And that’s just what I did today! Last week was a really big week at the All Stars– I had a $500 donation on the streets (which is huge!!) and my team sponsored 31 kids to participate in our programs for the upcoming school year. This week we are trying to keep that momentum and continue to meet new people and tell them what our organization is doing. We set up camp at the corner of 23rd and Broadway (right in Madison Square Park) and had a two-hour shift of making friends and supporting our programs. I was pretty low on energy because I had failed to go to Trader Joe’s and get myself the sustenance necessary for street performance, but my team did well and we headed back to 42nd in good spirits. After we debriefed and had a quick lunch, all of the GOAL interns booked it to Penn Station to get on the train to Newark, New Jersey, where we went to see the expansion efforts of the All Stars Project. It was there that I learned that Newark was not just a town with an airport that Southwest Airlines flies to.

We arrived at the fifth floor of a seemingly central, downtown building after walking through some seedy-looking streets to get there. The New Jersey fundraising coordinator and director of programming met us when we walked into a three or four-room office that couldn’t have looked less like our 30,000 square foot center in the middle of Manhattan. It was packed with kids filling out paperwork and laughing, and people squeezing through doorways to get to different sections of the office. We sat down in a conference room area and listened to the two higher-ups speak about Newark’s history and why the All Stars Project expansion effort is so necessary. I have been doing a lot of research about after school programs in New Jersey, so I knew that there was great need for this, but I had no idea that Newark is so poor or that its population is so predominantly made up of people of color. Hearing about the corporate involvement in the project and watching a video featuring All Stars kids’ experiences in Newark was amazing, but the most incredible part was that the All Stars programs are being tailored to fit the Newark community. They aren’t trying to just put New York programs into place, they are finding ways to fit them into Newark’s history and present context. The Development School for Youth program already exists there, as does the Talent Show Network. It will be interesting to see what else they come up with!

After our meeting, I headed back to Penn Station and then back to the All Stars Project center for my first installment of UX. UX is the organization’s educational initiative that is aimed at promoting cultural literacy in people of all ages. The All Stars Project’s focus is on development, and they believe that is something that shouldn’t be limited to youth. UX offers free workshops and classes that are interesting and enriching, so I signed up! Tonight’s talk was by an educator in Brazil, Fernanda Liberali, who has used a performance-based model similar to the All Stars’ in order to help reform the very broken Brazilian education system. She and her team go into public schools and teach English by creating stories, songs, and plays with the children. It is very effective and it was great to hear someone from another hemisphere talking about things that are so relevant to what’s happening now with education in the U.S. She spoke of a lack of creativity in classrooms and limits put on teachers, which I believe to be an issue in our country as well. It was so interesting– I’m so glad I went. Today was a big day, but tomorrow we get to work with the summer “semester” of Youth Onstage! theater program. I can’t wait to meet more of the kids and see what our fundraising efforts are doing to impact them.

…and I took a picture to add to this today but I can’t figure out how to upload it…I’ll figure it out soon!

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WELCOME to DC!!!

Posted: July 28, 2011 by whitleysmith in Shepherd Alliance, Whitly Smith

But lets cut the chase, after unpacking I had to hit the city to sightsee and get accustomed to the community I will be serving for the next couple of months.  I was able to ride around and visit local areas such as GeorgeTown, Capitoll Hill, but my main focused area the Perry School where I will be working for an organization called LIFT.

On the next day, my Monday morning and first day of orientation started off to a great start at LIFT. I commuted by bus which was the cheapest way of transportation, especially with my budgeted stipend of $11 per day. When I arrived I was greeted by the friendly staff at LIFT and they were preparing us for day 1 of the two-day training that would last from 9-5pm.  Throughout the orientation we were able to learn the history and mission of LIFT, our job and purpose at LIFT, as well as a few entertaining and informational icebreakers that pertained to our role as supporters to the DC community.  We also became familiar on how to treat our clients as well as the many job opportunity resources, resume etiquette, and public benefits such as WIC, TANF, ect to help suite the clients needs.

The orientation was so amazing and inspirational I can’t wait til next when I begin working in the office as a LIFT student advocate!!!

1 Week Down…7 to GO!!!

Posted: July 28, 2011 by whitleysmith in Shepherd Alliance, Whitly Smith

June 10,2011

I survived the first week of my internship at LIFT!  My week was great. I met with my first few clients and I was able to help them find employment and affordable housing in the the Washington DC area.
After working with the clients  from different walks of life I was able to br

oaden my perspective of the different experiences of the people that make up apart of the American society beyond the economic secured community in which I coincide with. This week I also gained a better understanding of the various social systems and how it renders the lives of many Americans who do not meet the qualifications to receive certain benefits and as result some have to suffer in poverty.  It also amazed me of the many clients who are still of the adolescence age who come into the office seeking help because they are at a major risk of becoming homeless. Some have no where to turn or the support of a parent to guide them and it creates a sense despair to know that some one my age has to go through so much. This week has taught me to think more c

ritically about society and my community from here on out. And it has encourage me to value all my effective approaches to help individuals.

The City That Never Sleeps!

Posted: July 28, 2011 by whitleysmith in Shepherd Alliance, Whitly Smith
Time SquareTime Square

D.C has been a-m-a-z-i-n-g thus far! And in between volunteering at LIFT and living on a budget I’ve made time to travel and explore areas outside of D.C. I learned through a friend about the discounted bus trips to New York for $22.00 (round trip)on the BOLT and Mega bus.

During my visit to NY I was invited by a friend to attend and volunteer at The New York FAME Fashion Week charity event for the Twin Tower Orphan Fund presented by Black Entertainment Television (BET). The event was held to raise money for children and families who lost love ones on September 11.  The event didn’t start until late in the evening and I along with my best friend arrived in NY at 6am and we spent the entire Saturday exploring and sightseeing parts of the city.

Radio City
Me Taking a Stroll Through Bryant Park

Bryant Park

Namaste

Posted: July 28, 2011 by RC356 in Rachel Canclini, Shepherd Alliance

ESL: Part of my job this summer is to assist in teaching ESL some weekday mornings at the church next to one of the apartment complexes where we settle refugees. I am also supposed to be teaching night classes this month but the organization of that has not been made clear to me yet. That is kind of the ways things roll around here. I love teaching ESL though, it is the highlight of my week, that and other than direct interaction with clients. If I could get paid to hang out with refugees all day I would do it. Social workers don’t actually do this, they are stuck dealing with paper work and government offices and so many families that they do not have time to sit down with one and drink chai tea and leave smelling like curry. That is the job of interns and volunteers I guess. Maybe I’ll just do a lot of volunteer work once I get a “real” job, something to pay the bills and something to feed the soul.

Anyways, ESL is the most challenging, rewarding, confusing, funny, and fun two hours three times a week. Some of the students went to college, some went  up to grammar or high school in the camps,and then some have never sat in a class room and are illiterate in their own language, which makes teaching them English even more complicated. So it is about 30-40 people on a full day with three to four teachers. The range of English levels though are so varied that we had to separate into an “advanced” grammar class and the basic class. But even in the lower level class  some of the students have been here for years and some just a few weeks. It is difficult to know what they understand. And lesson plans are so hard to come up with all the levels. The teachers always amaze me. And it is difficult not to treat the students like children. I only have experience instructing children, spending three years as a day camp counselor/semi-coordinater in Mansfield. When the class gets loud I want to hush them and when they all begin speaking in their own language I want to let them know they cannot learn like that, but they are not required to be there and they are all adults. Many of them so much older than me I feel silly teaching them. On Friday’s we do stuff with employment and we were teaching them how to shake hands and keep eye contact. It was only women teaching the lower level that day and although the men never expressed it, I felt  like we were breaking  cultural boundaries by going around and making each of them shake my hand and look me in the eyes. But then I also felt like we were empowering them.  Honestly,  I just got lucky to be born into a country that speaks English, so I teach people three times my age how to say simple phrases and use the bus system. Its weird. They are gracious about it. I would never know if I made them uncomfortable. They would never say it but as teachers we kind of wonder what they think about us and our silly teaching methods.

My favorite is when we end of having to act out charades to explain words. Example, we did a homonyms day…. which was on the difficult side for a lot of them. I have learned that worksheets are not effective with most of them because they cannot read or comprehend like an elementary school child could.They just don’t have the vocabulary. This makes worksheets so difficult. Anyways I tried to act out the difference between “bawl” and “ball”, they thought it was hilarious. I fell out of my chair today to try to explain “fall.”  We also do action words, like exercise, clap, brush teeth, etc.  in which they have to act out what we say. Those are always fun to watch. All of the students are so into it, except those who are completely lost and there are a few of those. With those students we have to use other students who somewhat understand to help translate. And the letter F is difficult  for the majority group( Nepalese speakers). Fifteen is “pipteen”, fifty if “pifty” and five is “pive.” It is incredibly endearing to hear, but at the same time it is hard to correct.

A big problem is that none of the teachers speak the native language of the students. This makes teaching and learning hard because nothing can really be translated unless another more advanced student does it, which only sometimes happens. I cannot imagine being in their place though. When I was an exchange student and thrown into a French public high school, people knew that my french wasn’t great and understood. I had also been trained to read,write, and speak french for three years and it took 3 months of immersion for me to really converse. Most of the ESL students didn’t go to  school and didn’t study English if they did. Most that is, a few of the younger ones have studied English and sit in on the “advanced” class, learning how to write correct verb tenses.( I don’t teach this. I hate grammar. I cannot imagine trying to learn English grammar). When I see the frustration on the faces of some of the students and I can somewhat relate. I know how frustrating it is to not understand, to be completely lost. But… I always knew as an exchange students I was going home eventually and for them this is their new home. And they all try so hard to learn it but it just takes a lot of time.

The students also keep me laughing. Sometimes I am trying to explain some term or phrase and a student will just look at me and shake their head in complete confusion and laugh at me because we both just can’t figure out how to express what we are saying. When they come in the class it is always the same “gooood morning! good morning!” they say it very loud and accented and then wait for me to being the pencil box, because they want the best sharpened pencils to use.  They must be sharp, even a little dull and they are no good and they want me to sharpen them. It cracks me up. Some don’t have notebooks though and then we use w/e resources we have which is usually the back of some old worksheet that was lying around. They get confused and try to do the worksheet sometimes when I give it to them and I have to explain that they should just use the back to write on. A few also say ” nice to meet you!” every time I see them. I am not sure if they do not remember me or if they think that is the equivalent of hello.

The older Bhutanese men are very proud and sweet. I love that many wear their traditional hats to class. They look kind of like Kwanza hats.  The older men and women also wear red dots or streaks on their faces. Today, while at the health department with a family , they explained all of the markings to me. A line of red for women in their hair-line is married, a red dot is fashion or hindu, and a line down the middle of their forehead is a symbol of a higher caste. Taking families to the doctor appts can be a long job, today took three hours at the health department, but it gave me a chance to talk with the family. I found out this family was Christian and we talked about the church in Nepal and when they became Christians. I asked about castes after he explained the markings and he told me that as Christians they had done away with that life. Really interesting. This family was lucky to be educated and the men speak fairly good english, which is how we talked so in depth.  He asked me also what it means to wear a ring on the ring finger. They always say ” Excuse me mam…” and are incredibly polite before every question. I explained the symbolism but it was kind of difficult because I wear a ring on my ring finger but I’m not married haha. They wear a lot of jewelry, both the boys are girls. I also found out that they pierce the little boys ears (both) because it is fashion a few weeks ago. I seriously cannot tell little Nepalese kids apart.

There is a lot to write about since I haven’t blogged in a while… but I think I’ll end on an interesting experience at the apartment complex. Me and Kate were passing out paperwork and passed by some construction workers. After we left one apartment one American (non refugee) man came up and asked what “forms” we had. I got pretty apprehensive at this point because I saw them watching us when we drove up.  We just told him we were with the agency and he said his friend is a refugee and wanted to ask us something. So he went and got his friend, another construction worker who with broken english started to ask us about going to school.  He said he was a refugee from Iraq ( and given his english level I could believe it) and he was a barber and wants to be a barber here but has to go to school and he doesn’t know how to do it or how to pay for it. We asked what agency brought him here and he said the Embassy and something with a V, which is either the Virginia state agency that provides core services (basic, less than ccc) to refugees or it is the SIV, special immigration visa program which brought Iraqis who helped US troops here and gave them the paperwork to work but , according to my sources, left them without very much support. This man had sad eyes, beautiful but sad. He looked maybe 30. I just wonder what he had seen before coming here. I always wonder that with the refugees and what it feels like to experience that, like my students from Darfur/Sudan, and then come here and struggle as well. We ended up giving the Iraqi man the agency # and honestly idk if they can do much for him. I hope so though.

Burmese? Bhutanese?

Posted: June 27, 2011 by RC356 in Rachel Canclini, Shepherd Alliance

Where are the refugees coming from? Why are they refugees? How is the international community responding? What are the refugee camps like? Why can’t they go home? Do they want to go home? Do they want to come here?

I have asked myself these questions  in the past week and the weeks leading up to this internship and thought I would share some of the answers I have found. Honestly, I knew so little about the refugee situation so I am writing to an audience who, like me, has been living in blissful ignorance. Also, I am sure that this little bit of knowledge which I have gleaned from others, websites, and refugees is just the tip of the iceberg. For a full explanation of the refugee situation please visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees site.  For an explanation from the knowledge I have gathered so far please keep reading…
 At the current moment most of the refugees being processed through this refugee center are from Burma (Myanmar) and Bhutan. Honestly, I barely knew where those countries were when I received this internship assignment. There are some others from various African countries and the Middle East (Iraq, Uzbekistan, etc.) as well. Last week I was given a copy of a Bosnian-English dictionary that was lying around. Apparently in the past they had quite a few Bosnian and also Vietnamese refugees but not anymore. This summer is supposed to be busy though and I wonder if the fighting in Africa will cause a surge of a new people group…

Interesting Facts about the Global Refugee Situation:

  • As of 2009 there  were 13,599,900 estimated refugees. ( Middle East/ N.Africa 6.3 million, Africa 2.6, S/Central Asia 2.5, Eur .493, E.Asia/Pacific .909, Americas/Caribbean .65)
  • There are three options for refugees once they flee: 1) Repatriation -First choice and most would prefer this. They return to their home country if/when it is stable and if the government allows them back in but this could take years. 2) Nationalization-They remain in country of first asylum but these border countries often become overwhelmed. 3)Resettlement- Last option, usually is in the US or Western Europe.
  • The U.S. grants a limited number of refugee acceptances, 80,000 in 2010. The majority come from East/SE Asia.

Burma (Myanmar), and the Burmese
Burma is a country in Southeast Asia, between India and China and just northwest of Thailand. There are many different ethnic groups in Burma including Burman (majority), Shan, Karen, Rohingya, Arakanese (Rakhine), Kachin, Chin, and Mon, as well as indigenous Chinese and Indians living there. Religion for the Burmese include Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and animism. Most ethnic groups and tribal groups speaking their own languages and but not everyone speaks the official language of Burmese which can complicate translating.

So why are there refugees?
Ethnic division and strife  is rooted in British Colonization. Once Burma gained independence ( around the 1950’s) some ethnic groups wanted their own state governments later. This didn’t happen and  some ethnic groups formed rebel groups ( Karen/Chin). The military has responded by going after these rebel groups, but in the process burning villages and destroying lives (I am unsure if the rebels also cause these sort of problems). 1988 was apparently a big year in which the government began cracking down harder (being more repressive), and massacred university students during a protest. The violence and refugee issues have increased since this point in time . Apparently neither side will compromise in the name of peace, which continues to cause refugees to flee to camps in Thailand and Bangladesh.

 The majority of the refugee camps are situated along the Thai-Burmese border, even though they have not always had “friendly” relations. The camps are dirty, overcrowded, diseases spreading, and people are underfed. However this is prefered to the danger that the people face in their home country.

Refugees are drawn in a “lottery” system for the opportunity to be resettled. Some desire to stay in the country so much that they even sell their identity to another family, who may or may not even be refugees. Most of the refugees who are resettled have been in these camps for years , some children have never known another life. I cannot imagine the shock they face upon arriving in America.

The Burmese refugees I have met have been from all across the spectrum. One family barely speaks any Burmese (mostly the tribal language) and the other speaks it well. They are also different religions. One we believe came from a mountainous region, and the other from a tropical area. We discovered this because the mom of one family complained about the heat and while visiting another family who arrived maybe two weeks ago I realized that their A/C was at 84 and the windows were open on a hot 95 degree day. I asked if they knew how to work their A/C unit (or  actually asked Yi to ask them), concerned that they might not. Apparently they had turned the A/C off because they wanted it to be more hot, coming from a more humid and hot climate themselves. They also look different in the facial features. I am becoming more and more aware of the differences between Nepalese(Bhutanese), Burmese, and different types of Burmese people. Burmese generally look more “Chinese”  and Bhutanese look more “Indian.” Burmese and Bhutanese are sometimes mistaken for Hispanics in the city, and people have commented that the refugee resettlement complex is “where all the Hispanics live” but in reality the majority of the people in that complex are from Asia.

Bhutanese (Nepali)

This country  is north of India and wedged between China and Nepal.  It has been experiencing political strife since 1990. Most of the Bhutanese refugees left Bhutan between 1990  and 1995. They did not begin resettlement in the US until 2007/08. If I compared that to my life I would have left my home as a one year old, grown up  in a refugee camp, and if I was very lucky at  18 or 19 my family would have resettled in America. By these statistics, most Bhutanese refugee children and teenagers have never even seen Bhutan, all they have ever known is a refugee camp. There are seven refugee camps for the Bhutanese refugees, all located in Nepal. There are about 108,000 refugees from Bhutan, which is about 1/6 of the entire Bhutanese population.

So why are they refugees?

Bhutan is a historically and culturally Tibetan Buddhist country. There are three main ethnic groups, the Ngalong(Drukpa) who migrated from Tibet centuries ago, the Sharchokpa ( the indigenous people), and the  Lhotsampas (People of the South AKA ethnic Nepalese) who migrated from Nepal and Northern India in the late 1800’s to 1920 in search of farm land. This was land in the lowlands that the Buddhist majority population did not want. Each of these groups speak different languages, and the ruling majority (Drukpa/Ngalong) are traditionally Tibetan Buddhists and this is VERY important in the Bhutanese culture, while the Nepalese are traditionally Hindu although most just worship in their homes as apparently there are not many temples in Bhutan.

In 1958 the king passed a law that granted the Nepalese immigrants to have citizenship and apply for government jobs. However in the  late 1980s, as the Nepalese population was growing the king and the ruling majority became worried about the dissolution of traditional Bhutanese culture. Nepalese were already expected to wear traditional dress of the Bhutanese in public. The government passed strict cultural laws which disenfranchised many Nepalese and took away their civil rights. More dress codes and customs were enforced and Nepalese was no longer allowed to be spoken in schools. The Nepalese became poltically active against these new rules, which resulted in violence and the government arresting and torturing the political activists. Many were then forced to sign “voluntary migration certificates” and were sent out of the country, never to return. They ended up in camps in Nepal.

Why can they not go back? Do they want to?

Yes, many of the refugees want to repatriate and are still politically active in the camps the support that ideas. They are as serious as threatening violence against those who stand out and decide that they want to be resettled in a place such as the US. Nepal also will not (or cannot)  take these Bhutanese refugees and does not allow them freedom of movement outside of the camps or the ability to work and earn income. Nepal, the UN, and Bhutan have been talking for over 20 years about the possibility of repatriation, but nothing has changed and  not one refugee has been allowed to return home.

The camps in Nepal are said to be stable and relatively well-managed although they run the risk of any refugee camp such as poor health care access and quality and poor standard of living. A lot of refugees ( both Burmese and Bhutanese) come with health problems that were a result of the camps. There are also reports of sexual gender based violence, and there are not many opportunities for jobs in the camps but children can go to school up to grade 10.

Overall, I love spending time with all the families and teaching ESL. They are incredibly sweet and gracious. And both the Bhutanese and Burmese are absolutely beautiful. It is stunning. They have dark hair, skin,eyes and many gold piercings. I have also grown to see the differences between the two groups, it is very distinct. Many of the Bhutanese dress in traditional “Indian” clothing and wearing religious marks (such as the red dot) in their foreheads. The children of both groups usually wear little gold bracelets up their arms and a few even have their nose pierced as young as 3 (that I have seen). I have also seen  little Bhutanese boys with both ears pierced, which makes it difficult to tell them apart from girls.

Sometimes it seems like they plucked out of national geographic picture, slipped into westernized cloths, and placed in the U.S.  Last week, I watched one of the Burmese women with a small child that was crying take the traditional large scarf/piece of fabric off of her shoulders, wrap it around her waist, have her husband place the baby on her back, and wrap the child up from behind with the scarf, tying it in front. I felt as if I was watching something foreign and special, like a custom from a hundred years ago, and yet in her mind so commonplace. I could easily imagine that family living a completely different life, with the little kids running around in refugee camps. But instead they were lucky. They are here in America and the kids are wearing someone’s hand me down clothes and playing in a church while the parents learn English from young college students and post-grads like me. Thinking about that is a shift in perspective. 

Bhutanese Women in a Refugee Camp

 

Burmese Refugess in CampBhutanese Refugees
 
 
 
 

*The pictures are not mine but from various sources online*

6/18/2011

Today was amazing. I was on my feet from 9 AM until 3 PM and I loved every minute of it. For the past week I have honestly been feeling a little disconnected. I am on the streets fundraising and talking to people, but I haven’t seen one of our young people. As I learn more about the organization, I become more committed to raising the money necessary to sponsor every kid to participate in All Stars’ programs, but the issue of my seeing the actual kids creates a little bit of a gap between what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

I really got a different perspective today at the UX opening day event. UX is the All Stars Project’s newest initiative, offering free night and weekend classes and workshops on various subjects to anyone who signs up. I spent an hour or so on the streets of Brooklyn last week to try to recruit people to come to our opening day, and I saw a couple of women I handed our flyers to which was beyond rewarding.  However, it wasn’t the adults that impacted me the most today. It was the kids who spent an hour or more on the subway or train to arrive at our center on time for various purposes. For some, it was that they had just been accepted to the 2012 class of Development School for Youth (DSY) or Youth Onstage and had been encouraged to come see the center and learn about other things that the ASP does. These kids were young, 13 or so to about 19, and they had put aside any other things they could have been doing on a summer Saturday to come to 42nd street in Manhattan from Jamaica, Queens or the Bronx or Harlem. These kids were amazing, all with different stories about how they “met” the All Stars and what their expectations for the programs would be. They went in smiling and came out with bigger smiles. Their time at the center, whether they registered for UX classes, took an improv workshop, or just walked around and talked to people, was impacted most by the current All Stars youth and alumni that staffed the event. DSY graduates, talent show acts, and others showed up in droves to give back to the program that changed their lives somehow; this was the most moving thing to me. I was simply a greeter to all of these people, talking to them and hearing their stories and their successes, but I felt like I finally made a connection to why I am asking complete strangers to take a minute on the streets to hear about the All Stars Project and think about giving some money to support these programs.