year that we all can stop and think about human rights?  I know this is not the purpose for Human Rights Day so I did some research on the origins of this day.  It turns out that Human Rights Day is observed by the international community every year on December 10th and it commemorates the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Declaration was proclaimed as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.  Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. Constitution or the European Convention on Human Rights, the Declaration has no legal force.  But human rights do provide a powerful framework when envisioning, building and striving for a fair, just and peaceful world.

This Declaration has had a huge influence on the kind of learning that has taken place this semester abroad.  The foundation of my thinking and understanding of everything that I’ve witnessed, learned and experienced is rooted in a human rights perspective which is that: every human being on the planet has the right to dignity, respect, and freedom – whatever their race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, nationality, political or other opinion, national or social origin, wealth or other status.  

This whole semester I’ve been thinking about the world we all collectively live in and how each individual is different.  We live in a world full of differences from the very identities we hold, but the identity we all share in common is our humanness.  We often times forget the collective force we are as human beings and that is the true essence of humanity – human beings collectively.  Putting human rights at the forefront in our daily lives is a responsibility we each have as human beings.

This post has spent a lot of time emphasizing humans for human rights, but let us not forget about the other collective responsibility we all share and that is with the Earth we all live on.  This very idea is reflected in my recent post about the gas tragedy that took place in Bhopal, India 29 years ago.  A clean environment is a human right.  No one person should die because of the water contaminated by toxic waste from industrial factories and companies.

The direct contamination in Bhopal knows no limits.  We all live on the same Earth.  The disaster in Bhopal is not an isolated event. Workers and communities are routinely poisoned all over the world.

We all do indeed live on the same Earth and inhabit the same land + space.  With all of this said, what does that even mean for us individually?  It means we each have responsibilities to ensure rights on behalf of our collective identities as humans and to take care of the space we all share, live and thrive on – our Earth.  Our SJPD group has been discussing what have been things that have changed for/about us since being here in India?  As I reflect on this question, I am surprised in some ways that the biggest changes have been internally with how I understand the world we live in.  I will continue with this thought process in my next post where I will hopefully (finally) share the reflection questions and open up the ongoing dialogue about community action and responsibility.

Until then, I invite you to join in with your own insights to the question I continue to reflect on daily:

Where do you see your role with the responsibilities of ensuring the rights of humans and taking care of the Earth?

Curious to learn more about what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes? Click here for more information.

Love + light,

Nicole

This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.

“We All Live in Bhopal”

In my last post, I ended by discussing how making real change takes all kinds of citizens.  I promised to share the questions I’ve been reflecting on and that will be coming soon!  I’m in the process of gathering statements from people, sharing the reasons why they find importance in stopping, thinking and reflecting.  I hope to continue a continuous dialogue through this blog about social justice and redefining what responsibility, change and action look like.  In the meantime, I would like to shed light on an alarming issue that the world and has been reflecting on for the last 29 years.

I’m currently in Bhopal, India as I’m writing this post.  If we recall, back in December 3rd of 1984, 30 tons of methyl isocyanate gas as well as other toxic chemicals escaped from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal.  Some numbers say that between 2,000-3,000 people died that same night.  The exact number of how many died that night varies depending on whom you ask, but it all doesn’t matter when we find out that the dying has never really stopped since 1984.

The abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India where the gas leak occurred in 1984.

The abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India where the gas leak occurred in 1984.

Over the last 29 years, 25,000 more have died and almost 500,000 people suffer from exposure-related illnesses or drink severely contaminated water, poisoned by the 347 tons of hazardous waste that lie exposed on and around the site.  Among those affected are men, women, young adolescents, and children born today with mental and physical disabilities from women affected by the gas leak.  People are still enduring struggles and demanding justice.  Bhopal is a place significant to not only the community of people affected directly who reside here, but there is a great significance to our global community as well.  In efforts to raise awareness and prevent another big accident like the gas leak in Bhopal from occurring again, the phrase “No more Bhopal” was coined.

In the last 10 years, the phrase has shifted its perspective to now focus on the slow contamination that is concerning not just for the people in Bhopal, but for everyone else in this whole world.  The current Hindi phrase used (Hindi is the prominent language in this region) is “We are all Bhopalis” and the English translation is “We all live in Bhopal.”   The direct contamination in Bhopal knows no limits.  We all live on the same Earth.  The disaster in Bhopal is not an isolated event. Workers and communities are routinely poisoned all over the world.  Reduction and eventual elimination of hazardous chemicals from the planet and our daily lives is the only solution to the growing number of slow and silent Bhopals in our midst.  Until that happens, the safety of our health and lives depends on watchful monitoring, strict enforcement of regulations and exemplary punishment to offending agencies.  Achieving justice in Bhopal should be regarded as a public health initiative with the potential to inspire significant and widespread change.  It is possible to generate opportunities for hope through creative and collective intervention in a situation of despair.

In moving forward, I hope we can continue having this conversation and supporting efforts that are currently taking place to resist the envionrmental pollution impacting us all.  It’s been 29 years since the Bhopal crisis – it’s time to join in solidarity with those who have been demanding justice all this time.  A starting place may be thinking about how and in what ways “We all live in Bhopal.”

Love + light,

Nicole

Inside the Union Carbide factory: uncleaned and abandoned.  This mirrors the exact inaction that has allowed the 29 year struggle to continue in Bhopal. #DemandJustice

A look inside the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal: uncleaned and abandoned. This can mirror the exact inaction that has allowed the 29 year struggle to continue in Bhopal. #DemandJustice

A Conversation About the Power of Community Led + Driven Change

Our recent field visit to Zahirabad serves to be one of my favorite parts of this whole semester in India so far.  To me, the week or rather four days with the Deccan Development Society provided me with many inspiring interactions that allowed me to see the power in real community led and driven change.  It was incredible to see change happening by the community, for the community – reclaiming the true meaning of participatory democracy.  Two moments come to my mind when I reflect on the interactions in Zahirabad and this idea of reclaiming democratic participation: the participatory tools used when identifying the poor in their communities and the creation of an alternative Public Distributing System (PDS).  Both were created and utilized with the leadership of women from these groups in the communities called Sanghams.

Through certain participatory tools (a problem tree + resource mapping), the Sanghams are able to create their own criteria of poverty, assess and identify poverty in their communities all together, in a collective way.  With resistance to the current distributing system of seeds, the Sanghams also created an alternative PDS.  In this system, the food is produced, consumed and stored all within the community.  After witnessing real, on-the-ground action taking place by groups of individuals in communities, I’m feeling incredibly encouraged and empowered to accept the challenge of moving forward to address injustice in our world.

At this point in the semester, on this Social Justice, Peace + Development program, we’ve been moving our sessions from identifying the kind of injustices happening across all levels from race, class, gender, etc. to now, discussing what we can do and how we can move forward with what we’ve been learning.  For me personally, I’ve been building up to this question for quite some time.  Back in September, when all first arrived in India, we had a session discussing “why is there poverty.”  It was in that class session that I began to think deeper about what I could do, as an individual to address the deep, root causes of social justice issues.  Last week during class, we had a fishbowl conversation, which is an interactive learning tool that creates an environment + space to discuss and debate an issue, question, topic, etc.  In this recent fishbowl conversation, we discussed the question, “What are our responsibilities in responding to climate injustice?”  I really appreciated the perspective and insight this conversation gave me.  This discussion also allowed me to vocalize some thoughts and ideas that have been on my mind.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on this question more broadly, in terms of all social justice issues.  What are my responsibilities as a human being in society?  What is my commitment to social justice, to the communities I’m a part of and to humanity?  What does that commitment look like?  Before I begin to discuss how I individually plan to move forward (these reflections will come in another later post), I would like to step back and talk about where I am at in the current system that exists.  Why have things not changed, why do things continue to remain the same?  As Gar Alperovitz describes it in The Next American Revolution: Beyond Corporate Capitalism and State Socialism, we currently live in a system that is “stalemate, stagnation and decay.”

It’s not that the people don’t care, well maybe that’s part of it, but that’s another issue to discuss in another reflection.  There is a video serious call the Story of Change and one video highlights that in the U.S. there is 74 percent support for tougher laws on toxic chemicals, 85 percent support for getting corporations out of government and 83 percent support for clean energy laws.  From these numbers, there is support (and in mass numbers, if I may add), but things in this system remain the same, toxic chemicals still find their way into much of the food we consume and in the products we buy and major corporations still have a huge hand in the legislative policies + procedures.  We have the support in numbers, but we’re lacking the follow through of action.  I believe, this action piece is lacking across a majority of initiatives theoretically working for social justice.  I do believe education, awareness and some level of consciousness is absolutely essential in understanding and addressing systemic, root causes of social injustices, but it cannot stop there.

In our fishbowl conversation, one of my classmates, Laurel brought up the need for participatory democracy and I instantly thought of the work done + change being made by the Women Sangham Groups in Zahirabad.   These women groups bring all their community members together, identify what the issues are and decide collectively how they want to go about making changes – if this isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is!  If we, as a society, nation and collective of humans want to see change, we have to start from the bottom up and reclaim our own participation in democratic decision-making and demand change.  Gar Alperovitz points out that we don’t take it seriously, as we ought to and maybe should because, “We just may be in the pre-history of the possible transformation of the most powerful, corporate capitalist system in the history of the world.”

Making real change takes all kinds of citizens.

So now the question is what kind of change maker am I and are you?

Thank you for reading and don’t worry – the conversation doesn’t end there!  In my next post, I will be sharing questions that I’ve been reflecting on.  I also would like to invite you to join me in an ongoing, collective conversation about social justice, change and action!

Love + light,

-Nicole