Category: GVP News

“Thank You, GVP Teachers” by Ayat Salameh

I absolutely appreciate all of the teachers at GVP. Every single one of them. They all have a special place in my heart and my life because each one of them taught me something special.

Ms. Anne taught me how not to give up and to always keep trying no matter how many times you fail. Ms. Elise taught me the special meaning of music. And how powerful music can be. She also taught me how to love music the right way. Ms. Linda, ohhh Ms. Linda, I have always enjoyed Ms Linda class even though I never enjoyed math, but Ms. Linda always made it easy for us to understand and she always had new ideas for us to truly understand math and make it enjoyable. And that’s what I absolutely love about her. Ms. Marjorie was actually one of my favorite teachers at GVP. Not only because I love science, but also because Ms. Marjorie was always fun to be around. She’s the one that taught me what kind of learner I am. In her class I discovered that I’m a visual learner. I’m super grateful for all of my GVP teachers! 

And lastly, I want to thank Ms. Amy Pun. She’s a former GVP teacher, but she’s truly had a huge impact on me, and I’m so grateful to her!

In My Shoes: A Reflection by Jai Simpson-Joseph

There’s an old expression that says, until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you won’t understand their journey.

May 25, 2021, marked the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

And in the year since his murder, the world has turned on its axis.

Analysis and commentary are rife with the changes that have occurred, in communities, in laws, in global corporations, in world politics, in collective understandings of life and of death.

Some measurable, some unfathomable.

But perhaps the most profound transformation that we can contemplate is that society, people, individuals, and tribes worldwide, are re-examining what it takes to be each other. What the lives of “others” are truly like.

To explore and practice empathy on a whole other level.

The harbinger of true change.

People ceremoniously lay for nine minutes and 29 seconds on the ground, seeking to honor George Floyd . . .  his life and inhumane killing.

Seeking somehow to understand how this could happen.

Walk a mile in my shoes, voices resounding . . . to hear the voices of people BIPOC, who have spoken, but most often not been heard. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

And yet, it was a 17-year-old girl’s video, capturing the slaying of George Floyd, that finally broke through the walls of silence and of disbelief.

Walk a mile in my shoes, understand my journey now.

May, Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and beautiful celebrations of culture and heritage, merge with the chanting of voices speaking out against anti-Asian hate. A prejudice, not new, when one understands its history in this country, yet too often relegated to quiet memory and disbelief. WWII Japanese internment, the most determinable, and even this brutality not often known or talked about. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

And yet, it took the devastating mass murders in Atlanta and cruel attacks on Asians across this country to recognize the threat and racism rising. Asian American leaders and communal voices in solidarity, rising against hate, standing in the power of strength, resilience and in this month of May, celebration that will not be stopped. Highlighted in the rock group the Linda Lindas, young Asian girls, rocking out to sing their truths. And to invite all to join in.

Walk In my shoes, so that you can know me. And it is the chance to embark upon allyship at a whole other level.

An Ally:

To be an ally is to unite oneself with another to promote a common interest. People who are allies are not only helpers, but also have a common interest with those they desire to help. In an alliance, both parties stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share.

If we truly embrace diversity, with a recognition that we are each different and unique and embrace our common humanity . . . then the opportunity to be an “ally” is there for each of us, regardless of our journey and our truths.

In my shoes, and even the expression itself may be presumptuous, because it presumes one has shoes, or that one wants them.

Nonetheless, the premise is sound, as is the opportunity.

The invitation -

Consider how your life has changed in this last year, how your views, actions and heart have altered. Reflect upon what you intend for this next year to be like, setting your heart and intention, specifically on this vision.
What are your goals as an ally? And what do you want from the world as your “ally” on this journey.

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand their journey. Each step practicing empathy.

I will walk with you. And we can walk together.

S. Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq. is the Founder and Graceful Warrior of Wings UpRising, A Social Good Practice. Wings provides DEI UpRising workshops, transformation management, and DEI Specialist-in-Residence services, to learn more, visit wingsuprising.com.

Jazmine McMullen Ready to Elevate Volunteer Impact as New Volunteer and Program Coordinator

In April this year, we were thrilled to welcome Jazmine McMullen to the team as GVP’s new Volunteer and Program Coordinator. In her new role, Jazmine is excited about the opportunity to support volunteers in contributing their strengths to GVP’s work and finding fulfillment in their service.

Jazmine brings a wealth of expertise to the GVP team, having served youth and volunteers in multiple capacities over her career. Hailing originally from Brunswick, GA, Jazmine moved to Los Angeles after earning her Bachelor's and Master’s degrees in Social Work. Her roles at the Youth Policy Institute and the Los Angeles Youth Network gave her the opportunity to work with young people who - much like GVP students - have experienced interrupted education, often due to housing instability and other barriers. Jazmine went above and beyond in her dedication to providing support, taking it upon herself to track down students’ transcripts and other documentation in order to ensure they could continue their education. She became a strong proponent of proactive and vocal advocacy for marginalized populations.

In 2018, Jazmine returned to Georgia to work at the Center for the Visually Impaired, but she says she felt that “something was still missing” from her professional life. That’s when she found GVP. Jazmine felt compelled to get involved because of the groundbreaking nature of students’ educational journeys, as she herself knows what it’s like to be a “first”: “The girls’ refugee experiences really resonated with me because I was the first person in my family to pursue and complete higher education.” Jazmine describes navigating the barriers and pressures of being a trailblazer as “a unique experience for each person, but also a shared experience that is really close to my heart.” This passion has only furthered her desire to enrich the relationships between volunteers, students and teachers in her role at GVP.

One lesson that has remained consistent for Jazmine is the importance of humbly meeting people where they are. “We have to trust that they are the experts of their lives,” she says. “They’re driving their own ship; we are simply trying to offer a road map to those who would allow us to be along for the ride.” As someone who also regularly volunteers with youth in her personal life, she says it should be “a reciprocal process -- we are able to learn a lot from them as well.” Jazmine feels it is important for children to know that there are many ways to be successful, and she loves seeing a student accomplish something they never thought they could.

In less than two months at GVP, Jazmine says she has already been impacted by the level of commitment from all who take an active role in making the school’s impact possible, especially volunteers. She believes “time is one of the greatest things we can sacrifice,” adding, “I’m touched by how GVP has cultivated a community where volunteers come back every year.” She aims to build upon this tradition by connecting the dots between the needs of all stakeholders and amplifying the leadership of the new Volunteer Support Network through robust training and recruitment. “We already have a lot of volunteers with great wisdom, resources, and experience, so I’m eager to just fill in the gaps as far as certain skills or knowledge that would make them even more effective.” Lastly, she also hopes to continue to diversify the volunteer base: “It is important to me that the Volunteer Support Network is reflective of GVP’s culture and community, not just with respect to race, gender, and socioeconomic status, but also taking into account the unique qualities and characteristics each and every one of our volunteers brings to GVP.”

When asked about herself, Jazmine stated, “I don’t talk much. I try to let the work speak for itself.” One exception, though, is when she discusses a scholarship she created at her high school alma mater, Glynn Academy in Brunswick. “That was something I was really proud of doing because if I had not received a scholarship, I probably wouldn’t have been afforded access to a quality education. It was really important for me to pay it forward once I was in a position to do so.” As for personal hobbies, she really enjoys playing basketball, which she even played semi-professionally in college!

Still, Jazmine is quick to turn the attention away from herself and back to the incredible students at GVP. Her favorite moment so far? “I always enjoy hearing the students sing in Ms. Elise’s class. Seeing the Rising Scholars give their end-of-year presentations was also very powerful...At that age, I didn’t even have the courage to voice my feelings on these things which are so significant, especially in a room full of adults. It was a great reminder to me as an adult of the work these girls are doing to truly be the change they want to see in the world.”

Lily Tova, Therapy Dog, Visits Virtual GVP to Read with Students

This month Lily Tova came to visit GVP! Lily Tova is a certified therapy dog and GVP’s would-be mascot. She and her owner, Cindy Zeldin, visit campus often to help students with guided reading. This time, she joined Ms. Danielle’s STEAM class. Her presence in this virtual class was a welcome addition, something to distract the students from the monotony of screen time. It was also a way to elicit engagement from them, as Lily’s black nose danced across the computer screen, causing the girls to giggle with excitement.

Cindy and Lily are long-time friends of GVP, having joined our community after being inspired by our mission years ago. “I was told by a friend about the wonderful work you do at GVP,” says Cindy. “Since I lead a group called ‘Immigration Outreach’ at The Temple here in Atlanta, I decided to get involved.” The Immigration Outreach committee has done fundraising for GVP, brought lunches to the girls, and taught them about the Jewish holidays. Others on the committee have been tutors at GVP as well, and still others have participated in the Welcome Walk, GVP’s annual community walk.

Since Lily Tova is a certified therapy dog, Cindy decided to start a reading program at GVP. She completed her volunteer training and started visiting the campus every other week. Lily has accumulated over 200 volunteer hours visiting schools and nursing homes over the last seven years!

As a professional psychotherapist and life coach, Cindy has helped the girls learn to feel very comfortable with Lily Tova.In the beginning they were all terrified of her, but slowly they each began to love her and love holding her and watching her do tricks,” says Cindy.  In many of the students’ countries of origin, dogs are not pets, so they were distrustful at first. However, gradually they became excited about reading to her, and now they trust that Lily will only ever treat them with kindness and love.

Cindy believes that the reading program is very important because children relate to a dog differently than to a person. During their reading time together, the girls would share their feelings about what they were reading, and they would whisper secrets into Lily’s ear knowing she would keep their confidence. “When I would enter the school, Lily could barely control herself and would run up to the children she knew, and they would pet her as she squealed with delight” says Cindy. “Being on Zoom is definitely not the same thing, but we do the best we can under these circumstances.”

Lily Tova and Cindy look forward to a time when they can once again visit in person with the girls, and it is certain the girls look forward to that, too.

Students Stand Up, Speak Out Through Rights Unit

This semester, our integrated unit of study is “Rights.” In this unit, all of our core subject areas explore questions like “What are our rights?” and “How can we be human rights defenders?” In Ms. Katie’s Social Studies class, this involves studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the founding document for international human rights law that declares that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” We have also learned about human rights defenders, like Malala and her fight for girls’ right to education. 

Based on this foundation, the next step we are taking with students is to ask ourselves, “Now that we know our rights, what can we do?” This lesson we learn from Malala: We learn it is our responsibility to read, write, and speak out.

Picture of pages 4 and 5 from Malala: Warrior with Words by Karen Leggett Abouraya

In Ms. Anne’s English Language Arts class, we are discussing the idea of words changing the world Starting from, ”What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?”, we are moving to, ”How can we support our ideas with facts?”, and “How can we use personal experience to support the validity of our ideas?” Students are writing opinion essays on topics they are passionate about, from ending pollution and global warming to dismantling racism. Other topical arguments from students include “school should be in person” and “everyone should wear a mask.” My personal favorite title is, Everyone should be able to speak out regardless of who they are.

Our students got the message loud and clear: we need to speak out about our rights. Not only that, but we all have the right to an opinion, and our voices should be heard. As one student says, “People should have freedom to speak out. You can help change the world for the better.”

I am so proud of our students. During this tumultuous year, our students have embraced the opportunity to find and hone their voices. 

And of course, in true GVP fashion, we have explored together how another way we can speak out is through song. Our intermediate class recently wrote a song about Malala’s life. It is truly thoughtful, touching on themes from throughout the unit and our anchor text. The last verse is one of my favorites:

Malala wants to be a leader.
Malala wants freedom of thought!
Malala stands up for the rights of all girls
She speaks out for the rights of everyone!

Listen to the whole song, and more about our Rights unit, at our Last Day of School Virtual Celebration on May 26th!

Featured photo is from the March 2019 Rights Authors' Tea.

 

Maker-Centered Learning Prepares Students for 21st Century Challenges

How would your education have looked different if you were encouraged to take risks and learn from your mistakes? If instead of worksheets and tests, you were given a problem for which you had to create and test a solution? If your classroom sometimes looked like a woodworking shop or a robotics lab?

For Global Village Project students, that world of learning is becoming even more accessible through a new multi-year partnership with Decatur Makers, a local community all-ages makerspace. While project-based learning and creative risk-taking have always been part of our GVP philosophy, this year, we are thrilled to launch our journey with Decatur Makers toward integrating maker-centered learning into GVP’s curriculum and pedagogy. The partnership comes through the national Making Spaces Program, led by the California-based nonprofit Maker Ed with support from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. 

As described by Maker Ed, maker-centered learning “offers a transformational approach to teaching and learning that attends to the real and relevant needs of learners and humans. It is an approach that positions agency and student interest at the center, asking students to become more aware of the design of the world around them, and begin to see themselves as people who can tinker, hack and improve that design.” More than the stuff that is made, maker education is about “the connections, community, and the meaning we can make, and...the power to decide what our futures hold.”

At Global Village Project, this approach to learning promises to elevate our STEAM curriculum to become even more student-centered, hands-on, and empowering. The partnership with Decatur Makers is designed to dovetail with GVP’s existing integrated learning units, which tie together concepts from English language and literacy, science, math, social studies, and the arts around common themes like habitats, migrations, and rights. Located just a few blocks from our school, Decatur Makers offers a makerspace with tools from a microbiology lab to a fully-equipped wood shop, which beg to get learning, as GVP’s STEAM Coordinator Danielle Ereddia puts it, “out of the worksheet and into students’ hands.”

Through the partnership, students will take regular field trips to the Decatur Makerspace, learn how to use the technology, and take on making projects big and small throughout the year. Some of the potential projects include building models of scientific concepts, such as plate tectonics and anatomical organs, or completing “build” challenges designed to demonstrate scientific concepts like forces and motion, gravity, light, and sound. GVP students may even take on building Tiny Libraries to set up around Decatur and Clarkston, a project for which they will take the lead in designing, constructing, and potentially even stocking and distributing the libraries for the benefit of the community.

Beyond the content of the projects, however, the real learning lies in the process. Maker-centered learning emphasizes 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, which prepare students to tackle the existing challenges we face. As Danielle says, “Maker-centered learning offers students invaluable opportunities to practice productive risk-taking, taking students out of their comfort zone so they can learn from mistakes through trial and error...That kind of experiential learning is so natural in life, but harder to replicate in a classroom.” Maker education aims to close that gap between the real world and the classroom, pushing students to problem solve, troubleshoot, learn in community with others, and to advocate, exercise agency, and take ownership over their learning.

These skills are all especially beneficial to culturally and linguistically diverse students like those at GVP. As Danielle explains, “We know that refugee learners need two things: they need intense English practice...and they need social and emotional support.” Both of these core goals are bolstered by maker-centered learning. Above all, literacy is a tool of empowerment and agency - and what better way to practice English than by collaborating and problem-solving with peers? In addition, creating opportunities for students to take risks and learn from and with each other is a key way in which maker-centered learning supports the social and emotional needs of refugee learners.

GVP’s partnership with Decatur Makers is just the latest step in our quest towards ensuring that our educational model offers real, tangible value to students’ everyday lives and futures. The greatest challenges of our time - from climate change to global inequality - will not be solved through lectures and multiple-choice tests. They will be tackled through courageous risk-taking and innovation, and at GVP, we fully intend to equip our students well for those endeavors.

Restore Our Earth: The Shared Histories and Futures of Mass Displacement, Climate Change, and Gender Inequity

With the passage of Earth Day this month, I have been thinking and reflecting on the inseparable links between forced migration, climate change, and gender equity, particularly with respect to girls’ education. Having been at Global Village Project for a year and a half now, this year’s calls to protect our planet pushed me to consider the entwined histories of environmental degradation and the crisis of displacement which sends refugee young women to our doors every year.

The refugees GVP serves are among the 80 million people around the world today who have been forcibly displaced from their homes (UNHCR). As the impacts of climate change worsen, more and more of the people forced to migrate are doing so because environmental degradation has rendered their homes unlivable. Since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by catastrophic weather disasters each year - a number that is expected to rise as storms and droughts worsen. By 2050, experts estimate that 143 million people could be displaced within sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America alone due to long-term climate impacts such as desert expansion and rising sea levels. (NPR)

These so-called “climate refugees” are not formally recognized as such or afforded the international protections granted to refugees. However, climate change is also a key factor in the displacement of peoples we might more easily recognize as refugees, as environmental catastrophes exacerbate conflict in affected regions. In West Africa, for instance, “the almost total disappearance of Lake Chad because of desertification has empowered terrorists and forced more than four million people into camps.” (NPR)

Violence against the environment and violence against people are deeply linked, in ways that extend far beyond the present. When I think of the twin crises of climate change and global displacement, I see in their shared histories the long shadow of colonialism. While colonialism cannot tell the whole story of either, any understanding of climate change or forced migration is incomplete without its acknowledgement. 

From the 15th century onward, the expansion of European states into the so-called New World for the extraction of resources, labor, food, energy supplies, and demand produced the logics which have driven us to our current state of crisis. Colonialism is above all the language of domination, including the domination of nature. As Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik writes, “Overuse, pollution and deforestation were the norm. Since there was always more land to conquer and acquire, sustainability was irrelevant. The model was simple: exhaust the land, abandon it and clear new land.” This is the relationship to nature we inherit from our imperial past. Climate change’s ongoing impacts on forced migration demonstrate that the plight of refugees today cannot be untied from our colonial past. And that is to say nothing of the long-term implications of the colonial practices of dividing up peoples and territories and establishing formal boundaries in shaping many of the violent conflicts underlying global displacement today. 

Where does gender equity come into play in all of this? Gender is intimately tied to violence against both people and the environment; it is well documented that when a crisis of either kind strikes, it is women and girls who pay the highest price. In areas of conflict, women and girls are 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than those living in conflict-free regions. Women and girls are more likely to be displaced, killed or injured during a natural disaster ("How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming", TED). And environmental catastrophes often represent setbacks for gender equity. Flooding in Bangladesh, for instance, has led to an increase in child marriage as household resources are stretched thin (BBC World Service).

Yet beyond these dire data, the intricate link between gender equity and climate change is also one of opportunity. Of the many solutions to climate change that experts have identified, investing in gender equity - particularly girls’ education - is among the most promising. In fact, climate experts estimate that when combined with access to family planning, educating girls could stop 85 gigatons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. That’s about three times the world’s annual carbon emissions (BBC World Service). 

Educating girls is a pathway to better family planning, financial security, and life opportunities for girls. For a variety of reasons, when girls have access to education, they get married later and have fewer children ("How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming", TED). According to Paul Hawkings, a lead climate expert, educated women have on average 3 fewer children than women without formal education (BBC World Service). Thus, access to education and high-quality, voluntary reproductive healthcare can go a long way in curbing the growth of the human population and reducing the demand for electricity, transportation, food, buildings, and more. It has even been shown that an increase in women’s political participation and leadership is linked to pro-environmental outcomes, and that the graduates of girls’ schools are more likely to get involved in programs focused on environmental awareness. 

Still, it is always important to remember that the burden to fix the climate crisis should never rest on the shoulders of those with the least amount of power and responsibility. After all, the richest 1% of the world’s population contribute double the impact on the environment as the poorest 50%, and Christina Kwauk, an expert in girls’ education, warns that focusing on reducing the populations in black and brown countries to solve a crisis created by the world’s richest countries amounts to a form of racist eugenics (BBC World Service). Reducing global emissions may be a beneficial side effect of educating girls. However, it should never overshadow the just distribution of responsibility in addressing climate change, nor the core truth that girls everywhere deserve access to education for their own sake.

The theme for this year’s Earth Day celebration was “Restore our Earth”. I believe that to restore, to return something to its original condition, requires that we acknowledge the past and own up to how we get here. It requires that we reckon with the shared lineages of climate change, forced migration, and gender inequity, so that hopefully, we can imagine a different relationship to the planet - one rooted in harmony with nature and each other.

 

Sources:
How climate change and colonialism are spurring mass migration: The violent roots of today's unprecedented displacement –– Minneapolis Institute of Art
To fix the climate crisis, we must face up to our imperial past
BBC World Service - The Climate Question, The secret solution to climate change
Climate Refugees: No International Definition, Recognition Or Protections : Goats and Soda (NPR)
"How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming"
Refugee Statistics (UNHCR)

 

“My Community,” A Reflection by Alumna Meh Sod Paw

After graduating from college in 2020, taking a transitional year has helped me reflect on all dimensions of my life. Ruminating has helped me realize the importance of not forgetting to acknowledge my different feelings while maintaining hope for the future. In reflecting on the relational aspects of my life, I feel grateful to have found myself surrounded by a group of powerful women who I met after resettling in America. 

My journey started when my family left our bamboo hut in Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand to experience life beyond the fence. After resettling in America, my family had to overcome the challenges of moving to a new country and, for us children, attending a public school. That tough phase of fighting for a better life was the time I was introduced to Global Village Project (GVP), a middle school for refugee girls like me. GVP showed me patience by providing me with an environment to perform an act that would have a huge impact in my life: I picked up my very first book, which was on the first-grade level, to read. GVP understood the value of having a mentor who would help me continue my reading journey and even write short summaries, which seemed like the hardest mission at the time. Not only was I able to read my first novel called Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, but I experienced my voice being heard when I was given the choice to select this book as my favorite. 

Thus, I am truly grateful for having my life mentor, Ms. Mary Lou’s support in not only the academic aspect but other facets of life, like being encouraged to take care of my physical health. My journey with Ms. Mary Lou has helped me fully understand the importance of a community that inspires me to seek mentorship in things that are important to me, like my spirituality. Together with my spiritual mentor Joy, I have learned to strive to live a life that aligns with the values I have. With my writing mentor Ms. Lisa, who has traveled abroad and lived in foreign countries for many years, we discuss our experiences being surrounded by multiple cultures. Furthermore, my journey at GVP would not have been the same without my aspirational mentor Bertha. She has always been a great role model who I look to for inspiration. She carries confidence, resilience, and dedication, which encourages me to want to work on these qualities within myself. It is the generosity of these women in being part of my journey that helps me make it through many challenges in life.

Where I am today, I am glad that I have come to a point where I have support in many aspects of my life, so that I am well equipped to tell my own story.  I am so thankful to my kind-hearted mentors for their willingness and patience. Being able to tell my story, I am able to share and connect to the community I am living in. It is rare to find a place that will give us empathy, so I am filled with gratitude to have found people who are willing to walk with me as I build letters into words, words into phrases, phrases into sentences, and sentences into a story. 

“Why I Serve”: Han Pham, Vice Chair of GVP’s Board, Shares Her Story

The story of why I serve on the board of Global Village Project begins with my mother. 

My mother and father were just 18 years old when Saigon fell in April 1975. Running for their lives, they each ended up, through their own long and circuitous journeys, here in America to start a new life. But unlike my father, my mother began this new chapter of her life with an education that had been cut short far too soon. My mother’s education had ended at the 2nd grade when her parents told her that she had to stay home and take care of her siblings. More siblings were born after she stopped going to school - eight in total, with the youngest arriving in 1974 just a few months before Saigon fell. Unfortunately, my mother couldn’t bring them all, but she carried that last baby, my aunt, in her arms across Vietnam through minefields both literal and figurative as a refugee.

My mother has often told me about the day she was told she couldn’t go to school. As the oldest girl, it was her duty to take care of the other kids. Her family couldn’t afford to keep sending both her and my uncle to school, and because he was a boy, his education was more important. My mother loved school and loved learning, and she has always felt the intense loss of her truncated education—that something special was taken out of her hands.

“Education is a prize and you should never take it for granted,” she’d say. She first told me this as I was entering into 2nd grade and starting at a new special school for the gifted. It was a bittersweet moment for her; she was both proud of my achievement and mournful that she never saw school beyond that grade. She reminded me of this lesson when I entered high school, when I entered college, and again when I entered law school. I pursued advanced education for her as much as I did for myself.

My mother’s story is one I have heard echoed by many women around the world. I see my mother in the girls that GVP serves, and I serve to honor her by giving them the education that my mother could not have.

But that is only part of why I serve. The other half of it is that I see myself in these girls. We share a story as children of immigrants, navigating America for the first time on behalf of our parents and ourselves. From calling the roller rink to book my own 4th grade birthday party, to setting up the utilities at our new house when I was 14, to researching colleges and filling out the FAFSA myself, I’ve had to figure things out on my own. I’ve been my mom’s translator at doctor’s appointments. I’ve signed my little brother’s permission slips. I’ve lived the dual life of kid and adult that many children of immigrants must live - the dual life that many of our students live.

I am so proud of the wraparound services that GVP provides to our students and their families to help make their new lives in America just a little easier. Even the smallest of gestures can make a huge difference in the life of an immigrant, and I am proud of GVP staff for continuously striving to improve upon an already robust program of student and family support. I know firsthand how much this support can help, as my own path through life has been paved with the compassion and generosity of so many people. Many of them I have never met and may never meet. However, the best that I feel I can do is try to pay forward the immeasurable support that has enabled me to become someone my parents are proud of, someone who made their journey and sacrifices worth it. So when Pia Ahmed introduced me to GVP and asked me to join the board, I ecstatically accepted.

During my tenure on the board, I have served on the Development committee, recently served as Vice Chair, and have been active in a number of special committees and projects. I have never hesitated to provide extra support to GVP wherever I am able, whether that means speaking on behalf of the school, attending events and cheering on our girls, or even supplying community members with a hundred pounds of our homegrown honey. Over these past three years, I have seen GVP grow tremendously, and I am so thrilled to continue this work and see what GVP becomes in its service to refugee girls.

But my service means much more to me than the list of things I’ve done. I feel deeply in my heart that what I’m doing is paying back decades of help that my refugee family received when my parents left Vietnam. Each day I reflect on and give thanks for how my life has been helped along by both big and small kindnesses—ones I never expected from people I did and did not know. I would not have achieved anything close to what I have now without those many kindnesses.

And so, I hope these girls will experience the same (or better) kinds of opportunities that I have. I hope that they’ll one day find themselves in a similar (or better) position than I have to help others like us. This is why I serve.

Han Pham
Vice Chair, Board of Directors

Exploring DEI with GVP’s Board

For the past two years, Global Village Project has been on a journey to incorporate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into our organizational DNA. This season, we began an exciting phase of extending the strategic discussions and heart strides we have made as a team thus far to other stakeholder groups within the GVP community, starting with our Board of Directors. Over the last three years of our most recent strategic plan, the GVP Board has made a concerted effort to increase its diversity to better reflect the identities of our students. Today, 40% of our Board members are people of color, but we have more work to do in our commitment to ensuring our Board and organization continue to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in the long run. For the first session of what will be a multi-part discussion, our Board took part in an interactive workshop on DEI’s guiding principles on Sunday, February 21st. GVP’s Board of Directors are a dedicated group, and the fact that they were willing to virtually convene on a cold Sunday morning in February was the most recent testament to that fact.

The workshop was led by Transformation Management and DEI Specialist Jai Simpson-Joseph, who facilitated an impactful discussion on what DEI means and how its principles may guide our work at GVP. To begin, the group explored the separate but interrelated concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion, using the definitions provided in GVP’s Grounding Principles. Then participants used this foundation to safely explore how the concepts resonated with them individually and collectively. Our Board’s discussion was a testament to how DEI plays a role in each and every one of our lives. As was reflected in their stories, we have all been in situations where our identities forced us to grapple with the feeling of not belonging - how we show up in the world and how we are seen by others is seldom the definitive version of who we truly are. GVP Board members explored at length the complexity of identity, discussing how the dynamic, nuanced, and oftentimes paradoxical nature of identity means that each of us contains a set of shifting and sometimes contradicting traits that make up who we are.

Under Jai’s masterful guidance, the session arrived at a vital conclusion: the just response to differences in identity is not to pretend they don’t exist, but to face them boldly and empathetically. As Jai shared, equity is not color-blindness, but rather the acknowledgement of difference and the provision of the right resources needed for people to overcome barriers and succeed. Within the context of GVP, Board members discussed the need to foster spaces where all voices are valued, where unconscious biases are explored and countered, and where one person should never be called upon to represent an entire community. They shared their commitments to ensuring our Board, and all Boards, help create organizations that are more diverse, more equitable, and more inclusive.

As one Board member reflected, “Our school is made up of people who have been wounded in societies where they have not been included. This is one of the core reasons many come here as refugees.” It is part of our mandate to embrace our students and families where they are, welcome them, and provide them a space where they know they belong. To fulfill our mission in its fullest, we must ensure that the principles of DEI are top of mind for everyone in our GVP community. We are all still on a journey of lifelong learning when it comes to understanding how DEI principles should be implemented in our individual and collective actions, but it is all essential learning - for each and every one of us has a role to play in creating a more just and equitable society.