Written By Sheila Chaioka Ostroff
When asked as a child “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I remember vividly responding with “I want to travel the world”. How, why and when I was going to do this remained a mystery, all I knew was that it was going to happen. Growing up I was exposed to many different ethnicities and took part in even more religious customs including Sunday school, Hebrew school, Krishna Temple and Pow-wows (to name a few). Experiencing this diversity of cultures fueled my adventurous spirit, contributed to my sense of belonging and inspired me to make my dream of traveling the world a reality.
It wasn’t until I moved to Boone, N.C. and attended Caldwell Community College, that I was introduced to a grassroots organization called Appalachian Voices. This is where I quickly became active in working for a cause that was beyond myself. Fighting the devastating form of coal mining called Mountaintop Removal (MTR) became my mission. The more I learned about the MTR process, the more I realized how much devastation is caused not only to our environment, but also to the surrounding Appalachian communities. The people living in areas surrounding the coalfields have some of the highest cancer rates as well as the highest poverty rates in the United States. Although I currently live in North Carolina where MTR is not practiced, over 50% of our energy comes directly from the MTR process, which means we are blowing up our neighbors (West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee) in order to keep the lights on (10% of our nations coal comes directly from the MTR process). In my mind, the general lack of awareness regarding this issue is outrageous and something has to be done about it.
As I was lobbying in Washington D.C. with Appalachian Voices, an opportunity was presented for me to apply to become a representative of the United States in a program called Kaleidoscope, developed by Oxfam Australia. I quickly made it my mission to attend, and took the following semester off from school in order to prepare for the Kaleidoscope program that would be held in New Delhi, India. This 8-day program selects 300 youth from around the world who are actively making a positive and sustainable change in their communities. Once selected, the second part of the program is to create, develop and implement a 3-year program that will perpetuate this change in our own community. The program I am currently creating has 3 basic steps:
1. Teach the students about their sources of food, water and energy.
2. Promote the involvement of the youth through hands on work exchange (mentoring) programs, which enable them to contribute on a local level.
3. Provide our youth the tools, resources and support needed for community presentation.
After a year of fundraising, networking, interning and working, it was finally time to go to New Delhi. As I sat in the airplane, I closed my eyes and knew that this was my opportunity to meet like-minded youth. We shared more then the vision of change, but our initiative in taking actions creating a positive impact in the world. I knew that attending Kaleidoscope would focus my drive and give me guidance in accomplishing my vision.
When I arrived to India, I had only a vague idea of what is in store for me. After introductions were made with the other Action Partners, we continued to share stories, deepening our relationships. The workshops (i.e. starting an NGO, Healing and Mending Methods, Indigenous Rights, and Vocational Education) provided as a guideline which, stimulated discussions on economic, cultural, environmental, and social justice issues that affect us all.
Midweek, we were invited into a slum community who had an active NGO (Swati) providing education to over 350 youths ages 4-18 teaching them in Hindi, English and computer skills. After visiting the underprivileged community, we sat in the play yard consisting of one slide in an open lot. We sipped on chai tea as we discussed the interworking of Swati with the students, faculty and the founders. With the help of our translators, we were able to meet three girls (all of whom graduated from Swati), that have been awarded full scholarships to universities. A young beautiful woman introduced herself to us. She was born and raised in the local slum, and attended the four room school that had only six computers for 14 years. Afterwards, she decided to remain as an English teacher for Swati. Once the somewhat formal conversations were through, I ran off and started playing with the young curious children that peeped from around the surrounding buildings. I was able to find a few jump ropes and started playing with them. The joy was infectious, and soon everyone was taking turns getting tangled as we jumped rope. As our visit came to an end, there was a mutual gain in knowledge and respect exchanged between what was taught to us by that community, and what we were able to share with them.
By taking part in the teaching methods provided by Kaleidoscope, we learned different ways to contribute towards social and political change in our own communities. During these 8 days, strangers became friends, bonds became stronger and our determination empowered us all in creating a momentum that will hopefully be unstoppable. Attending this conference allowed me to focus my vision, recharge my faith in our generation and reaffirm the reality that one person can make a difference.
In my situation I have observed a disconnection between humanity and our necessities for modern survival i.e. food, water, and (in this case) energy. The response by most when ask the question “where do these sources come from?” is, “the grocery store, a bottle and/or a faucet and a light switch.” Creating a program that brings awareness to the steps leading up to the instant gratification from consuming these resources, will bring a more mindful approach to how we behave and utilize these non-renewable sources that we so greatly depend on. Working with my community has already allowed me a glimpse of the change possible. Through understanding our environment and working cooperatively with our natural resource will allow us the movement of progression we need.
Thank you to all who made attending Kaleidoscope possible!
Stay tuned for the Himalayan Adventures that followed this journey.