The history of the relationship between Asia and North America is impossibly complicated and rife with ideological conflict. With the fastest growing economy in the world, China is a major global superpower and yet, the perception of America in China isn’t what it could be. I recently heard a fantastic piece on This American Life called “Americans in China.” It explored the complex relationship between American ex-pats and their Chinese neighbors. How Chinese can an American become? What products and emblems affect our cultural perceptions (Anime, G.I. Joe, Hello Kitty, MacDonalds, etc.)? What barriers are there between the two cultures? How is the American democracy perceived by Chinese citizens? Clearly, these two cultures are going to become more and more intertwined as each relies more heavily on the other. All of Asia is part of this globalizing equation—the tightening of our ties and the cultural interplay that must inevitably follow.
Volunteer Expeditions strives to gain an understanding about the rights and needs of those in poverty, the dignity of life and the necessity to reach beyond ourselves in giving.
Ecological concern is almost a prerequisite for existing in the world in 2012. Everywhere we look we see environmental disasters—irresponsible manufacturing, drilling, fracking, and dumping—that are imperiling our precious and delicate world every single day. It feels like an insurmountable obstacle when all of the things we use every day—the cars we all drive, the energy that fuels our homes, airplane fuel, the products we buy—all contribute to our landfills, to polluting our oceans, and to damaging the delicate balance of our climate. I was talking to my younger sister about this the other day and she said, “what can one person really do?” It was such a sad statement coming from an idealistic, smart, and savvy young woman. One person can do a tremendous amount of good: in small ways and in large ones. But we’re not a nation of individuals. We are a team. What we really need is to unify our people towards a common goal—saving the planet and her people.
Cultural diversity is a phrase that could be used to describe an increasing swath of our world. Here in the U.S., the melting pot is constantly growing, as immigrants move here and have children, establishing communities across the country. Despite the immigration reformers in government, America has always been a place where people of all sorts can live side by side. This is one of the things I love the most about this country. But, while living surrounded by people of many different cultures is wonderful, it is no substitute for traveling to foreign countries, to experience other cultures in the places where they originated. We all become Americanized living here—we adapt, learn to cater to our environments, and, of necessity, leave a little bit of ourselves behind. We have an incredibly high standard of living in America. Even the poorest among us have access to goods and services that would be completely unavailable in much of the rest of the world. To truly learn about other cultures—to embrace the uniqueness, the authenticity—requires travel. It requires time spent in far off places meeting new people. It requires immersion without access to the comforts of home.
When a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in early 2010, it seemed like the entire world turned its eyes to the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation – and Sean Penn was no exception. In the wake of the disaster, which virtually leveled the tiny country, Penn and fellow philanthropist Diana Jenkins sprung into action and formed the Jenkins/Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO).
Unlike some other celebrity-based charity organizations, the J/P HRO and its namesakes were not only at ground zero immediately following the disaster but, nearly three years later, are still actively involved. Sean Penn’s volunteerism through the J/P HRO is, in fact, so lauded that he was recently named ambassador at large for Haiti.