Solar Spring Break

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On behalf of the University of Michigan’s Solar Spring Break team, I would like to thank you for the BLI Small Grant that helped our group successfully complete an alternative spring break project on the reservation of the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians near San Diego, California. During our weeklong stay, eleven University of Michigan students partnered with the non-profit GRID Alternatives to install a total of forty-five solar panels on three different family homes on the reservation. At our debriefing session some of the words used to describe the week were “transformative,” “humbling,” “enriching,” “challenging,” and “empowering.” We agreed that the hands-on learning experiences we had on alternative spring break were exceptional opportunities to learn not only technical skills, but also to develop personally.

Our team experienced growth in three main areas:

1. Collaboration- It was important for our team to learn to work with cultural differences on the reservation and to be respectful that we were working in someone else’s home. To view the project as a cooperative effort between homeowner and students was pivotal in forming relationships with the community. Skills learned from collaborating with the nonprofit were also important lessons for future ventures.

2. Leadership- There was ample opportunity for all team members to act as leader throughout different portions of the trip. It helped all team members learn about what their strengths are and in what situations to implement them. We all grew when we were able to realize that part of being a leader means knowing when to act and when to uplift and support others who may have a different skillset. The nonprofit that we worked with helped empower us to be leaders in solar panel installation, but also empower community members to get involved as well.

3. Humility- During our stay on the reservation we were guests and had to act accordingly. Through efforts to reach out to the community we were able to form meaningful relationships. We were humbled by the strength, knowledge, and genuine nature of the Native Americans with whom we worked.

We appreciated the opportunity to grow as students by tackling the complex social problems related to the environment and low-income communities. We realize that our efforts would not have been made possible without the support of the Barger Leadership Institute, and for that we are sincerely grateful. We are always willing to come in and speak more to the faculty and students at the University of Michigan about our experiences and the ways that we believe they have enriched our education. You may find more pictures of our experience at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gridalternatives/sets/72157642564246643/page2/

Liana – Havana, Cuba

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My study abroad experience in Cuba was truly unique and looking back on it, I feel a real sense of pride. I feel proud for choosing to challenge myself- for moving to a country with no diplomatic or trade relations with the United States, little to no internet access, and directly enrolling in classes taught entirely in Spanish with Cuban students. More so, I feel pride in Cuba for its commitment to its ideals, its defiant stance on injustice, and people’s resilience and ability to resolver or find creative solutions to problems and make do. In the four and a half months I spent there, I saw a lot of things that were not perfect, but above all, I felt inspired and proud of what I saw and experienced in Cuba.

Resolver is one of the most important lessons I learned in Cuba and it was also one of the first Cuban phrases that I learned. Based on the understanding that things often do not happen as planned in Cuba, nor do they happen on schedule, I was advised to learn to resolver. When I arrived in January, I had pre-enrolled in classes at the University of Havana based on a guide that had been sent out by email and submitted those courses to U of M for approval. When I arrived, I found that the course selection was not what I thought it was and that I wouldn’t be enrolling in the courses I had “registered for.” Over the course of the semester, I also learned that sometimes, the meeting times for classes would change without warning and that I would inevitably show up to an empty classroom once every couple of weeks. When this happened, I was frustrated but I had to learn to resolver: which in this case meant do my best to figure out what I’d missed, when the next class was and do my assignments to the best of my ability. Making do is one of the central features of daily life in Cuba. In any given neighborhood in La Habana, you will see more shoe repair businesses than new shoe stores; creative solutions are applied to everything from cooking with limited ingredients to the cars, which are held together by an assortment of mixed and matched parts. Buses do not come on time, trains are worse. Restaurants get you the food when they are ready and not when you are. Accepting that things do not always go as planned nor do they work on my schedule is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned. Growing up in the United States, where schedules are scrupulously followed and customer service is paramount, I can honestly say that this was an unfamiliar concept and I got frustrated on numerous occasions. But I learned to let the frustration go with a smile, taking the challenging aspects of life in Cuba with the beautiful ones.

Another lesson I learned Cuba that is of huge personal importance to me has to do with priorities. Cuba is a small island nation with few natural resources and a trade embargo from the largest and most powerful economy in the world. It stands as one of the only non-capitalist countries in the world. Remarkably, Cuba was a colony through the 20th century and was under U.S. control until a little more than a half-century ago. These circumstances have created a lot of economic hardship and have forced Cubans to make many sacrifices and do without a lot of things. But in spite of these obstacles, Cuba has maintained a commitment to the values of public education and accessible health care and has achieved incredible “first world indicators” in health and education, which is evident from their 99% literacy rate, long life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rate in Latin America. I believe that we as North Americans can learn something from their very different system rather than writing it off completely. Cuba’s political and economic systems definitely require reform, but it has a lot to be proud of. Cuba has clearly stated its priorities and its commitment to these priorities is evident in the facts above all else. If Cuba can achieve these goals in the face of so much economic hardship, then the U.S. can do the same and more. We have all of the resources available to solve our social problems and no excuses should be made for our high maternal mortality rate and our failure to educate all of our youth and provide a college education to everyone who wants one. I am committed to fighting for a more just world and my resolve has been strengthened by the example that Cuba sets.

Telling the Untold Truth – Ann Arbor, MI

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Understanding Different Perspectives in Violence Prevention Work

When assembling Telling the Untold Truth (TUT), a workshop series designed to raise awareness about uncommonly discussed narratives of sexualized violence, one of the most challenging aspects was to navigate all the differences in opinion and experience that came from joining together so many different groups. There were a range of people and identities represented through our partner group, the Diversity Affairs Council of LSA Student Government, and our collaborators; HEADS, the Spectrum Center, and the Coalition for Queer People of Color (CQPoC). We all came in with different goals and expectations and had to navigate between these for a common agenda. One of the ways we did this was to create a mission statement for TUT that clearly stated SAPAC and DAC goals while still remaining flexible enough to allow collaborators to add their unique vision for the event through a set a goals we created together. This way everyone had a say in the event. This was the really amazing thing about TUT. Everyone there, even the students doing social justice work for years, learned something new from working with another group that focused on a different issue from theirs. We all left with a better understanding of how our work fit together.

Balancing all of this while creating educational content for each session was difficult enough without adding the extra stress that comes from logistics and advertising of large events. The behind the scenes work was done mostly by SAPAC and made possible by grants like that from BLI. The BLI Small Grant specifically went to our advertising budget to create a two part advertising campaign. We printed large-scale, full color fliers that advertised the series as a whole that were distributed in permanent display boards across campus. There were also individual event posters in black and white that we printed and distributed before each event as a more focused advertising approach. We believe this was a successful strategy because the series was clearly marketed as whole while still providing detailed information on each individual event. However, it was a challenge to keep the advertising consistent. This meant we had to be sure to re-poster the same areas, have three Facebook events, have three sets of posters made with similar design, and to have publicity before or after each one. To keep this better organized in the future we plan to make an advertising checklist that details the necessary steps to adequately publicize each event. We were greatly happy with the turn out for each one, between 50-60 people per event, and so we will continue with the advertising strategy we have while making improvements. Like any first time event, there were many lessons learned when putting on TUT that were both logistical and interpersonal which will only help us expand the event in the future. Many people, even those involved with planning, learned more about how social identities influence our understanding or experience of sexualized violence. By far the most important lesson was to understand how integral this understanding is to violence prevention work. Moving forward in SAPAC, this is a lesson we will carry with us and I’m sure that our partner and collaborator organizations will as well.

WeRead – Detroit, MI

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The students are all seated in their assigned groups, patiently awaiting our arrival. When we walk in the classroom we are stunned. Everyone is where they need to be and they are on time. It’s a strange feeling to walk into the calmness rather than the chaos that normally categorizes our Friday afternoons at Mark Twain. But, it’s quite wonderful to find out that after all the stress of trying to organize classrooms and communicate with teachers over the course of the year, our efforts appear to be moving in a positive direction.

One of the biggest challenges that WeRead as an organization faces is communication with the school administration with Mark Twain. Because of high staff turnover, we rarely see the same teachers, principal and vice principal year after year. In the three years that I have been part of this organization, there has been a new principal each year. We must form a new relationship and establish the credibility of our organization with each person. The lack of communication between the administration and teachers also inhibits our effectiveness, although it is something that is mostly out of our control. In the beginning of the year, one of the board members would email the administration each week to remind them we would indeed be arriving on Friday afternoon to work with the kids. However, this often led to miscommunications with the classrooms because the administration would not always inform the teachers of our confirmation. This led to challenges because sometime we would show up to the school and the students would be on a field trip or would be in a classroom different than what they told us, and it would end up wasting our times and theirs. One way we attempted to change this problem was by talking to the teachers in person as well as including them in our weekly emails. The emails helped to ensure that the class would indeed be at the school that day and would not be on a field trip or didn’t have a day off. By talking to the teachers, we were able to smooth out classroom location. For example, in the 5th grade classroom, the students tended to be late because they were coming from their science class. After talking to their teacher, Ms. Brandon, we brought up the issue and resolved to meet the students in their homeroom, because it was closer to their science classroom. These small problems emphasized the importance of communication and honesty. We had to find ways to talk with the teachers and administration and let them know the challenges that we were encountering. It ended up paying off though, as we finally had a smooth arrival at the end of the year.

As many a WeRead participant will attest, we do what we do “for the kids,”. The chaos, time and energy put into our organization is all worth it when we walk into the classroom Friday afternoon and are welcomed with cheers and smiling faces. We are able to continue what we do thanks to the generous funding provided by groups such as the Barger Leadership Institute.

Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop – Ann Arbor, MI

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Our Mission
The Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop (MPOW) is a student organization at the University of Michigan dedicated to sharing the positive powers of the performing arts to inspire youth in Detroit. Through arts-­‐based collaboration, MPOW provides a mutually beneficial environment: University students can exercise creative leadership skills in an educational outreach setting; while Detroit Public School students explore possibilities in higher education by building relationships to the University and its students at large. MPOW hopes to foster creative expression, build self-­‐esteem, and strengthen the community.

The Workshop Event
Each semester, MPOW creates a one-­‐day program that exposes Detroit Pubic School students to a diverse array of performing arts. The event includes performances by University of Michigan students, a healthy lunch, and hands-­‐on workshops in collaboration with university students. The event is cost-­‐free for participating Detroit Public Schools.

This fall semester, MPOW presented its sixth bi-­annual workshop event on Friday, April 4th, 2014. Participating schools included Mark Twain Elementary in Southwest, Noble Elementary-­‐Middle School, Rutherford Winans Academy, and A.L. Holmes Elementary on the East side. For this event, MPOW hosted…

  • 160 Detroit Public Schools students
  • 50 Group Leaders
  • 30 Workshop Leaders

MPOW always strives to include students all across campus. This year, volunteers hailed from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Engineering, LSA, Ross School of Business, and the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design.
Even some non-­‐university volunteers joined the fun!

As always, Detroit Public Schools students were greeted by a wide variety of musical and theatrical performances. In an effort to showcase an array of performing arts, MPOW presented 12 diverse acts by students from across campus. Performances included FunKtion, Disney character impressions, Rhythm Tap, Amazin’ Blue, electronic hip-­‐hop music, the Vencedores, and a silly piano performance by our beloved clowns.

After watching an energizing performance, the students participated in 3 distinct workshops. This semester, our workshops included dance, improvisation, a cappella, vocal percussion, original theatre, electronic beat-­‐making, Brazilian drumming, and film.

This semester, MPOW included a 10-­‐ minute reflection period at the end of the day. During this reflection, Group Leaders led the elementary students
through a series of questions designed to make the students think deeper about their experience. When asked if they would change anything about the event, many students replied, “I would make it longer.”

Expanding Programming and Sustainability
MPOW was once a group of students planning a single-­‐day event. Now, we are a full-­‐fledged student organization! While MPOW still host its bi-­‐annual event in Ann Arbor, we now manage ACTING OUT!, an outreach theatre troupe that performs in Detroit Public Schools. In addition, MPOW runs a weekly theatre workshop with students at Detroit School of the Arts. By engaging Detroit students in the performing arts on a regular basis, they have the opportunity to further develop their own creative purpose. Now in its third year, the MPOW event is a staple in many SMTD students’ college experience. We hope they catch the “outreach bug” and join our weekly programming in the future.

If you would like to help support MPOW or learn more about our programs, please e-­‐mail contactmpow@gmail.com.

Human Rights Through Education – Ann Arbor, MI

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This year, our student organization Human Rights Through Education (HRTE) presented a speaker series entitled “Human Rights in Conflict.” Following a successful fall film series of the same name, HRTE organized this speaker series to explore how the interpretation of human rights is shaped by conflict situations, and vice versa. HRTE was honored to receive a BLI small grant to support the final event in this series.

On March 14th, Loung Ung, a renowned Cambodian-American activist, lecturer, and author, joined HRTE and the University of Michigan community as the keynote speaker of “Human Rights in Conflict”. Ung, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide and former child soldier, passionately recounted her story to the audience. Following Ung’s talk, audience members posed very thoughtful and fruitful questions on Ung’s experience and her work as an activist, making for a very interesting and stimulating discussion.

Loung Ung offered reflections on her work and her journey to becoming an activist, stressing that this path is very unique to each advocate. She encouraged members of the audience to find ways to become an activist within a profession that they love and are passionate about. She stressed that you can be an activist in any discipline; everyone makes change in their own way.

Behind the scenes, the planning and implementation of this event provided a great opportunity for HRTE members to develop leadership skills. HRTE’s flat structure allowed for members, new and old, to be actively involved with the planning process through working with departments on campus, communicating with speakers, and grant-writing, among many other opportunities. HRTE prides itself as a group that effectively upholds learning from peers and informal mentorship in a way that forms a strong, passionate community of members who leave the University of Michigan as formidable social justice advocates.