Youth Teams

“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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“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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“Yes, If You Have the Right Tools.”

-Health as Right ESL Class, Day 1
-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
“If you had the power to change one thing about your community, what would you change?” I asked the students. This is the question student groups must answer on their first day with the Health as Right Program, which leads to the service projects they choose to create. Today it was the turn of Ms. Smiles’ ESL English class at Yorktown High School, which is incorporating the Health as Right Program into their curriculum this semester.
Students are always hesitant to answer at first, but once the first person speaks up, it becomes an outpouring. Youth have something to say; they just never get asked.
This board shows the ideas they came up with. The one that got voted for the problem they will address with their service project is racism.
“But that’s such a big problem. We can’t fix that,” commented Chinua.
“But I wanted to do something to help the poor,” said Ayla.
“There’s nothing to stop you from doing something about all of these problems, even those we don’t do as a group,” responded Ms. Smiles.
“But I’m only one person,” said Ayla.
Ms. Smiles stood in the front and got their attention. “Even if we can’t solve the whole problem, we can still solve small pieces of it. Even if we can only help one person, or 10 people, or 20 people, then that makes a difference to that one person. This isn’t just about this one problem, or about these seven problems. It’s about showing you that you have the power to make a difference. And every one of you will be involved in many things in your lifetimes where that power will carry over,” she said with conviction.
She paused, then added, “And remember that Ghandi was only one. Jesus Christ was only one. Muhammad was only one. Never doubt that each one of you has power.”
Kagumbo raised his hand. “Miss, can a person fly?” he asked half-jokingly. “You just said one person has power.” The class giggled.
Ms. Smiles looked at him and answered, “Yes, if they have the right tools.”
“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.”
-John A. Shedd
#healthasright #youthteams
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The Health as Right ESL Class

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
This week I observed the ESL English class of Ms. Smiles, the Yorktown High School teacher collaborating with CHHR to integrate the Health as Right Program into her curriculum this semester. If the school’s Office of Minority Achievement finds that the program has meaningfully empowered the students, it will be expanded to other ESL classes in the school next semester.
“Mr. Ron, is this your last week?” asked Gobinder from the desk next to me before class started, a student I have formed a friendship with.
“I’ll be here the whole semester,” I said with a smile. “I work for a program that will be doing service with your class. I’ll get to tell you about it next week.” We high-fived.
The class meets 5 days a week. The students will do the Health as Right Program on 2 of those days. On Mondays, they will work on planning and carrying out service projects which they will design to solve problems they want to change in the community. On Wednesdays, they will do our human rights curriculum, which strengthens their capacity to express their ideas about the kind of world they want to create.
I presented Ms. Smiles with the version of the curriculum tailored to this group after the week of observation. Parts of it are translated into Spanish, Mongolian, Turkish, Amharic, and Punjabi; the native languages of the group.
“Is this Turkish? Ayla will love this!” said Ms. Smiles of one of our students.
“We work with a lot of refugee groups who have found that an effective way to empower refugees is to strengthen their sense of cultural identity,” I described. “I want the students to be able to look at parts of the curriculum and say, ‘That belongs to me.”
Many cultures converge in our city. I imagine a world where youth of diverse backgrounds can find unity in a culture of meaningful conversations and service. A cheers to the experiment of turning dreams to reality.
“Where, after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt
#healthasright #youthteams
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A Movement Foments

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Yesterday after school in the backroom of a cafeteria, the students of the George Mason High School Health as Right Club had their first meeting. For their first project, they will create a forum at school for students to discuss, “What do you think our school is missing?” They will use the insights from these conversations to plan service projects to improve the school.
“Can this count for service hours?” asked one of the students.
“I don’t want to advertise our club like that,” said another. “I want the members to join because they are genuinely passionate about creating change.”

In the evening 2 hours away in Richmond, students of the VCU Health as Right Club gathered in a library for their first meeting. A project they are passionate about is creating spaces of conversation about sexual assault.
“People don’t talk about sexual assault, then so many men are ignorant about what it is,” said one of the student leaders.

Today I spoke on the phone with an administrator from Walt Whitman Middle School. “A group of students were at a teacher’s house recently talking about how they could help immigrants,” she said. They will implement our program after school as a platform for their students to translate their desires for change into reality.

“We truly have more civic and human rights minded youth than we give them credit for,” commented the administrator.

All across Virginia, a culture of social action is fomenting, engaging young people of all ages. As it grows, it is changing the community’s perception of the youth, and the perception of the youth for themselves: from an image of distracted people with no deep thoughts about the community or the world to contribute to one of a generation yearning for change, swelling with ideas about how to create it and the will and passion to work for it.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

-Margaret Meade

(Image: project brainstorming at the VCU group.)

#healthasright #youthteams

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Kilmer Interest Booth

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Doing an interest booth at Kilmer Middle School.

“If you had the power to change one thing about your community, that if it changed, it would make people live healthier and better lives, what would you change?” I ask the middle schoolers.

“Higher minimum wage,” answers Aryan quickly. “If people had a higher wage, they could stay in their jobs, and there would be less poverty.”

“More homeless aid,” answers Natalie. “There are so many homeless people, and there should be more shelters and places to get food to help them.”

“Less pollution in the air,” answers Lauren after a thoughtful pause. “If there were less toxins in the air we breathe, less people would get sick.”

“Discrimination. It’s just a really big problem,” answers Sophie.

“Put grates over the sewers,” answers Cid. “My science teacher says that a lot of pollution goes in the ocean through sewers, so we could prevent it with grates.”

“Don’t put so many pesticides in the grass,” answers Varun. “Because when it rains, it goes into natural environments and kills the fish.”

“Less pollution in watersheds,” answers Neil. “The watershed that provides water to Virginia also provides for 6 states, who all contribute a lot of pollution to it. We have to work on keeping our drinking water clean.”

“Poverty,” answers Zack after a pause. “A lot of people aren’t able to do the things they want just because they don’t have money. I want people to be able to have fun.”

“Our program is looking for youth with ideas like yours,” I tell the students. Many express interest to come to the interest meeting.

“Has anyone asked you that question before?” I ask Zack.
“No,” he answers.
“That’s a shame, because you’ve obviously thought about it. And you obviously have ideas,” I say with a smile.

“We already have everything we need… all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.”

-Pema Chodron

#healthasright #youthteams

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To Make Youth Strong

-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator

Yorktown High School. I sat in the Director for Minority Achievement’s office as she advised a young senior at her desk.
“What’s the point anyway?” asked the senior of immigrant background. “I can’t go to college. I can’t work. There won’t be options for me.”
“I recommend staying in school one year longer. For one, school isn’t free after high school,” counseled the Director. “Also, it might give time for things to change…” A silent pause.

“Tell me about the background of the teachers I’m speaking to,” I asked the Director as we walked down the hall, laughing students running past us.
“They’re all ESL teachers,” she said. “Our ESL students get left out of most extracurricular activities. For one, many of them can’t stay after school. Your program would have to be during their class. We want it to be the thing at this school that is for them.”

“If you had the power to change one thing about your community, that if it changed, it would cause people to live healthier and better lives, what would you change?” I asked the teachers of the meeting the first question I ask students in our program. “Then after our students brainstorm problems in the places where they live that they would be passionate about changing, our Center provides them resources to create service projects to translate their wishes into reality,” I described.

“This semester, I can teach books on the themes of justice and human rights to go along with your curriculum,” said the English teacher whose class will serve as the pilot for the in-class version of the Health as Right Program this semester.
“And if it empowers the students, we can expand it to the other ESL classes next semester. These students can be the ambassadors,” added the Director. Next week, I will attend the English teacher’s class every day to get a sense of how she teachers and how the students learn. Then we will consult on how to organically integrate our program into her lessons.
“See you next week!” said the English teacher excitedly. We shook hands and parted.

I walked out of the school, a background check application in hand now that I will be a regular presence, pausing to reflect, and appreciating my smallness in the face of our charge. To make our youth stronger, by helping them discover in themselves those things which no one in this world can steal; their convictions about the value of human beings, their imagination of a different kind of world, and their sense of possibility that they can create that world through service to humanity. To give them permission to express these treasures folded inside them in layers of uncertainty and fear, to normalize them until they become a culture.

I am not worthy to be the one to shape a young person’s mind. But I am here, so I’ll do my best. Friends on their way to their next classes laugh as I walk through the hallway, full of dreams and a sense of possibility about the way the world can be. My dreams for the future are wrapped up in these young people.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

-Yorktown student art in the hallway

#healthasright #youthteams

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“Virginia Medical Update”

An interview Center for Health and Human Rights did which aired a month ago on local TV, where we explained our Health as Right School Program. There were 8 schools in our program at the time of the interview. To date, the program is engaging student community builders in 15 high schools, middle schools, and colleges.
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