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Sag Harbor Teacher’s Trip to Malawi a Life-Changing Experience

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Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher Kryn Olson with students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher Kryn Olson with students at the Jacaranda School for Orphans in Malawi. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

By Tessa Raebeck

Kryn Olson left Malawi in tears. Ms. Olson, a science teacher at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, wasn’t crying because she had a bad trip. It was, in fact, quite the opposite.

“It was really amazing,” Ms. Olson, who left Sag Harbor July 17 to spend over three weeks at the Jacaranda School for Orphans, said of her experience on Tuesday, August 26.

Jacaranda, located in the village of Che Mboma, near the city of Limbe in the south of Malawi, a small, landlocked country in southeast Africa, feeds, clothes, houses and educates 412 local orphans.unnamed-2

Ms. Olson, who was a driving force in the outdoor gardening program at the Sag Harbor Elementary School, was invited by the school’s founder, Marie Da Silva, to whom she was introduced by Elena and Barbara Gibbs, to spend several weeks in Africa helping Jacaranda students and faculty expand the school’s gardening programs.

During her stay, she worked primarily on agriculture with 16 boys aged 12 to 18. By the end of her trip, she and the boys were nicknamed “The Green Team” and had become close friends. The students accompanied her to the airport when she left; they gave her cards and hand-drawn pictures and sang songs the whole bus ride there—hence the tears.

“We really got to know each other very well, because we were together five to eight hours a day,” Ms. Olson said. “And they were just such good, respectable, hardworking, inquisitive and very intelligent boys. We bonded very, very much.”

The Green Team planted five gardens during the three-week period. Before she left, some in Sag Harbor had expressed concern to Ms. Olson that American seeds would not necessarily grow successfully in African soil. In true science teacher fashion, she did a plenty of research, augmented by hope and, sure enough, the gardens flourished. Within weeks, the seeds grew to be two inches tall and were “so unbelievably successful, ridiculously successful,” said Ms. Olson, who seemed to be in a permanent state of ecstasy over her trip.

After Ms. Olson was initially taken to a Shop-Rite 25 minutes away from the school, she expressed the need to go shopping somewhere slightly more authentic to the local community, and the boys took her instead to the farmers’ market in Limbe. She saw the city market, met the vendors, and got insight into what the locals grow.

“It was a very exciting place for me to go shopping, because it’s where everybody goes that lives there… it was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” she said.

Two days before she left, Ms. Olson and her team of boys had a huge feast, in which they served meals using mature versions, purchased from the market, of the vegetables they were in the process growing.

“I cooked five chickens, we had a huge salad and I cooked potatoes and carrots, tomatoes, peas, celery, everything that I could find in the market,” she recalled.

Kryn Olson and The Green Team. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

Kryn Olson and The Green Team. Photo courtesy Kryn Olson.

“And afterward I said, ‘Do you understand why you have planted these vegetables now?’ ‘Cause they eat porridge every day—this was beyond crazy for them,” she continued.

They had a long conversation on the value of well-balanced meals and the boys, she said, could not devour the veggies fast enough, “it was just such a successful end-all… It was really just such a bonding time, I couldn’t have asked for a better result. There was just one good experience after another.”

The Green Team also built a greenhouse, an idea of the boys’, to enable the students to continue growing vegetables during Malawi’s long rainy season.

Ms. Da Silva wants Ms. Olson to return to Jacaranda to design vegetable plots for a pre-school she hopes to build.

Ms. Da Silva and Ms. Olson are hopeful gardening will help to change not only the students’ diet, but also their economic position, as they begin to harvest and sell the crops.

In addition to her Green Team of newly trained farmers, Ms. Olson also built relationships with some of the hundreds of other students at Jacaranda.

“Every time I would walk through the gates,” she said of the children, “they would come running to me with their arms open. Every day, you just felt like your life couldn’t have gotten any better, ’cause there was so much love and so much compassion with these children and the people that worked there… It was awesome, it was just truly, truly awesome.”

Ms. Olson said when she held the smallest of the orphans, they would immediately fall asleep in her arms “because they were so excited about getting nurtured…it was a beautiful experience.”

While volunteer opportunities in Africa are vast, Ms. Olson said what’s special about the Jacaranda Foundation, which supports the school, is that the change it’s instilling in the community is tangible.

Ms. Da Silva and the school’s executive director, Luc Deschamps, “have actually started a big chain reaction that’s going to change Malawi and that could change other communities,” she said.

In addition to the school, they have started a public library in Malawi, outreach courses to empower women through learning to read, write and take care of themselves and other initiatives.

A public school less than five miles from Jacaranda has 3,000 students.

“They have 200 per classroom, one teacher, no books, no paper, no pencils,” said Ms. Olson. “But Luc has actually started to build a library there… it’s like the change is coming, it’s growing and every single time that they do something they look, ‘What’s the next step?’”

“They think bigger than themselves,” she added, “they’re completely compassionate and have no personal agendas. This is their entire life to service this community—not only is that incredibly rare, but it’s quite venturous—it’s an incredibly poor community.”

Ms. Olson’s friends from Sag Harbor, Suzanne Shaw and her daughter Winter, met her in Malawi and she expects many more friends will join her when she returns, which she said will be “as soon as I can.”

Several students and parents have already reached out to Ms. Olson in hopes of joining her next summer.

“I would definitely consider something like this,” she said, “because it’s a wonderful thing to be able to see life at the purest of places. Relationships were just really honest and pure, there’s just a lot less stuff, so there wasn’t any other conversation. It was just magical, I don’t know how else to describe it.”

To donate supplies or money to the Jacaranda School, contact Kryn Olson at kolson@sagharborschools.org.

East End Weekend: Highlights of What to Do July 25 to 27

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The Montauk Project, Chris Wood, Mark Schiavoni, Jasper Conroy and Jack Marshall, performs at Swallow East in Montauk on Friday, February 28. Photo by Ian Cooke.

The Montauk Project, Chris Wood, Mark Schiavoni, Jasper Conroy and Jack Marshall, performs at Swallow East in Montauk on Friday, February 28. Photo by Ian Cooke.

By Tessa Raebeck

From fast-growing local bands to slow food snail suppers, there’s plenty to do on the East End this weekend. Here are some highlights:

The Montauk Project is playing at Swallow East in the band’s hometown of Montauk Saturday, July 26 at 8 p.m. The local beach grunge rockers, who were born and bred on the island and are steadily gaining more recognition by music critics and enthusiasts alike, released their first full-length album, “Belly of the Beast,” in March. The band, which consists of East Hampton’s Chris Wood and Jack Marshall, Sag Harbor’s Mark Schiavoni and Jasper Conroy of Montauk, will be joined by hip hop/rock hybrid PUSHMETHOD, who were voted the best New York City hip hop group of 2013 by The Deli magazine.

Eastern Surf Magazine said of the East End group, “The Montauk Project is far tighter than every other surf-inspired East Coast rock band to come before it.” Swallow East is located at 474 West Lake Drive in Montauk. For more information, call (631) 668-8344.

 

Also on Saturday, People Say NY presents an open mic and art show at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, starting at 8 p.m. In addition to featured grunge pop artist Adam Baranello and featured performer Danny Matos, who specializes in spoken word and hip hop, performers of all ages are encouraged to participate.

According to its mission statement, People Say NY “brings art back to the fundamentals, so we can remind ourselves why artists and art lovers alike do what we do.”

The night of music, comedy and poetry has a sign-up and $10 cover and is at the Hayground School, located at 151 Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton. For more information, visit peoplesayny.com or check out @PeopleSayNY on Twitter and Facebook.

 

In celebration of the release of the “Delicious Nutritious FoodBook” by the Edible School Garden Group of the East End, Slow Food East End hosts a Snail Supper at the home of Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, located at 39 Peconic Hills Drive in Southampton. The supper will be held Friday, July 25, at 6 p.m.

Guests are asked to bring a potluck dish to share that serves six to eight people and aligns with the slow food mission, as well as local beverages. Capacity is limited to 50 and tickets are $20 for Slow Food East End members and $25 for non-members. The price includes a copy of the new cookbook. Proceeds from the evening will be shared between Slow Food East End and Edible School Gardens, Ltd. Click here to RSVP.

 

Some one hundred historians will converge upon Sag Harbor to enjoy the Eastville Community Historical Society’s luncheon and walking tour of Eastville and Sag Harbor.

The day-long event starts at 8:30 a.m. with a welcome at the Old Whalers Church, located at 44 Union Street in Sag Harbor, followed by a walking tour at 9:30 a.m. to the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum, the Sag Harbor Custom House and the Sag Harbor Historical Society, which is located at Nancy Wiley’s home. A shuttle bus is available for those needing assistance.

From 11:15 a.m. to noon, guests will visit the Eastville Community Historical Society Complex to see the quilt exhibit “Warmth” at the St. David AME Zion Church and Cemetery. A luncheon catered by Page follows from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor.

 

The Hilton Brothers, "Andy Dandy 5," 2007, 36 x 48 inches, pigment print. Image courtesy Peter Marcelle Project.

The Hilton Brothers, “Andy Dandy 5,” 2007, 36 x 48 inches, pigment print. Image courtesy Peter Marcelle Project.

The Peter Marcelle Project in Southampton will exhibit the Hilton Brothers, an artistic identity that emerged from a series of collaborations by artists Christopher Makos and Paul Solberg, from July 26 to August 5.

Their latest collaboration, “Andy Dandy,” is a portfolio of 20 digital pigment prints. The diptychs combine Mr. Makos’ “Altered Image” portraits of Andy Warhol with images of flowers from Mr. Solberg’s “Bloom” series.

“Andy wasn’t the kind of dandy to wear a flower in his lapel, but as ‘Andy Dandy’ demonstrates, sometimes by just altering the image of one’s work or oneself, a new beauty blooms,” the gallery said in a press release.

The gallery is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Creating a Healthier School District from the Top Down

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Heller_BH School Wellness Challenge_6099

By Kathryn G. Menu

Bridgehampton teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz begins most days with a plate of eggs and cheese, “usually on top of something buttered.”
Until today, that is.

Carmack-Fayyaz is one of about a dozen members of the Bridgehampton Union Free School District participating in the Winter Wellness Challenge, sponsored and facilitated by the East Hampton based not-for-profit Wellness Foundation.

The Wellness Foundation, founded in 2005 by East Hampton resident Doug Mercer, is dedicated to empowering East End residents to live healthier lives through changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle by providing resources, hosting events like film screenings and lectures, as well as through initiatives like the Winter Wellness Challenge.

At its core, the Winter Wellness Challenge asks participants to engage in a vegan-inspired, whole foods diet, as well as increase exercise for six weeks. During the course of the challenge, groups will meet weekly for lectures on health, wellness, cooking classes and for general support.

This winter’s program has over 80 participants from East Hampton through Southampton, including Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton. The scientifically-based program is free, funded by the Wellness Foundation, which hopes to use the results of the challenge to further their research into the physical benefits of a whole foods, nutrient rich diet.

According to Wellness Foundation Outreach Director Barbara Kinnier, a Sag Harbor resident who will facilitate the wellness challenges in Sag Harbor and in Bridgehampton, blood tests were taken by all participants at the start and end of the challenge. Changes in cholesterol and glucose will be measured, along with each participant’s waistline — another indicator of good health.

Whether or not participants choose to share their results with the rest of the group is up to them, said Kinnier, as the foundation aims to protect privacy while encouraging changes in behavior.

According to Kinnier, the main goal is to educate participants about the benefits of a nutrient dense diet, made up primarily of vegetables and fruits.

“The thing about the body that is amazing is that it wants to heal itself and on the cellular level, the body is in fact healed through these foods,” said Kinnier. “And we make it taste good.”

Organizing a group at Bridgehampton School to join this winter’s challenge was the brainchild of new superintendent Dr. Lois Favre, who was inspired after school nurse Elizabeth Alves showed her the DVD “Processed People,” which the Wellness Foundation screened at the school earlier this month in the evening for community members.

Dr. Favre said in light of the new greenhouse on the school grounds — one that will soon produce salad greens and vegetables for the school’s brand new salad bar station — she felt the Winter Wellness Challenge presented the staff and faculty with an opportunity to set a good example for Bridgehampton School students.

Dr. Favre will take part in the challenge herself, along with about 10 members of the school’s faculty and staff.

“I also thought it might be a great way to get to know my staff in a different capacity, alongside them, getting healthy,” said Dr. Favre.

“I am hoping it builds the capacity for bringing more of what’s good for us into our program of studies for our students, into our cafeteria and ultimately to our families,” added Dr. Favre.

Carmack-Fayyaz said she was thrilled with Dr. Favre’s initiative, adding the program is very much in line with changes at Bridgehampton School — in particular the introduction of landscape design and nutrition classes crafted around an outdoor garden and now a greenhouse, which will be completed in March.

“We started our nutrition and culinary arts class here, and we have been teaching our students the Slow Food philosophy,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “It was striking because at first a lot of the students had this idea that being a vegan would be a very scary thing, that it was impossible to do, but we assembled some really great vegan salads in our class, and I think they were surprised by it.”

She said she hopes to chart some of the wellness challenge results for student’s to see, in particular how much each participant is logging on the pedometers they will wear throughout the course of the challenge.
“I think the biggest challenge will be re-conceptualizing what a meal is comprised of and giving most of the plate over to the vegetables,” said Carmack-Fayyaz. “I know personally, it is a little scary — the idea of eating essentially a vegan diet for six weeks — but my hope is after the challenge I can cut down my meat consumption to one or two small servings a week and eat a more plant-based diet. I don’t think I will end up staying a full fledged vegan though.”

For Dr. Favre, fitting exercise into her busy schedule will be the biggest challenge, although she noted she will have the support of some staff members who aren’t even participating in the nutrition aspect of the program, but are committed to walking each day.

“I am hoping for renewed energy as is promised, and also gratifying will be the congeniality that will be built with staff around issues of taking care of ourselves, while we look after and inspire our students,” said Dr. Favre.
That is not to say the thought of cheesy pizza and a good hamburger will not haunt the superintendent as she embarks on this dietary challenge, although Dr. Favre said she was hopeful she would find new favorite foods in her vegan diet.

“I know that right now tofu is not on my hit parade,” she said. “But ask me later and I will share my new favorites.”