Mary’s Meals: A Simple Solution to World Hunger

Last semester I joined the OU branch of Mary’s Meals, an international nonprofit that builds and maintains school kitchens in impoverished areas across the globe. Not only does this feed hungry children, it also increases school attendance and retention, helping to break the cycle of poverty. The University of Oklahoma branch funds Tabwa Primary School in Malawi.

I was super excited to discover this organization. Throughout my college career, including in the Global Engagement Fellowship class Becoming Globally Engaged, I have learned about “simple solutions” to international poverty. Of course, poverty is not a simple problem, but actions like those of Mary’s Meals have always struck me as innovative and less intrusive than other forms of aid. Mary’s Meals was a way for me to help the way I wanted to.

Over the course of last semester, I attended general meetings and benefit nights. I also fundraised, aiming to raise $19.50 in one day, the amount it takes to feed one child for a year.

Unfortunately, I will not be participating in Mary’s Meals this semester. I have a large course load, and I joined OU Cousins again (more to come on this). However, if you are interested, I highly suggest you check it out.

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Goodbye

OU Cousins is a student organization that provides the platform to be several different things. There are the typical weekly gatherers for lunch, who maintain a somewhat friendly, yet oddly removed, relationship for the duration of a semester. There are the ones who drink too much together one night and never speak again. And then, there is something outlandishly special. This past year I had the chance to befriend a girl named Pilar Gimenez as my OU Cousin. What I have said before in a previous post about Pilar, all continues to be incredible and true; however, there is now a new spin on our story. This upcoming fall, Pilar and I will be studying at the same university in Valencia, Spain. I’m so excited to add this to our list of adventures together.

Currently, we are sitting on a couch in my friend’s loft in downtown Chicago. We’ve spent the day walking around the city, completing her architectural dreams with visits to the Farnsworth House, Cloud Gate, and other works by Mies van der Rohe. We popped into an open house at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where we viewed some models and had a few slices of a California Roll. I bought some old comic books for a friend of mine. We have two more days in the city, and then I’ll send her and Indo on their way to Spain. We’ve both agreed that this would be impossible, but the promise of us seeing each other again in Valencia provides some condolence.

Pilar, it has been an amazing year with you. From our first trip to Turner Falls, then on to San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and now, to this lovely couch in Chicago… it has been a joy.

GEORGIA VANCE

OU Cousins builds bridges of friendships between international students and American students, allowing American students to connect with people all around the world without actually studying abroad. My good friend Heath joined OU Cousins last year, and she talked about it all the time. She truly enjoys making close connections with other people, and just from casually hearing about Heath’s experiences, I knew that I wanted to get to know more people in the international community on campus.

I went to a matching party a week ago, and I met a blonde girl with glasses from Australia that is studying ancient history and literature. Her accent was light, and she looked so put together and kind. We sat together for a moment, and when we didn’t express any initial interest in being each other’s OU cousins, I thought that it was just a fleeting small thing. However, at the end of the event, she asked if I wanted to be her OU cousin, and I was so excited. I could tell from the beginning that we were very similar and I looked forward to getting to know her and become her friend.

Georgia is someone that I greatly admire. She is outspoken and never feels scared to speak her mind–something that I tend to struggle with a lot of the time. She is a force of nature, and I love spending time with her. She has a lot of opinions, and while I do as well, I really enjoy talking things over with her and learning from each other.

Speaking with a person that is not acquainted with all the little ins and outs of American culture is so interesting. While talking with Georgia I have learned so many things about Australia and Melbourne, I have also learned a lot about myself and the differences between the United States and the rest of the world. Speaking with Georgia, I have felt so humbled and open, and I truly appreciate meeting her and spending all of our time together.

de Zaragoza

I first met Pilar at the OU Cousins matching party. That day, I had gotten off work 30 minutes after the event had started, but I decided to go late anyways just to see if I could still meet someone. I walked in and the majority of people were sitting on the ground, but there were some still standing up and talking. At this point the event had been going on for 45 minutes, so I was sure I was too late. However, each year there are too many American students and not enough international students, so I was hoping I could find a friend and then join their OU Cousin group. However, I couldn’t find anyone, so I was about to give up and try being matched electronically when I saw another girl walk in late. They had separated us by name tags, so by her blue name tag I knew she must be an international student. I decided to go and ask her if she wanted to be together, because everyone else was already matched and she looked pretty cool. So we started talking, and she agreed with me that everyone must be matched already, so we got in line for some ice cream and there we were – OU Cousins!

However, what I did not realize in that moment was that I had met someone so incredibly kind, thoughtful, and funny. I swear Pilar must have been sent to me by some secret angel looking out for the both of us. She came into my life at a time when I was trying to fill a void that leaving Pamplona had left in my heart, and the next thing I know, I am paired by chance with an amazing girl from Zaragoza. Geographically, Zaragoza is the closest sister city that OU has to Pamplona. It couldn’t have been more perfect or more ironic. Oh, and the matching process at the OU cousins event hadn’t even started when we get there.

Pilar Gimenez is in her early twenties getting a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. She came to the US with her boyfriend, Indo (Indo if you are reading this, you are equally incredible but we just can’t be OU Cousins porque pues tu y Pilar son primeros…) They had the option to be here in OK, or somewhere else in the Midwest if they wanted to come to the States. Talk about a power couple. Traveling the world together, dating for five years, and all the while being amazing friends to each other and the others that they meet. I think I’m in love with them both. Anyways, so far we have had a lot of fun together and I am always trying to figure out how to talk about Pilar. I can’t just call her my OU Cousin because she is so much more than that. So we are Heath and Pilar – and we are a lot more than OU Cousins and a little less than sisters. And then Indo is just there in the middle somewhere 🙂

A Pilar, estoy muy feliz de conocerte, y siempre eres en mi corazon.

Eres la mejor guapa, te quiero muchisimo!

Heath

Frozen Time

The past few weeks have rushed past me, occupying my time with midterms, my Fulbright application, and various events on campus. I have adjusted fairly easily to being back in the States, but some days I still am struck by the loss of the mountains on every horizon. In general though, I have been too busy to give much thought to the life I left in Japan. It is the mixed blessing of busyness.

Overall it has been a good semester. I have a class with my OU Cousin for the first time this semester, so she and I get to see each other regularly. I also had the privilege of attending OU’s International Prom with her and a few of my other friends, where we celebrated the international community here at OU. I am working to take full advantage of the many opportunities presented by the university to engage with the international community, including a daily international news update and the school-wide Teach In on the strengths and weaknesses of constitutions. Meanwhile I continue to be involved with the JCPenney Leadership Program, joining with other business students on campus to pursue professional development and the life-skills we will need after graduation.

Although many of my activities have not changed, my life at OU is changing whether I like it or not. My friends who I’ve studied alongside since we arrived here freshman year are searching for full-time employment. Most of them will be leaving me when this year ends. At the same time, with President Boren stepping down at the end of this year, the school itself is poised for change in the coming year. Life at OU as I have known it is changing. Like anyone else, I don’t care for change. If I could freeze these years and my friends and keep things the way they are, I would be very tempted to do so. However, I know that time flows on, with or without me. I will cherish these days that I have left with my friends while looking forward to new horizons and adventures. There is still much of the world left for me to see. I cannot fly if I remain here, frozen in time.

OU Cousins’ BBQ

Two weeks ago I was able to attend the OU Cousins’ BBQ, the group’s big annual celebration. OU Cousins focuses on helping students feel at home here in Oklahoma and to cap off the year they host a stereotypical American get-together, a BBQ. Buses full of students shuttled U.S. and international students alike to a ranch some 15 or so minutes from Norman. There they were greeted by cowboy hats and red and blue bandanas to help everyone get in the spirit. After filling out name tags with names and countries, students got in line for traditional BBQ fare: brisket, fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and brownies. Long tables were set up on the dirt floor of the barn and a live band played covers of well-known country songs in the corner. After dinner, students were called out onto the floor to participate in country dancing. I must admit, even being from the States, the whole experience was a little overwhelming. BBQ food and country music, and ranches are a part of my life and not remarkable on their own. However, this BBQ brought everything together into one, over-the-top event. It was fun and I understand why OU Cousins chooses to host this particular event, but I do wonder how it was perceived by the international students. Many of them seemed to enjoy it but others remained at the tables, looking as though they felt terribly out of place. It was amusing to realize that this gathering, with cowboy hats and country music and fried chicken, was a legitimate stereotype that other countries had about some Americans. It makes me wonder what stereotypes I’ve heard about other countries that are as incredibly niche and exaggerated as the ones at the BBQ.

Blessing Chirimbanie

What more can I say about Blessing than what her name implies?

Blessing is a beautiful representation of her country, of her family, of her home soil.

I am truly blessed by having her in my life. She makes me better everyday.

There is really not much I can do to repay her for all she has given me, but every once in a while we try. She loves bowling, she loves driving, she loves music, and we both love eating.

In fact, we are about to go grab dinner, so I must wrap this up.

I can’t wait to see her in August. I’ll be counting down the days, Blessing.

OU Cousins Thoughts

My OU Cousin this semester is Patricia, a freshman international student from Kenya. When we met for lunch back in February, President Trump’s first travel ban had just been put into place – and quickly put on hold. So, as most conversations back in February went, we tried to talk about other things, but eventually the topic got around to politics and to Trump’s latest executive order. Patricia told me about her friends on the international floor in Adams who were concerned about trying to go home over the summer. That part of the story I’d heard before, people afraid to go home to see their families because they might be banned from returning to school. As if going to college out of your home country isn’t scary enough, now these students were faced with the possibility of having to choose between seeing their families and wasting thousands of dollars on starting an education that would likely have to be completed elsewhere, with the risk of losing any credit they had completed. But Patricia also said that many of those students understood where the ban came from, even if they didn’t agree with it. Those countries listed on the ban are home to groups that openly and actively try to cause harm to the US and its citizens. It makes perfect sense to try to keep those groups out of our borders, but we need to consider how we do that. Blocking everyone from those countries from entering the US might reduce the risk of terror attacks in our borders – if we assume that no one already in our borders is planning an attack – but it won’t solve the root problems. It won’t address the fear and hatred that come from a lack of understanding of each other. It only encourages them. It makes the US look even more opposed to anyone from those nations, and it prevents the interactions that would promote understanding and empathy between our nations. I’m all for preventing terrorism, but I don’t think cutting off all travel between our countries is the solution. I think we need to look for a more long term solution, one focused on promoting understanding and comradery between our nations instead of encouraging the fear and hatred that these terror groups feed on.