And the winners are...

After much discussion, debate, and yes, even a few heartfelt tears, the winners of the Spring 2011 Photo, Journal, and Video Contest, "The Spirit of WorldTeach," are finally in! Selecting the winners was no easy task - we received so many poignant, inspiring, and creative interpretations of this year's theme.

Please find the winning entries below. Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all those who submitted!

Photo Contest Winners

1st Place, Hannah Thornton-Smith, Marshall Islands '10, "Untitled" 
This photograph was taken in March of 2011 in Gugeegue (my placement in Kwajalein Atoll). In the photograph is Raymond Anej, senior class President and Captain of the basketball team. The spirited team mate is celebrating the end of a wonderful season. He is a proud, motivated student, dedicated team mate, and enthusiastic school leader.

2nd Place, Jenna Randerson, Colombia '11, "Let's Go Fly a Kite"
 To me, having a "WorldTeach spirit" is about connecting and sharing with the people in the sites in which volunteers are placed.  Therefore, I chose my photos not only based on what I have learned about the people and their spirits here in Monteria, but also based on the great experiences I have shared with various people at my placement site.  Each of my submitted photos were taken on occasions in which I felt very much a part of the culture in Monteria, Colombia and during which I was teaching others about my culture as well.  Although during each experience, the differences between myself and my Colombian friends were obvious, the warmth, openness, and acceptance displayed by each party was heartwarming! 

Juan Sebastian Benedetti, otherwise known as "Juanse," laughs while flying a kite at his school's annual kite festival in April. The windy season on the coast prompts kite festivals every weekend, at which both store-bought and home-made kites of all shapes, sizes, and colors can be found.  

Video Contest Winners
1st Place, Wes Weston, Namibia '10, "Eengedjo School"

2nd Place, Katherine Smith and Caitlin Butler, American Samoa '10

Journal Contest Winners

1st Place, Andrew Halladay, Hunan Year '10
"Oh, Christmas Tree(s)!"

As it turns out, there is a Mandarin version of “Jingle Bells.”
For the past week, my students had sung it whenever I passed by. Like strolling minstrels, they would follow me until the last line was sung.  I had tried to teach the English version, but it never matched the popularity of "Ding Ling Ling." Despite wild gesticulations, my explanations of "one horse open sleigh" and "bells on bobtail" were met with polite nods and blank stares.

Renditions of the song were never explained, but I understood. In China for the holidays, my students wanted me to feel at home.

"So what does Santa Claus do?" asked a student as we stood together in the hallway, scrunched between flying papers and choruses of "Ding Ling Ling."

"And why does that deer have a cold?" asked another. He was reviving the school's new favorite joke; that Rudolph—prominently featured in my Christmas PowerPoint—was not the savior of Christmas so much as a deer with a bad cold. "And when are you going home for Christmas?" he asked.

I heard this question often, but still felt a tinge of remorse. "I'm not going home," I explained. "Tickets to America are expensive, so I will celebrate Christmas in China." The bell rang, and I waved as my students hustled to class. Having finished teaching that day, I walked to the staircase alone.

"Where are you going?" one student called out, but he was pulled inside before I could answer.

It was just as well, for I was ashamed to admit my chore. Today I would do what I had done ever year around this time—I would get a Christmas tree. But this year, I would go alone.

Fake wreathes crowded the sidewalk before the town supermarket. Red Santa hats bounced on the heads of a few store clerks.

Perhaps I should have been thankful the holidays were not ignored, yet somehow the Chinese version of Christmas made me miss the American one even more. I imagined of a fluffy golden retriever slumbering before a warm fire, resting in the shadow of an evergreen tree, safe from the falling snow.

Inside the market, I bought the smallest, cheapest—and most clearly artificial—tree. Bent, broken, and an ugly brown, the ornaments came free. Deal.

Always a sight in my town, as I returned with my Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I felt the stares and mumbles amplify. I was relieved to enter to my apartment.

Arriving to class the next day, I met a student standing in the frame of the door. The student, well versed in American popular cinema, muttered with confidence, "You shall not pass."

"It's all right!" called another student from inside. "We're ready!"

Bracing for disaster, I passed into the room. My students stood, breaking into the chorus of the English Jingle Bells. But after a few lines, the words became confused. The song descended in chaos until a student rose and said, "Do you like our present?"

A plastic tree, loaded with ornaments and cards, stood lopsided on the front desk. It was beautiful.

As the day progressed, students stopped me to offer their gifts. A girl ran from across the hall to give me a third Christmas tree. "We heard Class 269 has one too. We wanted to give you ours first." She ran away, "Ding Ling Ling" trailing behind her.

I entered my last class holding trees in both arms, dropping Christmas cards and ornaments.

A student came up to help. "You like books, right?" he asked.

"I do," I responded, confused.

"Have you read Zhuangzi?"

"Only in English," I confessed.

"Did you like him?"

"Quite a lot."

"Good," he smiled, and extracted a copy of Zhuangzi from his desk. "I'm sure it's better in Chinese."

"Thank you," I exclaimed. "But don't you need it for class?"

"No, no," he explained. "We," he motioned to the class, "wanted to get you a Christmas tree, but..." I laughed, as the third Christmas tree nearly fell through my arms. "So we got this instead."

He paused, and added, "Actually we had an extra." Hearing the a murmur of "Don't tell him that!" from the rest of the class, he recovered: "But we decided to give it to you!"

"Thank you," I smiled.

"We don't understand Christmas," admitted another student, "So we didn't know what to buy. But we decided that since you teach us about America, we'll teach you about China."

I thumbed through the pages of Zhuangzi, my eyes lingering over dense and archaic Chinese.

"If you have any questions, please ask us," chortled another student.

"I can't wait," I stammered.

"Merry Christmas,” they smiled back.

2nd Place, Stephen Atwell, American Samoa '09 "Untitled" 
“Should we be worried about a tsunami?” Alex asked, gazing out the window. I stepped into the front yard and watched as the water level in the bay dropped; the sound of liquid being sucked through a straw echoed throughout my Samoan village. Mrs. Ulimasao, the pre-school teacher, yelled frantically from a pick-up truck idling 200 feet away, “Hurry, we need to go up the mountain!” I stuffed some belongings into a bag, slammed the front door behind Alex and sprinted for the truck. I dove head-first into the bed, and Alex dropped in behind me. We crossed the last bridge leaving our village as water surged over the road behind the rear tires.

Atop the mountain, I saw nearly half of the people from my village looking down over the bay. Instinctively, I began taking a count of my students and inquiring about the rest of the children. I was assured that a number of people had left on foot and had taken the old cable car trail to a different part of the mountain. Alongside my students and their families, I spent the next seven hours watching the bay drain and swell and listening to the emergency radio broadcasts.

Once the tsunami warning was called off, Alex and I descended the mountain and were relieved to see our house still standing. Nervously, we opened the front door and stared in at the darkened living room and muddy tile. The kitchen was flooded as were the bathroom and back bedroom, but the damage was minimal. That night, Alex and I crossed the mountain to stay with fellow volunteer teachers who lived further inland and still had power.

The day after the tsunami, we returned home to begin mopping the floor and hanging things out to dry. Alex and I were resting on the stoop when a group of students brought us plates filled with barbeque chicken, hot dogs and rice. As the sun set, we built a fire in the yard with driftwood and coconut husks. We spent the evening with our students telling stories and listening to Indie rock, rap and Bob Dylan play on my iPod through battery powered speakers.

The next morning, I went to the Red Cross headquarters and helped stock a truck with sleeping pads, cots, meals, and cases of water. We left the sleeping mats, water and lunches at a shelter and spent the next two hours setting up cots in an outdoor gymnasium. On the drive back to headquarters, a Samoan man, with whom I had been working, asked me to stop and let him off. He was from Poloa, a remote village on the westernmost tip of the island. The entire lower portion of Poloa had been destroyed in the tsunami, yet the man had hiked for over two hours to help those who were in even greater need. Despite the heavy damage his village had sustained, the tiring day’s work and his long journey home, he said, “I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

In the days that followed, I was inspired by people, like the man from Poloa, who thought beyond themselves. I received an outpouring of support from friends and family who sent supplies and donations, and I witnessed the resiliency of a culture that has sustained itself for over 3,000 years. By watching communities come together to clear debris, rebuild houses, and provide for one another, I developed a similar resiliency and sense of perspective.

There were times in American Samoa, when I was frustrated by the limited availability of supplies, the remoteness of my location, and the diversity of our cultural values. Nevertheless, I came to view everyday struggles in a larger context, began to develop a sense of who I was and my direction for the future. In extolling the virtues of dedication, scholarship and commitment to my students each day, I rekindled a passion to continue my own education. My desire to advocate on behalf of those without a voice, to ensure that environmental regulations preserve existing natural resources and to provide assistance to developing political systems is one of the lasting impacts from my experience in American Samoa.

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