Thursday, November 20, 2014

Los Angeles...Presente!!Sur Africa...Presente!!Palestine...Presente!!

My name is Elmo Gomez with AFSC’s “Roots for Peace” Program in Los Angeles. After participating in the Global Youth Peace Indaba (dialogue) in post-apartheid South Africa It is clear how the truth and reality around post-segregation America is not that far. Capetown, South Africa was a Strategic location to hold these conversations with people from around the world.

The reality and the consequences in the lack of investment in the peoples’ long term needs is reflected in places like across my street here in Los Angeles and nationwide. To see the structure change but to see on the ground how conditions are still familiar and how black and brown working class members still resist impoverished, heavily policed and colonial conditions is parallel.

The conversations held at the indaba clearly detail what the results of investment can recreate in the aspects of healing, rebuilding, and moving forward towards a better future. People shared their experiences and expressed their right to self-determination and what it meant to retain their identity even while being continuously occupied and colonized, became an educational experience for many.

As the conversations go on about how to bring peace to a community and resist all forms of oppression, we continue that work here in our soil through gardening and education in AFSC’s Los Angeles’ “Roots for Peace” program.

The Roots for Peace program, is a form popular education in Los Angeles has run a as developing model for the past 6 years to support the communities’ long term needs. We see how Land, Identity and Food play a large role in self-sustainability.

Nevertheless when including Social Justice and the communities’ right to self-determination as leading factors, we must shift the paradigm of the praxis daily, knowing that Theory and Practice will bring the cycle of struggle-unity-struggle full circle to address the communities’ long term needs.

Praxis is the overall creating of a structure of communication, planning and maintaining different forms of dialogue which evolve to meet the very needs of the community and not the goals. As we do here in Mar Vista Gardens.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Our Community Scan Presentation & Discussing Final Community Project Ideas at Lincoln High School

Have you ever stopped and really looked at your community and wondered what you could do to help make it a better environment? Well, on Oct. 28th Lincoln High School students went around their neighborhood took photos of specific areas in the area that represented what they believed to be community challenges and community benefits. It was interesting to see what the students chose to take photos of and how in depth their explanations were when they spoke about the photos they chose.

Annett and Olivia organizing photos on the poster!
The students' photos included areas such as empty lots, trash on the streets, and abandoned housing.

One of the students, Jennifer, discussed that one of the large empty lots right next to school has been empty for around four years now. We were able to discuss what benefits that empty lot could for the community if it were used for local gardening or used for anything in general that would be able to cater to the needs of the neighborhood rather than be a waste of space. Crystal, AFSC staff, shared about a city resolution supported by organizations like Los Angeles Food Policy Council that would support people who want to create gardens and local food businesses instead of having empty lots, by giving tax incentives to land owners. Students thought the idea was much better than an empty lot, especially when it only serves as a dump site for people's trash. Olivia shared, "it just makes me sad seeing garbage everywhere on the streets when I'm walking to school." 

Students also discussed their dislike of an abandoned prison building in Lincoln Heights and many were surprised of the toxic chemical asbestos that was located in the walls. This is not only a waste of space in Lincoln Heights, but it is also a health hazard in the community. On a brighter note, Araceli, explained that she appreciated Lincoln Heights park because individuals and families were able to sit, relax, and enjoy the scenery of nature even though they live in the middle of a fast-paced city. 

Annett, Jenny, and Eli presenting their "Our Community Scan" poster!
Aerial view of one of the "Our Community Scan" posters.

Olivia discussing her thoughts on some community benefits.
Crystal, Olivia, and Araceli adding one more photo and the finishing touches to their presentation.
After both groups of students presented, we began a dialogue about what they would like to see in their community. These ideas would become our potential service learning project options. Some of the ideas the students felt interested in researching and working on during this semester included:
  • More Green Spaces
  • Community Cleanings
  • Farmer's Market/Sidewalk sales
  • Community Events
In the next week or so the students will be deciding on one specific topic for them to be able to work on together for a final class community project.


After we had finished discussing the students' suggestions for their possible future project, it was time to eat some snacks!

(From left to right): Eli, Zanetta, Araceli, Jenny, Crystal, Jennifer, and Olivia. 

It was so delightful to being able to just sit and talk with these students about not only their thoughts on things that they had viewed in their community, but also just to check in with them to see how they were doing with school and anything else they wanted to talk about. I've had such a blast getting to know each and every one of these students and I've learned what examples of true positivity looks like from these amazing women. I feel so blessed to be able to learn alongside them; it's wonderful for us to be able to think of creative ways to enrich their learning experience and brainstorm ideas for us all to cater to the needs of the Lincoln Heights community. 

Written by Zanetta Uy

If you want to find out what topic they decide to do their final project on, be on the look out for more future blog posts to stay updated! Please check out our facebook as well for more pictures from Lincoln High School and other Roots for Peace sites! 

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Instagram: @RootsforPeace_AFSC_LA



Thursday, October 16, 2014

All Peoples Community Center: Oct. 9th, 2014

On Oct. 9th, 2014 we visited All People’s Community Center for our weekly meeting with a group of wonderful students. The first activity that we did was an activity in which we asked the students to pretend like they were given all of the money from our whole country's fund; for the sake of the activity the funds were a collection of 100 pennies. They acted as congress representatives and had the opportunity to put their 10-13 pennies in whatever area that was important to them. The categories that they could fund included agriculture, energy, homeland security, military, environmental problems, education, housing, states and other countries, justice, health and human services, and transportation. They were asked them to put their money where their priorities were and where they believed our government's funding should go.

After tallying up all the pennies we found that 25% of the pennies were deposited in the education fund; which meant that the students believed that 1/4 of the entire government budget should go towards education. The students believed that 16% of the funding should go to the justice systems, 9% should go towards agriculture, 9% should go towards health and human services, 9% should go towards housing, 7% should towards transportation, 6% should go towards military, 5% should go towards energy, 5% should go towards states and other countries, and 4% should go towards homeland security. When the actual results were told to the students many were extremely surprised. The actual results of the survey were that 60% of government funds were going towards the military, 6% towards health and human services, 6% towards education, 5% towards the state, 4.5% towards other programs, 4% towards the Department of Homeland security, 3% towards housing and urban development, 2% towards agriculture, 1.5% towards justice, 1.5% towards NASA, 1.5% towards energy, and 1% to labor, 1% to treasury, 1% to interior, 1% to environmental protection agencies, and 1% to transportation. Many of the students (as well as Brenda and I) were shocked to see where our government's priorities fell. Why? Maybe you can add some statistics or 

Cindy looking at the differences between estimates
and actual percentages of government funding.
One of the students, Brenda, had said, “They always have money for the war, never for the poor”, which she had later told us that this line was from a Tupac song but she couldn’t help but think of those words when she had found out that 60% of the government’s funds were going to the military. 

After the exercise, another student, Jasmine, said, “..more money should definitely be going towards education. 

Another student, Yordi, expressed his disbelief and frustration when sharing that, “It’s crazy that we spend more money on other states and countries than our own education!"

Brenda writing down thoughts from her group onto their poster.
We discussed how “we spend more money on military than any country in the whole world.”

Later on, the students split into two groups and discussed the international impact and domestic impact that large amounts of military funding had done on a local level and the impact it has had overseas.

Brenda, Cindy, Yordi, and Jorge discussing the affect that military
funding has had on their local community.
The students then created posters that explained what they had learned and what their opinion was after reading the articles that discussed government funding and watching a video that explained some issues that arose from immense military funding with the use of satire. For example, the students discussed about how a quite a lot of military funding goes to the LAPD and LASPD which allows them to gain access to weapons that look as though they belong on war grounds, such as 14 AR-15 assault rifles, grenade launchers, and MRAP armored vehicles (used to keep troops safe in Iraq).

It was extremely inspiring to listen to what everyone shared about the government's financial choices. Many of them want money to go into education and many of us rightfully agreed. There seems to be a very large imbalance in the distribution of funds and although it seems impossible to change, learning more about our society and government's choices can help us know where to start and how to create an environment that is fair and peaceful in this and other communities across Los Angeles

Like Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

Written by Zanetta Uy

For more information on military grade weapons given to the LASPD click link below.

Mango Salad & Mingling

On October 2nd, 2014 we were able to go and spend time with a wonderful group of students at All People’s Community Center. Through different "get-to-know-you" activities we had some fun and built relationships with each other. The students were kind and willing to dive into whatever activity we were planning to do on this day. The group of students split in half; half of the group prepared to go outside to the garden with Crystal, while the other half came inside the kitchen to learn how to create a meal from scratch.

Our recipe of the day was Mango Chile Kale Salad. This salad mixed sweet and spicy for an absolutely perfect combination of both. We were also able to create fresh mint (and spinach, shhh!) lemonade we had created as well. Lastly, to add a little tanginess to the meal we created Kale "a la parilla" (kale chips), made by taking fresh slices of kale sprinkled with oil, salt, and fresh lemon and lightly frying them over a warm stove. At first, the students were hesitant on trying a salad made from kale, but when they finally were able to taste it they actually really enjoyed it and came back for more! It even amazed the students that the kale and mint that we had used to create this salad was fresh from the garden outside.

Recipes for the day!

Mango Kale Salad:

Cube Mango (little squares,

Cut Kale into ribbons (thin strips,
Massage kale w/oil and lemon juice,
Sprinkle mango w/chile and lemon juice,
Toast pepitas (optional,
Mix it all together & ENJOY!

Oscar and Rios slicing and dicing mangos into small pieces to add the sweet factor into the salad.
Jasmine waiting for the Kale chips to be ready! 

Kale a la Paritta:

Mix kale w/oil and salt until toasty,
Heat on the comal,

Elisa, Jasmine, and Rios prepping the ingredients for the Mango Kale Salad.
Mint Lemonade:

Juice lemons,
Dissolve sugar in water,
Blend mint,(spinach shhh!),lemon juice and a little bit of water, 

Preparing the salad, watermelon, and mint and spinach lemonade to hardworking and hungry students.
It was so great being able to really get to know all the students through silly talks in the kitchen while cutting up ingredients for the salad or weeding outside in the garden. It’s amazing to be able to show the students through discussion and hands on practices that you don’t need a lot of sugar or preservatives for something to taste great. In our modern society most of the food that we buy from a store usually includes food colorings, artificial flavors, large quantities of sodium and processed sugar; it's almost rare to find food that is truly organic or fresh! "The Center for Disease Control & Prevention has stated that 75 percent of healthcare spending goes to treating preventable chronic diseases, most of which are diet-related" ("Eat Healthy"). We are able to keep our bodies healthier when we choose to eat foods that have long-term benefits. In LA 58% of adults are overweight or obese ("Shocking Healthy Eating Statistics"). When fast food and unhealthy food options are readily available for us, we must learn how to find foods that will give us the daily nutrients we need.

We also discussed urban sustainability and how it truly is possible even in L.A. The students decided to try the salad even though they hadn't tasted it before and they were actually surprised with how much they liked it! It inspired me to go out and try new foods even if I'm uncomfortable with it at first because you never know what will taste great and be great for you! Through creating relationships with the youth in our community we are able to show them different alternatives of food choices that taste good and make us all feel good. Plus we are able to learn so much from every single amazing student we are able to spend time with. I am looking forward to all the other activities we have planned ahead!

Written by Zanetta Uy


"Eat Healthy." County of Los Angeles Public Health, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

"Shocking Healthy Eating Statistics." The Healthy Eating Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Meet the Intern for Spring 2014!

       Hello I am Alicia Davalos, the latest Los Angeles AFSC intern for Spring 2014! I am currently a sophomore at Azusa Pacific University, studying Global Studies with a minor in TESOL. Everything that has to do with humans and their culture energizes me. I love learning about people, their cultures, their backgrounds, and their religions. People are so beautiful in their own unique way and I think that is the reason I want to work with people for a living. I desire to be able to comfort people in any possible way and support them especially in their times of need. As a career I hope to do this by working for a non-profit organization and teaching English as a secondary language to students.
       I love the mission that AFSC is driven to succeed and I am so glad I get to be apart of it. My heart has always focused on social justice issues like human trafficking, and homelessness; but AFSC has opened my eyes to issues like food injustice; something I would have never acknowledged if it weren’t for this internship. Being able to work with students and help teach them how to become aware of these issues and how to garden so they can make their own healthy foods will be a wonderful experience. I love being able to see students become motivated and come together in one community to garden or participate in a variety of activities. I am eager to continue to learn about food justice issues and how we, the community, can be the change we want to see.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not Looking Back: A volunteer's memoir

On February 2nd, 2013, I was at the lowest point of my life. I was suffering from agonizing anxiety and debilitating depression. That night, I was admitted into a mental hospital and placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold. It was the most difficult, trying experience I've ever faced. I felt hopeless. When I was finally released, I was engulfed with uncertainty. I did not know what I was going to do, but I knew things had to change. I could not continue living life the same way, without purpose. In all honesty, that was not truly living. I needed something positive, something meaningful. I am glad to say I found it. Around March, I visited my old high school, Central High School/All Peoples. I felt that would be a good place to begin my road towards a better life. I was not disappointed. While I was there, I found that the garden program was still alive and well. That made me happy. At that moment, I knew there was something right in front of me that I needed to be involved in. I went home that night feeling particularly optimistic. From that day forward, I volunteered in that garden, doing anything and everything I could to help. It began with one or two days a week, then it was two or three, eventually it became entire weeks. The more time I spent there, the happier I was. I didn't know at the time, but there was something about gardening, something special. Gardening is not just a pastime. It is a powerful tool and an influential act. For me, it was a means to reclaiming my life. But it wasn't just the gardening, it was the community that was built through it that had the greatest impact on me. I believe that this is the beauty of it, the most influential part. It is an amazing thing to see people come together and work towards a common goal; building community, transforming neighborhoods, and so much more. Gardening allowed me to see that. It is now December, ten months later, and I have not once looked back. I cannot express how grateful I am for what gardening has given me, for the people it has allowed me to surround myself with. It has been a surreal experience. 2013 began as the worst year of my life; gardening has made it the best. ------ Jorge volunteers for All Peoples and the AFSC on a weekly basis. Jorge recently became Victory Garden Certified and will be applying to LA's 2014 Master Gardener Program.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Story From LA Streets Blog 

Gardening Students in South L.A. Use Their Skills to Build Garden Beds for Local Families

The students' garden classroom at All Peoples Community Center. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Sandwiched between 110 fwy on the west, the 10 fwy and the Blue Line tracks to the north, and an industrial area to the east, the All Peoples Community Center sits in a densely packed neighborhood in Historic South Central that seems to have been forgotten by the city. You know things can’t be great when a gang can take the liberty of drawing enormous hand signs in the middle of an intersection (below), for the benefit of anyone in doubt about whose territory they are in. And, every time I roll through there, I feel like I and everything around me are being liberally coated in layers of grime.
A clique marks its territory in the middle of the street. The signs have been there in various incarnations for years. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Yet, the hardworking folks at All Peoples have somehow managed to bring a bit of green hope to the area.
Last February, I stopped by the center to learn more about their garden projects. With the help of Crystal Gonzalez, a Peace Education Coordinator fromAmerican Friends Service Committee (AFSC), youth at the center’s continuation high school and parents of kids in the center’s after-school programs built two small gardens. One is a learning site for students of the gardening and cooking class and the other has plots which are allotted to parents on a rotating basis. Students reported feeling like they had managed to create a little oasis in their neighborhood and parents enjoyed being able to share recipes with others and teach their children about health and where their food came from.
All Peoples sits in a densely populated area surrounded by freeways, trains, and industry. (Google map screen shot)
So, I was really excited when Crystal got in touch to tell me that students from the gardening class would be spending the morning building raised garden beds in the homes of two families in the neighborhood. The recipients were parents who had spent a year picking up gardening techniques at the center and who would now be turning their garden beds there over to a new set of parents so the cycle of learning could continue.
It wasn’t all going quite as planned, Crystal told me when I arrived to meet the students this morning. They didn’t have the key to access the room where the soil they had purchased for the project was being stored and police were hanging around one of the home sites, apparently looking for the male friend of a neighbor.
Undaunted, Crystal and the other mentors split the students into two groups and we all headed out.
My group, consisting of Austin (an intern with AFSC), Cathy (a former teacher and volunteer), and students Oscar, Melissa, Luk, and Leslie, walked about 5 blocks east over to Doña Mari’s home.
As we walked, we talked about what might have brought the police poking around so early in the morning. Oscar declared he was tired of being harassed by the police.
Gangs were obviously a problem in the area, he noted, but not everybody was a gangster and the police needed to do better than stop and hassle people like him all the time. He especially didn’t like them getting intrusive and asking him to lift up his shirt so they could check him for tattoos.
“Oh, yeah!” Melissa chimed in, saying that the same thing happened to her friend a lot, too.
Doña Mari, at right, looks on as students work in her new garden and teacher Elly drills holes in the lumber. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
So, it was a relief to find the only people waiting for us at the house were Doña Mari and her one-year old son, Elly (the gardening teacher), and Jorge (a volunteer and former student) who were busy preparing the lumber for the beds.
As Elly put the students to work leveling the soil, I sidled up to Doña Mari to get her thoughts on the project.
She was really pleased to have new garden beds, she told me in Spanish as she watched the students dig up the narrow space along the fence.
Her daughters were ten and thirteen years old and she wanted them to understand what growing food entailed.
When they see it in the supermarket, it is already done/ready, she explained. It is important that they see where it comes from.
They already enjoyed helping her harvest her produce at the All Peoples’ site and watching the few plants she grew at home blossom and develop over time, she said. And, she had managed to cultivate their appetites for fresh, home-grown food.
Which was a good thing considering the challenge of finding viable produce in her neighborhood.
Sometimes she went to the Trader Joe’s in Culver City, she said.
So far? I asked.
That particular Trader Joe’s is almost 9 miles away.
She shrugged.
They stopped there when they were in the area, she explained. Sometimes they tried Whole Foods, too. Even though they could only afford to get a few things there at a time, she thought it was important that she be able to give the kids organic produce when possible.
There’s also a farmers’ market here on Central and 43rd that people like to take advantage of, she said. And, when Curren Price asked us what we needed in the area (at a recent meeting with constituents), some of us asked him to put a farmers’ market here in the park on 23rd.
But around here, she gestured to the immediate area, there is nothing.
Melissa, Oscar, and Leslie get to work leveling the soil where the garden beds will be installed. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
When she went to help set up the hose for the students, I moved over to where Luk was dropping some spoken word on Austin.
“Do you do a lot of spoken word?” I asked.
Mature beyond his 20 years, it seemed like he does a little bit of everything. Having spent much of his younger years being moved around from place to place, he made it sound like reconnecting with school, the earth, and his inner voice were helping keep him grounded.
In fact, he explained, juvenile hall had helped him come to appreciate school.
“Huh?” I hadn’t heard anyone sound quite so upbeat about juvie before.
He had been removed from his home around age 14 because his brother had had some sort of psychotic break and was a danger to kids in the family, he explained. Most of the kids got placed with other relatives, but no one could take Luk in. So, he got put in foster care. At one point, something — it’s unclear what — went wrong with the foster care system and he and other foster kids were sent to juvenile hall.
He hadn’t done anything wrong, he said. The system just apparently got overburdened and that’s how cases like his were handled.
At least he and the others were put in a minimal security area, he reassured me, probably seeing the look of horror on my face at the idea that innocent kids with troubled families would be de facto jailed.
“It was only for a year…” he tried again.
“A year?”
Even when he said that being shepherded back and forth between school and juvie every day — meaning he couldn’t cut class — had helped put him on the path of being a better student, I still wasn’t comforted into thinking that this was a viable way to deal with good kids whose circumstances were no fault of their own.
He was saved from having to reassure me further by Crystal’s arrival. She had finally gotten hold of the key to the room with the soil and now she was here, armed with chicken fertilizer.
Luk and Jorge cheerfully headed out to the street to the grab bags from her car.
I marveled yet again at the resilience of the youth I meet in South L.A. and thanked the powers that be that there are advocates out there that take the time to tap into what the youth have to offer.
And, according to Luk, they have a lot to offer:
We are the seeds that grow beyond the garden
Towered over by this concrete jungle
Yet we bask in the sunlight,
Fed by the knowledge of those that came before
We thrive
Using what we’ve learned to maintain and to survive.
Students standing outside All Peoples grab gloves and tools to take to their worksites. (Luk is fourth from left) Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
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