The Beat of the World: Meixi Circumnavigates the Globe

A Social Policy and International Studies major at Northwestern, Meixi began working and volunteering in the slums of India at 11 and then continued to work in Myanmar, Thailand, India and Cambodia on education in various slum communities and educational settings for children living in the red light district areas. She also worked with Evanston Township High School to create a service-learning curriculum for the teachers at the high school. She also co-founded The Amber Initiative, an organization dedicated to building a movement for youth in Southeast Asia. Meixi has been at the forefront of leading youths in various movements and conferences in the region. Meixi worked with the UN Interagency Project on Human Trafficking in Thailand and was selected to be a delegate at the Global Engagement Summit for social entrepreneurs and the 5th UN Youth Assembly for the Millennium Development Goals. On campus, Meixi co-founded the Northwestern Engagement Coalition and initiated the Northwestern World Cup to celebrate the diversity on campus. She was also elected to officer positions in the Undergraduate Priorities Committee and the Ballroom Latin American Swing Thing (BLAST) dance group. She is a Senior Community Assistant in the Freshmen Quad and tutors frequently at the Jonquil Hotel and Centro Romero in Chicago. Meixi was also selected to be Goldman Sachs Global Leader in 2009. She is excited to look at schools as tools that can transform educational spaces into catalysts for change in individuals and communities. Meixi is from the sunny island of Singapore and cannot wait to into the world, to countries and continents she has only read in books. It has been such a huge honor to receive this grant from the Circumnavigators Club of Chicago- it’s a dream come true. Itinerary:
  • Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Miguel Angel Asturias Academy (Monday, June 21- Sunday, July 11)
  • Lima, Perú, Fe Y Alegria (Sunday, July 11- Tuesday, July 27)
  • Singapore, Northlight School (Thursday, July 29- Saturday, August 7)
  • Chiang Rai, Thailand, Institute for Women (Saturday, August 7- Monday, August 16)
  • Tema, Ghana, SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College (Monday, August 16 – Wednesday, August 25)
  • Grenoble, France, (Wednesday, August 25- Sunday, September 5)
GRANT: Meixi is travelling as the 2010 Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation Around-the-World Travel-Study Grant recipient.  Each year one rising senior is chosen jointly by Northwestern University and the Circumnavigator’s Club Foundation to travel the world exploring a topic of her/his choosing.  The $9,000 award requires that the student travel to at least six countries on at least three continents.  For more information about the grant, please go to: http://www.northwestern.edu/provost/students/circum.html

A Tribute

Let the flag fly high

So this is maybe the last post before this trip is over. It’s 85/85. I can’t believe it how fast and slow time has flown- on one hand, 85 days just flew past, on the other, Guatemala seemed like such a long time ago. While this adventure is ending really quickly, my journey to understand schools for social justice is just beginning. What an exciting time.

So this post is a tribute to ALL OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE this trip possible, and I know I can’t list everybody, but I’m going to try.

To The Circumnavigators Foundation, especially Mrs Carol Narup for all her patience and guidance with me, for this once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the world, and to know more about people, the world and myself.

To all the new friends I have made- from researchers, to fellow students at Miguel Asturias Academy, Fe y Alegria, No. 35, NorthLight School, Mercy Teams School, SOS Herman-Gmeiner International College, Michael Rigolot & Regis Guyon from CASNAV, Ms Marie Claire Simonin from the Jules Ferry École, teachers, principals, my amazing HOST FAMILIES! people singing in the sidewalk, NGOs, Sisters from the convent, fellow protesters, communities, taxi drivers, bus drivers, new friends from Couch Surfing… this list could go on.

To all my friends around the world, who so graciously opened their families and homes – Raphaelle Neyton and family, Nana and Kimi Ohene-Adu and their family, Aunty Beng Lay and Uncle Junior, Felix Arenas and family, Sebastian Galvez, Nicky Smith, people who have I managed to see, MY WONDERFUL FAMILY. Mom, dad, shun, mei, suraj, godpa, aunty mims, all the eagles folk- your encouragement has been so important!

To YOU, thank you for reading all my stories and moments of struggle and moments of joy, on this long journey. Thank you for your skype calls, emails, phone calls, BBMs, gchats, facebook messages, comments.. and however else the internet allows us to contact each other. 🙂 It has meant the world.

This trip could not have been possible without you.

Much love,
– Meixi

MORE PHOTOS HERE!

Through the glass

24 hours

schools- hopscotch! la cnmion école

I officially have 24 hours left of this trip. And while it’s surreal that it’s almost over- the entire journey was absolutely INCREDIBLE. I was just in Besancon yesterday and met Mr Michael Rigolot- a wonderful man who helped me with ALL the contacts, met Raphaelle’s mom, and Ms Marie Claire, a teacher specializing in the Gens Du Voyage- (French Roms) and even got to visit a camion école (moving school) in a small caravan. It was SUCH a treat. So moved by their stories and their determination and fight for justice.

– Until the last post,
Meixi

Septembre!

It’s September and I can’t believe how fast time has flown. I’m leaving for Besançon tonight to go to school and visit some families and communities and I’m so so excited! I feel it’s going to be wildly different from Paris, which will be a wonderful change.

[geo_mashup_map]

The final countdown has begun- 5 days to go before this adventure ends, but really, this journey to explore schools, policies and communities is just beginning.

On and on – say do you remember
On and on – dancing in September
On and on – never was a cloudy day

On and on – say do you remember
On and on – dancing in September
On and on – golden dreams were shiny days

– September by Earth, Wind and Fire

Dancing by the River

By the boat park

So I went night cycling last night around the city of Paris and the best part about it was when we were cycling by the river, and saw two groups of people drinking wine and dancing by the river. I had uncovered the treasure I was looking for! And why do I love dancing? I do believe there is a special connection with someone through dance, through being in sync with the music, and for that few seconds, share a moment.

I guess I did this irish circle dance where almost the whole dance floor changed partners, and I got to “meet” a whole bunch of different people, not speak, but just feel the tension between our hands and bodies and step into the beat at the precise moment, twirl and spin.

I was reminded of my brother’s song- Just Imagine, and the first line goes:

Imagine children of enemies, laughing together..
Just Imagine what love can do.

It was hard for me to come to France after coming from Ghana, especially after visiting the slave castles where so many were brutally tortured and killed and kept in slavery. And talking to some people here, when they travel to Africa, they say, being French, there still is a slight hostility towards them because of the painful past. And sometimes I ask myself- what if I were French? How do I relate to the world, knowing my ancestors had shed such blood? And how do I appreciate the castles, when I knew they were meant to enlarge the empire, meaning enslaving more people and taking over more territories as if it were a game to play? But maybe that’s the amazing power of forgiveness and the power of music and dance because But last night, even in the parks, I saw people of all races laughing together, dancing together, sharing a moment together. We perhaps were the children of enemies, now laughing together, and it was a beautiful sight.

More pictures from the night cycle!

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Oldest clock in Paris

Oldest clock in Paris

Velib bikes!

Velib bikes!- Bike share program!

City Hall

City Hall, Paris

My velib!

My velib!

By a bookstore!

By a bookstore- library without boarders

Train Tracks

A view from my room

I was on the subway last night and there was an announcement that there was a “traveller’s incident”, a pseudonym for someone who committed suicide on the railroad tracks. I was stunned at the announcement, that they will be cleaning up, so no lines will be running on line 10, I believe. Raphaelle then told me- it happens all the time.

“All the time?” I asked, still not believing what had just happened.
“Yeah- maybe once a week or so.”

I couldn’t believe it. How could this be happening so often in this City of Lights and Love? My immediate thought was that the government should put some gates or SOMETHING to prevent more from doing that. But I realized I needed to think deeper- there is obviously some deeper, more intense problem of putting gates so people couldn’t jump the tracks. Even in my country too, suicide rates are pretty high. I couldn’t help but think of the time of the death of a student in Northwestern, two incident just in my 3 years there that took their lives.

Are we not seeing the pain that is around us? Is there NO ONE that they could talk to before they jumped? And, am I not paying attention to the pain or the emptiness that others are experiencing? What has our society become? Raphaelle, Mark, Kristin and I watched the new movie A Modern Family, I think it was called and it talked about how we are “always pressed for time, always stressed, always late. And maybe that is why we are called the human race.” But maybe we need to come back to what is important, human relationships- to really make time for people, people we love. For in communities that don’t have the fast-moving trains and the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of life, it seems they know more about life than we do and rejoice in what they have an abundance of- friends.

So for all of you out there reading this- thank you for being my friend.
Love,
Meixi

With Raphaelle eating a typical french breakfast!
Breakfast!

Raphaelle!

Apple crumble making 🙂
Apple crumble!

Sing, Dance, Love

Mr Dayo/ Mr Brahim Music: Ternikano Berno- Circle of Youth

Mr Brahim Music: Ternikano Berno- Circle of Youth

So I met a wonderful man, Mr Dayo, who invited Raphaelle and I to his house today, who shared his own experience being a Rom in France, the struggles, but what was most amazing was the pride he had in his own people.

“Many people think we are the bastards of Europe, with no state, land or education. But when they see our true selves, then they will understand why we laugh, sing, dance and love.”

So often we think of people in labels, in stereotypes and we are feed into a culture of needed to categorize people, to talk about “the other.” But what is the other, we are have layers, and layers of experiences, joys, comforts, impulses, layers to be shared, uncovered and discovered. One of my favorite concepts from the Asset-Based Community Development approach by John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann is the concept of stories, of the imagination and of the hope and pride that are often forgotten when we are stuck in a “need-jail” mentality. The most dangerous thing is to talk to our neighbors, and today, I had a deep conversation with one of mine. 🙂

– Meixi

A HUGE SHOUT-OUT to Raphelle Neyton for translating on the spot! She’s amazing. 🙂

La Vie á Paris!

boat sailing
chess!
Life in Paris is slow, where it’s against the law to work more than 35 hours a week, and 60% of the GDP is spent of education. Even getting a master’s program costs close to nothing. 🙂 Cities are usually hustling and bustling at every hour, every minute, but less so here. When things shut down- they really shut down.

It’s a weird combination for me, I’ve never seen anything like it.

le tour e!

It’s an interesting change of pace and I can see why it’s such a hot spot for tourists, but for me, I looking for the life in Paris, the stories here, the small communities where everyone knows everyone and I’m sure there are semblances of that here- I’ve just got to find it. But until then, here are some photos to give a taste of life here!

I’m trying to uncover all the french I’ve learned at school and it’s coming back slowly. 🙂

– Meixi
watching boats by the pond
a slow day in paris
jardin de luxumborg
yum yum yum
le tour effiel
the effiel tower!

The Butchery

Ghana!

Ghana!

In paris!

So I just arrived in Paris and it’s been SWEET! I met Raphaelle here and am in her sweet apartment! However, it’s been so crazy trying to adjust into a country where the streets are clean and everything is orderly, the butchery is spick and span and there are building everywhere. Compared to the markets in Ghana, it’s almost like a fairytale here.

It was so hard to leave Ghana, the people were just incredible. And it’s harder knowing that so many realities exist in the world and shifting from one to the other’s hard, and even in Ghana itself there was the Accra mall and then the Community 1 market in Tema. Even in France, everyone’s reality is so different and I know it’s going to be completely different in the Roma communities here. I guess that’s what world travel is about- being able to shift from reality to reality to the next and being able to connect with people no matter what the reality is, and getting into communities. Our good friend, Kwehkuu brought us to his home in Tema, to meet his kids, and it was the most beautiful experience to meet his family and see his story and his people. Maybe that’s travel.

More photos HERE!

Cha-lleh! Why not?

Cape coast!

I visited the slave castles yesterday and after seeing the dungeons of the slaves of the past, the canons and ships that were left at cape coast, I could help but feel a sense helplessness about the past but wonder at what we have today. In Ghana, as I’ve noted before, there is no bitterness towards visitors but the reverse – just joy and welcome. They call you Cha-lleh, or Sister and brother, you’re part of the Ghanaian family just by being here.

Also, it seem they have a instinct to be game for absolutely anything! Their first response is almost always “Why not?” There usually isn’t an answer. What a way to live. 🙂

– Meixi

Stories

The countries of the students represented here

This school is an interesting mix of people from all over the continent and that is probably what I love most about this school. The number of perspectives represented and presented here is really wonderful. I was looking back at some of the interviews in the past and Sister Teresa Walsh said to me, “Education is not imparting knowledge, it’s leading someone to enlightenment and letting them discover the joy of learning for themselves.”

As I’m in Ghana now and am starting to reflect on this entire trip, I can’t help but think about what this, at the end of the day, is all about. Education, I was reminded a few times today-is about the people. It’s about a passion for people, done with people. And the people in Ghana are inspiring. From the girl on the beach who gave me a pink ring, or doing cartwheels as the sun set with a bunch of kids, or our wonderful friend, Kuehkuu (not sure how to spell it) who had a heart of gold and wanted you to have the absolute best time in his country and would drive miles to make sure that was achieved, to Richard, the boy who shared that he loved Ghana and when I asked why, he replied, “Don’t you feel it? You should feel Ghana. I have food, a house and shoes- I have everything.” Countless stories like this have taught me about life here, the people here and what education is. Education is perhaps at the end of the day, story-telling and as we listen and share those stories, a little bit of heaven is planted in us. And that transforms. Today, the joy of learning was real for me, and they have led me to enlightenment.

With Mercy at the SOS Children's Village Ghana