I am currently on my fourth Co-op with the Tandana Foundation in Panecillo, Ecuador. The Tandana Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Anna Taft and it supports community initiatives of various kind such as healthcare programs, women’s literacy, water resources, construction of cotton banks, community centers, income generation projects, food security, and establishment of community garden and other programs in the communities of Highland Ecuador and Mali’s Dogon country. I became interested in this Co-op because the foundation works in my home country (Mali) and I wanted to see first hand the amazing work it is doing in collaboration with Indigenous groups in Highland Ecuador.
I am a storytelling intern and my job description includes documenting the work Tandana does here in Ecuador and also in Mali. My main tasks mainly consist of creating a story map of Tandana’s work in Mali, interviewing students recipients of the Tandana Foundation Scholarship, writing blog posts about the different Tandana projects I am participating in, participating in the Healthcare Volunteer Venture (HCVV) and in the Gardening Volunteer Venture (GVV).
As a storytelling intern, I have done many interviews with community members from the different areas we serve and I am fascinated with the history and the positive interactions with the communities.
This blog post will focus on the Healthcare Volunteer Venture (HCVV) of the Tandana Foundation. HCVV is a medical program in which the Tandana Foundation brings volunteers (doctors, nurses, etc) from the United States and Canada and hosts a two-week medical brigade in indigenous communities in Highland Ecuador. It is important to note that most of the communities the programs have little to no access to health care mainly due to government discrimination and lack of economic resources.
Two weeks ago, along with the Tandana staff, I participated in a three days training about the Healthcare Volunteer Venture which started the following week (September 24th, 2018). The training covered various topics including individual tasks, volunteer management, and logistics, and schedule for the events and activities. On Sunday, September 23rd, we welcomed the volunteers and held an orientation session for the HCCV. From Monday, September 24, to Friday, September 28 we held a healthcare brigade in the communities of Guachinguero, Padre Chupa, Urkusiki, Cambugan, and Perugachi (consecutively). The medical brigade provided services including dental, vision, provider check-up, pediatrics, laboratory services, and others.
For the first three days, I worked as the leader and digital record scribe for the pediatrics department. I trained and guided my team and together we served almost 200 children and this number is expected to be higher for the second week because we will be attending larger and more crowded communities. For the last two days, we did not have many children and I worked in intake (putting in patient information before they see the doctors). For those two days, my station attended to almost 100 patients.
The week was very important for me for many reasons. First, it was a successful medical venture and I was proud to be a part of something. Second, I gained a lot of useful skills from using the medical recording software, from working in different teams, and also learning a lot about diseases and medical treatment. Third, it helped me see the amazing work Tandana is doing in collaboration with these communities. Lastly, helping people has always been my passion and I am glad I got to help these vulnerable communities with little to no access to medical treatment. The clinic experience was the highlight of my Co-op here and I hope to further continue helping communities in need whenever and wherever I can go.
Your Time To Shine is a non-profit organization founded in 2013 by Matthew J. Oestreicher and Joseph Gray, two incredibly talented musicians dedicated to providing music and arts programs for schools in in-need communities as a way to give back to the community. We are located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, a city in which many schools’ art funding was cut, leaving some schools with no performance art classes. We also provide paid workshops in Fairfield, Westport, New Haven, Danbury, and surrounding counties.
Your Time To shine provides weekly performance art and music classes to elementary and middle schools. We aspire to provide a variety of performance art courses to capture the need of every child we teach and for that, we have a set of the curriculum including songwriting, performance support, piano lessons, guitar lessons, drum lessons, voice and pitch control, and others.
The main goal of our organization is teaching our youth valuable life skills and musical talents through music and musical instruments. The goal is to support their professional and personal growth and help establish opportunities to aim higher in their futures, and aspire to become who they dream to become. We are also committed to showcasing the talents of the youth of Bridgeport to their community. We provide opportunities to perform at the Amateur Night show hosted at the historic Apollo Theater, as well as auditions to high school musicals and Broadway. We work with professional musicians, artists, singers, and others to advise, mentor, and help these young people reach their dreams.
Besides supporting the children, we involve their parents and the community in their education by showcasing their talents in schools and also at our big shows in professional theater venues. An engaged community supports the growth of the youth and inspires them to explore and be confident.
I am the project coordinator and my job primarily consists of creating projects within our organization. I manage the international virtual exchange project that we have started with our partners in Singapore. From the beginning of my Co-op to now, I have started and worked on many projects:
The work environment is safe, fun, and great to be in. I have a great appreciation for the job, and for what Matthew and Joseph do for the kids from a community they were not a part of but chose to volunteer their time and energy. They are doing for these youth what someone else has done for them when they needed it.
In my opinion, two of the most positive things Your Time To Shine offers the children of Bridgeport is teaching them to be themselves and express it through performance. It is empowering and life changing for most; and the opportunity to be mentored by professional and famous musicians and singers in the United States is an opportunity that many would dream of. As Bob Proctor once said, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” Your Time To Shine is making that a reality for the most vulnerable of our community. They are changing lives, and I am proud to be a part of that change.
I am working as an Executive Intern for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and engagement of African American and black immigrant communities. Our efforts are intended to help migrants organize and advocate for racial, social, and economic justice as well as to stand against policies that affect all marginalized people in their communities. BAJI currently has chapters in New York, Georgia, California, and Arizona although it’s efforts are felt nationally. One of its most important programs currently is its “Know Your Rights” campaign, which is a community training initiative focusing on understanding basic rights and helping vulnerable populations learn how to protect themselves from abuse.
BAJI helps Black immigrants by stopping Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who arrest undocumented immigrants in their homes, in hospitals, and on the streets without just cause. It documents how deportations have ensued as a result of small infractions, such as subway line jumping, parking tickets, and even sometimes for no reason at all. BAJI accomplishes this goal through a program called “MetroCard Sweep.” This program recognizes that New York City MetroCard fares have been increasing for the past number of years and people do not always have the means to pay for it. BAJI workers and volunteers thus purchase MetroCards and give a free swipe to anybody needing it in order to lower the number of people getting tickets that lead to ICE arrests and deportation. This also results in an overall decrease in the number of illegal train jumps in New York City.
The recent Executive Order on immigration has caused chaos in undocumented immigrants communities, and as a response BAJI workers have made it a priority to expand communication and direct people to free legal services as well as allies who can advocate for them. In my work with BAJI, I have been responding to calls, referring people to our partner lawyers, as well as answering general questions about immigration and how their migration status matters at this moment. We have also been expanding education programming by offering more “Know Your Rights” events in Public International High Schools.
At BAJI, I do not have fixed assignments but work on projects as needed. My principal job is to assist Opal Tometi, the Executive Director, by taking minutes at meetings, conducting research, and working closely with her to launch a new project called “Migration within African countries.” Under Opal’s supervision, I have been contacting national and international organizations who advocate for universal human rights and migrants rights in order to ally with them and unite around common goals. My contacts are mostly from West and East Africa since I am able to speak with many of them in a language they understand. I have also been translating documents into French for international rallies and protests.
My main project is the African Migration Report. In preparing this I am researching aspects of how migration works within Africa, how the immigration laws compare to the ones in the West, and trying to connect with organizations helping African refugees as well as other migrants in African countries. The report aims to be informative about migration in Africa and to explore the reasons why this has not been talked about in the past.
I have been working with every BAJI staff member, learning to organize events and protests efficiently, looking at how policies are written, developed and implemented, and how to expand my networking skills with people and organizations. One of the things I am most excited about is my educational work on the Zero Tolerance Policies for Black and Brown students in public institutions. This is extremely important because it is focused on how restorative justice and peer mentoring can help prevent severe and unfair punishments of students of color in public institutions in New York City.
In summary, I am proud of my work at BAJI as I feel we have been helping undocumented immigrants in many ways. We have fought side by side with lawyers to stop ICE officers from arresting people in the street. We have saved many undocumented people from being abused and deported without legal representation in court or visits by their family. Even with a small staff, I have learned from BAJI that community organizing can be very efficient, both in terms of engaging the community as well as teaching people to advocate for themselves and stand up for the America we deserve.
For more information on Black Alliance for Just Immigration, check out the links below.
Black Alliance for Just immigration is located at 660 Nostrand Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11216.