“Let’s do it man!”
Posted by sebastianbrown on December 17, 2009
As I mentioned before, at the end of last week’s meeting members of the Nob Hill support group (not that it has an official title) agreed that it made sense to spend the following meeting knocking on doors to meet their neighbors as well as invite them to their self-designed ESOL class—set to begin tentatively in late January. So even though we had two totally new additions to the group—both of whom were friends that Juventina invited on her way over from her apartment to the YMCA Community Center where we met—last night we did just that.
About 2 minutes before the meeting Juventina approached Ray and I asking if we thought we should postpone the door knocking considering the unexpected arrival of two new-comers. But before we could even answer, she said (in English) “Never mind, let’s do it man!”
But before going out, the ‘veterans’ caught up the others with a quick review of our progress over the last 5 weeks. Then, since there were enough IMPACT staff members to pair up each one with a Nob Hill resident, we spent only about 3 minutes actually preparing the group to go out on their very first door knocking… And just like that, we paired up and headed out.
In doing a super quick debrief with the others after returning to the Center it’s obvious that each pair made several good personal connections. So I thought I’d just share the one that stood out the most for Marina and I. After having a couple doors practically slammed in our faces, Marina and I were delighted to be invited in by a young couple from El Salvador. The conversation immediately opened up when Marina started asking about the couple’s 7 month old daughter, nearly the same age as Marina’s youngest child. Before long, the two were sharing almost identical stories of having rushed their sick daughters into the local hospital only to be mistreated, or turned away altogether because of their immigrant status. Together, they spoke of how difficult it is to stay in their cramped apartments all day, 7 days a week. And now that it’s getting colder, they agreed, you can’t even walk outside just to get a change of scenery.
Besides their equally dire financial situations, it’s their sincere feeling that their young daughters won’t receive adequate medical attention in case of an emergency that both Marina and the couple expressed plans to return to their home countries within a year. The couple said that if health care reform doesn’t pass, they’ll have no choice but to leave.
It wasn’t by chance that this amazingly rich—but also terribly depressing—conversation took place with Marina present. However much I and the rest of the IMPACT staff might do our best to genuinely connect to residents, no one is more capable of fostering that connection than fellow neighbors themselves. At one point, the couple asked us who we were and why we were spending our time going around meeting random people. Without flinching Marina responded “Because I live right here. This is my community. In fact this is my building. 5 other residents and I—all from this immediate apartment complex—are in the process of forming our very own ESOL class where we’ll also have a chance to discuss whatever concerns we might have…and we’d love for you to be a part of these great things we’re doing” (at least that was the gist). Of course, I could have made the same pitch. But there’s no way it would have meant the same thing.
And just think, this is the same 4 ft. 8 inch young Guatemalan lady who just weeks ago was afraid to even say her name in front of the group. This is what empowerment looks like!