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My last Sunday evening in Kansas, I was walking home with my mom after dinner. As we passed by the death row of fast-food joints clustered near our house, it dawned on me that in a week, I would be calling a strange new city home; I began mulling over what the approaching future had in store for me and I realized the bulk of my immersion would come in the form of a 40+ hours/week job, my first real job. I felt both nervous and excited as I reached home, and these sentiments carried over to the day of my flight (or shall I say the wee hours of the morning…), culminating with my arrival at 12:45 PST to a cloudy Seattle. Orientation had begun.
Those first few days were a whirlwind of sights, sounds, foods, activities, and people. My first foray down the Ave was a bit paralyzing since I wanted to eat at all 20 restaurants I walked past. I’d also never been to a two-story Target with an escalator for shopping carts! But the first true test was to reach our Community Partner sites unscathed. After a grueling walk up five steep hills, Phil and I arrived at Northwest Harvest, where we were greeted by a large line of people waiting for the food bank to open. Upon entering the food-bank and seeing the enormous amounts of food organized for distribution, I started to get a better picture of how pressing the need was. Cherry Street is a vibrant place, and as I roamed around I picked up bits and pieces of Hindi, English, Russian, French, Spanish, and Cantonese. But I sensed that people were a bit reserved, hurrying to leave the premises. Having the fortune to attend an institution such as Duke has effectively sequestered me from the dire realities many face. In fact, the moment was a bit emotional for me because it reminded me of the cash-strapped years when my father was a university student and also of the poverty of my country Nepal. I was deeply humbled and it was vital that I gain new perspective and reconnect with the old; this notion of perspective, especially the process of experiencing and reflecting on these perspectives is, I feel, central to the mission of Duke Engage. I’m learning about the non-profit sector, hunger advocacy, the systemic issues of food insecurity, how Northwest Harvest serves its clients, and above all about the clients themselves. At the same time, these eight weeks are also a time for me to become more independent and learn more about myself; my work at Northwest Harvest and experiences in the city will challenge me to reassess some of my values, and to find new ways to advocate and act against these greater social injustices.
My project involves documentary video and photography work highlighting innovative ‘Best Practices’ of Food Banks. Northwest Harvest has a network of over 350 partners across Washington State, many varying in their pool of resources and expertise. By creating a catalogue of Best Practices, NW Harvest will be able to establish a standard of sorts, and model practices which steward resources efficiently in fighting hunger.
Here’s to a fantastic 2 months.
(Props to anyone who gets the title reference)