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Dear World

Sunday, July 9, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Connecting People Through Powerful Messages and Images

By Kathy Jonas
Indiana University, ‘78

dearworldMarco Cobar (Bridgewater State University, ‘17) chose the words "A soldier loves you” as his message to be inscribed on his arms for the "Dear World” project at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

Kyle Bueno (Bridgewater State University, ‘18) penned just one word: "perseverance.”

Both members of Phi Kappa Theta Massachusetts Zeta at Bridgewater State University, the two were participants in the interactive storytelling/portrait shoot project on campus as part of a larger university initiative to bring increased unity among students, faculty and staff.

"We have seen the nation be divided, and we wanted to show that there are communities that still work together,” says Cobar, adding that having tough discussions about racism, sexism and prejudice are necessary to achieve increased understanding. "We can all do better within the college community. I even challenge all the chapters across the nation to build a better community.”

The "Dear World” project, begun in 2011, is not just writing messages on the body with a marker. According to its website, "It also seeks the story behind the story, the lived life that informs a line scrawled on a face, palm or forearm.” Since its inception, more than 50,000 portraits have been taken across the globe, including shoots at colleges and universities such as Bridgewater State.

A portion of the revenue collected underwrites projects around the world, such as documenting Syrian refugees in the Zataari camp in Jordan, giving voice to the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and offering those who made it through the Joplin, Missouri tornado a chance to express themselves.

Matt Miller, associate director of Student Involvement and Leadership at Bridgewater, says his office and the Student Government Association brought Dear World to campus after seeing its impact at a conference. "We hoped to help people share a small part of their unique story through writing and photography,” says Miller. The university reached out to other groups on campus, such as student government and resident and Greek life, to make the event a success.

The power of watching participants figure out their simple message was surprising to Miller. "I have worked here for 12 years and I have never had an experience like that. You really grasp what students struggle with.”

dearworldBueno, a junior economics major at Bridgewater and President of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity, took the opportunity to tell a story about his childhood. The message "perseverance” applied on his arms with a Sharpie, refers to a time when he was a toddler of just three years old. A first generation American, he had a mysterious illness that prevented him from being able to eat.

"My parents were there for me,” says Bueno. "My parents had to figure out a way to be with me when I was in the hospital for two months at Johns Hopkins.” His mother is from the Azores and his father emigrated from Brazil. The word "perseverance” applies to his own struggle as well as his parents’ struggle.

"I had to learn to eat again. They never found out what it was,” says Bueno. "I remember some of that time, and it was not easy.” But, he credits his parents with helping him become a good student through their example of hard work and perseverance.

Bueno says "Dear World” appealed to the Fraternity because it offered brothers a chance to represent Greek life in a way that other campus groups might not recognize, hoping to help erase the popular stereotypes of parties and cliques.

"We wanted to show that we are part of the community. A mission of the Fraternity is to be better advocates for our peers. It is easy to be in your own little world, but this is a bridge between what divides us,” he adds.

A VIP event the night before the main photo shoot brought together campus leaders and featured their portraits on social media in an attempt to get as many students as possible participating the next day. At Bridgewater, with a student population of 11,000, about 500 students, faculty and staff showed up to take part. At the end of the project, the finale presents compelling stories and a photo reveal on stage to invite discussion and reflection on the many similarities human beings share.

Cobar, a senior and global business management major with a minor in accounting and finance, also has served five years in the United States Army, thus his message "a soldier loves you.”

"I wrote this because regardless of the hatred and division in this country, people should know that someone still loves them out there and won’t be prejudiced,” he adds. He and another student, Mary Woodbury, started Bridgewater Stands United, a new campus movement separate from the university initiative, working to bring about positive change, with Dear World being part of its five-step objective.

Both Bueno and Cobar also serve on the executive board of the Student Government Association.

Cobar says there is no more fitting way for a Phi Kap to live its motto "Give, Expecting Nothing Thereof” than to work to bring divided people into the same room to achieve peace and unity.

One of the stories that touched Bueno was from a LGBT student who never really felt accepted in his hometown and faced a lot of adversity. "Here he was accepted for who he was; it was college that did that.”

Image: Brother Marco Cobar (Bridgewater State University, ‘17) participates in the interactive storytelling/portrait shoot project to unify his campus.

Bottom Image: Brother Kyle Bueno (Bridgewater State University, ‘18) participates in the interactive storytelling/portrait shoot project to unify his campus.

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