Over the February break, Brandeis students and faculty served the Miami community.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38). While the snow-white Boston was still shivering from cold, 11 members of the Brandeis community embarked on a journey under the Miami sun. Funded by The Department of Spiritual and Religious Life, Brandeis Chaplains Shrestha Singh and Matthew Carriker led nine Brandeis students and faculty on a February Break Immersion Trip.
On the trip, Brandeis connected with a global organization, Dwell, Discover and Discern to serve the local communities of Little Havana, Overtown, Wynwood and Little Haiti. Miami serves as a microcosm of America as a whole, where diverse cultures and languages all contribute to its charisma as the “Magic City.” According to Chaplain Matthew, “within a few blocks, you can try Cuban food in Little Havana while listening to conversations in Spanish and take in Haitian music seasoned with Creole in Little Haiti.” Under its diverse cultural context, DOOR Miami facilitates an in-depth discussion about faith and compassion for Brandeisians. This group brought faith and, more importantly, love to those in need. As Chaplain Matthew commented in his reflection upon this trip, students were able to “heal, learn, grow and blossom into who they are truly meant to be.”
Two organizations reached out to Brandeis in order to open doors to opportunities for providing quality child care and higher education. These were Redlands Christian Migrant Association and Lotus House, respectively. RCMA mainly serves to offer opportunities and new possibilities for migrants and their families to seek a better childcare and higher education. Not only does it strive to provide educational resources that the kids would not have had access to, but it has also dedicated itself to improving the overall quality of life for those immigrant families.
The Lotus House mainly supports women, youth and children, providing them a safe home and better education, empowering women and minority groups to fight for their rights. Working with organizations like these, the group was able to realize the transcending definition of the word “sanctuary:” it’s more than a physical shelter, it’s also a spiritual asylum that harbors the sentiments of those in pain and despair.
For some, this special trip has been truly transformative. “Before going on this trip my impression of this city included images from Hollywood films and my friends’ travel stories: palm trees, sunshine, ocean, sandy beaches, luxurious cars and beautiful and rich people,” said Elizaveta Repina, a teaching assistant of Russian language at Brandeis. Her perspective totally shifted when she saw another side of the Magic City. A lot of immigrants still struggle with inequity and are poverty stricken. Some find it hard to fit in the new culture; consequently, they have narrow career choices and can only earn minimal income.
During the trip, the group participated in services such as cleaning, organizing classroom supplies, painting and engaging in designing curriculum and activities for the local students. They spent a considerable amount of time with children, who attended school in the study centers of RCMA.
Chaplain Matthew shared one of his most memorable stories with the Justice: When the group was about to leave Lotus House after volunteering, “one young girl asked if we could come back. Her sweetness melted all of our hearts.”
The group considers this trip as only a start to a pilgrimage seeking God and the true self. Reflecting on the experience, Chaplain Matthew concluded by quoting from “The New Colossus”: “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”