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This is a little different event than just the regular workshops we’ve been doing. We have some guests with us today, and we’re opening it up to everybody in the John Jay community. We’re recording today, so others can benefit from the conversation we’re having, and also so some of our friends from Libraries Without Borders may share that in the future. So as a heads up, that’s why cameras are rolling.
And since I see there are folks who are in the workshop, and maybe some others popping in, I’ll just do an intro and then I’ll introduce the guests that we have with us today, and then we’ll leave it off to them if that sounds right.
So if anybody needs context, this guest speaker event is part of a 10 week workshop called Humanities in Action at John Jay College. It’s a workshop for Humanities students, so that is students in four majors here: it’s English, Global History, Philosophy, and Humanities & Justice– our interdisciplinary studies major. The idea of the workshop is to link what we’re doing in our majors with some real world issues, and also future career paths, so it’s kind of outward facing. We’re really excited to speak with a few guest speakers. We have a mini guest speaker series, and this is our first one.
Today with us, we have folks from Libraries Without Borders, and I want to especially thank Professor Sara McDougall, who helped facilitate these relationships so that we can have this conversation today.
I’ll introduce the group but I’ll let Katherine also dig in further. Libraries Without Borders is a non-governmental organization that’s active internationally, but also in different parts of the United States. [It helps] build cultural spaces, learning spaces, a range of different spaces in communities that are experiencing crises or suffering different sorts of ongoing precarity, and we’re talking today especially about their work in Puerto Rico, in Loíza Puerto Rico, which I think has some history going back to maybe Hurricane Maria in 2017, but we can hear more.
On the call right now, maybe you can raise your hand to say hello, we have Katherine Trujillo, who is the Director of Education/Deputy Director at Libraries Without Borders in the US. We also have Alex Aldarondo who is the Manager of Project Overcome in Puerto Rico. And depending on connectivity I think we may have one other person jumping on, but we’ll see.
So we’re all excited to speak with you today and hear a little more about the work that you’re doing. Could we give them all a big Zoom virtual clap welcome? Yay, thank you for coming. Ah yes, all the hand emojis. So I’ll hand off to Katherine, if that’s all right, and you can tell us a bit more about Libraries Without Borders.
Yeah thank you Elliot for the warm introduction and Sara for the invitation. Just to re-introduce myself I’m Kat Trujillo, my full name is Katherine but please always call me Kat because Katherine sounds like someone else. I’m the Deputy Director and Director of Education at Libraries Without Borders, and as Elliot mentioned, we’re an international nonprofit. We’re actually the US branch of Bibliothèques Sans Frontières and our work focuses, at least in the US, a lot on bridging the digital divide, particularly in places like Detroit, Oakland, and Loíza in Puerto Rico, which we’ll go into greater detail [about] in the second part of the discussion.
But as Elliot mentioned, we’ve been working in Puerto Rico pretty much since after Hurricane Maria. In 2018 I was the person –on our three person team at the time– that went to Puerto Rico essentially to meet with a number of humanitarian organizations that our parent organization, Bibliothèques Sans Frontières, worked with in Jordan and Iraq. Because of all of the damage that was caused [by and] in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, there were a number of international NGOs on the island, and so they’d reached out to us to ask if it might be possible to set up a pop-up learning space on the Island or multiple places, particularly because there had been so many schools that closed or that were damaged, and there wasn’t really a clear timeline on when some of those schools would reopen. And it turns out [that] some of them never reopened.
So really, I was there almost on a like exploratory fact-finding mission more than anything, and it was during that trip in 2018 that I met Moreno, who isn’t on the call at the moment but hopefully we’ll get a chance to introduce you to him. He’s the Project Coordinator on the Island, he’s overseeing our current efforts. I met him in 2018 and immediately just his whole heart was just pouring with love for this place that I had never heard of before, called Loíza.
He had been working there in many different capacities, but the one that he was able to talk more expansively about was his role at the Boys and Girls Club, and through that we visited the Boys and Girls Club. We also just- it seemed like everywhere we went Moreno knew someone and I just- you know, I fell in love. I saw what he saw, at the same time I saw a lot of the impact of the hurricane but also the existing poverty. There’s a lot of inequality [in] Loíza –it’s not a coincidence that it’s a primarily black population [that] faced a lot of discrimination in a number of ways, but you know it’s such a culturally rich place, so vibrant, just so alive, and the people were lovely, the food’s amazing– I just fell in love. And I saw that there were schools that looked like they were not going to reopen, there were buildings that– I mean at the time it was just still chaos in many ways.
But, as is the reality in the nonprofit world, if you don’t have money you can’t make anything happen, so sadly at that point in time we didn’t have any funding to make anything happen. So [we were] leveraging a lot of our connections mainly [with] friends I met when I was there, and folks that worked in, you know, disaster response work. We [brought] our pop-up library and multimedia center, which is called the Ideas Box, from Detroit to Puerto Rico. And we were able to use that in two communities actually: Loíza and La Perla, which is a community that’s on the outskirts of old San Juan and we ran two programs, where we had bomba y plena (so dance and music and arts), we had reading, literacy activities, and a number of other activities for folks of all ages, but mainly focused on children or school-aged children, and that all happened, again, with zero money. But we wanted, you know, from that moment on I was really committed to trying to keep some kind of presence in Puerto Rico because there was obviously interest [from] community members especially in Loíza, [who] were just like “this is amazing, we love the Ideas Box,” [and] there were so many ideas that were brewing from that initial foray into working on the island that I knew there’s got to be something that we can make happen. We had some corporate funders like Sony that were interested in giving us support, but again, these were like very one off, not very systematic I would say– they were just like “okay, we’ll give you a little bit of this, we’ll give you that,” but we couldn’t really build on these one-off efforts and we needed to have a major investment in order to give our efforts on the island a chance, and really like build on what so many community members had shared with us as their priorities.
So luckily, you know, despite having these one-off efforts, or I think just because we didn’t just say okay there’s no money we’re not gonna do anything we kept trying to make do with what we had we were able to host summer camps and a number of other events. Especially during COVID-19, we distributed laptops and we worked –and I say “we” but we’re working through partners: Link Puerto Rico is one of our local nonprofit partners and [they] set up connectivity in one of the community centers that I’d, you know, met with in 2018 and we continuously kept that relationship going in order for kids to participate in remote virtual learning during COVID-19.
And it was through that or through all of those different efforts that we were able to be competitive for a National Science Foundation grant that was focused specifically on digital inclusion and connecting the unconnected, and we applied for it, we received it earlier this year, [and] it’s the largest federal grant our organization has received to date, which I’m very proud of, because we went from having zero dollars to all the dollars, and we’re able to hire folks to really do the work that needed to be done.
Yeah, that’s how- I’m just i’m very proud of that, because we really did come from “I don’t know if I can even like afford to like get food during my trip” to “we have two staff members on the island” and one of whom, Alex is here, and at this point, I really just want to pass it over to Alex because he’s there he’s on the ground he’s doing the work and he can share his insights on you know everything that he’s been present for in terms of this year, and Alex I think i’ll pass it over to you now.
So I am the newest member of the team. I’ve been brought in to assist Moreno with the running of the show down here and [to] help manage the project. I initially came from working with the Agile Learning Centers Network, pretty much a network of self-managed, self-incubated, [and] self-directed learning communities that use agile tools to leverage this type of learning very efficiently, and that is [all] framed in intentional culture creation.
The combination of those three elements makes for an explosive and really amazing setting for learning to happen for people of all ages, and so I come from that background, having helped many communities in several countries get established and get going. [I] also [worked] as a trainer of the facilitators in these centers. Moreno is one of the individuals that went through these trainings with me, I’ve known him for many years and he landed the opportunity of working with Libraries Without Borders– he was like “hey man, I want to introduce our tools and practices into the work that we’re doing, and maybe you can help me” so I’ve been helping him ever since. But then recently, the opportunity came up for me to join [Libraries Without Borders US] to help manage the project, and we’re currently in the process of establishing three community centers in the town of Loíza, where we will equip the spaces with top technology and connectivity and also design the space with the tools and practices and the culture of the Agile Learning Centers in mind.
[This is] in order to facilitate the process of individuals from these communities to get going with really efficient and like simply awesome ways of connecting with their desires, with their gifts, with their powers, and then creating projects that help them feel fulfilled because they’re doing what they’re passionate about, but that also has a profound and long term impact on their society on their direct communities, because as Kat mentioned, this is a very underserved community with a lot of violence, drug [conflict], different social problems that make it really hard to live there and to stay there, and these youth are extremely talented and passionate in such a wide variety of skills and areas that it’s ridiculous- it’s ridiculous, so we are trying to, you know, create spaces for really authentic and powerful learning to happen and through the connectivity, develop digital literacy and increased levels of employment, health, and education in Loíza. We’re having these three hubs as the pilot program but our vision goes way beyond. I’m trying to create a concept that is called Barrios Ágiles, like agile neighborhoods where we just use this technology, these tools, these practices, this culture of collaboration in the city to [take] a quantum leap into a different paradigm of how we relate, how we learn, how we work, how we collaborate. And yeah, just create visions of the site we want to live in that are actually feasible and translatable to concrete results. I’m gonna shut up now, I could keep going forever about this, I’m really passionate about it and very honored to be invited to the class and to the team at Libraries Without Borders.
That’s great thank you so much, thank you. I wonder, I want to give a chance for students here to to ask questions and make connections between you know the what we’re doing in humanities, and the sort of work that you’re doing. But I wonder, can we get a little bit of day-to-day like with the Ideas Box, for example, when you rolled it out on the ground, or with agile learning. What are people doing- what are the interactions, like what’s the setting like? If you could paint a little picture for us like that [for an] on-the-ground picture.
Alex I wonder if you want to jump in and talk about the use of “agile.”
Sure, we’re still at a stage where we haven’t fully deployed the project. We’re still setting the spaces and all that. How that would look is that let’s say in one of our main community centers, we would have any possible tool or the means to get them. Any possible tool that anybody would need to get their idea going, and to incubate their project, to prototype and not just in the STEM way (just [having a] prototype) and really getting the ideas tested and bounce [them] off of different people so they can get it going. So to give you a little bit more [of a[ concrete response to your question, people would get in on a Monday morning/afternoon program (I guess the space will be available from 3pm, 4pm until 9pm or something like that). So we will get in and set the week, and we will have shared collaboration boards that make this really important thing, make the feedback visible constantly. So it’s totally centralized [with] –we call it a kanban board, that’s one of the tools– so it basically makes the work that we’re doing and the intelligence that we’re sharing visible for everybody.
And then it creates a workflow that’s visible, and that allows us to start breaking this huge idea of creating my own like, ecological vegan food truck or whatever, it is into smaller digestible, achievable tasks that we will then get going, and then I have my own board, we have the collective board, and there I would have like a role where I would then say “Okay, so today or this week my intentions are to get like the physical design of the food truck and get like a preliminary menu” and so on, so forth. They would share, everybody would share, right, and we would go off to do our own thing and in that process and… We would also like coordinate with each other of like who needs help, who’s collaborating with me, am I going to need a specific tool to do that or a website, or some guidance to get to the next level, and so on. Before we get into the like meat of stuff in terms of work, we would also connect again on a very personal level, like through games or through checking in and create that’s the intentional culture element of it, where we create the social field that would allow for really fluid and joyful work to happen.
So we take care of that first, then we get to the work, right. We go on our own, to do our own tasks or things that we established, and then towards the end we would always on a daily, weekly, bi weekly, and monthly basis, create short agile meetings to reflect on what’s happening through the visible feedback of these tools that are displayed in that space. See where things are getting stuck, where things are, really just going at it like light speed. Then we do this cross pollination thing, but other people will see what you’re doing that’s working well, they get a little bit of that juice right and get it going on my end or then like also prompt each other to get things moving if something’s stuck and there’s a disparity between the intentions that you’re saying and the actual actions or how that translates into behaviors you know, on a day to day basis, and then ending also with like let’s say a gratitude circle.
So, once we get things like the logistical practical aspects of things like out of the way, and we know how to continue moving forward in the next iteration of the cycle of work and of play, then we just sit down, wind down connect again, create this culture of gratitude as well, and then move on, so these agile cycles are based on like intention, creation reflection, and sharing. We call it learning 2.O, where we don’t really create a briefcase of tools and knowledge and keep it to myself, all the way through my career, we can keep our briefcase open for people to see what we’re doing, what’s working, what’s not, and then really collaborate.
And that cycle it’s like ongoing and these short cycles allow for us to be very practical and efficient but also without the many things that we do, often in collectives or organizations or families, that take a lot of time and, like mental and emotional energy out of the work that we say we wanted to do.
Thank you. I want to eat in the food truck when it’s finished. It’s really interesting. It’s an amazing process on a skills level of getting it done and on a content level, probably the types of projects that people would come up with then, and you want to execute. Um I see Eleanor has a hand, I want to say Kat, did you want to weigh in on anything or give any other context?
You know, as I said, Alex and Moreno are the experts on what’s actually happening on the ground, so couldn’t have said it better myself.
Okay, let me have Eleanor go ahead.
I do have a question, so how long has this sort of collaboration been a thing? Was it like it started from just one person that wanted to change, you know, the community and stuff or is it like a collaboration effort with a bunch of people, and they had this one singular goal and was it like covered over the span of years, or what.
I can jump in. So definitely the reason that Loíza was on my radar at all was because Moreno, having you know the opportunity to meet him put Loíza on the map for me, and cultivating that relationship over time, even when we didn’t necessarily have funding or there wasn’t an opportunity to build a specific program, that relationship with one person was foundational, but it also opened doors and Moreno was very generous about introducing myself and, by extension, the team of Libraries Without Borders to other organizations, community leaders, and folks that were interested in leveraging the tools and training that Libraries Without Borders is known for, in Loíza so he really opened those doors, made those connections, and helped us grow our network.
Truly, not just in Loíza, [but] across the island, and it was through those relationships, in addition to having the opportunity to meet community leaders on my own, that we were able to bring folks together with this National Science Foundation grant. So now we are working very closely with a number of community leaders that are getting trained on how to serve as facilitators of the agile methodology that Alex was talking about, in addition to working with the Mayor’s Office in Loíza and other nonprofits, some of which focus on diversity and inclusion particularly for people with disabilities, some of them are religious groups, some of them are just like they do, public health or education, so this really enabled us to be more collaborative because the funding enables us to pay people for the work that they do. In many cases people were doing work for free, and that’s not sustainable and that’s not right, so I think this opportunity really helped us solidify the collaborations that were kind of brewing, percolating for some time.
Just the way that you describe the sort of organic relationship between the relationships people have on the ground in different places; the projects they see that are possible; and then figuring out how to formalize that… Like turn the potential for something in Loíza into a national scale National Science Foundation grant, that’s a whole set of skills and capacity that could be really challenging.
Yeah and a lot of it has just been, to be honest, uplifting the work of folks that you know they like- there’s Moreno [who] has been working in the community for ages, Alex has been doing this stuff for ages, there are a number of other community leaders that I was aware of who, you know, were working in different capacities in Loíza that we finally are able to you know, bring together again because I think they were already doing this kind of work and this just facilitates greater collaboration, which allows everyone to expand and amplify their efforts.
I have an educational path question for you, but I see Adriana in the chat with a clarifying question: so Libraries Without Borders is a branch of Bibliothèques Sans Frontières?
Yeah we’re the US office, I think I used the term branch, and that’s what we use on our website, but we’re separate, we’re financially, legally independent, but we share tools, we share board members, we share a number of different things, but we’re a separate organization entirely.
Thanks for that clarification.
Okay, other questions, shifting a little bit. The workshop we are in, we’ve got probably a mix of students in the room: there’s folks doing philosophy, global history, there’s literary critics, aspiring literary critics in the room. So I wonder if you could say a bit about like what are the different educational paths that lead people to Libraries Without Borders or that type of you know, NGOs like Libraries Without Borders. And if you’d like you could share a little bit about your path of like what was your trajectory to doing this kind of work now.
No, I think we all kind of stumbled into this work, like I certainly didn’t know that an organization like Libraries Without Borders existed, or that I would even have the ability to do the work that I have now. Like I just, I maybe that was me having like a myopic view of what’s possible and what careers exist, but I just didn’t know.
So I was you know, on the path to becoming a Foreign Service Officer, I went to diplomacy school, I got like a Masters of Law in Conflict Studies, so I was like going to, you know, work at the UN or like at The Hague to like, you know, prosecute international criminals. And then I started to do that kind of work, and I really hated it. It made me very miserable, it was very draining, and I circled back to the things that I used to do as my extracurriculars, like for fun, like what were the things that when even when I had you know so many papers, doing a test that I still made time to go to like this meeting or to volunteer and do this, and they were all related to education. And they were all related to working in communities that resembled the one I grew up in, right, so I I grew up in South Central LA, very under-resourced, very, there’s you know there’s so many parallels between where I grew up and Loíza that, yeah, so I was drawn to that. I kind of was able to find Libraries Without Borders and live out, you know, all of the things that iIve been doing and get paid for it as well, so that was my path, and I know that in speaking to other folks on our team they’re like we hired two of our interns and one of them is a Poly Sci major the other one was an Anthropology major whose parents made her also, like double major or minor in Business, because she needed to do something practical, and you know it turns out the anthropology major [is] very useful for the work that we do, and she’s doing Finance at a nonprofit that focuses on you know, promoting access to information. Yeah and, yes, our current ED was a history major, so we’re all over the place, yeah. Be practical, I can talk about this for ages, I really hate that because I think that what matters is the skills you learn, like can you think critically, are you hard working, being able to leverage your strengths, regardless of what your field of study is, is more important than anything else. right. Because I could say like I took AP Calculus and passed that test, [but] I don’t remember a damn thing about that at all, it just did not resonate with me, but I was on this path where I was told that, like you, must take all the APs in the world, because that will position you for this and that positions you, for this. It’s like no it didn’t at all, at least in my case, it was not relevant. But yeah I could go on. Alex I don’t know if you want to chime in about the educational path that you took to get here, I feel like it’s a similar circuitous route, maybe.
I started laughing when the question came up. And you don’t want to get me started with education, I think what year are you guys, like Junior, Sophomore, Senior, like what? Okay Senior, Junior, so I get a good mix. I believe the age of you study a career, you specialize in it, and you work on it is long gone.
And in addition to the things that Kat was saying about you know that you need to be practical, and you need to be hard working, and you need to have a good heart, and you need to be happy. You need to understand that you must have healthy limits to do whatever it is that you want to do. I find it sells hard when I see people that are extremely successful and pretty affluent, but they’re just miserable human beings. we won’t take anything like even the fame. And so I studied education, I did a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in Humanities, and then I went on to the Masters in Education. And I even applied for a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience because I felt passionate about it, luckily I didn’t get in because that would have just set me on a different path, but I have worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency working with people with disabilities and assisting with them getting the services that they deserve for being citizens, right. I‘ve worked as a Boston Public School teacher teaching elementary school, I worked at a university. I am studying to be a death doula, and I also work at a farm to create sustainable food projects so. I believe that very few people will actually study something in which they will work, and they will make a lifelong career out of it, very few people. So connect with your gifts, with your talents, with your passions, with what really fires you up, and you would not bother even doing it for free and then manifest the opportunity to work, and create wealth, and value, and that human value, right, like an impact in the world through that… How I literally stumbled onto this project, and this job. Not randomly, because I don’t believe in randomness, but I literally manifested it. Like I was like okay, the skills and and passions that I have are there way beyond my time, and I have been waiting for about five years for something like this to come up. I’m like the time will come. I was actually doing this work and not getting paid and then the staff was were like, no, no, like you really like what you’re doing, it’s really important, so yeah those would be my two cents on this topic.
Thank you for that, thank you for sharing that. Some of the things we’ll be doing in this workshop are really nitty gritty practical like let’s look at some possible paths and so on, but also parts of it are conceptual just like this, like what’s the relationship between our values and the sort of questions we’re interested in and the things that move us about studying humanities, and what sort of paths can that lead us on. So I really thank you for that.
Since we talked about manifesting, we’re moving into the big picture questions. I have one other big picture question. And then maybe open it up again for any other students. I want to keep just throwing questions back and forth, but could you speak a bit on what sorts of, how to phrase this exactly, what sorts of humanities questions or issues like historical, or philosophical, or cultural issues that you feel that you’re grappling with through this type of work or through the mission of Libraries Without Borders? I think that’s something we’re all thinking: about how does my philosophical question that I enjoy grappling with in my coursework… how am I going to grapple with that same question in some field that I go into, so I wonder if you could speak on that.
I can jump in. One of the big issues, one of the many big issues that our team grapples with and that I think is a source of, no I know, is a source of tension between our office and the international headquarters is the language that we use to talk about the communities that we work with, right? So I think there’s a different paradigm that’s used when you’re in international development or, you know, working in like protracted humanitarian emergencies. The use of things like “vulnerable” or “precocity” or you know all of those terms “underserved” versus “under-resourced”, even just like how we talk about who we work with or who we serve – that is a huge source of tension that I think is born out of the fact that a lot of folks on our team are really educated to have taken a lot of like philosophy, but are also like super social justice oriented and are always pushing back and like it’s not that folks are vulnerable it’s not that they’re like underserved you know, so there’s just that kind of piece, but then, when it comes down to it, the communities that we work with are like, “well, whatever, like we just want to make this thing happen.” So it’s, there’s like we’re having these like high level debates and spending all this time arguing about how –which again I don’t want to downplay the importance of language right language is very important– but it just goes to show that, then when we are talking about effecting change, like the actual work it’s often you know, a distraction, I would say, from doing the work. The other pieces, that I find really hilarious every time we have new interns is the aha moment of “Oh well, I took a class on like how to do, monitoring and evaluation or like project management. And now I see it in practice and it’s so different, you can’t follow the steps in this order like curveballs happen and like this is the actual like application or, this is why it’s important to be nimble and not so rigid in terms of like the frameworks that you use.” And that’s something that I really love about the like agile model or methodology that Alex was talking about. It’s so like dynamic, and it’s about play. It’s about remaining flexible and responsive, and I just think that that’s like one of the biggest skills that you need to have, more than any type of like specific field of study or certification. But yeah I could go on their number of things and want to give Alex a chance to answer as well.
I’m trying to think how to be succinct, because you are taking us down a path that will really get me going. Um, for me, the biggest question that I try to answer… based on that question is how do we transcend the illusion of separation.
For me it doesn’t get more real than that, and also what like questions that go along with that is: how do I deconstruct the identity that society has conditioned me to believe that I am. What makes a life worth living? Truly worth living. And if there’s a universal answer to this, what conditions allow for the maximum well-being possible in community and in individuals in the context of this modern crazy society that we live in? This will really be the question that like really gets me, yeah, fired me up in the work that I do every day with Libraries Without Borders.
Those are real questions, and I see people nodding being like yeah, exactly. Well, but those are profound real philosophical questions that also are really concrete, yeah, thank you.
And you touched on a point like it doesn’t make sense if it stays in the philosophical conceptual like I’m talking about how do we in action transcend the illusion of separation. Like how do I carry myself? How do I talk to people? What do I employ my vital energy in on a daily basis? And how does that reflect that I’m stuck in this personality that people have taught me that I am and these roles, like the infinite roles of like I’m a teacher, I’m an accountant, or whatever it is, right.
I want to open up totally to student contributions or maybe riffing off the ideas that are being thrown out here, also welcome to keep asking practical questions or concrete ones, if you want to clarify anything but there’s two in the chat already so i’ll highlight those… So Alyssa had asked was there a moment during your work that made you think “I made a difference.” If so, what was that moment? There’s a question from Valerie, kind of similar it sounds like. What’s been the most rewarding part about about doing this work with Libraries Without Borders? Oh, and the third, if you can handle that, if you can juggle these three, I’ll give you an award. The third question is what’s a life lesson that you’ve learned during your work? Let’s go around and see which of those you’d like to speak to.
Also, with the last one I see the possibility, it’s like a dream job, I see the possibility of actually pulling down from the world of that meta realm of ideas and like dreams and visions, concrete results that will have impact on the lives and the well-being of people Loíza, in this particular community. And that feels super rewarding that I can put, I can gift my talents and knowledge to making that possible, and they’re providing the resources, and the connections, and the partners and and that’s just like wait what, really? When Moreno told me about it, I was like oh awesome.
A moment when I felt that I really made a difference is when I closed a project when I was working with FEMA, where I basically with another guy managed a medical equipment, life-saving equipment, distribution project throughout pretty much all the municipalities of Puerto Rico and I firsthand, over a couple of months, delivered over 40,000 pieces of medical equipment to people that were bedridden… Once that project was gone, and they wanted me to do like email stuff, I just, that’s meaningless work for me, but that was like made it really meaningful and the third question I lost it.
Sort of similar maybe had a-
Oh the life lesson. The life lesson. Um, I’m still taking the course.
I can jump in. The work that made me feel like I made a difference –I’m just going to double down on what I said earlier– that moment when we got the NSF grant and it was just so reaffirming to hear, okay, all of the relationships that you build and like the struggle to keep something going and support (like the folks that I met in 2018 like Moreno and the folks he introduced me to) was for something, and that we were laying the groundwork to build something bigger that would just outlive what even like [the] original vision we had for setting up connectivity in one community center through WiFi hotspots, to setting up mesh networks, to using these as a stepping stone for what Alex mentioned earlier– the Barrios Ágiles model. That was the moment where I just felt like, wow this is happening, we’re hiring people, we’re revamping spaces, Moreno’s getting meetings with the Mayor, and it’s turning into this whole thing. The Mellon Foundation wants to talk to us and maybe support us for many years from now on.
And having a conversation with the Mellon Foundation and having them also just smiling from ear to ear as I’m telling them “oh no we’ve been talking to this person since this year, and oh that person, yeah we work with them” you know? Just like being able to speak from a place of authenticity, in terms of we’re not BS-ing what we’re saying, what we’re doing, and I was pretty transparent [that there] have been struggles and having them just say, “oh, you know what you’re talking about, we want to invite you to apply for this thing and give you more money, and like support this work further.” So that also was the life lesson for me, which was don’t give in to the pressure to conform, because I think there were a lot of foundations, a lot of government agencies that also wanted like a very specific type of project and they wanted to support very discreet aspects of a project that may or may not have been related to the actual needs of folks in the communities where we were working. So I learned that you shouldn’t just try to make yourself fit into something because you want to get some money to make your project come to life, that it’s important to speak from a place of authenticity where you’re rooted in the reality and not misrepresent what’s happening. So those are [the] biggest lessons [and] most rewarding moments where I felt like I made a difference.
Only jumping to share like an actual lesson, which is that in our modern society, we got the hierarchy of mind, body, heart wrong. Mind is fully based on our experiences here in the world of matter, right, but heart and intuition, information that comes from there doesn’t come from this realm, [it] comes [from] beyond time and space. I have personally tested this time and again, and when we learn to exercise that intelligence, and we let ourselves be guided by it, we also understand that there’s nothing random, and then we can put ourselves in the service of whatever it is that’s coming through informing our direction and in a very like… I’m trying to really make this very practical [and] teachable because it is. But we got it all wrong like mind, brain, [intellect] don’t have a superior spot in the hierarchy of things, in my experience, and that’s one of the biggest lessons and once we tap into that we can really get going on our path, and we all have our own curriculum.
I didn’t think we would have a presentation on NGO work and also [on] questioning the Cartesian subject. We’re speaking really on many levels. I want to open [the chat] up to any other questions or comments from students in the room. I know people have dropped it in the chat but we were talking. Do folks have any other things we’d like to hear about, or connections that you know you’re thinking on the top of your head, connections to your own experience, or questions you’re grappling with right now? Okay. Okay cool well, I really thank you all for coming and speaking with us and just taking the time to talk on all these different things.
Again, thank you for the opportunity and if folks are interested in learning more please, Elliot, feel free to share my contact info. I won’t volunteer you Alex but- yeah, he’s in agreement! You can share our emails and I’d be happy –I’m sure Alex would be too– to expand on anything we discuss or answer any new questions that come up.
Great thank you, thank you, I know you mentioned you’d spoken about these large intern cohorts each year, so if you could share with me a little of that information, I can pass it on [and] we can all look at it.
Yes, gladly yeah, I can send that over.
Wonderful well, thanks so much, thank you guys, I’ll let everybody go except maybe folks in the workshop, we can stick around for five minutes because we have the time and can check in.
Thank you so much.
Bye, thank you.
Bye, thank you guys.