Close to Home: Vida Verde and Refugee Transitions

Close to Home: Vida Verde and Refugee Transitions

Silicon Valley Gives - May 12, 2016

Facing up to the complex social and environmental challenges in our own backyards can be daunting. Where to begin with unraveling the maze of politics and corporate interests? Especially within philanthropy, the allure of solving exotic problems in far away lands often draws away funding and talent from the humbling challenges beneath our noses.

There is tremendous need and poverty across the Western world. Even - and especially - in Silicon Valley, home of the nation’s second highest concentration of wealth, there is a stark issue of inequality. According to Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, “The disparities between racial and ethnic groups appear to be widening faster in this area than they are in the U.S. as a whole.” From housing and wage gaps to educational opportunities, our local communities need community-driven, systems-level programs, including a funding approach that keeps up with the fast-changing times. 

This reality has inspired Namaste Foundation’s participation for the past three years in Silicon Valley Gives, an event that crowd-funds donations for local nonprofits. As a community this year, ‘the valley’ raised $7,853,781 in 24 hours for over 1,000 nonprofits in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco and San Benito Counties. Much gratitude to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for hosting the online event. The software created by Razoo made it easy for individuals, organizations and teams to gift to the causes of their choice. With community matching opportunities, nonprofits could double or even triple gift amounts.

Namaste collaborated with two nonprofits this year in the community matching program: Vida Verde Nature Education and Refugee Transitions. Read below to learn how these exceptional groups are creating impactful change. 

Vida Verde

Vida Verde promotes educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity. Through structured and thoughtful three-day overnight programming in Half Moon Bay, CA, students dive deep into immersive learning environments including: 

  • Nature hike in the Redwoods
  • Goat milking and cheesemaking
  • Tidepool, beach, and marsh exploration
  • Night-time hike and trust walk
  • Organic farm tour and tasting

Many students from the San Francisco Bay Area - specifically in the inner-cities of Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, East Palo Alto, and San Jose - have their first immersive experience in nature with Vida Verde. 99% of these students are considered minorities, of which over 85% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs in their schools.  

With social-emotional programs focused on supporting academic performance, character development, and an increased connection to the outdoors, students gain valuable life skills of responsibility, trust, patience and cooperation. By building context and connection to the natural landscape of public parks and beaches, students learn that these places are theirs to enjoy and steward. 

Vida Verde raised a total of $8,253 during SV Gives. 

Refugee Transitions

With vast populations displaced by conflict and human rights abuses in Africa, unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied minors and families fleeing violence across our southern border, as well as the refugee crisis in Europe, the support offered to displaced populations has never been a more pressing challenge. 

Refugee Transitions facilitates educational and mentorship opportunities for relocated populations to transcend the boundaries of learning. The sheer trauma many of these individuals have experienced supersedes anything most of us can imagine. From fifteen years in a refugee camp to leaving one's home overnight in a war zone - the rules, skills and learned societal norms significantly differ from those required to live in the ‘Bay Area.’ From navigating the education systems to different legal processes and languages, the barriers of entry into a new life are plentiful. That’s where Refugee Transition’s mentorship and storytelling initiatives serve to transcend socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural boundaries. Capacity building programs are structured to bring these programs into home-life, empowering both youth and adults to support their own communities. 

Refugee Transitions helps individuals tell their stories. These stories of overcoming obstacles and of cross-cultural friendship give us a glimpse into an important and often overlooked narrative of our time. These words from NN, a 6th grader from DR Congo, say it all:

“I want to tell people who are coming to America like me not to give up on finding a friend. Some people might not want to be your friend, but just don't give up. Keep trying. There will always be a person in the world, who wants to be friends with you.”

Below is the IMPACT DOCS award-winning, web-based documentary series, Pursuing Dreams: Stories of Refugee and Immigrant Youth in California. This narrative spans the world and variety of human experiences involved with leaving one’s home and building anew.

Another powerful initiative by Refugee Transitions is the Between Meals narrative cookbook. This book features traditional recipes and the stories of newly arrived refugee women in the Bay Area from Burma to Liberia to Afghanistan. “Between Meals tells the stories of students’ exile from their home countries, their journeys to the United States, and their efforts - literally and metaphorically - to nourish their families in their new California homes.”

More inspiring stories from Refugee Transitions youth can be found here.

In so many ways Refugee Transitions continues to develop welcoming, inclusive and intelligent communities here in the Bay Area! This year during SV Gives the organization raised a total of $18,601 and received the full $5k matching gift from Namaste Foundation. 

Follow these links to volunteer or to give directly to Refugee Transitions.

Fast-paced advancements in high tech seemingly deliver the world at our fingertips here in Silicon Valley. While true in some respects, the ways in which the Bay Area responds to its own disadvantaged populations sets an important standard for resilience and positive social change. There is certainly work to be done everywhere on the globe, but let us continue to be brave enough to look at the complex challenges and inequities within our local landscape. As a start, the giving, volunteering and innovative problem solving brought to light by SV Gives 2016 warrants our attention and offers hope in our ‘Golden State.’

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