By Jenny Luo
Four years ago, when I glanced upon an Alternative Reading Week poster in Con Hall and thought to myself “Hey that sounds cool”, I had no idea how much the letters ARW would mean to me throughout my whole undergraduate career. And now, after my fourth year with ARW I can proudly say that I’m glad I never had a mainstream reading week.
My first project was a conversation circle with newcomers to Canada. In this project, I first experienced the positive energy that flows through ARW and the communities it reaches out to. The newcomers were so eager to learn from us, but more so I felt like we learned from them. Through simple sentences, elaborate gestures, and lots of laughing, we talked about our pasts, our dreams, and bits of randomness such as the experience of child birth… Overall, it was great to see that such services are being provided to newcomers, and to experience a slice of their life.
After the amazing experience of my first project, I came back as a project leader. Then I came back again. And again. I was lucky to have lead three projects that were all highly hands-on and relevant to my interest, and to work with completely different organizations and demographics in each of them. My projects did science demos at kindergartens, designed science activities for teenagers, and hosted food and nutrition workshops for homeless youth. As a science student, I was able to utilize knowledge from the classroom. Whether it be a child’s laugh when they see baking soda and vinegar react, or a heated discussion with homeless youth on which cooking oil is the healthiest, I was happy that my passion for science and health has triggered thoughts in others.
The students and community members I’ve worked with have also taught me so much. Through the projects, I’ve mingled with communities far beyond our little U of T bubble. . The strength and determination of community organizations were truly inspiring. Our teams experienced first-hand how policy making impacts communities. For example, many of the children at the kindergarten we worked at would not be able to attend if it weren’t for government support. Also, the homeless shelter we visited was being taken over by condominium developers, and tremendous fundraising effort was needed to secure a new location. These experiences made us more aware as citizens. Not only awareness of the diversity of Toronto’s communities, but also of the power of citizens. We witnessed how people can come together and improve lives of so many. ARW has definitely inspired me to become a more involved citizen.
It’s been a great four years. Although my journey with ARW is ending upon graduating, the projects, PL meetings, reflection sessions, and lunch time chats have left a deep imprint. ARW has shaped the way I address social and cultural issues and the way I interact with people from different walks of life. Through PL training and the projects, I’ve learned so much about our communities and about myself, and met many amazing people along the way.