Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Appalachia Service Trip

I’m so excited to share with you that next week, March 9-16th, I will be co-leading a spring break service trip through my college, Messiah College, to the Appalachian region of Virginia. There, my team, along with students from other colleges, will be participating in the Appalachian Community Health Survey Project run by an organization called Restoring Eden. I will be going door to door in the impoverished coal mining communities of southwestern Virginia asking residents to complete family health surveys in order to further verify the research compiled in the previous two years of this project showing the negative health impacts of coal mining, specifically mountain top removal coal mining, with the ultimate goal of informed policies being passed. During my semester abroad this past fall, God really placed the impoverished in Appalachia on my heart and in my mind, and, as I was praying for a tangible way to do something about it, He placed this opportunity in my lap. I am so excited for what God is going to do on this trip, both through me and my team and the other students, and I would so love to have your prayers. Also, pray for me as a leader, that God would use me in the lives of my team members.

In Christ,

A little more explanation…

-- Mountain top removal coal mining & the project

The mountainous Appalachian region is one of the most impoverished in the country and has been negatively affected by coal mining, especially mountain top removal coal mining, in which the summits of mountains are removed in order to access valuable coal deposits. The earth, as well as all of the waste from this process, much of it toxic, is dumped into nearby valleys, burying and contaminating drinking water sources. However, little research has been done to prove the detrimental health effects of coal mining. 

For the past two years, Restoring Eden has partnered with researchers at West Virginia University to provide them with data to show the correlation between mountain top removal coal mining and health problems. In fact, the research gathered so far has shown that cancer rates were twice as high in mountaintop removal coal mining communities compared to non-coal mining communities. Next week I will be joining in the third and final year of surveying to gather further research so that policy makers can make informed decisions on this issue.

Read more about mountain top removal:

-- Why I want to spend my spring break doing this

This past semester, Fall 2012, I studied abroad in the Central American country of Belize with Creation Care Study Program. Through the program my eyes were opened to so many environmental and social justice issues that I had never even thought to think about before. Living in an underdeveloped nation I also experienced poverty in a very real way, in a way that I had never experienced before through any of my short term mission trips. However, one of the things that most shocked and saddened me was the realization that there is real poverty in my own country. I knew that Appalachia was poor, but somehow my eyes and heart were opened and I truly understood the reality of it, and it has been weighing on my mind ever since then. One of the students in the program had participated in this same exact health survey project and she shared about her experience with us, and about how coal mining is greatly exacerbating the region's poverty. Then I received an email from the nursing department at my school saying volunteers were needed for a spring break trip, and as soon as I opened the attachment and read the flier and realized it was the same trip that my fellow student had participated in, God started speaking to my heart and calling me to use my spring break trip to personally experience the poverty in Appalachia and to do something about the situation that has been weighing heavily on my mind and heart. Poverty breaks my heart, environmental degradation breaks my heart, but, as a nursing major, knowing that these impoverished people are also suffering health-wise really breaks my heart and moves me to action.

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