Tag Archives: West Virginia

Home Is Where the Heart Is

By Cheryl Nachbauer, 2014 - 2015, Chile

Twelve Fulbright Students from around the world gathered in Williamson, WV, to participate in a service-learning program led by Amizade. As our group was warmly welcomed by the local community, I felt an authentic sense of belonging, where conversations flowed freely and friendships ran deep. What impressed me the most was the people of Williamson. Their sense of community, hospitality, pride and unwavering perseverance to succeed, was not only inspiring but contagious. Due to a series of floods, the coal mine collapse, and lack of employment, Mingo County’s population dwindled from 50,000 to 3,000 residents. Despite their misfortune, residents are uniting as a family to breathe not only life but hope back into their community.

This collective passion is what drives a community to become the best version of itself, and encourages others to join in the revolution. In a way, this devastating crisis has presented a blank canvas for Williamson to rebuild the future they desire. Sustainable Williamson has spearheaded this revolution by taking a holistic approach to challenges faced by this Appalachian community. By reimagining what sustainable agriculture, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and tourism paradigms could be, they are transforming a place back into a home.

An Architect Discovered Hope in Williamson

By Ahmed, 2015 - 2017, the Middle East

Former Mayor of Williamson, Darren McCormick, from 2005 - 2014 teaches the Fulbright Amizade participants about the community's history. Photo by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez.

Former Mayor of Williamson, Darrin McCormick, from 2005 – 2014 teaches the Fulbright Amizade participants about the community’s history. Photo by Jorge Caraballo Cordovez.

As an architect from the Middle East, I came to United States to pursue a master’s degree.  I was invited by Fulbright and Amizade to Williamson, West Virginia, to do community service. Williamson is a small town in Mingo County that recently experienced the impacts of coal mines being shutdown. As a result, the population declined from 10,000 to 3,000 citizens in the past few years. The town was in a critical situation until community  heroes tried to find new hope. Through Amizade and Fulbright, I had a  chance to meet these leaders and learned from them that it is not impossible to change a community whose livelihood has depended on coal into a sustainable, green one. I learned from these leaders that small actions can have huge impacts on the community. Actions like community farms, health care, building renovations and a CoalFields Got Talent show. It is like throwing small rocks in a calm lake; you start seeing ripples spreading and growing throughout the community.

I believe we can make Williamson sustainable and green if we believe in it and start involving the community.”  Darrin McCormick, Former Mayor of Williamson

Faces of Williamson, West Virginia: A Photo Essay

By Jorge Caraballo, 2015-2017, Colombia

I’ve only been in Williamson, West Virginia for 48 hours and even though it’s not enough time to have a deep sense of everything that is happening in town, I’ve found a significant contrast between the quiet energy that I feel on the streets and the vitality of the residents who are trying to make improvements to their community.

I have been walking around with my camera capturing signs of a town that has suffered a dramatic decrease in its population–from 10,000 to 3,000 people–and talking with locals, asking them why they chose to stay when the coal industry has slowed down.

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Williamson, West Virginia, was once a vibrant mining town with a population of 10,000 people. Since the big coal mines closed, there has been a dramatic decrease in the population.  You can feel the absence of those who have left.

Appalachia on the Cusp of Spring

By Allison Braden, 2013 - 2014, Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Bangladesh

Allison Braden, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bangladesh 2013-2014, is a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Alumni participant in the Fulbright Amizade 2016 service-learning activity.

Allison Braden, a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bangladesh 2013-2014, is a Fulbright U.S. Student Program Alumni participant in the Fulbright Amizade 2016 service-learning activity.

I am, frankly, overwhelmed. In the first day and a half of my experience with Amizade in Appalachia, I’ve been forced to confront a swarm of questions that I don’t have answers to and are perhaps unanswerable, but our asking questions without necessarily arriving at conclusions will give shape to the rest of our week.

Today I saw a barber shop called Cuttin’ Up with Belinda. I loved that. I love Americana, and here, it’s everywhere. There are church steeples, American flags, and main streets. There aren’t very many streetlights. My mind jumps from comparison to comparison: Convenience stores selling a little of everything remind me of Bangladesh. The high school football stadium, an island of bright green in a sea of gravel on top of a mined mountain, made me think of Friday Night Lights on TV. The old pickup trucks and main streets remind me of south Georgia and country songs. Despite how different my own community is from the ones I’m getting to visit here and despite West Virginia’s reputation elsewhere in the country, my associations with small town America are almost universally positive. In fact, I have the tendency to romanticize rural communities.