Kavian Milani

“The Yorktown Leadership Course”

 -Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
“I was planning to see my counselor, but then I came to this class, because I definitely didn’t want to miss this,” said Malori, a student in the leadership course at Yorktown High School which is doing our Health as Right Program this semester. For a person in any youth empowerment program, such a comment is a gift and an affirmation. It tells us we’re doing our job, which is to give youth their own intrinsic reasons for being a part of this world besides grades.
Last class, we picked “Immigration” as the subject for our semester service project. Today, we split the class into groups to research different aspects of the immigrant experience, including Food Insecurity, Employment, Education, and Legal Assistance. The teachers weaved it together with a lesson about examining the validity of sources.
“.Edu means it came from a university, which is usually good. .Gov is also good, which means it came from a government. .Org means it came from a non-profit, which could be either good or bad, because every non-profit has its bias,” explained the teacher to the students.
At the end, the groups came together and shared their most poignant learnings.
“I read a story about a woman who went to get a restraining order for her abusive husband. But then her information was used to call immigration, because she was undocumented,” said one student from the Law Enforcement Abuse group.
“Yes, a big problem is that undocumented people are scared of reporting crimes,” commented the teacher.
“I went through airport security together with a Muslim family. They easily let my family go through, but they immediately took the Muslim family behind us to search and question them because they were wearing hijab,” added Ethan.
There is very little I actually do in the class, other than provide a context for service-learning. But the students and teachers alike embrace that situation and make the objective their own, as if they were waiting for it all along.
#youthteams #healthasright
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“Student Hunger”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
The other day Center for Health and Human Rights met with two experts into the issue of hunger amongst children in Fairfax County, to brainstorm next steps for our own efforts to address the issue.
One interesting problem they described was the lack of an emergency plan for students who receive food to take home home over the weekends, because they otherwise wouldn’t eat outside of school. One of the experts volunteers with Food for Others, which donates the meals students can take home for the weekends to the schools, which the school gives them on Fridays. Last week, she delivered the packs to the schools on Wednesday, then the schools shut down because of the snow. When she went to deliver this week’s packs, she found all the packs she had brought last week still sitting on the counter. The students had went the whole weekend without food because there was no backup plan to deliver them.
Another issue is food shaming. A student cannot be denied lunch when they, even if they don’t have money. But if this is the case, they can be given a plain sandwich PB&J instead of the full meal; something that communicates, “You didn’t have money today.”
Another issue is immigration fears. Money students who are eligible for SNAP (food stamps) or the free-lunch program in schools do not enroll, because their parents are not legal citizens like them and fear that their information will be used to track them. So instead the students go hungry during the school day. Other families choose not to enroll because of pride.
Hard to know how to change such a complicated problem.
(Image: map of the “15 Islands of Disadvantage” in NoVA, and CHHR’s school groups. #7 is where a CHHR team delivers milk, eggs, and cereal to families identified as food insecure.)
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“Premiere Day – Yorktown Service Project”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
When a Health as Right group forms, it picks a social problem in the community that it cares about and spends the semester designing a service project to address it.
One school we had the privilege to work with this year was Yorktown High School, where our group consisted of a 9th grade ESOL class. The problem they picked was racism, which they chose to address by making a video to educate their school about the problem.
Yesterday was our grand premiere. As the teacher Ms. Smith and I put out refreshments and literally rolled out a red carpet, our student Zainab, who served as our enthusiastic director throughout filming, walked in nervously and practiced her lines as the MC in front of her friend Jennifer.
“We would like to thank the principal and also the director of minority achievement for taking time to attend our premiere,” she said to the audience of two classes and other staff from the school who packed the room. “We made this film to show that racism is a great problem, and it affects many people. We hope you enjoy.” The crowd applauded supportively.
After the movie, the class split into groups to discuss reflection questions we had prepared about racism. The students had much to say, having a great awareness of prejudice in society, but also showed hope in the potential of people and culture to change. The principal and the school’s director of minority achievement were part of those lively discussion groups and were greatly inspired. They thanked Center for Health and Human Rights for working with the class, then asked if we would work with another ESOL class next semester.
It was also my last day with this class. I thanked them all for the inspiring experience, then gave them each a CHHR bracelet as a memento of our time together. The bell rang, and I shook hands with each of them on their way out.
“Why do you have to go?” asked Maydeline and Nicole half-jokingly.
“I wish I could stay,” I said with a smile.
Saying goodbye is bittersweet. An experience ends, but a seed is planted, which is the realization of a cohort of youth for their own power to turn ideas into reality. People like me come and go, but these seeds, once planted, are a treasure that nothing can destroy. Now I move on to another garden.
“Education should not be the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” — William Butler Yeats
#youthteams #healthasright
(Image: Zainab addressing the audience.)
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“Yorktown’s Racism Video”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
High school youth teams
Our Health as Right team at Yorktown High School just finished their semester service project, which was to film a video to educate their school about racism and prejudice. Their first screening will be this Monday and will be attended by the principal in their classroom.
From one of our students Yaren:
“The main idea of this video is teaching people not to be racist. If you are racist, the people near you will have bad thoughts about you. No one likes racist people. What do you think you will have if you are racist? In our story we showed people how it makes them feel when someone judges them in a racist way. In the first scene we showed how people in their day to day life can hurt someone with only just a few words. I hope you will enjoy the story and see what a bad thing racism is.”
Said another student Ede:
“We created this video to show Americans that no matter where you are from, everyone should be treated the same way as others, and also because racism is a big problem in the world. This is why we decided to make a video about racism to show people that we are all human, and we all deserve respect.”
#healthasright #youthteams
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This Week at CHHR

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Tuesday 11/28

Talk Show Appearance: A representative of CHHR participated in an interview for the Virginia Report, a talk show hosted by delegate to the VA General Assembly Ken Plum, to talk about CHHR’s projects to address local poverty and inequality. The program will air on Reston Comcast Channel 28 (Verizon Channel 1981) on Tuesday, December 26 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Wednesday, December 27 at 10:30 p.m. It is also viewable on the Virginia Report’s Youtube channel



Free Sports Physicals: CHHR doctors and staff travelled to the International High School at Langley Park in MD, a school whose student body is 100% immigrants and refugees, to do free sports physicals for athletes to enroll in sports. Our medical staff also visited our Health as Right team having their meeting across the hall at the same time and answered questions for the students, who all aspire to go into medicine. (Image: CHHR staff with athletic coaches.)



Wednesday 11/29

Anti-Bullying Video: Our Health as Right team at Yorktown High School, consisting of an ESOL English class, started filming today for their service project to create a video to raise awareness about the experience of immigrants and reduce prejudice and bullying, which will appear on the Yorktown website. Acting and directing were 100% student facilitated.



Thursday 11/30

Letter to Cole’s Closet: Our Health as Right team at Liberty Middle School drafted and sent a letter to Cole’s Closet, an NGO which collects toys to donate to children in local hospitals, to inform them that they will be organizing a toy drive at their school as their first service project. In the process, the students learned about formal letter writing.



Public Health Presentations: In Richmond, student leaders of the VCU Health as Right team met late into the night in a library study room to organize their first service project; to facilitate interactive public health workshops for students in the “East End,” the side of Richmond which is the site of concentrated poverty.



(Image: their planning board.)

Friday 12/1

Club Phoenix: The after school group Club Phoenix, composed of middle and high schoolers from throughout Vienna and Fairfax, enthusiastically joined the Health as Right youth program and chose “recycling” as the topic of their first service project. (Image: their brainstorming sheet).



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“First Day of CHC”

First day seeing patients at the Community Health Clinic, our new center in Falls Church which offers free and discount medical services to homeless families with children.

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“Building a Clinic”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

“This is exactly how we imagined it,” said Dr. Henry, one of the doctors who will staff our new medical clinic for homeless families with children, as she walked into the room where Ken, the fundraiser for the Homestretch shelter, and I were screwing nuts and bolts into a medical bed.

“When we said we would build a new clinic, we would literally build it with hammers and screws,” she said. We laughed.

With Center for Health and Human Rights, Homestretch, and A Place to Stand building our new Community Health Clinic in preparation to see our first patients.

CHHR Outreach Director Alhan setting up a medical bed.

Homestretch staff build a medical bed.

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“Student Hunger”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Talk Center for Health and Human Rights gave this evening to the Student Health Advisory Committee, an group of individuals with a stake in the health of Fairfax public school students who use their influence to move policy:

Hunger amongst students seems to be on the minds of faculty at all the schools we work with. Specifically, we are worried that students who benefit from free lunch are still hungry throughout the day because it is not enough for them, and there is also a minority of students in need who do not sign up for free lunch. Teachers and faculty we have spoken to say they know of students who are still hungry throughout the day, and they often take personal measures to address this, such as buying a stock of snacks out of pocket to keep in their class to give to students whom they see are hungry. One teacher from Marshall High School told us:

“I know that several teachers keep food in their rooms out of pocket for kids who are hungry. I have two former students who have been coming to me for breakfast for the past several years. I just keep a box of granola bars in a drawer and they help themselves. I’ve also given money to students for lunch or the vending machines. If I receive special treats or pizza, I’ll put a little aside for some of my kids who are always hungry.”

We think this issue deserves more visibility and have two recommendations for how to improve the situation:

1. One recommendation is to raise awareness about the free lunch program and the problem of student hunger amongst students and faculty. For example, we have been told that new students might go without lunch for months simply because they are not aware there is a free lunch program. Other families never sign up because they misunderstand the nature of free lunch. A Marshall High School teacher said, “We have kids whose parents don’t want to apply for free or reduced lunch because of pride or immigration fears, so the kids don’t have food during the day.” These gaps could be easily addressed by measures such as putting posters in hallways to make the existence of free lunch common knowledge, and that information collected is only used by the school, and there is no need to fear it will be used by federal programs.

Students’ rights should also be made common knowledge. For example, I once observed a conversation between a front desk staff at Herndon Middle School and a student who was sent there by her teacher because she was hungry in class. The staff asked, “Why didn’t you pack a lunch from home?” The student answered, “There’s no food at home.” The staff asked, “Can’t you go to the cafeteria to get lunch?” The student answered, “I didn’t have money, so they told me I couldn’t get lunch.” In FCPS, it is illegal to turn away a student for lunch even if they don’t have money. They should be able to incur a balance on their account if necessary, and this is something both that student and the lunch staff should have known that.

2. The second recommendation is to learn what measures schools already have. For example, at Marshall High School, they keep a stock of snacks in the Student Services Office, and if a student ever comes to get snacks because they are hungry, a social worker and a counselor come together to create a long-term plan to help that student not feel hungry during the day. Herndon Middle School has something called the H3 Program where students get donated non-perishable foods on Fridays for the weekend. Annandale High School has a food pantry which is stocked by community donations, and they do occasional tours so that members of the school know that it is there.

After learning about the programs that already exist at the schools, measures should be taken to fill in their gaps, such as by simply making it common knowledge for students that these resources are available. For example, many schools have a food pantry that most students and even faculty are not even aware is there. These pantries could be revived by making it common knowledge to the school community that they exist, and then raising support from the community to stock them.

If needed, our organization would be happy to use our presence in the schools to work with them to implement these recommendations.

Results: The Committee is very interested in exploring ways to raise awareness about the issue of student hunger in the schools and in exploring creative ways to ensure that students don’t have to be hungry during the school day.

(Image: Dr. Milani​, also a board member of SHAC, at the meeting.)

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“This Week at the Health as Right Program”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

So much is happening inside the schools at our Health as Right Program this month that there often doesn’t seem time enough to write it all down.

One of our Health as Right teams is at Yorktown High School, VA. They are an ESOL class which has integrated the program into their class curriculum rather than doing it as an after school activity. Their service project is to film a video to raise awareness about the experiences of immigrants and prejudice. This week, the Writing team sat down and drafted a thoughtful story that they cared about. In one scene, student actors will hold signs that read, “I am Muslim,” “Christian,” “Jewish,” “Buddhist,” “Hindu.” They will then turn the signs around to show the words, “We are all the same.”

Another of our teams is at the International High School in Langley Park, MD, which has a student body of 100% immigrants and refugees. This team would like to provide a service to local refugees for their service project. This week, they wrote a letter to an organization that helps refugee families connect to housing, work, and legal services once they arrive, to ask if they have any needs our students can assist with. In the process, our ESOL students learned about letter-writing conventions in the US.

The newest addition to our program is Liberty Middle School, VA. This week they decided their service project, to do a clothing drive for local children in need, and also started our Health as Right curriculum which teaches them about health and human rights, and empowers them to cultivate their power of expression to talk about the kind of world they want to create. “I like this curriculum, because it asks us about our ideas for the world, and it makes me smile,” said one of the students Tori afterwards, with a big smile on her face.



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“Progress at Yorktown High School”

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Our Yorktown High School Health as Right Club started their service project this week, to produce a video to raise awareness about the experience of immigrants. During their Monday class, they split into teams to do pre-production roles such as research, writing, and promotion.

On Wednesday, they continued our curriculum on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This week’s theme was rights related to immigrants. As an ESL class, they had much to say on the topic.

“What do you think most Americans misunderstand about the experience of immigrants?” I asked my discussion group.

“They think it’s easy,” said Santos quickly. “What they don’t know is that people come because they lack the basic necessities.”

“They don’t know the feeling,” added Raul. When I asked what he meant, her elaborated, “They have always had freedom. They don’t know what it’s like to not have freedom.”

A lot of the youth also mentioned the numerous shots they had to get, sometimes only to find that they weren’t accepted because they took them in the wrong month and had to take them again. “I had 18 shots in my own country, and 8 more shots here,” Gobinder from Punjab commented with a laugh.

After learning human rights such as the right of every person to leave and return to their country (Article 13) and the right of every person to seek asylum in another country (Article 14), they drew pictures about their experience of immigrating and were asked if any of their human rights were violated.

“This might have been their best discussion yet,” reflected the teacher Ms. Smiles who facilitates the second discussion group. Chinua from Mongolia in her group drew a picture about feeling like navigating a new culture was like being in a dream, and any minute she should wake up to a world where she wasn’t confused. Ayla from Turkey drew a picture of a face with a smile, the one she shows to the world, but behind it is a face of sadness, what she truly feels inside.

“People don’t appreciate what these kids go through. I don’t sometimes,” Ms. Smiles reflected. “I also underestimate their capacity for nuance. But this program is bringing out a really thoughtful and empowered side for some of them. And for those two or three that it affects, this is all worth it.”

“Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.”

-Amy Chua

(Image: Gobinder’s drawing.)

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