The Single Stories: An ACE Reflection

Advocate for Community Engagement Aundraya Martinez had her final reflection with Professor Evelyn Ho’s “Ethnography of Communications” class last week.

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Students wrote the “single stories” and preconceptions they had about the Tenderloin prior to engaging in service at the St. Anthony Foundation Tech Lab and placed those inside the box.

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Then, thinking “outside the box,” they taped new stories they learned about the assets and gifts of the wonderful folks and community they engaged with at the Tech Lab.

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Great reflection and great learning!

Gender, Power and Democracy in India: A Sarlo Scholar’s Experience

By Neema Jyothiprakash

“Zindabad! Zindabad!”

It means long live the revolution; I have only seen it on TV, as protesters chant, or in Bollywood movies. The second day at my organization I interned with, I saw it said as hands clasped together in greeting. People had come from 3 or 4 hours away for the monthly staff meeting; they were tired from traveling and evening had arrived, but “Zindabad!” was said with the energy it commands.

I asked why it was used as a greeting, and my supervisor, Sarfraz said “We don’t quietly put our hands together, bow and say ‘namaste.’ We are activists! So we say ‘Zindabad!’”

It’s the McCarthy Center at USF that brought me to this meeting of activists in Rajasthan, India. I participated in the McCarthy Center’s Global Service-Learning Fellowship, where I interned at a local grassroots NGO in Udaipur, Rajasthan, created my own sustainable development project, and designed and conducted academic research.

My organization, Kotda Adivasi Sansthan (KAS), is a rights-based organization that seeks to empower and educate tribal and indigenous communities in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The organization campus is 3 hours away from Udaipur, deep in the rural forest areas of Rajasthan. I stay there 5 days out of the week and come back to my host family in the city on the weekends. It’s an office, but also a home because everyone who works there lives there. Everyone laughs loudly, is silly and childlike, banters like family, and works at odd hours in 3-hour increments. We stop for chai 4 times a day, take afternoon naps, and use old bed frames to sit outside in the evening when it’s cooler.

neema1The days are long and there is no pressure to be productive and fix the world. I am asked on the first day how the States are different from India and this concept of the time is the first thing I remark about. They laugh knowingly, and tell me that I only have one life so I might as well enjoy it and relax. I find it comforting how easily I can slip back into this Indian concept of time, how easily I can let go of the need to constantly be productive, to discover exciting things, to break intellectual ground, to change the world from here.

But I’m focused enough to design my project, which had 3 components: 1) designing and facilitating three trainings on gender and power for the community and staff, 2) creating a training tool for capacity building of women through self-help groups, and 3) creating an educational curriculum for tribal youth about democracy and consensus-based decision-making.

My project was the marriage of two things: asset mapping of the Kotda community and asset mapping of myself. What are the strengths and gifts within the community that I can combine with my own strengths and gifts? Through this experience then, I learned an incredible amount about my own capabilities, and I also learned an incredible amount about a specific local community—the various power dynamics, the narratives embedded within the community, the challenges, the successes, what holds the community together, and what pulls it apart.

neema2A lot of this knowledge came from “going into the field:” I attend panchayat (village council; India’s most decentralized form of democratic governance) meetings about forest rights, employment for rural communities, and women’s self-help groups. I observed, took notes, and interviewed mostly women—those that were political leaders and those that were mainly householders and farmers. These experiences that made me fall in love with India in way I never had before. As an Indian-American, I had been to India previously, but never in this capacity. Politics is dynamic, daily, urgent, and radical in the villages.

neema3Village meetings and the culture of community organizing I was exposed to is what draws me back to India more than anything after three months of being back in the States. As graduation approaches, I struggle to remember this and all the moments of wonder and peace I had over the summer. But reflection always brings me back and reminds me of my ties there. As this semester winds down, I keep one foot in the world of the Bay Area, job opportunities, and urban life. And I keep the other, firmly planted in the green forests and warm monsoons of rural India.

A Conscious Leader

Brandon with his brother and family

Brandon with his brother and family

Hello my name is Brandon Oldham, and I am currently working as a project manager at Quesada Gardens Initiative in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. As project leader, I’ve been working with multiple USF service-learners to launch the Quesada Gardens General Store.  Working with USF service-learners greatly connects to my former role as an Advocate for Community Engagement (ACE) through the McCarthy Center.

The McCarthy Center shaped me to become a great manager by giving me leadership skills and much more. As an ACE, I worked with Quesada Gardens for three years facilitating over 30 service-learners projects. Through the years, I explored social justice issues including poverty, food isolation, and socio-economic disparities present in San Francisco. These skills shape me into a conscious leader that maintains a perspective on social justice in all aspects in launching the General Store. I think that one of the greatest connections between my work as an ACE and my current role at Quesada Gardens is that if I had not been an ACE, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work with great people over the years who taught me the skills to do what I am doing today at Quesada Gardens.

From ACE to Americorps VISTA

Carly and Brandon on graduation day

My name is Carly Smith. I recently graduated from USF in May 2013 with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Public Service and Community Engagement. I participated in several of McCarthy Center programs including the Public Service minor, the McCarthy Fellows program c/o 2011 and the ACE program from 2010-2013. After graduating from USF, I decided to dedicate a year to serving my community of Sacramento, CA as an Americorps VISTA.

Americorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is a federal program established in 1965 by President John F Kennedy with the mission of fighting poverty in our communities here at home. VISTAs are placed at host organizations where we serve full time in a capacity building position. I am working for a non-profit organization called Mutual Housing California. Mutual Housing California has 18 affordable housing complexes throughout the Sacramento and Yolo counties. This next year, my goal is to build partnerships and develop programs for all of our Community Resource Centers. This could include an after school homework club, a women’s empowerment group, computer classes… the possibilities are endless!

I use the knowledge I gained through my time at the McCarthy Center every day. The professional skills I gained such as communication, building strong partnership, understanding how to set SMART goals and knowing how to work both independently and as a team are important skills that I use constantly. However, the knowledge I gained in terms of community development theories, how to best be an advocate and an ally and understanding the dynamics of privilege, power and oppression are invaluable to me as I work with marginalized communities throughout Sacramento.

I have been serving as a VISTA for a little over a month and although there are challenges, there are many rewards. Every day I learn something new from community residents and Mutual Housing staff. I am excited to see where this year takes me!

Week 3: Understanding CA Politics

Internship: Assemblywoman Bonilla

How has your view of California government and the political process changed or stayed the same since the start of your internship in Sacramento?

My view going into this summer fellowship was that I knew nothing and I was going to learn a lot. Simple, I know, but my self-acknowledged ignorance to the political process of state government in California allowed for the leniency in my perception of the inner workings of Sacramento. The good thing about knowing nothing is that when presented with the opportunity to learn about that subject you can absorb it all and form your own opinions on it. That opportunity for me was this fellowship.

As a native of Missourian, there are many things that continue to confuse me about the Great State of California including the way the state government works. With an untainted view of the process I was prepared to take on the system to the best of my abilities. In working in the State Assembly in the Office of Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, I found the practical application of my political knowledge useful in beginning to understand the process. From the very start of my journey I could see that there was much more to state government than I had originally thought. Much like an iceberg, you only see the tip of the government that delves deep into the depths of political sea. I could see, firsthand, the collective action and mutual dependence necessary to push the system forward. I saw the delicate relations between staffers and members, members and other member across both houses, relations with lobbyists, interest groups and even constituents. Observing and participating in these relations has been one of the essential factors to my understanding of state government.

I have learned many helpful hints, facts and practices during my brief time in this program. However, I continue to open myself up to learning. My perception of the system has enhanced through the mentorship I receive from my staff and Member. Because of the interactions and relationship building I have participated in I can see how the state government works, why works the way it does is and, ultimately, that the system is a good one that accomplishes what it sets out to do.