Since I didn’t get the chance to write week one’s blog until the end of week two, I originally planned to combine the two weeks into one post. Once I started writing, I realized I had way too much to say and that was not going to happen, so here is week two! Something I didn’t mention in my last post was how impressive the murals are in San Francisco. They are all over the place, but one particular spot I loved was Clarion Alley. This alley was right by our classroom and many of the murals have some sort of political or social significance. Our classroom is also something I didn’t mention in the last post. We are using a space in San Francisco’s Mission District called the Eric Quezada Center for Culture and Politics. The center is a space that is open for artists and activists to come together to share stories or performances that involve their journeys to flight for economic and social justice. Pretty cool.
We started the week off with our first Anthropology and Social Change class taught by our beloved professor Ella. We are lucky enough to have her with us for our entire journey. She is used to teaching graduate level courses in Cape Town, South Africa. Her teaching is extremely captivating and keeps me interested the entire time. She spent time studying human rights law which is right up my alley, so I look forward to what I will be able to learn from her over the next couple of months. After class, we had a guest lecture with Aneri Pradhan. She talked to us about her nonprofit Enventure. Enventure has the goal to improve access to electricity and power in rural areas of Uganda through equipping communities with the business tools needed to sell clean energy technologies. She has also developed an app that can be used for bookkeeping; something that is not a common practice with businesses in Uganda. When Aneri was explaining her business model and how she implements these technologies into the rural communities (there’s an application process and a 12-month test run), the time I spent in Uganda last summer immediately popped into my head. I talked to her after her lecture and found out that they do have programs running in Bududa, the village I was working in, however I did not hear anything about this while I was there, so I am going to connect her with my host father to see if they can get working on something!
Our first site visit for this week was with a for-profit business called Imperfect Produce. This place takes all of the unwanted fruit and veggies from farms that don’t meet retail standards and sells them to people in the community at a lower price. How cool, right? Produce that does not look “pretty” enough will often be thrown away, so Imperfect Produce has the goal to eliminate some of this waste. We received a tour of their packaging building and learned that just a few scratches on the skin of an item will deem it ineligible to be sold at retail. Oranges that are too big, squash and avocados that are too small, onions will one less layer of skin, and funky shaped potatoes, lemons, and more filled this place. Imperfect Produce has only been around since 2015 and has done extremely well. They have 6 locations and will be expanding to 3 more cities this year. #eatugly
We had Tuesday morning to ourselves until 12:30pm. Some of us went to a thrift shop which was very groovy, however I resisted the temptation to buy anything, so I can bring home more goodies from abroad. In the afternoon, we traveled to Fair Trade in Oakland. Many of us were very excited for this visit. Personally, I didn’t really know anything about Fair Trade before the visit other than its label on numerous items in the grocery store. If I’m being honest, this was all I knew after the visit as well. I still don’t have a good idea of what Fair Trade is other than that it is a sustainable movement and label. The head of philanthropy spoke with us along with two other men. Many of us felt frustrated after leaving because they often bounced around our questions and didn’t answer what we were asking. The purpose of Fair Trade is to ensure that Fair Trade products have gone through a process that meets their social, environmental, and economic standards. However, I left not really knowing what these standards were. For a company that builds its model on transparency, there was a huge lack of transparency during our visit. We were the first group that ever did this type of visit with Fair Trade, so maybe they didn’t know what to do with us. I don’t think this site visit was a waste of time though, because it emphasized that not all companies and organizations are exactly what they say they are.
After Fair Trade, we went to Ace Monster Toys Maker Space. This visit gave us such a contrast from Fair Trade because transparency is a huge part of their model and this was very clear throughout our entire tour. AMT is similar to a hackerspace where they have a bunch of different rooms with different tools, such as a laser cutter, really cool sewing machines, and 3D printers, for people in the community to use in exchange for their membership. These machines are often extremely expensive for people to buy themselves which makes this space a great place for people to work on their projects while becoming a part of a community. There was a man working on a couch while we were passing through. AMT relies on accountability, transparency, and community. I felt a very family like vibe from this place and the woman who gave us our tour, Rachel, was very spunky and great.
I found a dance studio in the city that had drop-in dance classes, and as some of you know I am used to dancing at least 10 hours a week while I am at Lehigh. Needless to say, I was very excited when I came across this place. I went to a hip-hop class Tuesday night and it was soo great! I was even able to convince two of the girls to come with me and they had a blast! We went for Indian food after which is also one of my favorites, so clearly, it was a great day.
Wednesday was another day full of site visits. I really love this part of the program because it allows us to actually make the connections between what we learn in the classroom with what people do with their lives. It is also really cool to see the different spaces and environments that people work in. I feel like I already have a better idea of what kind of place I would like to work in and the program is still just beginning. Our first visit was to IDEO.org. IDEO.org is a nonprofit from the design and innovation firm IDEO. IDEO.org practices human-centered design with the goal of improving the lives of those living in vulnerable communities. They design products and services to work towards their goal and work globally and domestically. Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that starts with the people and then works at making solutions according to what they need, rather than what is assumed they need.
Our group had some mixed feelings about the work that IDEO does because it involves foreigners going into communities that are not their own to try to implement products and services to improve their lives. Most global projects involve a team going to the location for a few weeks to do research, coming back the US to work on prototypes, and then going back the community for testing. However, I think that the work that IDEO does is okay and valuable because USAID asks them to work on specific projects, so they are not just imposing themselves on these communities without being asked. Additionally, through their human-centered design approach, they do change their prototypes according to the research they find ensuring they are designing products and services that are specifically tailored to that communities needs.
I was so inspired by our next site visit that I could dedicate an entire post to it. I will try my best to be brief. The Delancey Street Foundation is a development that works with individuals who have hit rock bottom to rebuild their lives. More specifically, Delancey Street is an alternative for individuals who are facing long prison sentences. You have to apply and go through an interview process in order to be accepted. If you are accepted it is far from easy, yet can be completely transformative. Delancey Street was founded by a woman named Mimi who was working in the prisons as a psychiatrist. She felt that the prison system was the worst way for these individuals to receive help, and so she had a vision and didn’t stop until it came alive.
Individuals that are accepted will begin the program by being on “maintenance” which means they do all of the cleaning for all the Delancey Street businesses. The Foundation is able to run because it is 100% self-sustaining through its 12 businesses. These are businesses that are open to the public and consist of a restaurant, café, a moving company, construction, textiles, a car shop, a Christmas tree business and more. Once you graduate from maintenance you will be transferred to one of their businesses and start at the lowest level and then work your way up. Maintenance does not have a set amount of time; you are at that level until you have proved you are ready to move on. All of the residents live on the property and have many accountable duties besides their jobs each day that include chores, planning events for everyone on the weekends and more. The Foundation emphasizes positive peer pressure and accountability. This place was also quite fancy. There were foundations by the entrance and everyone was wearing a suit. This is done on purpose to make the residents look more “human” according to societies standards and to allow them to be treated with respect rather than judgement for all of their tattoos.
Our tour was given by two residents who shared their stories with us and then showed us around. Bruce has been there for 6 years, and Josh has been there for 4 years. Bruce has been able to get his GED and a criminal justice degree within his time there and now runs the restaurant. He is looking to go through the process to leave Delancey Street within the year. Delancey Street does have women residents, it is about 20% just like the prison system. About 50% of residents will make it through the program. It was very clear that this place does not mess around. You will be kicked out if you break the rules, no questions asked. Delancey Street began in 1972, has 7 locations, and has had over 50,000 (I think that’s what they said) graduates. We had lunch at their restaurant and it was one of the best meals I had in San Francisco. This place truly was incredible, and I encourage you all to go google it!
On the plane ride to San Francisco, I started reading the book On the Run written by Alice Goffman which is about fugitive life in an American city. Alice Goffman spent a long time in a Philadelphia neighborhood documenting the effects of mass incarceration. I only got through the introduction and first chapter, but a few statistics stuck out to me. “Black people make up 13 percent of the US population, but account for 37 percent of the prison population” and “One in four Black children born in 1990 had an imprisoned father by the time he or she turned fourteen” (Goffman xiii-3). Personally, I do not agree with the prison system in America and want to learn more about it which is why I purchased this book. I mention all of this because it created an unintentional connection to the Delancey Street visit which I thought was a cool coincidence. Just some food for thought.
We ended the day with Cohort Time on travel and privilege. We have cohort time throughout the trip which is dedicated to time with just our cohort and fellow to discusses things and do different activities. This session was all about recognizing and being aware of our privilege as we are about to immerse ourselves in different countries. We took a look at past situations from previous IHP groups and to be honest, they were a little ridiculous. So far everyone is super great, and I am hoping we don’t run into any of that nonsense. Most of the other IHP’s have cohorts of about 30 people. I am really happy that we have a much smaller group because we are able to do everything together and really get to know each other.
Thursday morning, we took a train to Palo Alto for a site visit at Stanford. We were going to check out the Stanford Center for Innovation and I was super excited to see what this was all about. If you ask me what the Center for Innovation is today, I couldn’t really tell you. We met with a woman who talked about how the center approaches design and then did an activity where we thought about our personal passions and then wrote down timelines for the next 5 years to achieve those passions. While I do understand the importance of activities like these, it felt a bit like high school to me and I didn’t think it was worth the hour train ride plus 15-minute uber ride back and forth. Being able to go to Stanford was a great opportunity and I was a little bit disappointed with the outcome.
Throughout the week we split off into groups of 4 to have lunch with our program director, Katy. Thursday was my day. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant and I had pho for the first time. 10/10, I would recommend. I’m so sad that Katy is not traveling with us the entire time. She is one the coolest and kindest people I have ever met. She instantly makes me feel at home, and I’m sure everybody else in my group would agree. Thankfully, she’ll be with us when we first get to India and during our last week in Brazil.
We had our first Design Thinking and Development course with our traveling professor, Ella. We talked about what design thinking is, what a few popular design methods are, how design can influence development, and what some development myths are. I have never taken a design course and I am very unfamiliar with it, so I am looking forward to learning more.
We had our last cohort time in San Francisco after class and then went to dinner together. We went to the same Indian place that I went to earlier in the week. It was just as good the second time.
Friday was our last full day in SF! These two weeks flew by, but also felt like a month at the same time. In the morning we did a synthesis of everything we did over the past 2 weeks to try to connect everything and figure out why we are doing the things we are doing. After we had a “Here We Come Uganda” presentation from the people that signed up to be on the Uganda country team. The country teams are responsible for prepping us before we move to a new country and presenting everything we done so far to the new staff when we arrive. I’m on the Brazil team. Naturally, I felt like I should have been on the Uganda team, since I have been there, but I wanted to take the time to research a new country.
We had free time for the whole afternoon on Friday to get our lives together. I did my laundry and prepped some things for my summer internship. Before our departure dinner, my friend Reyhan and I went down to Fisherman’s Warf for a little bit to see the seals. They all lay on top of each other on a deck and it’s the coolest thing. I tried In and Out for the first time. It was quite good, no complaints. After our departure dinner, I met up with my friend Kris from Lehigh again and explored the nightlife in SF. It was a great way to end my time in the city.
Saturday and Sunday were full travel days. Our flight left San Francisco after 3pm, but we left got the airport shortly after 10am. We had a 15-and-a-half-hour flight to Dubai. We spent the night in a hotel in Dubai once we landed because our next flight wasn’t until the morning. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to leave our hotel, but there were a few cool spots connected to our hotel that we checked out. The next morning our flight left for Uganda around 8am. Very excited and a little bit nervous to be going back!