Volunteering the Bronx New York : United States
A story of contrasts
Landing in the “Big Apple”, the city that never sleeps, the center of the world. One of the largest urban regions on the planet housing almost ten million people, creating an unseen ethical and cultural diversity and a major global influence on commerce, finance, media, art, research, technology, education and entertainment. World famous dazzling statues, symbols and skyscrapers as far as the eyes can stretch confirm, invigorate and even amplify the feeling limitless potency and possibilities of this concrete jungle called : “New York”. The confident walk of the New Yorker, being nothing less than his shameless self stunningly contrasts against the introvert Belgian stereotype I so well know and got accustomed to. Where we are the paragon of moderation New York shows me the robust extremes and edges of life. “Neighborhood shopping” as one of the touristic attractions is there for flawlessly advertised in every city guide. As if the differences between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx aren’t big enough, the changing sceneries within these regions are simply magnificent, yet confronting.
Having got the opportunity to work in “Abraham House” (non profit organization that focusses on reintegrating first offenders and organizing an after school program for children) located in “Mott Haven” in the “Bronx” grants me the two-edged privilege to see, feel and experience the contrast to what I will call home over the next couple of months (5th Avenue, Manhattan). On a daily base I basically am thrown between the different worlds of the high upper-class of New York’s finest and those born, raised and often crusted or captured in this territory of crime, poverty and despair; according to the well-established stereotype of evidently! The reality however feels more like a neighborhood mainly populated by Central and South American people, which so far proven to me possess some kind of secret genetically or culturally implanted ingredient forcing them to be astonishingly warm, community and family focused, generous and kind people. Since we humans are born with a naturally transferred need in understanding, comprehending and categorizing everything around us, I gladly consciously call the second stereotype ‘truth’.
However one cannot be blind or naïve to his surroundings and thus Mott Haven and the Bronx still deal with major societal ills. Beliefs of “situational psychology” are being reinforced by the harsh reality of this neighborhood that at times creates an environment where survival of the fittest seems to apply. Low mobility, high crime and cultural huddling combined with the American social, academic and financial system which has, compared to Belgian standards very little attention for altruism, is a risky combination to say the least. Yet what frightens me even more is the almost disturbing “individualism” and rush of life that cannot be ignored.
Overall the sociological, psychological and philosophical concepts and theories drilled in my head year ago as a student make “New York” a playground for my curious mind observing the dynamics of the city and its bizarrely interesting inhabitants. Abraham House on the other hand strengthens my drive to help and support, simultaneously reminding me the values, often lost in New York’s rush and ego centered mentality, of community, hope, love and passion. The questionable duality of life in New York reinforces and highlights essential values through its contrasts, whatever they might be.
“Top 10” things I recommend visiting:
- Top of the rock: “Rockefeller building” (consider doing to sunrise and sunset combo, it will blow you mind)
- “Central Park”, take your time to enjoy it
- Take the ferry to Staten Island and get a free view on the “statue of liberty”
- Play a game of chess on “Bryant Park” and visit the NYC library afterwards
- Don’t miss strolling Harlem and take a walk in the Bronx
- See the “Brooklyn bridge” and continue to the botanic gardens
- Check timeout.com to see events in the city
- Get some jazz (local or be prepared to pay)
- Risk your life driving the city by bike (seriously!)
- Visit the “One Centre” and see the 9/11 museum