Reflections on a Sandal - Grebel Now article by Rachel Reist

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Spring 2015 edition of Grebel Now, the newsletter for Conrad Grebel University College, was recently published. Included in this publication is an article by Rachel Reist, the Field Study and Internship Coordinator for PACS, on the lasting impact of international travel. The full article is below, and the Spring 2015 Grebel Now can be accessed online.

Last month, I was watching the news and there was a story about a car bomb that had rocked a city. The looping footage behind the anchor showed a pair of plastic sandals, the kind that seem to be worn by everyone in developing countries, laying in a street filled with rubble. This image of the sandals humanized the story for me. Having lived in communities where everyone I knew wore those exact same shoes every single day, they had become a symbol of the broader culture and economic context of my friends. This image changed how I saw, felt, and thought about the news story. The sandals laying in the wreckage could have been the same sandals that I had worn, my friends had worn, or someone’s father, mother, brother, or aunt had worn. Those sandals were real to me, not just shoes lying on a street in a faraway place. 
In Peace and Conflict Studies, we talk about things like justice, development, and peace. As a PACS student, I had done a lot of research on food aid, such as that provided by the World Food Program (WFP) and how these programs were a good part of development. After graduating, I travelled to El Salvador and lived in a small island community for two months where they received this very form of WFP aid. Climate change had greatly impacted the ecosystems on the island, which made fishing more difficult. The civil war had left the country damaged and fragile, and the weak economy had left many poor. 
And so it was that Marta bags of food aidand Juan, and all the other families in the small community, had no choice but to rely on bags of food coming from other countries to feed their family. 
It was one thing to sit in the library for hours and read reports that rattled off statistics and figures about the poverty that communities around the world were facing. It was another thing to be sitting at the table with Marta and Juan and their two children, and eat beans and rice with them. When you share a meal like this you develop a different kind of relationship. These deeper relationships are key to expanding our global community. Yes, food aid programs are an important part of taking care of each other in our broader global community. But sharing that food with others and taking the time to understand how members of our global community experience this aid – that is important in a different way. 
Eating beans and rice that came from the WFP bags sitting in the corner is very different than reading reports about how many people are hungry and how many people received one of these bags of food. 
Wearing cheap plastic sandals and walking for hours to collect water is very different than seeing pictures on the news or in books of people wearing cheap clothing and sandals in some faraway place. 
When you actively and intentionally go out and expand your understanding of what a global community means, it changes you. It changes how you buy things, speak, commute, smile, laugh, cry, teach, lead and most importantly, how you engage with your local community.

For more information on the PACS undergraduate Field Study experience, please visit the PACS website.

For more information on the Master of PACS Internship program, please visit the MPACS website.