Category Archives: Service Work

Publicolor – Volunteer Painting

Publicolor Volunteers

Publicolor Volunteers

This past Saturday I had a lovely experience with Publicolor, the non-profit that takes their own stab at inspiring kids to graduate high school.  They reach their mission through paint and democracy.  Publicolor will invade a school for a few weeks to teach kids color theory, how to paint properly, and invite volunteers on Saturdays to join in on the fun.  The kids vote in the beginning of the project what colors scheme they want in the school, and choose from a palette of beautiful vibrant colors.

It was a commitment from 9:45am-3pm out at JHS 22 in the Bronx and each volunteer was paired with a member of the “Paint Club”, a student from the school we were painting.  Publicolor’s intention is to get adult volunteers to facilitate in the painting and also have upbeat positive conversation about college and the future.  After they are done with a school they induct 10 students into their apprenticeship program to paint with a stipend.

It’s always a humbling experience to hang out with kids and be reminded what schools are like.  They had the exact same chairs and desks as I did growing up, and of course I felt a bit nostalgic!  The school itself was actually a lot nicer than I expected with all the talks in our flaws in the education system.  Perhaps we are having issues with teachers and curriculum, but the actual infrastructure of the school seemed very solid and up-to-date (no doubt with help from organizations and good management from the school).

I have only done Publicolor once before and it seems the organization has come a very long way.  I vaguely remember not having enough gloves, rollers/rods, but they currently have a great partnership with Benjamin Moore and get all of their paint donated.  The only thing that I regret about the experience is not being able to have a more long-term influence on the students’ lives!  It always makes me feel extra guilty when they ask if you are coming back the week after and you know you aren’t.

New Inspiration – Polar Bear Plunge into Ocean

For those who don’t know, I will be running into the ocean (or slowly creeping…we will see in a few weeks) on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  There are the obvious reasons why I’ve decided to do this and also some new installations from a close friend.

Most touching to me is the reaction I received when I recently told one of my mentees about my polar bear plunge.  Being a mentor to my Journey for Change kids has become a really big part of my life.  The ability to impact someone else’s life positively, and help guide them in the right direction inspires me everyday, though they probably have impacted me more than I have impacted them with their spirit and genuineness. When I told one of my mentees about my dive she was ecstatic after calling me “mad” and “crazy”.  She is only in 8th grade, but completely understands the value of community service and the Make-A-Wish Foundation–her god-brother has signed up for Make-A-Wish because he has sickle cell disease, and she promised me she would tell him what I’m doing.  My registration with the Long Beach Polar Bears started out as a fun community-building fundraiser I’d do with my friends (for a great cause), but now it means so much more.  My mentee didn’t know what her god-brother asked for, but maybe I can convince her to find out and tell me after she reads this :-).  Simply said–to see her happy makes me ecstatic!

One of the hardest things I’m finding about this mini-project is asking for money.  Sure it was easy in high school to hide behind my father’s e-mail address and mass-message our friends and neighbors (which one of my team members is doing–GO TEAM AIOLI!!! lol), but the fear of rejection or people not feeling equally inspired about this as I do also comes up.  In the end, I figure that it is for a good cause and that if they want to support me and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it is ultimately up to them, but it’d be my fault and not theirs if I don’t at least try!

Click the link to see my flyer: Andrea Becomes a Polar Bear

Here is my personal page:

Reading the stories of dreams coming true should be enough inspiration for anyone to jump into the ocean.  Of the ones I read most recently was the girl who recently had to undergo tons of chemotherapy; she was given the opportunity to meet Justin Bieber–something that may be trivial to some of us, but meant the world to this 5 year old girl.

Here is a link to the story:

If you want to take the plunge, visit my personal page above for more information :-).

Mothers and Shacks in South Africa

So one of our projects here in Diepsloot is to meet with different families and for the mentees AKA ambassadors to assess what they really needed us to buy. It was a great opportunity for the ambassadors to learn some budget skills, even though they were severely helped by the mentors and only had to work with three different items to budget for instead of say 20.

I was really impressed by the lack of greed of the people. Most mothers simply asked for things for their children, even when we asked them directly what they would like. It reminded me much of my mother! Maybe it is a universal thing :). Even when asking a small girl what she would like she refused to say she needed anything, but after some effort she said that she would like some play clothes. KIDS AT HOME ARE SO SPOILED! Take this to heart! Maybe the kids AND the parents need a week in the slums to realize it.

The mothers/grandmothers and orphan-led household leaders are extremely selfless here, and I find it incredibly inspiring. Some of the households held as many as 11 children, and have all somehow been affected by HIV/AIDS. Keep in mind that these families of 12 people share a one room shack that is the size of a typical American child’s bedroom.

Also, they buildings are not very solid structures. The shacks are made of some sort of zinc iron corrugated concoction :P. But seriously, when it rains their floors are soaked and water comes through the roof. We actually walked into a house where the walls had holes in them today.

Americans definitely take too much for granted. Easily accessible water. Shelter. Food.

Happy Bloggly Belated to my mentee Marie! Big 14!

South Africans: Bheki and Edgar

Bheki is one of the volunteers from the Motsoaledi community that we visited on our second day here in South Africa, and pictured here is his son Simphiwe, otherwise known as Edgar. By son, I mean adopted son, but I suppose to the South Africans, it is mostly the same thing.

There is a sense of community that I’ve never really felt before in any other place that I’ve traveled to, and it is a beautiful thing.

Bheki told me the story that he was once out in the community at the same time as Edgar’s grandmother when Edgar fastly ran to him and clung to his leg. He was only 3 years old!

Today Edgar is 10, and as you can see he is extremely strong and intelligent. Bheki insisted to me that it was fate because they share the same birthday,

Meeting Locals and Sightseeing

Today we visited Constitutional Hill (where Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were imprisoned), the Hector Pieterson Museum, Mandela’s House and Motsoaledi, Soweto.

This is Mandela’s House!

At Constitutional Hill AKA where the Jail Complex was they had this really neat interactive exhibit of sorts where you could move rocks from place to place and write your own personal message on them. This is me and my somewhat failed attempt with my uniball pen, ahha. FYI Uniball pens are not meant for writing on rocks.

Motsoaledi was our first direct encounter with poverty, and it definitely made an impression on all of us, but especially the mentees.

This was our first sight on the bus:

Here is a picture of us with a few local kids. They were all thoroughly excited to take pictures with us and see them on our digital cameras. I was a little bit uncomfortable when they all asked each of us for money, but realized it was just because of their exposure to tourists, and their high expectations from us. All of our kids don’t carry money, and I guess it is good to teach them how to manage their money, or else I’m sure they would all have extra empty pockets right now! The kids asking for money was no different than the kids asking for money from tourists in New York City.

I interacted the most with a local named Bheki (his English name is George). He adopted his son Edgar when Edgar was 3 years old. He was already confirmed HIV positive. Bheki told us the story that Edgar’s grandmother and Edgar were walking around in the same area as Bheki when Edgar ran up to Bheki. Bheki said it was absolutely love at first sight, as Edgar just clung onto Bheki. Today, Edgar is 10 years old—strong and healthy.

This is Bhaki and Edgar

Marie and Jasmine both noted how happy people were considering how little they had. The most surprising thing for Marie was the home we visited today of the mother. She had four kids, one bedroom, and a very small common space. During our debriefing, Marie asked if we could help the mother specifically, and Malaak responded that we would be helping many others similar to that family. Similarly, Karen mentioned how we can’t necessarily help everyone. It was heartbreaking for a lot of the mentees, and Malaak took it into consideration. Hopefully, for the next Journey for Change. Even the mentors were a bit disappointed.

We ate at Wandies which is apparently a famous restaurant here for local cuisine. It was very delicious! Most notably, however, were the box of condoms we found on the floor. I have seen condoms in public bathrooms in other countries, but still find it extremely notable. The condoms were free, and you could take a pack of 6, or a single one. The only other place in New York that I regularly pass by that is like this is probably NYU’s medical center, and oftentimes the RAs of dorms. The girls were a bit embarrassed to know that I was going to include condoms in my blog, but I guess it is one of those things that I personally found interesting, and when I explained it to them they totally understood. (After all, with such a high concentration of HIV/AIDS positive people in one country, it makes sense that they would try to encourage safer sex in any way possible!)

I had some really great talks with my two girls about how I am not their counselor, but rather I am their mentor. I guess a lot of them don’t realize how seriously the mentors take it. We are here for them. We are only committed officially for a year—but I know that our bond will last for much longer!