On Tuesday April 30th, members from the Kalief Browder Foundation and Friends students went to Albany to lobby for the H.A.L.T Solitary Confinement Act to be brought to the floor as soon as possible. Upon our arrival, I had the first meeting with my group with majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Even though the meeting was only 10 minutes, I spoke about the detrimental impacts of solitary confinement and my group members spoke more about the bill, shared personal stories and important statistics to persuade senator Stewart-Cousins to bring the bill to the floor. In the afternoon, my second group and I met with a representative of Senator Alessandra Biaggi, already a co-sponsor of the bill, to persuade her to ask other senators to sign the bill and continue advocating for it. Meeting the senators and their representatives in Albany gave me insight on how advocacy is not a one time event. When Senator Stewart-Cousins explained to us the the difficulties of supporting the H.A.L.T. bill and told us about opposition and social tensions regarding the bill, I understood that the fight and the work for advocating for a cause you support is ongoing. I also had the opportunity of listening to other senators at an open press conference between the two meetings. The senators were co sponsors of the bill and although they were very genuine in their support for the bill and the people, it was evident that they could not promise or make quick actions for the bill to be passed, but it was a continuous and rigorous process.
When our history class started YPI in December, our group – Su, Bora, Rixi and myself really wanted to support a non-profit that tackled the problem of unemployment of immigrants in New York, as we believe this is the root cause of other social issue faced by immigrants (education, healthcare, housing, etc.) We were really excited to partner with the Business Center of New Americans, a nonprofit which aims to make immigrants, refugees and its other clients self-sufficient by providing access to affordable credit, empowering with financial education, and offering training in best business practices and technology. We feel BCNA offers necessary opportunities for refugees and undocumented immigrants to pursue the careers they always dreamed of and teaching them to be independent as well. As I learnt more about BCNA and how they make an impact in New York, I have also learnt so much about the astonishing statistics of unemployment and unequal pay of immigrants. I was in constant communication with Yanki Tshering, the executive director of BCNA, to learn more about its programs and services and the several people BCNA has helped change lives of. I also got to learn about the story of Alimata Zabsonre, a refugee from Burkina Faso and a BCNA client who started her own hair braiding business with help from BCNA. YPI has been really meaningful to me and I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the program because I have learnt so much about different social issues faced by immigrants, amazing non profits who do commendable work to help and how I can help make a difference. Although I have read and learnt so much about the refugee crisis and problems immigrants face in the news and other media, YPI gave me a deeper insight to the issues as I made many connections with different people.
This summer I had the opportunity to work with Homes of Hope in the Dominican Republic to help build a home for Juana Santana Vargas and her family. The three days during which we worked were extremely fulfilling. It was my first time physically building. At first, I was very nervous because we were using drills and power saws and other power tools. However, Demali, Juana’s daughter would always watch us working and she would become so happy that we all had a great time. On day 1, (Tuesday) We put up the four walls and the interior walls. I enjoyed creating the framework for the interior walls a lot. On day 2 (Wednesday), we did the electrics, and lined the interior walls, painted, put in windows and almost finished the roof. I mostly painted. However, as we were putting up the roof, it started raining and the paint on the walls was still wet so lots of it came out so we all put on raincoats and doubled up our pace; we re-did everything and thankfully finished by the end of the day. Finally, on day 3 (Thursday), we finished lining the interior walls and the rooms, completely finished the roof and we put in the furniture. After the house was complete and we furnished it, the family entered the house and they were very emotional. They started crying and were so grateful as they told us that if we had not built the house for them, Juana needed to work seven whole years to get all the materials for the house. This is when I realized how grateful I should be for everything I have because things that come so easily to us is actually very hard to acquire for others. Overall, it was an extremely enriching experience and I hope I can do it again next summer!