Volunteer Work as Part of Community Service in San Diego

written by Akmal Sabaruddin from Malaysia

During my stay in San Diego, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the food redistribution program – feeding the hungry. This is a weekly (every Thursday) event and organized by Dharma Bum Temple, 4144 Campus Ave, San Diego. We gather to prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and carry it directly to those who are hungry especially to those who are living on the streets of downtown San Diego. From this activity, I have learnt about being generous and taking care of others that are in need. Practicing generosity means to give our time, energy and resources to help others without judgement. Generosity is the first of the Six Paramitas and is practiced to remove the conditions that lead to greed, which causes our suffering. I love this activity and I did it twice on 10th May and 17th May 2018. There were 2 other fellows, Midha Karim from Indonesia and Anastasiia from Ukraine joining this activity.

San Diego Fellows Volunteering

Other than the food redistribution activity, I had the opportunity to volunteer in beach cleaning activity too. The event was held in Imperial Beach on Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM and organized by I Love a Clean San Diego (ILACSD) and City of Imperial Beach Council. Volunteers are met at the corner of 13th Street and Imperial Beach Blvd for briefing and equipment distribution like buckets, garbage plastic, thongs and gloves. Snacks and waters were also provided by the organizer too. All volunteers are required to fill out a waiver form to participate and anyone under the age of 18 needs a waiver signed by their parent or guardian. It was a great event with a mission to have a zero waste, litter free and environmentally engaged San Diego region. Two other fellows were also involved in this activity: Midha Karim from Indonesia and Sirasar Boonma from Thailand.

Akmal Sabarudin (Malaysia) and Midha Volunteering in San Diego.jpg

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Michelle Morales of Mikva Challenge: On Family, Women & Leadership, and Being a Servant-Leader

by Fleire Castro from the Philippines

Michelle Morales is the CEO of Mikva Challenge Foundation, a nonprofit that was founded on the premise that youth voice and participation matter, and that our civic and political life will be stronger when youth participate and help shape their own destinies.

She has been running the organization for three years and has been working hard to take the 25-staff nonprofit here in Chicago, Illinois, taking care of both management and focusing on fundraising to support the programs of the organization.

In this interview, Michelle talks about being a servant-leader and managing time for work and family. She talks about how she balances time between fundraising, running the org, and also being a mother and wife. She also talks about how self-care is done and how women leaders should have the empathy to be able to run projects that has the buy-in of her staff at Mikva Challenge.

Aside from that, Michelle also talks about how women leaders also need networks to make sure that they are able to talk about their challenges in management and

Listen to the interview by Fleire Castro with Michelle Morales below:

 

Fellowship in DC

written by Liz Liew from Malaysia

DC excites me for so many reasons – beautiful sunsets, walkable meanders, social messages enveloped in artistic street murals, talented buskers around every corner playing instruments of sorts, just to name a few. For an outdoor enthusiast, politically savvy nut and a lover of arts and music, Washington D.C IS living a dream.

After 2+ weeks of working in the capital of the nation, I’ve fallen in love with this city.

I love the massive safari-like zoo, the endless row of well-maintained museums and monuments, the free outdoor fitness events, the cultural festivals in Kennedy Performing Arts Centre where I watched the U.S Army Blues perform, the diverse food truck options parked just outside my office and the reasonable proximity to stunning national parks just outside the city. I love the Free Speech corner, a physical space for small and large political rallies outside the White House, where people protest, demonstrate or just stand up for a cause or concern they feel strongly about – no one is judged, hated, or prosecuted: I have never seen nor felt so engaged in power of expression on a daily basis. But most of all, I love how the spirit of social justice binds activists and passers-bys like myself.

Every spring, DC’s Mayor Muriel’s team organises a series of free outdoor activities for the D.C community – Yoga, Pilates, cinema, live jazz music, and even an outdoor office “Outdoor Office at Farragut” – a co-working space in open green space in the Golden Triangle of D.C.

Last week, as sirens blared and cars honked, as heavy clouds loomed across the grey sky, threatening to rain on us, and more than 100 women held themselves up in side plank, the Yoga instructor said something that summed up my gratitude for this experience: “Breathe and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. Now ladies and gentleman, how amazing is this – to be in the middle of the city, the capital of USA, in downtown Washington D.C, amidst this chaos, amidst the threat of thunderstorm…we are here doing core Yoga with a hundred different strangers.” That moment is one I will always remember.

Liz Farragut Yoga.JPG

The secret of the project, “Financing Our Future with Village bank”

written by Morxay Vongnakhone from Laos

I am having the chance to do my fellowship at Operation HOPE which is a non-profit organization that provides services to help the working poor, the under-served and struggling middle class.  Operation HOPE has become a best- in-class provider of financial literacy empowerment for youth, financial capability for communities, and ultimately, financial dignity for all.  Because of Operation HOPE’s work, my supervisor has shared such a surprising thing I have never even thought about. She shared that there are over 1,500,000 non-profit organization in the U.S and in Atlanta itself where I am based has more than 37,000 organization (2013), the figures made me shocked for awhile because I haven’t though or imagine that in the U.S there would be so many nonprofit organizations available. I immediately felt that I could do something more for the society.

During my fellowship time, I have participated the program called Banking on Our Future which is actually the first and oldest program of Operation HOPE provides financial literacy class for their target groups including high school students. This was very exciting for me because it caused me to think about what my home organization is doing, it is almost the same thing what we are doing at home but the difference is that in my organization in Laos doesn’t offer financial literacy for high school students. My supervisor explained me the benefits of providing financial literacy for high school students, she has included some important points like they could prepare early for their life after high school, they could start saving for their universities, startup their own small businesses, settle down, create generational wealth and so on. After that, I got the idea what I want to take back home, what I want to do for my outbound project, I want to do a project called Financing Our Future with Village Bank or FOFVB. This program will teach high school students about financial literacy and how they can manage their money to start saving with village bank for their own futures, it is truly significant idea that must be implemented.

Morxay Vongnakhone at Operation Hope

Morxay at Operation Hope.jpg

Understanding Hawaiian Ohana and the American Culture: Looking in between

written by Exan Sharief from the Philippines

The Hawaii community is an interesting place to unlearn in order to learn things in another perspective. While my first week exposure on the American culture started in Washington DC where I had the opportunity to talk to the ordinary people I met on the streets regarding their views and practices as part of the continental US, I could not deny my excitement as I listened to the stories of diversity by the people of this Hawaii island territory. It is a blessing that I was placed for work at EPIC Ohana where family is given a prime importance. In the same fashion, I am lucky to be hosted by Uncle Roger, my parent from a Chinese descent.

Both of these fateful coincidence have taught me new erudition and continue to open my understanding on how the US and its American practices have truly influenced their ways of life. I came to realize then that our Professional Fellowship Program wasn’t just about the concepts, practices and strategies on economic empowerment. Sure it did provide a leverage on my intent to get a good grasp on how to raise the economic capacity of the community through getting involved in the planning and assessment of the existing programs of EPIC Ohana, but more importantly, I got the chance to meet brilliant individuals who have seen themselves how communities are empowered and how their potentials are directed.

During the first Friday of this month of May, our office did a lunch potluck with a mother’s day theme. Right there, everyone prepared a delicacy and shared its relevance with their family bond. I have been sitting to discuss with program managers on youth circle, ohana conference, ohana connections, HI HOPES and youth leadership board, but at that quick one-hour lunch period, I acquired knowledge that are more than what is written on reports and proposals. I had the first-hand experience of behavioral uplift translated into an informal cultural exchange but institutionalized as a working office policy. Birthdays and graduations were announced, exemplary works were complemented and because I was new to the family, I had the privilege to start the informal sharing before the meal. What I brought was a “palapa,” a Meranao homemade spices, put in bread appetizers while others brought “Poke,” Spanish delicacies, French salads and many other mom’s recipes. I saw the assortment of food palate but one was a common favorite to everyone – the American dessert, Ice Cream. More than that, I had chit chats with my officemates on their admiration for the Filipinos in Hawaii who have ventured in making good businesses either in food, service or accessory items. Not far from the Filipino culture, the Hawaiian community, while diverse in composition, truly values family bonds especially with that of a mother to a child. So, I took advantage of the moment to share to them how a typical Filipino family looks like in the Philippines aside from those they came across here in the US.

On a separate occasion, I was able to share the concept of the Filipino “Bayanihan” spirit in one of the program conceptualization for Princess Lili’oukalani Trust for the native Hawaiian children. I was in full admiration on how the Federal government manages to respect the multi-ethnicity composition of its population. I then attended this International Trade Seminar through the invitation of the International Hospitality Center, where I was able to connect the interrelation of the economic activities of the general American Hawaiian population with those from other countries. I understood how income and business unites the different cultures existing in Hawaii into exporting a single brand that represents them all.

The past two weeks in Hawaii gave a learning experience within and outside my work placement. I usually make the most of my stay here, so immediately after work, I visit different areas in downtown Honolulu. Several times, I got the casual talk with both the locals and the visitors who come from continental US. From them, I learned the importance of tourism as part of the State’s economic activities. Very significantly, I learned from them the power of referral between family members and circle of friends. This is nothing new to what I hear almost every single day from Uncle Roger, who happened to be a restaurant owner in Oahu. He shared how he had his education in the mainland before coming here in Hawaii. So, I had a bunch of comparative notes on the economic behavioral pattern from the mainland to the pacific. More than what I hear from him and the theoretical discussion, I was fortunate to be introduced to his American Chinese family as well as made part of the family workforce as each one contributes something to the family business. Luckily, my share was to simply help in the purchasing while I enjoy being treated with a tasty meal which I would take as more than just a compensation. Hearing all these stories on startup capitals that turned into successful businesses and the sacrifices of moving from Southern China to mainland US before going to Hawaii, I have seen the transitional progress into the American standard of living and kindness extended by the American culture in embracing newcomers from a variety of lineage.

Like that of a tree where branches grow in different directions yet united by a single trunk, the different backgrounds and origins of the families or Ohana living in the US, more particularly in Hawaii, are united by the common adherence to the American family values.

Missing it Before Leaving it: American Kindness

written by Adi Pratama from Indonesia

Who doesn’t know the United States. Many prominent figures in the world come from this country. Technology, economics, scientific, almost all sectors become in this country become global gold standard.  No wonder many people dream to at least put their feet in this dreamy land. I am one of them. Going to the United States was one of my biggest dreams. And I was lucky this year I did not just realize my dream but also, what never crossed my mind before, in a country that known to be most competitive one in the world, I found a treasure of genuine kindness.

Last week one memorable thing happened at my worksite, DC Chamber of Commerce. My colleague Valentina was sick and our Supervisor, Margaret Singleton, not only allowed her to go to the doctor but also made sure there is a colleague of us who accompanied her to the doctor. Ms. Nathalie Harris and Ms. Jennie Orange took care of Valentina very well and take her to the doctor. Until the next day they keep checking if she doing fine already. Their concern for us made me and Valentina out of words to express our gratitude. Beside that, our President & CEO, Mr. Vincent Orange also always take time to talk to us to make sure all we need is there. He even sent us to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and give precious lesson from the experience (that I would tell you in another post).

I found another moment when I had the opportunity to visit and study at Destination DC, stakeholders who marketed tourism for Washington DC. At the beginning, I felt that I was coming in a wrong timing because it was a busy week for everyone there, but I was wrong. I was very well received. Ms. Terri Carter Human Resource Manager from Destination DC is happy to give me a brief tour to get around the awesome Destination DC office. Continued by Mr. Bruno Schwartz who is a Senior Manager of membership who kindly explained in detail how Destination DC works. All came and went because they actually have upcoming work, but they really devoted attention and also answered tons of my questions in detail. Ms. Letizia Sirtori and Ms. Lindsey Hill then accompanied me to lunch and was kind enough help me discuss about my outbound project that I will do in Indonesia. The most memorable moment was when after lunch I was invited to join the weekly staff meeting. President of Destination DC Mr. Elliot Fergusson welcomed me warmly and invited me to take a picture with the entire staff of Destination DC. He is very humble and nice. He willing to give a word or two for the activists of tourism in Indonesia through my vlog. I haven’t been there for a day, but already fall in love with this office.

Not only at Worksite, my two weeks with my Host family is also amazing. Lilia Murphy, my ‘Host mom’ treats me very well. I was very surprise when she cooks fried rice for dinner, just because I casually told her that I still need to adjust because I used to eat rice in Indonesia. On the weekend, Lilia kindly drove us to Baltimore and Annapolis on her precious day-off. Last Friday night she held a small dinner and invited some of her acquaintances to give me and host my brother from Brazil culture exposure which is very useful for us. The next day one of Lilia’s neighbors, Barbra kindly drove me and my Host Brother and accompanied us to the shopping center because my Host brother wanted to buy something before returning home to Brazil. All day, she spent his weekend with us and she did it with pleasure.

There is more that I can’t comprehend here. But those already touch my heart deeply. Not just a courtesy to be polite, but something sincere that is hard for us to forget. This country not only has great people indeed, but also people who have a wonderful heart with them. Therefore, I know, even before I go home, I will miss this country and its people very much.

YSEALI Story

written by Shirley Chin from Brunei

The first two weeks of arriving in the US has been beyond amazing. We had a couple of days in Washington DC for our pre departure (worksite) orientation and had some free time to roam around at night during our first few nights. We also had the chance to tour the US Capitol in Washington and visited the white house. We have been paired with different fellows intentionally so we are obliged to make new friends and get to know other fellows more. The first few days passed by in a blink of an eye. It is amazing how a short two days in this YSEALI program has open up so many opportunities for us to make good friends and develop great network. It is a little sad that we all have to part ways to go to our respective workplace but I believe we will all come back to the Congress at the end of the month sharing more exciting stories!

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Each fellow has been placed to a different worksite or different state. I am placed at Sacramento, California in a non-profit organization called Visit California. This organization strive to create desire for the California experience and to promote California as a premier travel destination. It is a tourism marketing organization inspiring travel to California.  I had the opportunity to attend the board meeting held every quarterly of the year. This year it was held at Squaw Valley, Tahoe where they used to host the Winter Olympics Games back in the 60’s.

Lake Tahoe Olympic Stadium

At the board meeting, I had the opportunity to meet the President and CEO of Visit California, Caroline Beteta; the CEO of Ridgemont hospitality, Sima Patel; the Executive Vice President of operations of the Interstate hotels, Russ Cox and also the President and CEO of Orange County Visitor Association, Co-founder of Laguna Strategic advisors, Formal President and Managing Director Marriott International- Edwin Fuller. Most of them serve as commissioners of Visit California’s board meeting and I am so delighted to have taken the initiative to speak to them. Their knowledge on the tourism industry has been astonishing and their vision to make California a premier tourist destination has been really clear and goal orientated.

Shirley at Olympic stadium

Of course, this opportunity will not have happen without the help of my supervisor Kayla Wood who is the Public Affairs Manager. We work well together and she has assist me in so many ways that I’m so grateful for.

Besides work, I also had the chance to assimilate the American culture during the weekends. I joined one of the fellows (Funnur- Indonesian fellow) host parents to Oakland to watch the Oakland Athletics vs. the Baltimore Orioles game. It was fascinating to see how patriotic the Americans were during the national anthem before the start of the game. With my little knowledge on baseball game, Jon and Stephanie (Host parents of Funnur) willingly explain what was going on throughout the match.

Shirley at baseball game

I am looking forward to meeting more new people throughout my journey here in the US. I can’t wait to share more stories and I am so grateful for the opportunity the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs (ECA) has provided and also to American Councils for International Education (ACIE) who assists in administering this.