Youth Forward scholarship 2016 – The Art of Giving

Name: Amaris Danielle Gonzalez
From: Aliquippa, Pennsylvania
Grade: High school senior
School: agonzalez@sewickley.org
Votes: 0

The Art of Giving

In the Fall of 2014, I attended my school’s global studies assembly.
At this assembly students and peers are informed of upcoming
international trips and programs for the summer. Most trips are to
tropical places helping out animals or teaching kids to read. I
remember sitting in the auditorium one year just as I did years
prior, only this year was different. The Dean of Students stood and
addressed the school about a trip, but not to the Dominican Republic
or Costa Rica, but Poland. “
Poland,”
I thought, “
who would want to go to Poland for the Summer?
I was intrigued so I continued to listen to what the purpose of this
obscure trip was. When I learned that it was a trip to study the
Holocaust, I was convinced that this was the oddest trip we’ve ever
offered. Then the assembly ended and I continued my day as normal.
But that night, I couldn’t get the trip out of my mind. “
It’s
not everyday you can spend two weeks in Poland visiting concentration
camps alongside a Holocaust survivor
,”
I thought. Before you knew it, I was in the Global Service Office the
next morning filling out my application. I heard back after a few
days that I was accepted into the program!

One thing that stuck with me was the question, “Why do you want to
participate in this trip,” on the application. I wasn’t Jewish.
As a matter of fact, there isn’t an ounce of Jewish blood in my veins
at all actually, so why did I want to go? The answer lied within
myself. I was and have always been interested in the Holocaust.
Morbid, but true. This gruesome and tragic time period affected so
many that, to me, it was unfathomable and hard to really grasp the
true impact it left on people. To me, it didn’t matter what your
religion, race, or heritage was in order to understand this impact
and study the horrors of the Holocaust because it didn’t just affect
its millions of victims, it affected the entire world too. It is in
all of our blood and because we all live here on this Earth, it is
all of our jobs to analyze this dark side of history to prevent it
from happening again. Another reason why I found this trip necessary
is because, often times, people don’t even really know what happened
in the Holocaust. It is something that is either extremely
underestimated or forgotten about as a whole, which is a shame. I
knew that this trip would give me the opportunity for me to study the
Holocaust, and when I come back, the stories and experiences to
spread the word to others as well.

While on the trip, I saw four concentration camps, countless synagogues,
and the hometown of the our tour guide and Holocaust survivor,
Howard. We heard testimonies from real people who went through
terrifying experiences right where we were standing. The group of
people on the trip consisted of people of all races and religions
from kids in high school to grown adults with children and families.
We learned about the what it means to be Jewish through examples of
people finding out about the truth about their culture as grown
adults. I stepped foot inside a gas chamber. I touched the beds in
which dozens of Jews were squeezed into. I sat in the trains that
transported millions of Jews to their deaths. I glanced upon the
glasses and shoes left by innocent victims. I cried amongst strangers
who, too, were trying to absorb everything we were seeing.

My trip to Poland is what truly inspired me to start my project Bricks
Left Behind
. Studying the Holocaust showed me how apparent it is that the
misunderstandings and assumptions of the Holocaust are put to rest.
Not just for moral reasons either, but time as well. The truth and
testimonies die with the survivors, so it is important that people
learn this now. My trip abroad opened my eyes to that. Therefore I
spread the word the best and most effective way I know how, through
art. I took the stories and experiences from Poland to form a vision
of what the Holocaust meant to me. Most of the time, people allow the
Holocaust to “define” its victims. Nobody really realizes that
they all had lives before the 1930s, and that’s an aspect that I
wanted to incorporate in my artwork: a time frame of their lives
through the Holocaust. So through my planning and designing I had to
envision where my focus would be. Then, I recalled one of the
testimonies that really hit home for me. It was a story of a young
girl being separated from her mother. A story like this is very
sensitive to me and most people due to the fact that young girls are
very attached to their mothers. Just like that, I knew that was what
I needed to paint.

My hope for this project was and is to spread awareness of the
Holocaust. As I mentioned before, most people are either misinformed
or unknowledgable about the affects and events of the Holocaust.
Often times, the only exposure given to students about this topic is
a page and a half in a history book. Or even two minutes in a
documentary about World War Two. I know that I even fell into that
category before my trip. Because I have gone through the experiences
I’ve gone through while in Poland, I planned on taking that
knowledge and bringing it back to tell as many as possible. I have
accomplished just that. After the completion of my artwork I
displayed it to as many people as I can. I took my stories, wrote
them down, and spread them through social media and face to face
confrontations. My hope now is to get my local gallery to feature it
in this Spring’s Art Walk. By doing so, the local community will
also be able to see and learn from my paintings.

This abroad program and service project has taught me many things. First,
the importance of history. By being right where millions of Jews have
perished has opened my eyes to the harshness the world offers and how
essential it is to learn and understand our history to the fullest. I
also got a glimpse of what it really means to be cultured. I saw, for
the first time, what culture really means to people. It’s beyond
the good food and cool physical features. Your culture represents who
you are and what you are willing to stand up for. Learning about the
Jewish culture helped me rethink my own. My values and beliefs should
be as strong and passionate as the Jews were about theirs, even in
times of despair. I also learned how to create art for a purpose. I
never really tried to create art for a purpose before. It was always
just for pleasure and a cool thing to hang on the wall. Now, I can
see the bigger picture as to what my art skills can be used for and
how effective it can be. Lastly, I appreciated my own circumstances
and life more too. Imagining what it would be like to go through half
the things the victims of the Holocaust went through really made me
reevaluate what I have in my life and how much my family, friends,
and home mean to me. Even my hair that would have been shaved off has
more value now. Things like this are what more people should
experience and witness for themselves. My project helps teach people
this concept as much as possible.


Join our Facebook group "Volunteers for a Better World".