Jennie Proto: Exploring Abroad
Name: Jennie Proto
Graduation Year: 2009
College: Elon University 2013
Travel Experience: London, England 2010, Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bahamas
On January 2, 2010, I found myself at Raleigh-Durham International airport about ready to board a plane that would cross the Atlantic Ocean and eventually land at London’s Heathrow Airport. I remember looking around easily picking out the Elon students who were going on the trip due to the way they were dressed and all made up, yet I had never met any of them. Although I felt nervous inside, and could feel butterflies swarming around in the pit of my stomach, I realized that this would be the first of many obstacles in this journey abroad, and it was a rather small one. The coursework that we would be doing in London was quite unique and required stepping out of my comfort zone. With the goal in mind of understanding an exceptionally multicultural city, our task was to investigate and research the immigrant communities through meeting, interviewing, and photographing different people who live in the areas. My small group of four was assigned to Mile End, a part of East London that is inhabited largely by Bengalis as well as Jamaicans, South Africans, and Chinese among other ethnicities, races, and religions.
In an area where you see women in headscarves and long skirts, men with long beards and turbans, and people of all ethnicities, I certainly stood out with my pale skin, blond hair, and colorful clothes. I noticed this, and so did the locals. One day, my partner, Courtney, and I were walking down the street and noticed two Muslim girls close to the bus stop that is across the street from the Mile End tube station. They saw instantly that we were out of place. After introducing ourselves to these two girls, Aisha and Nura, they instantly asked us why we were in this neighborhood as they quickly viewed us as innocent in the manner we walked up to them. The girls explained that there are gangs and violence, topics we had heard much about before venturing into the area. Nura said they were “fake gangs,” really just groups of boys who think they are tough. Aisha reluctantly accepted this explanation. We later learned that Aisha’s hesitance had a certain truth to it. Mile End is known for being a tough area of East London, particularly as a place to grow up. Several gangs, divided up by territory, exist in the area. Although most youth living in Mile End would agree that they wish the violence did not exist, it still continues. The gangs have new members everyday, and fights continues to occur on a daily basis. It is not rare to see police officers at the local schools breaking up physical disagreements or to notice gang markings around the school indicated by the first part of the postal code such as E3.
Although this description makes Mile End to seem grim and bare, there is a silver lining. Certain organizations and individuals work to better the community, and in turn, provide hope for the youth that lives in Mile End. During my fieldwork, I met four individuals who make it their job to reach out to the Mile End community, particularly the youth. Nick and Kerry Coke of the Salvation Army as well as Henk and Gabi from the East London Tabernacle Baptist Church provide opportunities for Mile End’s youth to do grow and prosper as confident, well-rounded individuals of London’s society. I was able to go to a school, St. Paul’s Way Community School, and talk to middle school aged girls. I also met and spoke with boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one at a youth club run by the ELT Baptist Church. These boys were all part of a gang, E3, which signifies the area they call home. In both cases, most of them were Bengali, and as a result, Muslim. By speaking with the Cokes about their children’s experiences, the girls from St. Paul’s Community School, and the boys from the ELT Baptist Church’s youth club, it was apparent that the integration of cultures, different life experiences, yet most importantly the care and outreach shown by the Cokes, Henk, and Gabi makes a positive difference in their attitudes.
Although I loved the experience of taking photos and finding my way around the vibrant city of London, it was the opportunity to speak and learn form others that I truly cherish. Who knew a year ago, amidst the dreaded senior finals at Ursuline, that I would be talking with and learning from with Muslim gang members a continent away? And where will I be next year? I am looking forward to finding out and to the process that will bring me there.
My friend Courtney and I are standing in front of a statue of Queen Victoria. In the background is Kensington Palace.
Standing in front of the gate of Kensington Palace
This photograph, taken on January 15, 2010, captures Gabi, a young Romanian woman with a fourteen year old Bengali girl, Hasina at St. Paul’s Way Community School in Shelmerdine Close, London. Gabi came to London a couple years ago with her husband to study. She also works with the ELT Baptist Church sponsoring youth clubs, including a girls’ club that meets every Friday at Hasina’s school during lunch time. Gabi describes her work with the girls at St. Paul’s as encouragement to be strong women and also to spread the good news of Jesus. Under Gabi’s kind guidance and care, the girls are able to have a break from the school day and learn more about each other as well as other ways of thinking. The interaction between Gabi and Hasina shows a deep bond and appreciation for one another.
This photograph, taken on January 19, 2010, captures the Salvation Army officers, Nick and Kerry Coke with their two children, Penny and Henry at their home in Stepney Green, London. The couple moved to the area, which is considered the inner city, from a rather wealthy section of London six years ago when they were asked to start a new branch of the Salvation Army in Stepney and Mile End. Although the Salvation Army had originated in the area; it had sort of disappeared; and it was up to the Cokes to do something with the “fresh sheet of paper” they were given. With the goal in mind to help “transform” the community, one of a complex “ethnic makeup,” the Cokes wholeheartedly work and live in the area. Their children, Henry and Penny, are just involved in the community as their parents. They attend state school and participate in the outreach organizations their parents run such as the children’s club. Through this photograph, I wanted to portray a family of much love, joy, and understanding that permeates any situation.
Duck Tours in London ~ Westminster Abbey
Friday February, 19, 2010 at 02:11PM
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