Lisa, Maguire Fellow in Israel

Lisa is a senior majoring in markets and culture in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in education in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She is working on an Engaged Learning project during summer 2014 and also was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She is volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel.

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Three girls’ nights, three learning experiences

There have been many highlights during my time at ENP, but some of my favorites were the girls’ nights that I planned and led. The girls’ nights were my way of building self-confidence within the girls as well as developing unity between them. Each girls’ night we would eat food from a different culture and then participate in various activities.

For the first girls’ night I had planned for the girls to each make their own pizza on pita bread, decorate their own journal, create a family crest, and have fun with a few icebreakers and games. Being the first time I was leading a girls’ night, the evening came with some unexpected struggles. Not all of the girls wanted to participate in all of the activities and sometimes they got off task. Their lack of focus was further perpetuated by the unproductive translating between the other volunteer and me at times when translation was needed. Furthermore, there was a miscommunication between the counselor and myself – I thought all of the girls were each going to make their own pita pizza, but instead the counselor had made all of them herself as a snack for everyone and we didn’t eat until the end of the night.

In the end I know the girls had a good time, but I also knew that there were many things I wanted to improve for future girls’ nights. The counselor, the other volunteer (who helps translate), and I debriefed the night right afterward and talked about what we needed to improve upon for next time. I once read that the debrief of an action is just as important as the action itself, and our girls’ night debrief was very important to having a successful second girls’ night.

The second night was much improved! The counselor and I had better communication, making sure we both understood what we expected from each other for the second night. The other volunteer and I had worked out a way for translating to be more efficient. This time I had decided it would be better to eat first since the girls might be more focused on full stomachs. It worked.

We started off making falafel together. If you are not familiar with falafel, they are fried chickpeas shaped into a ball. Usually you put falafel balls in a pita with tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, and more. The girls were assigned different tasks such as cutting the vegetables or setting the table. The teacher in me found it interesting that each girl had her own unique way of cutting the vegetables. One girl cut a cucumber in vertical slices and then cut across it perpendicularly to dice it. Another girl cut the cucumber in circles and that cut each circle into fourths. It was the same result, and different ways of going about it. This is similar to teaching – students often use different strategies to come up with the same solution.

Afterward we played games such as “Guess the song,” where the player hums a song and the audience guesses what song it is, and “Most likely to…” where each girl was awarded a title by their peers that started with the phrase “Most likely to…”. An example might be: “Most likely to travel the world.” These games were meant to get everyone comfortable with each other. I would have liked to delve into further conversation with the girls that night, but we ran out of time. This time the girls’ behavior was much more focused and you could tell they thoroughly enjoyed the night!

They say the third time is the charm. I think they are right. The third meeting was potluck style with the girls each bringing an Ethiopian dish from home. Again, we ate first. Before we dug in, I wanted each girl to tell me about the dish they had brought – what it was, how they made it. I don’t remember the names of each dish but I won’t forget sitting there and being so appreciative that each girl and her family took the time to cook something for the potluck and the pride in which the girls talked about their dishes.

On this particular day, the other volunteer brought her friend to the center. Her friend was born in Ethiopia but moved to the U.S. when she was young. I think she and the kids quickly connected since she was someone who understood their struggles, having been born in their same country and also having had to adapt into a new society. It was clear she and the kids had faced some of the same challenges. She also wore her hair natural and short. Most of the girls here straighten their hair, and I think it was good for them to see someone with the same hair type wear it natural, short, and confident. She was the perfect role model for the kids – an Ethiopian who adapted into a new society, but who still maintains her roots and culture. After all of the thoughtful conversation, we ended the night with a fun game.

I can tell how much each girls’ night improved from the one before it and how I improved as a leader, especially after reflecting back on them. I can also tell how the attitude shifted between the girls as the girls’ nights progressed. By the end, every girl was participating, every girl was laughing, and every girl was exploring their identity as Ethiopian-Israelis.

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