Last week I blogged about Global Xchange’s first-ever multi-lateral volunteer project, including five U.S. volunteers. Starting today, and continuing through the end of winter, Andres Rivera — one of the L.A.-based U.S. volunteers taking part in the Global Xchange project — will be writing about his experiences in Durban, South Africa, and later on in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
My name is Andres Rivera. I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, California.
With the National Conference for Community and Justice, at the age of 16 years old I began my journey into the working world of social justice. I dedicated myself to social activism and youth development so that generations after me could live with less oppression.
I am a poet and recording/performing artist under the nom de plume of RHIPS (restin’ humbly in poetry and song, a story for another time). Something inside me, like a new born, cried out to be acknowledged, and loved by the world. I started writing as a way to get to know myself better, and the world around me. I began performing as a way to give voice to my words, my upbringing, and my stories of trials and tribulations and triumph.
I began working with Street Poets, Inc. a non-profit poetry-based peace-making organization dedicated to the creative process as a force for personal and community transformation. It has been the perfect place where I can share my skills as a facilitator and as a poet. All while instilling a sense of hope in, abandoned and broken, “at-risk” youth who are our future.
The British Council extended to me the awesome opportunity of represent Los Angeles and Street Poets, Inc. as a participant in Global Xchange, a partnership between the British Council and VSO’s (Volunteer Service Organisation). I could not turn down such an opportunity for professional and personal development.
For Global Xchange this is the first multilateral team. Global participants outside of the United States include community partners from Durban (South Africa), Belfast (N. Ireland), Paris (France), Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Kigali (Rwanda).
This global gathering will take place in Durban, South Africa from January 17 to February 6 and in Belfast, Northern Ireland from March 7 to 27. On a global scale, the overall three fold goal of the program is to; cultivate an exchange of culture, provide a unique professional development experience, and nurture the necessity of networking.
Global Xchange staff also selected the following participants, who work at organizations that empower, mentor or otherwise help L.A. youth:
- Jill Gurr from Create Now which helps transform the lives of high-risk and at-risk youth through creative arts mentoring, education, resources, and opportunities.
- Martha Chono-Helsley from Reach LA, a youth driven organization committed to educating, motivating, and mobilizing urban youth to improve their own lives and communities. The mission of REACH LA is to train low-income youth of color from Metropolitan Los Angeles, and empower them with skills to develop innovative program initiatives that lead to social change in their own peer community.
- Leslie Schwartz from Homeboy Industries, an organization that assists at-risk and formerly gang-involved youth to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training and education.
- Mary Agulian from LA’s Best, which provides a safe and supervised after school education, enrichment and recreation program for elementary school children ages 5 to 12 in the City of Los Angeles.
The five of us make up the Los Angeles representatives.
Each one of us has been placed with an in-country organization (ICO) and have been assigned a counterpart in Durban. For three weeks, my counterpart and I will be working with at risk youth as a unit, more of our actual work to come, stay tuned. The extent of our time, we will be stay with a host family to ensure total cultural immersion.
The next time you hear from me, it will be from Durban, South Africa, with pictures and a mouthful to share after a day of flying. I leave you with this quote:
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson