Stand together, Serve together

I arrived at Fazenda Boi Gordo (or Fat Cow Farm) in Campo Grande, Brazil the first few days after the New Year in 2010. I spent the next four weeks as a volunteer, working on the vegetable garden, getting to know the towns people, and eating chili peppers which always went unsold. The farm was part of a community of recent migrants from the northeast of Brazil and immigrants from Japan. Both groups came for various reasons but overall in search of safety, work opportunity, adventure and a better life.  From waking each day before dawn, to eating lunch with workers and staff who spoke a mix of Japanese and Portuguese, I experienced a lifestyle and met people I would have never otherwise encountered.

Second to the spider webs that spanned 20 feet, the inspiration and connection I felt to the people I met on the farm is the most memorable part of that volunteer experience. The farm’s owner, Sergio, who emigrated from Japan in his early 20s, had the same favorite movie as my father (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a musical, western style romance comedy. I don’t think I need to explain why it was a hit in South Asia).  I felt an unexpected empathy with his children, who were still reconciling being between two cultures; an identity crisis that many of us children of immigrants experience. In four short weeks, I built relationships with people whose stories both touched me and connected with my own.

My farming stint, and other similar volunteer experiences increase solidarity, cross cultural understanding, and a sense of community between diverse individuals.  I feel a much deeper respect and connection to people who devote their lives to intense physical work such as farming, and immigrants/migrants from all backgrounds. I thought of the farmer and his family when I visited Japan the following year, and often when I buy fresh fruits and vegetables off the farm stands throughout California’s countryside.

I look forward to participating in my first Be the Change event this fall and having another opportunity to serve and build my community. Be the Change is an annual day of service, which SAALT coordinates, that has thousands of participants from across the United States. It is a response to Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  For me, Be the Change is a chance to commit volunteer hours in solidarity with people around the country. More importantly, however, Be the Change gives me a chance to reflect on my vision for the future of our community, which is one of greater equality and meaningful relationships. To understand the role community service can have in my vision, I am taken back to my most influential and impactful volunteer experience: my time at Fazenda Boi Gordo.

In general, I think “being the change,” all the time can be a challenge, to say the least. My morning mantra, is hardly, “wake up, brush teeth, eat breakfast, be the change.” Usually, I don’t even make it to “eat breakfast,” before I look at my cell phone and rush out the door so I can make it to work on time. Furthermore, there are so many changes I would like to see in this world, I usually don’t know where to start. Yet, when I think of all the opportunities I’ve had to serve the community, and all the relationships I’ve built because of them, and I don’t feel as overwhelmed. I feel excited and refreshed by the people I’ve met, and everything I’ve learned through them.

We all know how important it is to give back to the communities that we live in, the communities that sustain and nurture us. In these last few sentences I could try my best to inundate you with the best scientific evidence, and statistics I’ve scrounged up on how community service increases levels of happiness. Or how each hour spent volunteering has an economic value of $22.14 (http://www.handsonnetwork.org/tools/volunteercalculator). There is no doubt that community service and volunteerism is part of the glue that holds this nation together. Yet, I think the most meaningful statement I can leave you with is that my experiences serving as a volunteer is the glue that binds me to my vision for the future. Each friendship made is a small step towards strengthening my community. Each experience inspires me and guides my life decisions. For example, without positive volunteer experiences, I would have never chose to spend this past year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer serving the South Asian immigrant community in Maryland, through SAALT.  All in all, I’m excited to participate in Be the Change 2013, and can’t wait to hear new stories, meet new people, and see how it will shape my future.

Avani Mody
Maryland Outreach Coordinator, AmeriCorps
SAALT

New Jersey SAALT Circle volunteers with Habitat for Humanity

I’ll admit: I almost regretted it. You would, too, if you had to be up at 7AM on a Saturday morning for work.  What was I thinking to schedule a service project so early in the AM?

It wasn’t long before my spirit rose – I was greeted by three car fulls of smiling ready-to-work-hard volunteers.  And what a diverse group it was! South Asian, African American, Muslim, Hindu, Christian – all coming together for the common cause of helping those in need.  This was definitely worth the early rising.

Every month, the New Jersey SAALT Circle conducts a community service project – last month, we helped pack lunches and grocery bags for a local food pantry.  This month, we worked in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County to assist in the building of two homes in Jersey City.  When we first showed up at the build, the site coordinator was so overwhelmed by how many of us came, he almost turned us away!  But he soon had a change of heart and we were all put to work.

We sanded down walls. We painted ceilings. We primed walls.  We swept away piles of dust and debris (If you’re looking to tone those arms, forget the gym – sign up for a habitat build and you’ll be in shape in no time!).  There’s something so satisfying about working with your hands and actually being able to see the impact of your hard work.  It was a great experience – and although it was most certainly a physically challenging activity, I’m pretty sure that we all came away with a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Thanks to all that dedicated their Saturday to service – we truly appreciated your hard work, and look forward to having you help out in upcoming service projects!

If you’d like to get involved with the New Jersey SAALT Circle, email me at qudsia@saalt.org or call (201) 850-3333.

SAALT in May: Community Events, New Faces, SAALT Speaks

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SAALT Community Connection – May 2009

In This Issue

SAALT Speaks

New Faces in SAALT

Community Calendar

Be the Change

Summit Wrap-Up

Support SAALT in 2009!

The SAALT Community Connection is a monthly e-newsletter that focuses on community news and events. To learn more about SAALT’s community and policy work, contact us at saalt@saalt.org

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

SAALT Speaks on First 100 Days, Immigration, and Citizenship

  • lavPriya Murthy, Policy Director, appeared as a guest on WPFW Pacifica Radio in April to discuss immigration and civil rights issues affecting South Asians.
  • Deepa Iyer, Executive Director, appeared as a guest on Beneath the Surface radio show on KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, CA with Hamid Khan to discuss citizenship and immigration reform on April 23rd.
  • Deepa Iyer spoke on the Applied Research Center’s “Race in Review: First 100 Days” conference call on April 28th.
  • Lavanya Sithanandam, SAALT Board Member, appeared on “That Fresh Radio Piece” on May 18th on WMUC 88.1FM in College Park, MD to discuss the effects of recent immigration enforcement efforts and raids on the children she sees as a pediatrician in Takoma Park.

Upcoming:

  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at Georgia State University at the Immigration & Human Rights Symposium on June 17th, 2009.
  • Deepa Iyer will be speaking at the “Know Your Community: A Discussion of Issues and Trends Affecting Asian Pacific Americans in Washington DC and Beyond” sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Bar Association – Washington DC on June 3rd.

New Faces at SAALT

SAALT welcomes Aaditi Dubale as the new SAALT Fellow! She will be working on Be the Change 2009, our National Day of Service, as well as supporting fundraising and development efforts. Aaditi can be reached at aaditi@saalt.org.

SAALT also welcomes our summer interns:

Ashley Vij from George Washington University
Niralee Shah from Williams College
Zara Haq from American University Washington College of Law

SAALT bids a fond farewell to Aparna Kothary, Fundraising and Development Assistant. Aparna’s work at SAALT advanced the development of an individual member base, helped us to identify new fundraising opportunities, and expanded Be the Change – our National Day of Service.

Community Calendar

BTC09May 30th – New Jersey SAALT Circle Service project
Join the SAALT Circle for a community service project with ‘The Sharing Place’, a food pantry at St. Pauls’ Lutheran Church in Jersey City.  We’ll be preparing, packing, and serving breakfast and lunch to the local community.  Come out and BE THE CHANGE!


The Sharing Place – St. Lutherans Church

440 Hoboken Avenue (five corners) in Jersey City, NJ


Please RSVP by May 26th at
qudsia@saalt.org. Space is limited – sign up now!

August 14th – August 16th: Transgress, Transform, Transcend – A National Conference of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Asian Americans, South Asians and Pacific Islanders (API)

University of Washington in Seattle, WA
Registration information is available online at: http://www.nqapia.org

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund presents The Asian American Vote 2008

During the 2008 Presidential Elections, 16,665 Asian American voters were surveyed as part of AALDEF’s national multilingual exit poll.  The exit poll was the largest nonpartisan survey of its kind in the nation and was conducted in twelve Asian languages and English across 39 cities in 11 states.  At these special presentations across the country, comparative information will be given about the Asian American vote in the Presidential and Congressional elections, concerns about key issues, first-time voters, and profiles of the Asian American vote by ethnicity, party enrollment, nativity, age, and English proficiency.  For more information or to attend any of these presentations, contact jyang@aaldef.org or call 800.966.5946, www.aaldef.org

  • June 8 at 12:30 PM – The Massachusetts Asian American Vote (Boston, MA)
  • June 8 at 5:30 PM (Lowell, MA)
  • June 11 at 6:30 PM – The Maryland Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Rockville, MD)
  • June 12 at 2:00PM – The Asian American Vote (multistate) (co-sponsored by SAALT)(Washington, DC)
  • June 17 and 18 at 6:30 PM- The Virginia Asian American Vote (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Richmond, VA)
  • June 18 at 11:30 AM (co-sponsored by SAALT) (Annandale, VA)
  • August 8 (time TBA) – The Chinese American Vote (San Francisco, CA)

Check out events on SAALT’s Community Calendar.calendar

SAALT staff are available to speak at your student organization meetings, conferences, and community events on topics including immigrant rights, South Asians in America, civic engagement, and immigration. Please email us at saalt@saalt.org for more information.

Get Ready for Be the Change 2009 – National Day of Service!

BTC09What are you doing on Saturday, October 3rd?

1) Host a Be the Change event on your campus – If your campus traditionally hosts a Be the Change event or if you would like to start one on your campus, please fill out this form by May 30th and we will send you a planning guide and connect you to the national event.

2) Host a Be the Change event in your city– Join or start a planning team in your city. As a member of the planning team, you will be coordinating service events, recruiting volunteers, and connecting with other planning teams around the country. Please fill out this form by May 30th and we will connect you with others in your city who are interested in planning a Be the Change event.  Our core cities this year are: Washington DC, New York City, South Bay, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Boston. We also welcome other cities to hold Be the Change events.

3) Join SAALT as a National Partner for Be the Change– If your organization, professional association, or youth group would like to partner with SAALT, locally or nationally, please email us at btc2009@saalt.org by May 30th.

South Asian Summit Roundup

summitDid you miss the Summit?

  • Listen to podcasts of the sessions here
  • View pictures from the Summit here
  • Hear from participants in Summit Snapshots here
  • Read entries from the SAALT Spot about the Summit here

Make A Donation to
Support SAALT’s Work in 2009 Today!

Are you a SAALT member yet?


If not, we urge you to become a member today. By becoming a SAALT member, you not only receive benefits (such as our annual newsletter and discounts at events and gatherings), but the satisfaction of being part of a national non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues facing South Asians in America.

Do you know someone who would be interested in learning about SAALT? Forward them this email by clicking here:

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South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to fostering full and equal participation by South Asians in all aspects of American civic and political life through a social justice framework that includes advocacy, coalition-building, community education, and leadership development.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

One “Be the Change” Volunteer’s Experience Registering Voters in NY

Read this post from Parth Savla, Be the Change Volunteer in New York City:

On Oct 4, I had the pleasure of participating in SAALT’s Be The Change event by volunteering with Chhaya CDC, located in Queens, NY on their Voter Registration drive.  It was a great a experience street canvassing – going up to South Asians and asking them to register to vote.  I was really surprised by how many people were compelled to vote for the first time in their lives.  In addition to spreading the word about the importance of voting, we were also educating people on the public advocacy work that Chhaya does – providing everything from legal services to grassroots community development.


Supporting the voter registration, I believe, impacted the community on a variety of levels.  It enabled those who want to make a difference but don’t know where to go, by providing them access to do so.  Deep down, everyone wants to make a difference and support each other, but are often stifled by a lack of knowledge in how to do so.  By being out there, it provided greater accessibility to folks while helping them realize that they have champions standing for them. 


Street canvassing, I recall fighting my reservations about going up to one passerby and saying:

“Uncle, have you registered to vote for this year’s election?”

 

“No, I have never voted.  Why would it matter?  I’m only one person” he replied in his broken accent.

“Do you have children, uncle?  Are they in school or looking for a good paying job or looking to get a loan for a house?”

        “Yes.” 

“Uncle, voting in this year’s election will enable you to vote for the policies that will not only affect their ability to do those things, but also to safeguard your retirement.  I can understand that you haven’t voted before, neither had my parents before this year,” I said empathetically.

“Oh, I didn’t know it made that much of a difference,” he said as he filled out the voter registration form.  Once he was done, he took a few more forms to take back to his family.

        “Thank you young man.”

By seeing you make a difference, they also get inspired to make a difference!  


I wanted to participate in “Be the Change” this year because of seeing the difference that SAALT had made in our collaborative efforts during our YJA (Young Jains of America – www.yja.org) Convention this past July 4th weekend, and being inspired by the public advocacy work they’ve done for the South Asian community.  For SAALT’s “Be the Change” efforts this year, they’ve been able to mobilize thousands of volunteers nationwide to support countless projects for the community.  That’s a pretty incredible feat!I was particularly inspired about their Voter Registration drive, because this the most important presidential election of our lifetime.  There are many things at stake from our economy – being able to get loans for college, to getting a good job when entering into the job market – to education, to retirement benefits for our parents.  Being a South Asian American, it was a great opportunity to speak to elders in our community about the importance of voting in this year’s election and enabling their voices to be heard.

I knew that being part this event would not only enable me to make a difference but also meet cool people who shared a similar goal to make a difference.  While one person can make a impact, many people who share a collective voice and vision can make an exponential impact!

Over 2,000 people volunteer for Be the Change on October 4th!

On Saturday, October 4, 2008- over 2,000 volunteers from around the country participated in SAALT’s annual day of service, Be the Change. As the National Be the Change Coordinator, it was exciting to see many individuals from cities and campuses around the country involved in this great cause- volunteers from over 40 cities and campuses participated nationwide! Atlanta, Boston, Bay Area, Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, University of Central Florida, Texas A&M University- College Station and more joined in on this effort!

For the past 5 months, individuals around the country volunteered their time to plan and implement this event in their city or campus. These individuals are a testament to the change occurring in the country and their role in Be the Change truly exemplified Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of ‘be the change you wish to see in the world”. Of course, we can’t forget the wonderful volunteers who came out on a Saturday morning because of their belief in the importance of making a difference and changing their community.

This year, Be the Change volunteers participated in activities such as revitalizing local parks in East Brunswick, New Jersey; packaging books for prisoners in Washington, DC; restoring the bay in San Francisco; and working with mentally and physically disabled children in New York and much more.

I would like to challenge everyone to let Be the Change be the first step. I challenge you to let this not be a day of service but a life of service– whether it be at your campus or university, in your workplace, with your friends or family, by volunteering or by creating your own organization- I challenge all of you to carry on this principle of being the change wherever you go and in whatever you do. I hope to see you ‘being the change’ for many years to come!

-Ramya Punnoose, National Coordinator of Be the Change ’08

Are you ready to “Be the Change” on Saturday, October 4th?

SAALT is gearing up for Be the Change 2008 and we wanted to thank all of our planning teams and local volunteers who have worked so hard over the past few months to plan for this national day of service! Be the Change, formerly known as the National Gandhi Day of Service, is coordinated by SAALT along with volunteers around the country. This year, we are excited that the event will be held in over 60 cities and campuses! You can find a full list of the cities and campuses here.This year’s theme for Be the Change is “Solidarity in Service” and we want to encourage all of our volunteers to keep this theme in mind when they are volunteering this year. This theme reflects the way community service can build coalitions, strengthen relationships, and bring about solidarity among people of different backgrounds.

Examples of service sites this year include:

Books to Prisons: Volunteers will be reading letters from prisoners, selecting books that match their request, and packaging the books to send the prisoners (Washington DC)

Hands on Atlanta Volunteers will be building wheelchair ramps, mentoring individuals in computer skills, and more. (Atlanta)

Ronald McDonald House: Volunteers will prepare a meal for, and serve families whose children are seriously ill and receiving treatment at nearby hospitals. (San Francisco)

Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN): Volunteers will be conducting recreational activities for kids in the program who have are mentally or physically challenged. (New York City)

Boston Healthcare for the Homeless: Volunteers will be

 

working with patients by leading activities like games, crafts, entertainment, etc.These are just a mere few service sites that Be the Change volunteers will be participating in this year. Stay tuned for an update about how Be the Change went and how you can continue your community involvement.