More than once we got asked, “Why are you out in the hills doing surveys for your spring break? Shouldn’t you be at Daytona beach?”. Well… we all have different answers to that. Some people just wanted the research experience, some wanted to do something meaningful for their senior year spring break, some didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was a little bit different. Technically, this wasn’t even my spring break! I was skipping class! (I pre-arranged it with my professors though). I just couldn’t not go, I felt. Last year I went to learn more and be an awesome social justice advocate. I loved the feeling of gathering tangible evidence of a problem and it was somehow different from advocating to a bunch of my peers. We were actually gathering the evidence, instead of trying to persuade other busy college students that they needed to care about one more thing amidst their already insane lives. I guess I got hooked, because I came back for a second year of it! While we were still in Appalachia, this time we weren’t in West Virginia, we were in Kentucky.

Are you confused? Maybe I should back up. This spring break I went to Appalachia to work on a Community Health Survey. We went door-to-door asking people personal questions about their health. For Hope College students they called it an ‘immersion trip’. I really don’t think its possible to get more immersed than going into people’s double-wide trailers and asking them if they have cancer or if they suffer from diarrhea or constipation. I obviously don’t know everything there is to know about coal mining or the issue of mountain-top removal, but I do feel like I know the people of Kentucky and I can sure mimic their accents pretty darn well.

Here are a few pictures from the week. These were all shot digitally (and then edited to look like film, haha). I also shot four rolls of film which I’ll take in to get developed later today.

They have a problem with littering :[ It makes me really sad.

This is my new friend Tea (pronounced Tay-uh). She is from Bosnia and was one of the students that came from St. Olaf College

Ellie goes to Hope but she just transferred so I didn’t know her before this trip. She has a great smile and sweet personality.

We were right in the area of the tornado damage from two weeks before. The towns of Salyersville and West Liberty were both very bad. We met a few people during our surveys that were staying with relatives and told us that they had lost their houses. It was hard to know how to respond to someone telling you that. Even though we weren’t able to help out with the clean-up, we saw a lot of other groups that were so we knew that it was being taken care of.

Erika was my survey-taking partner for the first day! We shared a lot of great experiences.

Getting our surveys and papers in order before we headed out. Some volunteers from ‘Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’ helped us out a lot with navigation.

We met this nice lady who had been living alone for years. She chatted with us and practically told us her life story. Then she took us inside and showed us her quilts that she hand sews.

Kimberly was my survey partner for the second day! We met a nice old man named Bert that whittles. This is just a sneak preview though because I shot a whole roll of slide film with him that I am absolutely ecstatic about.


Ever since his wife had died, he told us, he had taken up whittling to keep himself sane. He took us through room after room showing us the stuff that he makes.

We watched the movie “Matewan” and then went to Matewan, West Virginia to visit the actual site. A massive shoot-out took place here between the Union organizers and the coal barons back in 1920. The coal industry has a big history of injustice, but there are always those people, like the union-men, that are courageous enough to stand up for their rights.

We went to a thrift store in Matewan and I found one of my favorite books from when I was little! Seriously, this book is the cutest, you have to go find it at your library.

This is Hanwen. He was also from St. Olaf and he is an international student from China. I managed to capture him in the magnificent window light of the gift shop at the Matewan museum.

Hello, this is me! I’m receiving a telegraph of some sorts.

Its a little bit hard to see, but the water here is orange. Its not supposed to be orange. Some ladies from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth took us near a mountain top removal site and told us about how they test water in the area. Just last week they had gathered a water sample and found it to be a pH of 3.5, which is extremely acidic.

Getting up close and personal to the mountain-top removal was one of the most memorable experiences for everyone. We were all torn between the understanding that coal mining is the only way of life their economy knows… and the fact that removing these mountains is morally wrong when you view it as God’s creation. Not to mention the horrible side affects that the environmental degradation has on the community health. I’ll probably write another post going into more detail on mountain top removal in the future.

Thursday evening we went to what they called a “Pickin”. Excuse me if I spelled that wrong. It was basically a bluegrass music concert with dancing. It was a great way to appreciate their culture and everyone was eager to join in on the dancing. Everyone had so much fun that a group of them went back on Friday for a second one!

Thats all the pictures for now folks! Stay tuned for my film to get developed. I can hardly sit still as I think about whats on those rolls of 120mm film…