Mitali and Company's Discussion Guide for Service Trips Across Borders of Power
Questions to accompany a group read of Forward Me Back To You by Mitali Perkins:
- PG asks Kat, Gracie, and Ravi to answer two questions about their service trip before they go. “I want to…” “I hope to …” Finish the sentences for yourself and seal in an envelope to read when you return.
- Why was it important for Ravi, Kat, and Gracie to study Bangla? Do you plan to learn any words or phrases in the language spoken by the people you are visiting? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Gracie, Kat, and Ravi follow the lead of the national/local people who welcome them for the summer. Ravi spends time on what he thinks will be boring office work and Gracie and Kat agree to take care of babies as their “act of service.” What will you be doing as your “act of service”?
- Sometimes a good desire to serve and give can end up damaging local systems instead of supporting them. Did this happen with Kat, Ravi, and Gracie? Why or why not? Is your labor something that could be done instead by local people for income? If you are bringing stuff to donate, how does this affect local vendors and producers of similar food or wares?
- Do Kat, Gracie, and Ravi serve in a way that they wouldn't be able to in Boston or Oakland? Is the work you are doing possible because the place you are going has fewer regulations than in your home community and/or weaker rule of law? Is your act of service in that community offered only by trained professionals in your own community? What would it be like for you if someone came and served your community or family in the same manner? What questions might you ask? How would you want to participate?
- Why is Sergeant Shen mistrustful of foreigners visiting his work? Why does Arjun think it’s important? Do you agree with Shen or Arjun?
- Kat and Ravi both hope to “save” the victims of human trafficking. What are their plans? Why don’t they work? How are people in the novel helped and by whom?
- What do you think about the “no cell phone” policy PG sets in place during the summer? What are the risks of posting on social media while serving overseas?
- Do you think the fact that Kat, Ravi, and Gracie aren’t white makes a difference during their time in India? Why or why not? Does the history of British colonialism play any role in how white people might be perceived in India? Does our perceived ancestry (correct or incorrect) matter in cross-cultural service?
- As a group, brainstorm a few lists. First, identify three human traits, behaviors, and emotions that are universal. Second, list three which might vary depending on culture and upbringing. Third, list three strengths of the host culture. Fourth, agree on at least three similarities between your culture and the host culture. Fifth, come up with at least three differences. How do those differences make you feel?
- Prepare a few questions that might help you discover someone’s story without being too intrusive about past trauma. Here are some suggestions: What is a favorite childhood memory? What holiday do you enjoy celebrating? Be prepared to share your stories around the same questions. Try to learn how to say a word or two in the host language.
- From your observations and reading, what are the top three socio-economic and historical/political challenges in this new culture/village/community? If someone were to ask you, what would you describe as the top three socio-economic and historical/political challenges of your own culture/village/community/?