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We're all in this together, across Kalamazoo and the world

Our last meeting, on March 12. Women entrepreneurs from Russia, here through Open World, hosted by Tirrea Billings at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. Tirrea (center) spoke about using film as a medium for social change.

Dear friends,

It has been some two weeks since those of us with the privilege to work from home and socially distance ourselves have started doing so. Our time of shelter in place is almost as old. We here in Michigan could hardly have imagined a month ago that we would find ourselves in one of the states hardest hit by COVID-19, with heroes nourishing us and trying their best to keep us healthy and safe while healing our sick. Our strength and courage go out to our fellow Michiganders on the east side of the state, where Detroit is one of the epicenters of this pandemic. We are with you and we are all in this together. 

Our work of creating and fostering in-person international engagement in West Michigan, at the core of what we do, is on hold. It is almost surreal to think that this month, we hosted three delegations of international leaders here in Kalamazoo, exploring civic engagement among young people, and looking at engaging youth in the political process, both as voters and candidates for office. Women entrepreneurs came here to share best practices on how to juggle business development, motherhood and all of the other extra burdens that women bear, before even considering their top notch business plans. 

These themes that we explored this very month seem so far away from our present concerns, all across the world. Our focus now is on supporting our essential service providers, keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, and doing everything in our power to ‘flatten the curve’ and protect our health system from becoming completely overrun. 

It is a great honor of our work that we have the privilege to bring people together from all across the world, right here in Kalamazoo. One of the glaring lessons that every single project we implement shows us, that every relationship we nurture shows us, is that we are all part of a common humanity, dealing with shared struggles and challenges in an enormous variety of contexts all across the globe. At times, one needs to dig deep to find our shared humanity, and to bring into focus how the issues we are grappling with are linked. Today, no such effort is necessary. Today, staring at us all, is our shared challenge of slowing and ultimately defeating this pandemic. 

Our plans, like those of all of us, in every field everywhere, are changing dramatically. At our core, we bring people face-to-face to learn from one another, building relationships across difference in the process. We will not be able to do this, in the manner to which we are accustomed, for the foreseeable future. We hosted more than 380 people from 58 countries in 2019, and we even hosted 21 people from 15 countries in March 2020 alone. We will get back to this at some point. In the nearer term, as is the challenge for all of us, we will seek meaningful ways to engage virtually. 

We at Colleagues will work on our plans for 2021, which include developing an outbound exchange program from Kalamazoo to Germany, where we have dozens of youth worker alumni. We will plan our 50th anniversary, which is a huge milestone to share with the Kalamazoo community that has made this possible. 

We will do these things together with you.

It is our hope that you will work with us to imagine our next steps, and we will be seeking your feedback, through online forms and other means in the coming weeks, to help us in this. 

We are all seeing the world in a new way today and, in our self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine, or whichever combination of these we are experiencing, we see deeply our interconnectedness, our shared humanity, our need to engage socially, and just how global we truly are, in both good ways and bad. 

We look forward to engaging with you as we navigate international exchange in Kalamazoo in the time of COVID-19. For now, we are happy to share with you a snapshot from ‘before’. 

At this link, you can read our Winter/Spring 2020 Newsletter, compiled in February, in another time. 

Thank you so much for all that you are doing to stay home and stay safe. To those of you who are feeding us (especially those who are in the fields and out on delivery), keeping us safe (especially those who are cleaning and disinfecting), and keeping us healthy (especially our frontline health workers) – Thank you. 

From all of us at Colleagues International, we wish you health and happiness. We are all in this together.

Best regards,

Jodi Hope Michaels

Executive Director

Melody Daacon

Program Manager

Thomas Kostrzewa

President, Board of Directors

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