It’s just about the end of year, when capitalists try to persuade you to buy a bunch of crap and tender-hearted do-gooders engage in a death-brawl to get your remaining few dollars. I’d like to take this opportunity to shamelessly plug the people I work for (paid and unpaid) throughout the year:
“We have seen that immigrant and refugee families are really excited by the idea of gardening,” says Denver Urban Gardens Director of Development & Communications Rebecca Andruszka. “For some, it is certainly to help supplement their food budgets as they establish employment, but others are just used to gardening and farming – they enjoy it, it gives them confidence, and it helps feed their families.”
“Immigrants and refugees from rural and agrarian areas become the experts, the teachers, in the gardens, when in the rest of their life they are struggling to learn how to fit into a brand new culture,” notes Andruszka.
“Establishing a new life in a new country is an enormous endeavor, especially if you are escaping a bad situation,” says Andruszka. “The community garden offers therapy, a way to meet neighbors who might have a different background, and can reconnect you with your home by growing familiar produce.”
“One of the most inspiring things [about this project] is the fact that all three organizations could come together and have all of our respective strengths represented in this partnership,” says Rebecca Andruszka of Denver Urban Gardens.
Rebecca Andruszka, DUG’s development and communications director, said the organization had already announced the 2016 Free Seeds and Transplants program when it received the news about the funding cut.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of backpedaling we could do at that point. Internally, we took a hard look at some areas where we could make some cost cuts,” she said.
Andruszka said she believes the funding cut happened because money is tight in general. While Denver has supported the service through the process, DUG needs cash to make it run.
“It’s clear that the outpouring of support from the community that people love this program,” Andruszka said. “We just need to make sure everyone knows about it and turn some of that interest into dollars coming in as well. Canceling the program is an option, but it’s one we want to avoid.”
Today I spoke with photographer Erica Reade, who married her passion for social justice and her love for photography and the arts, in her position as Program Director at Leave Out Violence (LOVE). Erica and I met while we were both involved in social justice in NYC (and she took my headshot on the front page!).
So Erica, tell me about yourself. Thanks for this opportunity Rebecca, I’m really honored to be speaking with you. I was born and raised in Montreal Canada, I have been living and working in NYC for over 9 years. I moved to NY to pursue my Masters in International Affairs at the New School, and I am now the Program Director at Leave Out Violence (LOVE) and a photographer. While I was at New School, I was traveled to Brazil in 2007 for a“Human Rights and Media” Intensive. It deepened my understanding of the indispensable role photography and alternative media plays in social justice. At the same time, I couldn’t put down my own camera, and I have not stopped shooting since. My passion is shooting the Rockaway beaches in NYC, which evolved out of my documentation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
So you never studied photography in school? No, I am a self-taught photographer, and I use many formats; digital, film, phone and instant photography. I have gotten better simply by shooting as often as I can. I was recently granted a Natural Eye National Scholarship at the Santa Fe Photography Workshops, where I studied with renowned photographer Eddie Soloway. I created my own learning environment by founding Camera of the Month Club in 2014. Today I am also happy to say that I am a Young Artist Member of SohoPhoto Gallery.
Tell me about LOVE, and your role there. LOVE is a non-profit organization that works with NYC youth who have experienced violence, and we use media arts to prevent, reduce and respond to the violence in their lives. I have been with LOVE for over four years, and my job is to make positive change happen. I do that through photography and the media arts. On the ground level, I engage 65 youth directly, in 3 different programs year-round. I mentor our youth to bring their photography projects and life goals to fruition. I design and facilitate high-energy and highly innovative media arts projects and anti-oppression workshops. The youth I have worked with have produced beautiful, moving photography essays, raising awareness on such topics as: domestic violence, the beauty and plight of marginalized communities, homelessness, and youth identity. I have worked with countless youth who have fallen in love with photography, using it to express themselves, and tell their stories. I have supported youth to pursue photography internships, scholarships, and eventually degrees in college.
What is it like to lead photography workshops for youth? First, it’s so much fun. I love photography, and I love the kids I work with, it’s the best part of what I do. I encourage kids develop photo essays that depict the realities of their lives and communities. I introduce youth to basic photography skills: rule of thirds, lighting, framing, composition, with an emphasis on exploration and experimentation with their cameras and projects. Youth shoot photos during the numerous field trips I organize, as well as evenings and on weekends, and they eventually finish with a strong photo project to present at their exhibits.
All of our photo exhibits have been hugely successful, bringing in packed venues, and selling youth photos at our annual fundraisers for thousands of dollars.. We have exhibited in venues such as the world renowned Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Christie’s Auction House. For most youth, it is the first time they have their photography work printed. They are accustomed to seeing digital images daily, but many youth remark they are proud of seeing their photos hung on the gallery walls. Our shows communicate messages of non-violence, hope and inspiration, and they give youth the voice to communicate to the community the issues and topics they cared deeply about. It’s an honor to work with NYC youth by teaching them photography, knowing that I am working to heal or reduce the violence their lives, as well as deepen my own photographic practice at the same time.
How would you say your personal work as a photographer influences or complements your role at LOVE? And what’s integral to the work of an artist? As a photographer, I have learned to practice enormous patience. I try to communicate this to the youth I work with; a photo project can come to life overnight or it can take two years. You might not be successful right away, and that’s OK. Art is a process. Photography is also a means of self-care for me. Working on issues of violence is painful and exhausting, and photography is healing in that it allows me to capture beauty in the world. I encourage my youth to seek that same healing.
Any last thoughts? Young people are incredibly resilient, creative people, and they are often surrounded by enormous violence or are inundated by toxic messages. The arts play a huge role in healing and creating a safe space to talk about these experiences, and we should be investing more time and resources into providing those spaces for our youth.
I was interviewed on this podcast about planning fundraisers. I have not actually listened to it yet, as I’m a little nervous about hearing my voice, so if someone can listen and let me know if it’s okay, I’d appreciate it.
Although education for African children is a popular charitable project, governments and NGOs are pressured to keep costs ridiculously low in areas that don’t always have the resources or infrastructure to run schools effectively in the first place. Although I know that budget struggles are not particular to Africa, the greater amount of international funding makes it a more difficult project. Bridge International Academies is one organization that has tried to bring a business model to African schools, and was recently featured in Wired. They refer to their model as “school in a box” and according to their website, “our three cofounders wondered why no one was thinking about schools in developing countries the way Starbucks® thought about coffee.”
I mean, do I even have to go on? These are people for whom crappy coffee and third-world education systems are synonymous.
I’m still intrigued at what we can learn from a “school in a box” model, but I know a few things we won’t learn:
Children deserve indoor toilets. The article makes sure to point out that the area the author visited did feature indoor plumbing, but that the Bridge school had latrines. Yes, it is expensive to build buildings for school, but how would you feel if your only school wasn’t any more stable than a shack?
One of the founders is quoted as saying, “It doesn’t matter if kids are sitting in a building that you call a school. They can be sitting under a tree, so long as they’re getting educated — that’s what matters.” Yes, that is true. It is also true that children don’t need computers or tablets or anything more sophisticated than a yardstick to learn most facts (although knowing technology is becoming a much-needed, expected skill for most). But why don’t these kids deserve a school? Is this “school in a box” going to be folded up one day? Investing in a child’s education is a long-term commitment to his/her community.
Teaching is a profession. “Because effective lesson plans are a notoriously difficult aspect of teaching, Bridge eliminates any guesswork — dictating classroom instruction down to the noun and to the minute.” Teachers, who typically have no more than a high school diploma, are trained for only seven weeks. I’m fine with opening up the teaching profession, but it seems more that this depresses the profession rather than raising up these new teachers. What happens if the teachers stray from the script? What if their students need more than what the script provides? Especially as students become more sophisticated thinkers, how can such a system possibly keep up with them?
Um, there are actually schools in Africa. “Bridge isn’t the first nonpublic school in Kenya or in Africa. For years, local communities have created low-cost, mom-and-pop ventures that backstop government failures. Bridge cannibalized this informal tradition but also brought it to scale.” (I can’t even comment on this, but I think it speaks for itself).
School fees prevent children from going to school. The most infuriating item that I read was that Bridge charges school fees of $5 per student per month. Maybe that doesn’t sound high to your American ears, but that can be a lot of money to an African family, especially one with multiple children. Families who can’t afford this fee can still send their children to free public schools, but that means you just reinforced a class system. Richer kids now have access to an education that poorer kids can’t. Congratulations.
Who needs to be held accountable. “Accountability is the key,” says Kimmelman, speaking about school oversight. “It’s really weird, and really amazing, and it works.” Again, I agree with the spirit of this, but not the application. The thing is, it’s not just teachers who need to be accountable. Education demands a community, and a school system needs to be responsive to that community as well.
What education really is. The “genius” behind Bridge is their systemization. Each school is exactly the same, the way you expect a McDonald’s to look the same and give you the same food whether you are in San Diego or Boston. Except, you know, it’s education. Individual kids and individual classes are different. They will need different things.
Education is also a tool of nation-building, which is necessary in most African countries that have been ripped apart by conflict and colonialism. A citizen of Kenya SHOULD have a different education than a citizen of Uganda. But that smacks in the face multi-national capitalism on which Bridge is predicated. Are they really educating citizens or consumers?
The above is really only a sampling of how disturbing I find Bridge. I am sure, however, that it will attract plenty of positive press from media that is looking for “new! Innovative!” ideas for a monolith AFRICA. But what our worldwide children need is not necessarily innovation. They need to be treated as cherished, productive members of a growing society. There are few new tricks in making sure that kids get regular medical treatment, proper education, and are protected from awful people. And we shouldn’t trust corporate zombies who try to sell us Education 2.0 that smells just like Imperialism 1.0