Crossing four states, river and mountains, from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, our group Spring Break Alternative 2015 took 8 hours to drive from Huntingdon and made a stop in West Virginia on Saturday’s night, March 7. Then, we resumed our driving on the morning of March 8 and drove for another 3 hours. Finally, we arrived at Chavies, Kentucky’s Appalachian Service camp on March 8, 2015’s afternoon. The weather in Chavies was hotter than it is in Huntingdon. Similar to Huntingdon, people there were very nice and friendly. However, Chavies was a very religious and close-knit village.
The Service Center that we were staying during the service week was a three-storied building, in which there were recreation room, catering room, men and women’s bedrooms, ASP’s office, kitchen and bathrooms. Our building was built on a small hill, at the top of the Chavies village, with mountains, cliffs and a cemetery surrounded. The whole building was decorated with inspirational, motivational and loving and caring quotes. They were very beautiful, which make the lodging more lively and sweet. There were altogether four groups serving for the week from Wake Forest University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Virginia Tech University and ours, Juniata College. Overall, there are 70 students and 2-3 trip advisors from each university.
Right after we arrived, I was able to make a run with my friends down to the village. It was a very quiet and peaceful village. I wondered if it was because it was Sunday. There were about 25 houses, a church, Chavies Medical Center, a small convenience store & gas station and a furniture store. That was all about Chavies. It was quite small, as small as a village. After coming back from the village sightseeing, we had our first service meeting by giving small introductions and the welcome dinner. Since the camp is a religious building, there are rules and dress code regarded to Christian religion: no sleeveless shirt and above-knee short pant. Our five-day’s work schedule is all the same. Everyday, we have to get up at 7 am, make devotions and eat breakfast at 7:20 am, leave for work site at 8:30am, have lunch at 12:30pm, return to camp at 4:30pm, have dinner at 6pm, reflection at 7:30 pm and go to bed at 11:00 pm. After all the introductions, ASP’s staffs explained us the duties that all the students have to carry throughout this whole week. Every group is on duty everyday before or after working at the work site. I immediately realized that here nobody is above anyone. Everyone is the same. We came to serve people and help each other. On the right is the duty board, which I found very interesting. Our Juniata’s group is called Koala Tree. The family that we worked with was also called Koala Tree.
Our family’s house was located in Busy, Perry County. Busy was about 20 minutes away from Chavies. The geography and the location of the area was very remote. There were a lot of muddy streets and forests with high & low hills from one end of the street to the other. People around Perry County are mostly depending on coal mining businesses. On Monday’s morning, we started our building project at Busy. Once we entered Busy, I felt very connected to the area. I felt that the world is very globalized. I was shocked a bit. I thought I was back to a poverty area in Myanmar. The impoverished condition of Busy disheartened me. There were plenty of old, poor-conditioned houses in Busy. Nevertheless, the formation of the area was very contradictory. Although there were some impoverished houses, there were also many very affluent villas. We had driven for about an hour to locate the house. A lot of questions came out from my mind. Why do people in Busy keep living there with no easy access to stores, hospitals, schools?
Finally, in the middle of nowhere, we found the house of the family that we would be working with for the rest of the week. It was situated in a small valley inside big valleys. During the first day, we finished building a quarter of the porch and half of the ceiling of a bedroom inside the house. Apparently, some of us like I were very new to building houses. Our trip leaders taught us how to cut timber, screw drive nails and so on. I also learned many construction terms: toe nailing, waterproof dry walls, heat-resistant dry walls, straight edge, tape measure and so on. Starting from Monday through the end of Friday, we worked on two things: build a porch and hang dry walls. Within just one week, we were able to build a porch, hang dry walls on about 3/4 of the indoor’s walls. ASP’s staffs were very amazed at us for being able to accomplish this much. I felt very proud of our group and myself too.
I appreciate our trip’s director and trip’s advisor for helping to make this accomplishment happened. Without their guidance, our project would not be as efficient as it was. In addition, my group fellows were very diligent. Despite there was not that many tasks that 8 people can do in the same time, every time Jim or Jess assigned a task, all 8 of us stood up at the same time and committed to do it. Normally, we had more labors and less tasks.
Every day after dinner, we had our group’s reflection. In one of the evening’s reflection, I remembered Jim talked about the neighborhood watch culture in Busy. He said, ” Although it is an impoverished area, it is a very close-knit, mutually helping each other area. People don’t want to leave might because they feel that they are more comfortable at living there than living in the rest of the world. My question evolved at the first time I went to Chavies was answered. Just as my group fellow Jared reflected, my whole cultural perception about this area did change too. I came to cherish and understand the beauty of a rural life can offer, in this case that people in Busy have. People in rural places tend to be closer and more familiar with each other. With a Kentucky accent, the people in Busy are very sweet and friendly. I have a dream one day, I want to go back to that area to serve again and spend the rest of my after-retired life there.
Throughout this whole week that I had spent in Kentucky, not only did I learn the basic construction skills, but also I learned some life skills. My whole perspective about life changed. Before this trip, I used to believe that we, people can get happiness only when we are able to live in big, luxurious mansion. From our Koala Tree’s family, I learned that small houses can make us happy too. I realized that sometimes, we are too greedy. We mean to live in a luxurious life with luxurious things. We chase around them every day. And gradually, we tend to forget our self-identity. Remembering about a quote that Jess mentioned during our group’s reflection, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Through this community service, I understand myself more. I also discovered something about myself, what I want, what I should do for my future and my community.