Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ebb and Flow: A Profile of Homeboy Industries

By Lauren Miller

In 2001, Los Angeles city officials counted 1,300 street gangs and 150,000 gang members in Los Angeles County. In the City of Los Angeles specifically, more than 400 gangs and 58,000 gang members exist.

It's a challenging feat of sorts to identify and understand how gangs in Los Angeles have formed. Some give economic reasons while others find the roots of gangs more culturally explanatory. Los Angeles's policy makers have their own ostensible solutions to altering conditions which may affect gang affiliation and violence. Grassroots organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America have their own formula for keeping kids away from the pressures of the streets. The Los Angeles Police Department implements problem solving tactics from within their Narcotics Division every day in their work.

Father Greg Boyle has his own solution too.

In 1992, while serving as pastor at Dolores Mission Parish in Boyle Heights, Father Greg founded Homeboy Industries. Homeboy is, according to an article by Celeste Fremon, author of G-dog and the Homeboys, arguably the largest gang intervention program in the country. Homeboy assists at-risk persons and youth, former gang members, and formerly convicted felons to become positive and contributing members of society through job placement, training programs, and educational classes.

Luis Rivera is an ex-gang banger who started dealing drugs when he was just 13-years old. He had been in and out of juvenile hall three times and shot twice. He first met Father Greg the way every teenager growing up in Boyle Heights met him; on the streets. Father Greg often could be seen in the East Los Angeles neighborhood riding around in his beach cruiser, cracking jokes with Mothers and Fathers and getting to know their children. Luis remembers that "Father Greg knew your Mom, your Dad, your Grandma, your Grandpa. He was around enough. Then he would say, 'My son, you've got to stop dealing drugs. You have to stop this lifestyle'. If you got shot, he'd be there in the hospital. Every time you ended up in jail, he'd visit you."

Father Boyle created quite an impression among the youth of the streets; they looked to him for guidance. In a world where prominent drug dealers act like movie star idols to young children, and teenagers are pressured into gang affiliations as young as 10-years old, first impressions are everything. However, Father Greg realized that no matter how many times he cruised the neighborhood and became a loving mentor to the teenagers, he still saw no concrete change in the community. "There were still two shootings a day, more at night," Luis remembers. "Father Greg was burying more people than marrying people. He realized the love he was showing us wasn't enough. We needed something concrete to take us away from the lifestyle."

Father Greg's concrete solution to keeping kids off the streets was simple: provide them with early opportunities to learn good work ethics and keep them away from the pressures to make "fast money" (money obtained by dealing or selling drugs). Father Greg and his non-profit partners bought an industrial size office building in downtown L.A. and created miscellaneous jobs around the office building for the teenagers he'd mentored on the streets over the years. Luis comments that "right away Father would only hire homeboys he'd met on the streets. He just handed out jobs." Luis was one of those lucky homeboys. He started getting paid as a window washer. Now he is a tour guide for the tours that pass through Homeboy every day. Rwando Cruz, a 27-year old Homeboy employee ho grew up in L.A. and went to Roosevelt High School, also knew Father Greg. He offered Cruz his first job as a cleaner and sweeper in the building when he was 16-years old. He continued to work for Homeboy and today he does merchandise layouts and helps run the Education and Curriculum program.

Homeboy Industries is exactly that; an industry of grand proportions. After miscellaneous office jobs within Homeboy began to fill up, Father Greg branched into another portal of business and opened Homeboy Bakery. Former gang bangers were then trained to bake, cook, and sell products on-site. Their pastries are also featured and sold in the University of Southern California's on-campus snack stop Shop Café. Back in the bakery's kitchen, former criminals turn in their semi-automatic handguns for pastry bags and baseball caps for chef's hats. Here, former gang rivals work side by side to chop and stir, bake and broil, season and spice. Here, amazing things happen. Today, Homeboy is still growing. Its businesses include Homegirl Cafe, Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy Merchandise, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, and The Homeboy Review, its literary magazine.

Besides being a thriving business, Homeboy is an organization whose main focus is to guide struggling criminals and at-risk teens away from the streets by offering free enrichment classes and programs. For example, a "Pathways to College" class is offered on Wednesdays. It is taught by a volunteer professor from USC. He sets up the classroom like a college lecture hall and spends the class period lecturing on the college application process. But more importantly than teaching the application process, Rwando comments that the teachers mostly teach confidence. He says, "The homeboys that come in are different cases from other people. The cookie cutter life doesn't work for them. Most aren't kids who will have high school diplomas, go to college, and land a job. They have certain gaps in their story." In an attempt to fill in the gaps in their stories, Homeboy places individuals in classes tailored to his or her own unique situation. Rwando adds, "That's why we have Latin classes and yoga classes in addition to math classes. We mix it up. It's providing people with the tools to become more well-rounded individuals."

Rwando also paints a more intriguing portrait of what Homeboy does, certainly a take on Homeboy's mission I have never heard before. He says, "Imagine a high school has certain components to it. It might have a counseling service for students but no part-time job searches. Or maybe it offers great college preparatory classes but has insufficient counseling. Now think of Homeboy. It's like Greg was like, 'Let me get one big-ass building and provide all of these things at once and then have ex-gang members running around! It's straight up nuts! But it somehow legitimately works. That's why I have a passion for it."

Rwando Cruz's workday is similarly just as crazy as Homeboy's business philosophy. He begins work at 8 a.m. and even though the office building closes at 5 p.m., he does not usually leave the office until 6 or 7 p.m. On a typical work day he recalls that, "one minute I'm giving somebody a practice test for their solar panel license class, then there's an art class that needs extra paper, then paperwork needs to get done, then so-and-so is having a meltdown or a fight breaks out. It drives me crazy when people say, 'My job is so stressful'. Really? Ya right! Come to my job- it is non-stop!"  
Despite Homeboy's seemingly magical business formula, it is not without its rough patches. In August 2009, it was reported in city-wide newspapers that Homeboy, a non-profit organization, was having financial problems. The report claims that Homeboy was running out of money and would eventually have to make cut-backs and furloughs within the organization. However, soon after the announcement, L.A. City Council approved a substantial contract between Homeboy and the L.A. Mayor's Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development. Their doors remained open. Rwando comments that, "the non-profit world is such a crazy environment. First someone promises you $1 million, then they've changed their mind to $10,000, then they adjust it again. So are we financially stable right now? Sure, but will it always be like that? Maybe, maybe not. The thing is that Father Greg has an amazing attitude that holds this place together no matter what. If our budget problems are bad and he can't hire anybody, he's always said he'll just shut the doors, close it down. His idea is you're either in it 100% or not in it at all. We're gangstas, we ride until the end and if he can't hire and help even one kid, then none of the rest of the kids are being helped either." 

Discussions of success rates have also burdened and pressured Homeboy's existence. The first thing people want to know about a non-profit organization, especially one of Homeboy's grandeur and size, is what the success rate is or how effective the programs they offer actually are or how much the community is really seeing tangible change. To date, there have not been any significant studies on Homeboy's success rate as a gang prevention program. However, UCLA's Dr. Jorja Leap, a gang and youth violence expert, has begun a 5-year study of Homeboy with those results to be released in the near future.

But for the founders, employees, and supporters of Homeboy, success rates and numbers don't mean as much as success stories do. Rwando tells me later, "I hate the word success. All anyone ever asks about is 'What is your success rate?' or 'How many people are actually staying off the streets?". But people have to remember that the lives of these people are different from everybody else. You can't talk statistics. It's the kid that's here learning and socializing. It's the minute he's off the streets; that's his success story. These days we're graded on everything; what care you drive, what degree you have, how many zeros are in your bank account." It seems as if Homeboy is not fazed by pressures from the public to report success rate statistics. Rwando ends by brilliantly proclaiming, "If someone comes in here and feels like they can breathe easy among other rival gang members, that's a success story. If someone's not on guard during their lunch hour like in prison, that's a success story. It's bigger than granting high school diplomas, it's leaps and bounds. Success at Homeboy and beyond is like boxing. Ebb and flow baby, ebb and flow."


Reporting Notes

Observation includes:

-1 hour official tour at Homeboy

- 2 hours of observation at Homeboy

Interview includes:

- 1 hour interview with Luis Rivera from Homeboy

- 40 minute interview with Rwando Cruz from Homeboy

Documentation includes:

- LA Times article on Ralphs/Homeboy merger

- LA article on 2009 financial scare

- Reporting On Health blog article by Celeste Fremon

- LAPD gang map and statistics (LAPD website)

- Homeboy pamphlets and March class schedule

- Léon Bing's book Do or Die as reference

- Made in America: Crips and Bloods documentary

- Father G and the Homeboys documentary

- USC website

- Annual Report to Congress: "Creating a Safer America" provided by the US Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2000.

All photos used in this piece are credited to the photographers listed below each picture.

If you would like to read more about Luis Rivera please see the interview linked below.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Japanese Americans placed in internment camps during World War II share their shocking experiences in front of many students on Wednesday February 17, 2010 at the University of California, Irvine.

By: Chie Kobayashi

The clock strikes 6:30pm and the low hum of whispers fill Doheny Beach rooms A & B in the student center of University of California, Irvine. It is time for Tomo No Kai, the Japanese/ Japanese American culture club to host their annual “Day of Remembrance” event on campus. This event commemorates the men and women who were held in Japanese/ Japanese American internment camps during World War II.

Each year, men and women who interned in these camps are invited to come in and speak of their experiences that changed their lives forever. This event was designed to reach out to the community, and to educate students and faculty on the Japanese/ Japanese American history.

“Day of Remembrance is a great way to show students and faculty the history of Japanese Americans in the United States” says Kristen Wong, president of Tomo No Kai. “I always feel so grateful for the life I’m living now compared to what these men and women had to go through.”

Guest speakers for this year include John Kitamura, Kiyo Watanabe and Harry Nakagawa. John and Kiyo were interned at Manzanar, California while Harry was interned at Tule Lake, California.

“Every year, we bring these guests in to educate and spread the history of Japanese Americans to college students” states Tomo No Kai sophomore member Randy Shiozaki. “I always heard about internment camps from my grandparents that were also interned in Manzanar but I never really knew the details of what went on in the camps because I never really dared to ask my grandparents.”

On February 19, 1942, soon after the beginning of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which commenced the round up of Americans of Japanese heritage.

According to www.nps.gov, more than 110,000 men, women and children were forced to leave their homes and were detained in ten different remote military-style internment camps across the United States. The internees were met with camps surrounded by barbed wire fences, unpartitioned toilets and a budget roughly around 45 cents daily per capita for food rations.

Kristen Wong wearing a pearl necklace and a black dress outlined in lace gives the opening words to the event. She introduces the three speakers and proceeds to sit down in an open seat after signaling Harry to go up and give his speech.

79 year old Harry Nakagawa, bald in the center of his head slowly gets up and proceeds to the podium as he fixes his collar of his grey and blue dress shirt. Harry is a second-generation Japanese American and a retired civil engineer. He currently lives in Arcadia, California. Harry was sent to the internment camp at Tule Lake, California when he was just 12 years old. Leaving his home in Sacramento, California and heading to the internment camp seemed incredibly unreal to him.

“It was around late May in 1942. I remember my parents coming into my room and telling my younger brother James and me that we had to leave our home. That’s when I looked at my brother and we both said, “Why?” I think at that time, I was too young to completely understand. I thought we were going to a hotel and staying there for a couple days. My father, mother, James and I packed our belongings into two brown suit cases, and left everything else behind. We literally just had the clothes on our backs, and some extra belongings. I remember James was crying because he couldn’t take his toy train. We kept on asking how long we had to leave for. But “I don’t know” was the only response that came back from my parents” Harry said.

Most internees lost or had to sell their homes at a great loss and close down numerous businesses. They had no idea when they were coming back.

Nothing except silence and intent concentration comes from the audience. Harry sips on water.

“We arrived at the camp located at Tule Lake, California. The camp was surrounded by nothing but flat land and dust. The camp just simply looked uninviting to me. We lined up in a single file line, as the officers of the camp inspected us and checked us in. The room that my family was put into was at the edge of our barrack. The room was definitely way too small for a family of four.” Harry chuckles. “My mother had to hang sheets from the ceiling to create a section where she could change and get some privacy.”

A family occupied a single room of 25 by 20 feet. Housing provided was tarpaper covered barracks without plumbing or cooking facilities. A bath, laundry and toilet building was shared by more than 250 people. Poor food, cramped quarters and communal facilities were common at every camp.

Segregation took place within these camps between the internees. Issei, or first generation Japanese immigrants were deprived of traditional status and respect, while Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans were permitted positions of authority within the camps.

Harry continues his speech by saying, “I hated living at Tule Lake. I was utterly miserable in the beginning. Living in these camps took awhile to get used to. After some time had passed, James and I met a couple kids around our age living near our barrack that we started to play with. We used to draw pictures with a stick in the ground during our pass time.”

Contrary to popular belief, many Japanese Americans did not accept the treatment that they received. Riots and protest demonstrations often occurred in many of the internment camps.

Trumanlibrary.org declares that the Tule Lake relocation center in June of 1943 was selected as the place where evacuees who were perceived to be loyal to Japan rather than to the United States were to be sent. Tule Lake became one of the most turbulent camps, where internees frequently held protest demonstrations and strikes against the United States government. The Tule Lake internment camp was opened on May 27, 1942 and closed on March 20, 1946 with the peak population being 18,789.

While Tule Lake received a lot of political action, John Kitamura and Kiyo Watanabe lead lives of solidarity at the internment camp located at Manzanar, California. Manzanar is one of the most famous internment camps known today, mainly from the book and movie titled “Farewell to Manzanar” written by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.

The internment camp located at Manzanar, California was the first of the ten camps to open their doors. It was opened on March 21, 1942 and was shut down on November 21, 1945. The peak population was 10,046.

John Kitamura is a 67 year old retired automobile worker who is originally from the San Fernando Valley when he was relocated to the camps. He now lives in Cypress, California. John was sent to Manzanar when he was just 8 years old.

“I can still remember how the camp was, just like it was yesterday” states John, as he adjusts his pair of Ray-Ban reading glasses on his nose with his index finger. “It was definitely not the best place to be when you are only 8 years old.”

The crowd seemed to renew their attention, when 69 year old second-generation retired nurse Kiyo Watanabe took to the stage. Kiyo wore her grey hair neatly permed into perfect curls. She is also from the San Fernando Valley, and wore a nice top decorated in elaborate purple and black flower designs. At the age of 10, Kiyo and her family left their homes to relocate to Manzanar to live a life surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.

Kiyo had one main message for the audience in the room and the whole world to hear: “I do not want pity and sympathy from people who hear my experience of being interned at Manzanar” declares Kiyo. “I want the world to take our experiences as an example that such a thing should never happen again. My life was affected drastically by my internment, and I do not want anyone to go through such suffering and discrimination ever again.”

The experience that these Japanese/ Japanese Americans endured is unimaginable. The three guest speakers John, Kiyo and Harry have left a lasting impression on all that was present in the room.

“I was really intrigued by what the guest speakers had to say in their speeches” says Jennifer Tran, a UCI student who attended the event. “It was definitely more impactful and convincing hearing the stories from people who actually went to these internment camps. After hearing the three speeches especially Kiyo’s, I am even more captivated by the Japanese culture. If the internees do not speak of their experiences, Japanese American history would be lost, so it is absolutely important to spread the word! What happened back then changed how it is for the Japanese Americans today. I am glad I attended tonight, because I felt like I learned a chunk of Japanese American history in less than 2 hours. I feel so knowledgeable now!”

According to www.pbs.org, through the efforts of leaders and advocates of the Japanese American community, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 almost 50 years later. This act acknowledged that a “grave injustice was done” and mandated Congress to pay each victim of internment $20,000 in reparations. Although reparations could never replace the atrocious experiences, a signed apology from the President of the United States on behalf of the American people was also sent to the internees.

Despite this redress, the trauma of the internment experience still continues to affect the mental and physical health of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. Health studies have shown a 2 times greater incidence of heart disease and premature death among former internees, compared to non-interned Japanese Americans.

The “Day of Remembrance” will continue to spread the words and experiences of the Japanese/ Japanese Americans in the years to come.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sword Club at UCI: My Journey into the realm of Anduril

By Lauren Alejo

“What doesn’t get wet when it rains?” asked Chasen, the newest member of Sword Club at UCI. “umm...I don’t know,” I responded. “The ocean! Because it is already wet,” Chasen replied. He sat on the floor inside of Doc’s (President of Sword Club), apartment and read the joke off of the back of a Laffy Taffy wrapper. It was Wednesday evening and instead of hitting each other with foam, medieval style weapons inside of Aldrich park as is the members of Sword Club’s usual Wednesday night ritual, we were in Doc’s apartment building foam weapons for a sword fighting convention in San Diego on Saturday called, “The Battle of Andor.”

Being the newest member and without a sword of his own, Chasen was building a weapon from scratch while most everyone else worked on repairs for their various weapons. Strips of cut up camping mats, rolls of carpet tape and PVC pipes were strewn haphazardly across the floor as the members cut, taped and glued their weapons together with expertise. The room was filled with a comfortable hum of chatter and a three foot long pizza lay on the table as a snack for the hard workers. Every once in a while Chasen would ask Doc, or Ana or one of the more seasoned fighters whether or not he was building the sword correctly. After a while Ana sat close by Chasen just to make sure he was doing everything correctly.

“If we were the Boy Scouts, Ana would be our den leader” explained Sal, Vice President of the club. Ana, along with her fiance Brian are graduate students at UCI and co-founders of the Sword Club and thus natural appointed leaders of the club. Sword club, in a nutshell, taps in to the obsessions with the world of fantasy and fiction and in a sense brings it all to life. Sword Club combines fiction with real life, nerdy passions with sportsmanship and most importantly harbors friendships among people with similar interests. They are normal people with a passion for all things medieval, who just so happen to like hitting their friends over the head with large foam weapons. Who doesn’t at times?

If you were to ask them to describe themselves, which I did, they would respond with the opening line of the Anduril Constitution, “We Fighters in the Realm of Anduril. "Anduril" in the film/novel "Lord of the Rings," is known as the sword that was broken. This is the sword of Isildur's heir, the Ranger known as Aragorn. The name "Anduril," translated from Sindarin, means "Flame of the West." We base ourselves in the University of California at Irvine.” Translation: They are Sword Club at UCI, a fantasy/medieval style combat club on campus that meets regularly in Alrich Park to fight each other with foam, medieval style weapons. Every once in a while they will venture out of their realm and either attend or a host a “battle” which brings together other such groups, or “realms” as they call them, to fight. Medieval style or fantasy themed clothing (also known as “garb”) is a must as it enhances the fiction aspect of the game. Their realm’s name, Anduril, is derived from the name of a the sword in “Lord of the Rings” that was originally used to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron in the battle for Middle Earth. “Jaba” a member of Sword Club describes their game as, “For people who grew up with World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons, this is the real life version of it.”

Being a long time Lord of the Rings fanatic and fiction-fantasy lover, I jumped at the chance to discover who they were and what they were all about. The members of Sword Club were eager to to let me inside of their world, and thus my journey into the world of Anduril, the medieval combat society, began.

Although the game of sword fighting with foam weapons or “foam boffering” as they call it is rooted in fantasy, there are a very real set of rules that everyone who plays must follow to ensure the safety of all who play. The rules are set forth by a worldwide organization called “Belegarth.” Adrian, co-founder of Sword Club, likens Belegarth to the Catholic Church in Rome where the rules and regulations are set forth and all other sub-divisions below it must abide by these general, accepted set of rules. These set of rules can be found in either, “The Book of War” which all foam boffering organizations should have or in their constitution which can be found online at the Belegarth website.

The rules include everything about the game from what weapons can be used on the field during battle to the definitions of all of the leadership positions in the group. Isen, long time member of sword club and Doc, President of Sword Club were only too happy to recite the rules to me off the top of their heads. First, they described the foam boffering attire. In addition to medieval or fantasy garb, players can choose to wear armor. “Armor” is made out of leather and includes arm guards, shin guards, breast plates and helmets and allows a person one extra hit by a weapon to wherever the hit struck. What happens when someone is hit with a weapon depends on where the hit struck and also what type of weapon was used. A hit to the body (stomach, chest, back and crotch) always results in instant death. Beyond that it gets a little more complicated as far as what type of weapons are used, so Isen described the weapons to me. There are four classifications for weapons: blue, red, green and yellow.

Blue weapons are the most commonly used set of weapons. They are the standard sword or dagger that almost everyone uses at one point or another in the game. They are classified as 36 inches and under. A hit to a limb (arm or leg) with a blue weapon results in the “loss” of that arm or leg meaning that you cannot use it. For example, if you lose your leg, you must kneel on the ground while fighting and if you lose an arm you must put the arm behind your back. If you lose both limbs (either both arms or both legs) you are dead. In addition, two hits to one limb also results in death.

Red weapons are the largest types of weapons. These include axes and javelins, which look like elongated spears. They are classified as four feet and over. Armor never counts with red weapons, meaning it does not allow you that extra hit before you lose a particular body part. Two strikes to a shield with a red weapon results in the shield “breaking” and renders that shield useless. Green weapons are stabbing weapons. There is no length requirement for stabbing weapons, rather they are classified by it’s appearance. They are essentially spears, so the base is very long and the end is covered with a squishy tip.

If you use a green weapon with two hands armor does not count, but if used with one hand, the same armor rules apply. Yellow weapons are projectile weapons meaning they are either thrown or shot. Again, there is no length requirement for this type of weapon, it is judged on appearance. There are three types of yellow weapons: javelins, arrows and rocks. Javelins can also be used as red weapons and can only be thrown from a minimum of one and a half a distance of their length. Armor does not count if you are hit with a thrown javelin and a hit to a head results in instant death.

In addition, javelins are active as long as they are in the air (before it touches the ground.) For example, a javelin can hit hit and injure two people before it hits the ground. Arrows have similar rules as javelins in that armor does not count if you are struck with an arrow and a shot to the head also results in instant death. Unlike javelins, however, an arrow is active until it hits an object, therefore it cannot injure a person if it already hit and injured someone previously.

Arrows must be shot at from a minimum of nine feet for a half draw (the string on the bow is half-way pulled back) and a minimum of twelve to fifteen feet for a full draw (the string on the bow is fully pulled back). You cannot carry an arrow where it might injure you, such as in your mouth or in your pocket. Rocks only work in one way; they must be throw at your head and they result in instant death if it reaches its mark. Each weapon is marked with the color tape that classifies it so that it is clear which rules apply.

Weapons are not the only tools that one can use to fight. There is also “grappling” which is sort of like wrestling. There are no weapons involved and it is only used as a tactic to get an opponent into an advantageous position for hitting them with a weapon. Grappling can only be take place either between two people with equal (same amount) of armor or if a person with “lower” armor initiates it. Joint locks, choke holds, kicking and punching are not allowed and you must be in control of your opponent’s fall if you were to push them. As Isen explained, it is really only ever used during a struggle for a weapon or in a “you-hold-while-I-hit” double team kind of situation.

Next Isen explained the various field commands. Either the herald, which is like the referee, or the leader of the host team gives out the commands. “Fighters to the field” simply means, grab your weapons and head to the field. “Lay on” means start fighting and “Hold” means take a knee. “Hold” is the most important rule to abide by and the fighters do not take the command lightly.

Isen demonstrated the rule to me during a battle one day. “HOLD!!” he yelled. Conversations stopped mid-sentence, weapons were dropped and everyone around me literally stopped whatever they were doing and dropped to one knee. Needless to say, the players take the safety of the game very seriously.

It was one thing to hear the rules and the descriptions of the weapons from Isen and Doc, but it was entirely another thing to see the weapons built and a battle take place. The weapon building session on Wednesday showed me the mechanisms of each of the weapons. All the weapons are essentially made from the same material. The handles are made from PVC pipes and the weapons themselves are made from strips of camping mats tapped together with carpet tape and then wrapped around the PVC pipe. Covers are made from cloth are then placed on top of the weapons for aesthetic purposes.

“There is no store for what we do so we have to hand-make everything from our weapons to our armor” explained Rooster, a member of Sword club. Rooster loves sketching and designing and even took my notebook and pen to sketch the design of his armor. “This is what I did all during class in high school while the teacher was up there saying whatever” he explained to me. Rooster began fighting with Sword Club about a year ago. “It was pretty much a way for me to get away from the stress of my life. I was going through a kind of hard time last year and Sword just took my mind off of things for a little bit.” After attending a few meetings, he was hooked and invested in some armor of his own. Since he enjoyed sketching and designing, he personally designed all of his armor and then give gave the design to Ana to sew. The cost? around $300 which is average for armor since everything is custom-made. “There are stores who have tried to sell merchandise for what we do, but they’ve all failed” explained Doc “You would need a blacksmith equivalent for what we do because everyone wants their things custom made.”. Finally at around 10:00 PM the weapons were made and the repairs fixed. We all had two days to rest for the battle.

Above: A "blue" class weapon

Above: Sal (left) and Jaba (right) making shields

Above: Ana helping Chasen make his first sword.

If you were at Jack in the Box on Saturday, March 6th at around 7:15 AM you might have thought that you are either sleep deprived and still dreaming or that you had accidently wandered in to the wrong era. Members of the Sword Club arrived at Jack in the Box in full garb in pairs of two or three. Ana arrived with her finance Brain and was dressed in a flowing white black and yellow checkered pants and long sleeved shirt. Her hair was bunched in to two braids and she had heavy red and black eye makeup on her eyes. Sal also known as “Darth Motherfucking Cheesehart” arrived in a large black tunic with a silver crest on his chest and a large leather belt engraved with various symbols. He had armor on his legs and arms. The rest of the club slowly trickled in until there was a medieval themed table outside of Jack in the Box. We left Jack in the Box and arrived in San Diego at 9:00AM.

The fighters came from all over Southern California and convened at Morely park. A large grassy hill was accompanied by two tables piled with foam boffering weapons and a girl in a flowing shirt and a belly dancing skirt sat painting a wooden sign that read, “TBA” (The Battle of Andor) and underneath it was the Crest of the San Diego realm, Andor. My realm, Anduril came and greeted everyone with hugs and slaps on the back. “Isen! I haven’t seen you in forever! Is Ana coming?” asked one Andorian.

The group grew until there were fifty people dressed in their leather armor and ready for battle. At 10AM the fighters came to the field and submitted their weapons for a “weapon check” to make sure that were not any “unsafe weapons” which are defined as having any gaps or hooks or any breaks in the core. The hosting realm or club, in this case Andor administers a hit check to test the safety. The weapon was hit against their legs with a light blow, a medium blow and a hard blow. The Andorians made two piles, one for the safe weapons and one for the unsafe weapons that were marked and taken away from the field. At 10:30 all members who planned to take place in the battle lined up to sign a waiver.

Finally, at 11:00 were the words we were all waiting for. “FIGHTERS TO THE FIELD!” The fighters took up their weapons and walked on to the field. The battles are arranged so that the leader of the host team calls out what type of battle will take place before the battle commences. The last man or team depending on the type of battle, wins. “FREE FOR ALL- FIGHTERS READY!” yelled the leader of Andor. Since it was a “free for for all” it meant every man for himself and the last man standing was the victor. The fighters circled up and raised their weapons to show that they were ready. “LAY ON!” and the fighting began.

What followed can be described as close to utter chaos. All sides of the circle seemed to close in on itself and meet in the middle as the fighters chose a person to engage with. Swords were being swung on to shoulders and limbs and fighters dropped to their knees or put their arms behind their backs as they were being stuck. The core of foam boffering lies in the honor system. The less experienced fighters such as Chasen, fell quickly while the more experienced fighters such as Doc and Ana killed one person after moving on to another without pausing. The archers circled the perimeter of the battle field and fired their arrows on the backs of fighters already engaged in battle with another person. Almost as suddenly as the fighting began, it ended.

Each battle only lasts for 2 to 3 minutes. “REGROUP” yelled the leader and the fighters circled up again. And so the battles went. The leader of Andor would call out the name of the battle, the rules were mutually understood among all fighters and explained by the more experienced fighters if the new ones did not know them and the battle would began. There were team battles where the fighters chose their teams and fought against another team. Realm battles where Andor and Anduril fought against one another and special battles such as “8 Ball” where one person is the “8 ball” and like in pool, you have to kill the 8 ball last or else you’re team will lose.

The outcome as far as who won and who lost did not seem to matter to the fighters. “It’s really not about who wins or looses, it’s about having fun” said Rift when I asked him about the score. After a couple of hours of being at the park, a small crowd of onlookers congregated around the foam bofferers. All of them wanted to know who they were and what they were doing and a few even joined in, much to the delight of the fighters. Water breaks interspersed the battles and those who did not get water challenged other individuals to duels. Finally, the fighters were exhausted from a day from fighting and a feast which consisted of hotdogs and chips took place.

At 5:00 PM we drove back to Irvine, exhausted from a long day of foam boffering with only a few bruises to tell the tale. Doc and Isen recap the events in the backseat of the car and highlight their heroic battle tales of the day. I thank him for letting me into their group and into their lives for these past couple of weeks. Doc replies “If you want to fight we already get along and you’re already family” On top of the medieval swords and attire, I got the feeling that the camaraderie was part of the appeal of the for many of the members. But aside from the social aspect? It’s a middle ground for the kind of people who, like me, felt seriously conflicted in choosing between painting your face to watch your high school football team and putting on your elf costume to wait in line for the midnight premiere of “Lord of the Rings.”

As Adrian puts it, “You’re not going to find any other organization that allows you to participate in something so childlike. It brings you back to your childhood where you can just pick up a stick and wave it at your friend... It is very much a mixture of having that sports fanaticism but at the same time mixing that with a sense of fantasy and medieval charm.” My journey into the realm of Anduril began at the beginning and ended...in the middle, which is the perfect place to be for Sword at UCI.

Above: The Anduril Crew

Above: Waiting for battle to commence
Above: Stabbed in the back During battle
Above: Weapons waiting to be checked for battle.

Reporting Log

-2 Hour interview with Adrian, Co-Founder of Sword Club

-Approximately 30 Minute interviews with 4 members of Sword Club (Doc (President), Isen (member), Sal (Vice President), Rooster (member)

-Observation at weekly meetings for the month of February

-4 hour observation at Build Session.

-6 hour Observation at The Battle of Andor in San Diego

-Participation in The Battle of Andor

-A draft of The Anduril Constitution

-A draft of the Belegarth Rules (to fill in the gaps from Isen and Doc)

-Pictures from the build session/ Battle of Andor.

UCI Campus Representative Enthusiasm Proves Necessary for Success

By Danielle Mohler

Twenty minutes before noon on Wednesday, January 20th, Jessica Rice crosses the sidewalk as she walks from the ASUCI shuttle stop next to Lee’s Sandwiches in The University Center to the bridge connecting the University of California at Irvine’s main campus with the real world. Although the rain storm creates havoc amongst Irvine’s 27,631 inhabitants on campus, the Campus Representatives, a group of forty undergraduate UCI students who lead campus tours and participate in campus fairs, claim a “Rainy day policy: we give tours, RAIN OR SHINE!” About fifteen minutes before noon, Jessica walks to the Visitor Center located at the edge of the Student Center, which offers daily necessities and errands for students. Here in the Visitor Center, CReps gather every Wednesday for mandatory check-ins as well as to meet up with prospective high school juniors and seniors with their parents. Giving a quick update to her fellow CReps on recent happenings, she enters into the main office which organizes schedules, book bags, and friendly conversations. Dress code for tours includes either a CRep polo shirt or a CRep sweatshirt and a name tag. Today, Jessica will be hosting a Noon Tour, given primarily to interested applicants, consisting of only four members; however, the rain storm might just be enough to hinder the spunk necessary for Campus Representatives.

“Hi! My name is Jessica or Jess and I will be your tour guide today! I am a second year here at UCI. I was a music major, but am changing my major actually to Art History with a minor in Criminology. What majors are you guys interested in?”

This tour is considered a Noon Tour: two prospective students both arrived with an authority (one mom, the other grandma). The group meets in the Visitor Center, fills out information cards, and watches a short video. After picking up an umbrella big enough to fit almost everyone, Jess leads the way outside the Student Center beginning the tour. Each one strictly follows a format which the Representatives learn during a quarter long training session. For Noon Tours, it begins outside the Student Center. Starbucks appears on the left side of Ring Road, a mile in circumference pathway encircling UCI’s undergraduate classrooms, as the tour progresses toward Aldrich Hall, Langson Library, and Gateway Commons.

“Starbucks is definitely my favorite place. Apparently our Starbucks is the number one grossing university Starbucks in the nation and a really popular place to hang out on campus if you can find a table. We like our coffee! UCI is about eighty percent wireless so you can bring your laptop here and study with friends, and it’s open twenty-four hours during finals week along with study centers.”

Middle Earth, named after J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1976, soon appears to the right. Jessica always stops here on Noon Tours because about 1,690 undergraduates live in one of these twenty-four low-rise buildings. As Jess explains the three meal-plan options, the bipolar weather of Southern California starts to battle against the umbrellas. By the time the tour arrives in Aldrich Park, home to 11,120 trees, they become counterproductive and bring chaos to the activities.

“Are you sure you guys want to continue? We can turn back at any time if you would like!”

But just as the CReps maintain an attitude of perseverance, the tour continues its path toward Rowland Hall where Physical Science classes are held, across to the School of Humanities which offers the highest number of majors at twenty-five and thirty minors, past the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and headed back to the Student Center. Although the professionalism lagged because of the concentration of energy against the storm, Jess still remained calm and boasted about her school to prospective students during the hour long tour. First impressions make lasting impressions.

“We are now at the end of our tour! I’d just quickly like to remind you guys about the housing tours at 1:30 and 2:30 that leave from the Visitors Center, and I also have evaluation cards for you to fill out back at the Visitors Center, so if you liked my tour my name is Jessica, and if you didn’t my name is Grace. I’ll stay behind and answer any questions you may have. Otherwise we’ll head back to the Visitors Center and thank you for taking a tour here at UCI!”

Campus tour guides personify a specific college campus by learning ridiculous amounts of trivial facts (Oceans Eleven shot in the College of Medicine and some CReps attempted to find Matt Damon’s trailer but were kicked out) and information about the school in order to recite countless details to parents and prospective students to convince them how awesome UCI is. While some may say this line of work becomes biased, the truth is spend any amount of time with these students and it is evident they genuinely love their school. The process to gain the official title of UCI Campus Representative takes a multitude of dedication and time. For example, as the quarter long training session ends, which is taken for course credit, the students take a final exam which MUST be passed with ninety-five percent accuracy.

Justine Oh, a second-year film and media major, cannot emphasize enough how much of an accomplishment this task became. “Not just making amazing friends and making really long-lasting connections with them, but also it was really interesting to know more about the school itself. Just that feeling of presenting your school in the best way possible to these really interested groups of people and getting them to come here and have the same good experience that you have here at Irvine is just really rewarding. I try not to think of it as a job. I like to call it a part-time extracurricular thing.”

Nevertheless, the job consists of being involved with campus tours, college fairs, campus outreach programs such as Celebrate UCI (UCI’s oldest tradition since 1971), and student panels. Each student receives $8.57/hour. Along with campus events, they must lead at least seven Noon or Special Tours, a much bigger group usually of elementary or high school students, each quarter. The application process began toward the end of January.

First step: Fill out the paper application; return it to the Visitor Center; and sign up for an hour long group interview which consists of five applicants and one “veteran” CRep interviewer. Each applicant aims to act confident, friendly, and energetic. The interviewer fills out a form rating each one on his/her confidence, school spirit, strengths, and weaknesses.

Second step: About one week later, each continuing applicant receives an E-mail. This letter permits the approval to remain in the application process and attend one of two receptions: February 12th or February 19th from 6-8 pm. The two hour long reception contains four main activities: an ice breaker/introduction game, an explanation of the reception, a group project, and a final skit. Afterwards, the “veteran” CReps stay for an additional two hours to evaluate the two applicants.

As the prospective “newbies” walk to the Mesa Court Community Center thoughts of anxiety and hope flood their minds. Without being given any information besides the date and place of the reception, the applicants enter blind sighted. To their surprise, the “newbies” receive enthusiastic responses from the “veteran” CReps, who have been at the center for an hour already learning important information about an upcoming Honor’s Day event. Being invited to attend a reception this year marks a great achievement because not everyone was invited as in past years. For the 2010 group of representatives, about 220 applied and attended a group interview. From there, 100 were cut leaving 120 left over. Split that number between the two receptions and sixty undergraduate students were present at each with hopes of being accepted. From that group of 120, only 20 students will be selected to continue into the training session starting this Spring Quarter.

In these training sessions, every Thursday from 4-6pm, the new CReps learn everything from specific majors to how to deal with annoying little kids on tours. In the CRep training binder, Appendix B lists “Tips for Kids Tours, Whaddya do when your tour group is full of kids?” By twisting the information, the CReps are taught to deal with every situation possible (“Call ELF the ‘Titanic’ building”).

Justine shares, “But if they are just middle schoolers, I try to crack a lot of jokes if I can.” She remembers one particular group jumping around cheering at the top of their lungs. “I was like, oh wow, you guys are crazier than we are.” The key remains to keep an atmosphere of curiosity and exciting .

Finally, the twenty new representatives from all different majors and ethnicities leap into the world of campus tours and place themselves on the pedestal of campus pride. Although most “veteran” CReps, who become such a tight-knit group through the training sessions, admit to slightly varying the information they give to each tour depending upon the group and age, Suzanne, a current CRep, knows she still must stick to the script. The goal for the Campus Representative group on the UCI campus is to make the prospective students feel special and accepted.

March 5th, 2010. Today is the day. One hundred and twenty letters will be sent out., yet only twenty applicants await good news. No wonder the group jumps off the walls with such high enthusiasm. To make it to that point where you are able to walk backwards in front of 4-20 individuals spitting out numberless facts and trivia while hoping not to run into a pole or have a faculty member chime in criticism as a smile continues to emerge on your face truly takes the most colorful characters.

Reporting Notes
Lengthy interview with Justine Oh and two other Campus Representatives.
Observed a 1-hour Noon Tour with Jessica Rice.
Observed a 1-hour Special Tour with Jessica and Suzanne.
Searched Facebook as well as YouTube.
Obtained last years training session binder from current Campus Representative containing every fact and location learned.
Obtained a congratulatory letter sent to the “newbies.”
Obtained document “Campus Rep Fall 2009 Updates.”
Obtained past quizzes and exams taken from current Campus Representative.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Khmer Girls In Action (KGA) Advocates the Census 2010 for Cambodians in Long Beach

By Mory Men

The girls are in what they call the “coconut room,” a room, about the size of a two-car garage, with white walls filled with many posters drawn and written with colorful markers. On the top back wall, one poster reads “KGA believes that...” in purple, and there are two star bullet points below it that say, “Nobody knows Nothing” in green and “everyone is a Leader” in blue. This was the usual meeting room. Most of these young ladies are Khmer and Southeast Asian, ages 14-15 from Long Beach Poly High School, an urban school of approximately 5,000 students. They are part of KGA’s Young Women Empowerment Program (YWEP) and are considered as the general members, which is the first level of membership. Every Tuesday after school at 2:40 PM, the YWEP members are picked up from their campuses by the KGA staff members to the organization’s headquarters for training. There are about fifteen of them in the room: most are rich in caramel skin tones and the others have golden fair skin. Against the three adjacent walls, they are all sitting on what looks like sofa cushions placed on the blue carpet. Everyone in the room had no shoes on; it was a sign of respect for the Cambodian culture. In Cambodia, whether you are at your home or visiting someone else’s, you must take your shoes off. In this case, the KGA is considered as a second home to its members.

Lian Cheun, the organization’s Program Director, is facilitating this workshop on the Census. She is sitting on her knees, facing the members. As an icebreaker, she wanted the members to think of three things they liked about Long Beach and share their thoughts.

“Family, friends, and boys” says the girl with a royal blue off the shoulder dress, sitting with her legs brushed to the side. Another girl, dressed in a white V-neck, skinny jeans and dangling beaded bracelets on her left wrist, jumps in. “Forever 21, the beach, and...” she pauses and smiles, “boys!” Kannika Sam walked in as the girls laughed and sat beside me. “Hi Mory!” she says. I had met her a few weeks ago when I met up with Sophya Chum, KGA's Program Coordinator. She was the only girl with a burgundy polo and khaki uniform pants, indicating that she is from Wilson High School. Uniforms are not required for Poly Students, a school that is "Home of the Jackrabbits."

During the 2006-2007 academic school year, Poly High School demographics were 24.9% Latino, 11.6% White, 27.7% Black, 10.3% Asian, and 0.2% Native American. The school is located in Eastside Long Beach, which is a low-income area plagued with gang violence and is associated with numerous Long Beach rap artists such as Snoop Dogg, Warren G, and Nate Dogg. In fact, Snoop Dog was a former Jackrabbit. There are also students from Bixby Knolls, an area of Long Beach with the median income of over $54,000--30% higher than the rest of the city. Most of them are part of the school's PACE and CIC magnet programs, which contributed to the school's overall Advanced Placement pass rate of 70% out of the 1,593 hopeful Jackrabbits in 2008.

Lian talks about their next activity as she passes down blank paper. They had to choose a day where they had been to a public institution and draw or write about what they saw. “Hm, I think I might write about the time I volunteered at the hospital” Kannika ponders.

After they were done, Lian asks if anyone wanted to share what they drew and wrote about. “Remember girls, one mic please,” she says. This meant that the girls should respect what the others say by paying attention. It was part “Community Agreements” poster behind me, which is a list of rules the members established together during their first meeting. The list included “open minds,” “talk with everyone (no cliques),” “use the ‘WHOA,’” (which meant that the girls should speak up if they are confused about the subject being talked about) and “have fun.”

A girl with a purple shirt and skinny jeans decided to talk about her school. She says, “Once, I saw girls with big bellies at Poly High. It’s not like it’s their fault, I feel bad.” As Lian takes a sip out of her yellow polka-dot glass of water, she asks, “Are there high pregnancy rates at Poly?” “Yeah” she and the girl in the white V-neck reply in unison.


In 1997, KGA was formally known as Health Opportunity Problem Solving Empowerment (HOPE) for Girls, a Cambodian non-profit organization located in Long Beach, California focusing on reproductive health. They were a branch of Asian Pacific islanders for Reproductive Health (APIRH), which originated in the bay area. While they were part of APIRH, they developed a sexual harassment campaign because of an incident that occurred with a HOPE member from Poly High School. As the student was looking through photos of her and her group of friends, a teacher stood beside her desk, glanced over the photos and said, “Why are you looking at those pictures? Those are some bitches and hoes!” Insulted and dismayed, the student informed the HOPE about the incident. Since a sexual harassment policy did not exist at Poly High school at the time, the organization surveyed students and asked if they have been harassed by staff or other students in the school. From the collected data, they found that there was a significant amount of student-student and faculty-student harassment. HOPE then developed a campaign that forced the school to work with them and the sexual assault crisis agency. As a result, Poly High School plays a sexual harassment video for its students and faculty members every year. Five years after the incident, KGA branched off of HOPE to tackle issues second-generation Khmer women face in Long Beach. Sophya Chum mentions that they decided to be an organization that not only focuses on reproductive health, but also reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and immigrant and refugee rights. “There was definitely a need in the Cambodian community, being that the Cambodian community in Long Beach is the largest population outside of Cambodia. Cambodians were rarely new to the community in the late 1980s," she said.

The reason for the abundance of Khmer immigrants to the U.S. is the Khmer Rouge--also called "Red Khmer" in French--which began in 1975. The Khmer Rouge leadership consisted of a Paris student group, with Pol Pot as the leading man. After they took power and renamed the country as Democratic Kampuchea, their mission was to create an agrarian-based Communist Society. Khmer refugee Sokha Nim, 57, said, "They first killed our doctors and teachers. They killed anyone with education." Pol Pot also wanted to turn Cambodians into "old people," which meant that they suffered from work exhaustion, starvation, illness, and execution. 1.7 million Cambodians were killed during the genocide, which was 21% of the country's population at the time.

The majority of Khmer families that fled from the genocide went to the Cambodian Association Association of America (CAA) for help. CAA was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1975 to help assist Khmer refugees and establish a Cambodian Community in Long Beach.

By the looks of the Census 2000, U.S. Cambodians do not fit the notion of the "model minority." 22.4% are with Public Assistance Income, 26.6% are below the poverty level, and 46.6% are in owner-occupied housing. 46.7% are high school graduates or higher, and 9.2% have bachelor's degrees.

“There was definitely different needs and issues that young Khmer women were facing, being second generation,” said Sophya.

These issues included gender bias in the Khmer culture, and the pressure to marry men from Cambodia that dream of living in America in exchange for thousands of dollars. "I hate it because my parents let my brother go out a lot since he's a boy. They expect girls to stay home, cook, and clean," says Suzana Sok, 15. "My parents let me come to KGA because I'm doing something that's part of my culture. I'm embracing it." Being young women that live in lower class neighborhoods, they also face gang violence and limited resources, such as the lack of city services provided in the Khmer language. In addition, they face the stereotypes of being "ghetto," "dirty," and "fobs," which is originally an acronym for "Fresh Off Boat," a slang indicating that they do not speak English correctly.

The census can help them with their current economic conditions and better their education. With better resources, gang violence can subside, which means that Cambodian parents can be sure that their daughters are safe in the neighborhoods. More of them will be able to go to college, and the pressure to marry with men from Cambodia can decrease.

KGA is a non-profit organization funded by grants. The organization mostly consists of young Khmer women. Young Southeast Asian women such as Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Filipino are welcomed as well.

Monica Sar, dressed in a grey tri-blend shirt says “I drew Poly High School too. Fights can break out.” Lian asks “Are our schools made to be a safe environment?” “No, but it’s supposed to be,” Monica replies. “Sometimes schools don’t function well or aren’t efficient. There is an imbalance of resources and people need them. The census doesn’t solve problems, but it helps so that our schools can be better, and hospitals can be better too” says Lian. She informs the members that the Census helps fund these public institutions so they can provide better services.

According to the 2000 Census, 17,000 Cambodians have been recorded in Long Beach, but it is believed that there are currently 60,000 of them residing there--about three times more than what is being counted. This is because of the language barrier and the fact that many Cambodians are undocumented. In March 2001, the United States and Cambodian governments signed a secret treaty regulating deportation between the two countries. The Khmer community is unaware that by law, the Census cannot disclose their personal information. KGA’s goal is to door-knock on 9,000 homes and have 2,500 people fill out Census forms with its members and volunteers by April 25, 2010. They will inform the Khmer people about the Census and how it is important to be counted. That way, there will be more funding for the community and the right resources will be provided. KGA will help the community translate and fill out the forms.

Lian asks the members if she can have five volunteers read a colored piece of paper outloud. Kannika unfolds an orange piece of paper and reads, “Young people are one of the most misrepresented populations in society.” The girl with the royal blue, off the shoulder dress unfolds a yellow paper and reads, “If we don’t speak up or participate, someone else will speak for us.” A girl with a white t-shirt and grey skinny jeans unfolds a blue paper that reads “As young people, we interact daily with public institutions.” Another girl with a white shirt unfolds a green paper and reads, “We live our experience, we understand our communities.” Lastly, a girl with a white collared shirt and a gold necklace reads a pink paper that says “We have the power & capability to influence the 2010 Census.” Lian encouraged the members to think about what is being said and gave the girls a ten minute break. Some went to the computer room to check their MySpaces and blogs, the others head to the living room to grab a snack and socialize, and a few dashed to the bathroom.

Suzana said that she did not know about the Census before joining KGA. She was unaware that they provided funding and resources for the people if they were being counted. The girls were excited to get the word out there.

When the workshop resumed, a few of the girls volunteered to perform a skit that was set in a hospital. A member pretended to be a receptionist, building a desk out of the sofa cushions. One member played as a mother on a wheelchair as she sat on a burgundy rolling computer chair. Another member was beside her, playing as her daughter. The rest of the members were supposed to act as patients in a crowded waiting room. Ashley Uyeda, a Program Coordinator, was standing at the doorway, asking if any of the members wanted cloth. “I DO!” they all yelled, using the cloth as bandages.

Susana Sok and a fellow YWEP member used cloth as bandages
wrapped around their legs,
ready to act as patients for their hospital skit.

As the skit started, the mother, who only spoke Khmer, and her daughter came up to the desk to ask for help, speaking in broken English. The receptionist told her that they do not have Khmer translators. They left, shaking their heads in disbelief. “So what do you guys see here?” Lian asked. “There was no translator for the mom” said the girl in the off the shoulder dress. “The hospital was crowded. There was not enough workers,” another girl said. “Have you guys experienced this before?” Lian asked. Kannika raises her hand to talk about a time when she went to the hospital with her grandmother as her translator. It was difficult for her to translate some of her grandmother’s symptoms in English and the doctor's medical language in Khmer. As a result, she received the wrong medicine. “We don’t have enough resources,” said the girl with the beaded bracelets.

Lian asked if they would be interested in brainstorming what social networking websites they would use to get the word about the Census out there. The girls wrote down all of the websites they could think of in a poster.

KGA will use social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to educate at least 500 people about the Census. The Cultural Historical Arts (CHA) program, which as also part of KGA, is also launching an educational PSA called “Don’t Get Fooled... Taking the Census Makes Complete Cents.” CHA meets every Thursday in the coconut and computer rooms.

When they were done, the girls stood up and came together in a circle. They clapped slowly and slightly lifted their left feet to the front and shook them. "Left leg because it's where our hearts are, right?" asked a girl. Their claps gradually increased in speed and volume. At the climax, they all cheered together.

Sophya placed six yellow post-it notes at the door, each with the name of a staff member at the top and the names of the general members below them. Those were the ride arrangements. It was 5:30 PM, and it was time to go home.

Reporting Notes
  • Lengthy interview with Sophya Chum and interviews with 3 other members.
  • Asked elderly Khmer people from a Cambodian market questions.
  • 2-hour observations of general meetings on 2 different occasions in February and March
  • 2-hour observation of a Cultural Historical Arts (CHA) meeting in March
  • KGA brochure, KGA Spring newsletter (which obtained info on the grants and fellowships they received), KGA online newsletter about the Census 2010, referred to their website
  • Obtained colored papers members read in the meeting
  • Long Beach City Gov article on the 1st Annual Cambodian Mixer, and another article on it from the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
  • Long Beach Press-Telegram article on Long Beach deportees
  • MuniNetGuide.com for Poly High School demographics
  • Cde.ca.gov for Poly High School AP exam results
  • Cambodian Association of America website

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Helping Those in Need

About thirty years ago, in 1977, Don Schoendorfer and his wife Laurie stopped at Tétouan, Morocco. In the midst of their vacationing, a woman appeared in their hindsight using her fingernails as traction for getting across the dirt road. She dragged her lame body like that of a snake, swerving her body in every which way just to move forward. As she dragged herself across the dirt road with a missing arm and clothes torn and bloody, a crowd of beggars snarled and laughed at her while she tried to get off the street. It’s as if she was at the bottom of the totem pole in society, even below the beggars. Many of these beggars had donkeys that were pulling their carts, so one can imagine the street traffic as this elderly woman tried to get her destination. Of all of the citizens in Morocco, it’s estimated that 500,000 of them are beggars. Don looked at this woman in dissatisfaction and wondered how he could help any disabled person that has to go through this event daily.

The Free Wheelchair Mission, located in Irvine California, is known for their one-of-a-kind wheelchair design which includes a variety of inexpensive parts, including a white plastic lawn chair, 24 inch mountain bike tires and 8-inch castors. Don Schoendorfer, the founder of FWM, launched this organization in 2001 after coming back from a vacation to Morocco with his wife. Don walked away from his career in biomedicine after receiving a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at MIT to begin designing the least inexpensive wheelchair on the market that would satisfy the need of over 100 disabled million people in the world. Don’s goal for FWM is to donate two million wheelchairs. FWM has already sent 447,005 wheelchairs to seventy six countries, including Africa, Mexico, Zambia, Haiti, and Costa Rica. Several partners work with FWM in distributing the wheelchairs, like World Vision International, the American Nicaragua Foundation and the Do It Center group.


In mid-October 2009, John Scheman got a call that his shipment was in and delivered to his company. He had received a 40 foot container of 550 wheelchairs from a factory in Shanghai. John is the president of Do It Center, an organization based in Costa Rica that improves the conditions for local schools by adding roof sheets, light switches, plywood on the desks, and other upgrades to their buildings. When he visited local communities at first, they insisted on the need for wheelchairs. John searched for international organizations that specified in wheelchair production. His organization partnered with the Free Wheelchair Mission, which distributes free wheelchairs to disabled people in over seventy six countries.

When Don finished designing the wheelchair in his garage, he had to figure out where he would first distribute it to. He conversed with a group from the church that he attended. Coincidentally, they were going to India on a mission to give medical supplied to the indigenous people that lived there. He saw this opportunity as a chance to put his wheelchair to the test. The first couple of wheelchairs he produced the group gave to an eleven year, and one to a seventeen year old woman who had lived most of her life on a rug in a mud hut constructed with straw grass over its roof.


John will be distributing these wheelchairs to the physically disabled peoples near Los Chiles, an area known for its agriculture and sport fishing centers. One person in particular is named Juan Manuel, a five year old Costa Rican boy with a shaved head, who lives with his family in a remote area five hours away from Los Chiles, Costa Rica. His family (mom, dad, and a sister) does not have the money to buy him a wheelchair. Most conventional wheelchairs are only sent to one percent of the disabled peoples in third world countries. He dreams for the day to ride a bicycle. Do It Center foundation has sent thousands of wheelchairs in towns like Puntarenas, Miramar and Esparza.

When John first received the shipment of wheelchair kits from FWM in the container, he assembled a team to help put together the wheelchair parts into separate wheelchairs. Many of these people from his team are local citizens in Los Chiles, including Red Cross volunteers and volunteers from a local church. But in order to deliver these wheelchairs, John needs to ask local natives of Los Chiles for a head-count of the physically disabled in need for a wheelchair.

“We ask the local priest at the church and say ‘okay how many people are here and how many of them need wheelchairs’, and receive an average of how many people are in the local area. But we only expect about 10% of the community to show up”, John says. During the day of distribution, a semi truck brings the container of wheelchair kits to the area. John then teaches his team how to assemble the wheelchair. With the help of a wheelchair-kit manual embedded inside the container, it takes only two hours for the team to understand the logistics of assembling this wheelchair. One container consists of approximately 550 wheelchairs. This is why they start in the morning, and the act of distributing the wheelchairs usually occurs around lunch time.

As the disabled peoples receive their wheelchairs, one can describe it as a graduation ceremony. In many aspects, when the disabled receive the wheelchairs, they stand in awe and ask themselves whether or not they can keep them. After the ceremony is done and the group goes back to their headquarters, some of those who receive the wheelchair don’t realize that it’s theirs to keep now. In some cases, groups have experienced times where the citizens run towards them as their leaving, and try to tell them that they have left their wheelchairs there.


Most wheelchairs today cost from $500 to $1000, and even used wheelchairs can be $100 to buy. In comparison, one can donate a wheelchair from FWM for $59.20. Although the price has risen since its $42.00 original price back in 2001, the wheelchair has been upgraded. The first prototype that Don produced was a standard chair from Home Depot, but FWM now purchases custom chairs produced with an ultraviolet inhibitor in Polyvinyl chloride plastic to increase the chair's lifespan. A footrest, brakes, side panels and a seat cushion are added to complete the rest of the chair. Now, Schoendorfer is currently constructing a lap table to fit across the arms of the chair for working and reading.

However, it’s always a question to whether such a cheap product can be safe for the customers who buy them. A study was done in 2008 by Susan Shore from the Medical Science Monitor to evaluate this wheelchair in areas in India. It concluded that it does have positive benefits for disabled people in any country: “There was an unexpected decrease in the overall number of ulcers with the use of the wheelchair, most likely associated with increased mobility. Reported pain levels were less than others reported, and not believed by participants to be related to use of the wheelchair. The impact on overall health and quality of life was generally viewed as positive.”


John and his team of volunteers arrive near Los Chiles early in that morning, just after sunrise hits. The town itself isn’t that large; it’s mainly surrounded by a church, a marketplace, and a park. The district of Los Chiles has a population size is 11,064 people, which most of whom are of Nicaraguan descent. His team assembles the wheelchairs, while John sets out a table with applications. The wheelchairs are placed in rows under the tents that have been erected by the volunteers. It has the look of a circus, especially with the locals coming to the event in hope for enjoyment.

The handicapped locals who wish to receive a wheelchair must fill out this application, which requires their name, age and the contact of their doctor. “But for the most part, it’s clear to see when the citizens who fill out these applications need a wheelchair” Jon says. As the locals arrive, it is also clear to see how physically disabled arrived here. They either drag their feet across the dirt road, or their family members pick them up and carry them towards the table. Most of the citizens in third world countries lose their leg(s) due to the contraction of a disease or landmines scattered across the road.

Before Don had launched Free Wheelchair Mission, he had several ups and downs before creating his final product. His garage, which he had turned into a laboratory, contained tools of all sorts to turn his concept into prototype models. During the few months of failures and clumping papers into trash bags, he came up with this frame design for the wheelchair. He had originally wanted to sell it for $25. He contacted companies in California, including Mark IV Metal Products, to produce the parts that he needed. By the time that he received all of the products and finished his final design, he produced these wheelchairs in his garage. His home then turned into a parking lot for wheelchairs, and several of his neighborhood friends were interested in this campaign.


However, the logistics of the delivery process is complex. FWM only donates wheelchairs outside of the United States, and for certain reasons. In the United States, Medicare, Medicade and private insurance companies supply wheelchairs to those who need them. Furthermore, the wheelchair is designed to be used in natural conditions, like on dirt roads or grass. Each company is also liable for its actions and therefore must send provide us with the history of their organization, like when they were founded and their 501 c3. An important rule for partnership is that a company should have a history with other organizations in the United States that distribute items to poor people in other countries.

After the companies submit their application and are accepted for partnership, they receive the wheelchairs from one of the two factories in Shanghai. The wheelchair itself consists of fifteen parts. If John ends up with extra wheelchairs, then he advises the local priest to hold onto them and distribute them to the disabled locals who deem worthy of using them. “We do give them to the local priests, or to whoever we have a stable relationship with and trust them because we have been in contact with them for a while”, John says.

The Do It Center foundation has donated over 8,000 wheelchairs to areas in Costa Rica. When they are not delivering the wheelchairs, John and his employee’s drive in their cars to areas that they have not been to yet. The first couple of drives when they first delivered wheelchairs back in 2005 weren’t far away. But now, it takes a couple of hours to pass all of the towns that they have already donated too. But when they do reach a town that they have not yet cultivated, they talk to the local priest about their mission, who sends their message to the local citizens in that area. When Jon first filled out the application to become partners with FWM, Don Schoendorfer told him his organization was the first to apply for partnership. But without the help of the employee’s that work at FWM, Jon’s vision may not have been achieved.


Eighteen employees work at the FWM headquarters in Irvine. One of the employees, named Alyson Roth, can relate to the physically disabled. Like Juan, Alyson is physically disabled from the waist down, and uses a wheelchair to get around. She was crowned “Ms. Wheelchair California” on April 4th, 2009 at the California state pageant and experienced a near-fatal car accident back in 2001. She filled out a job application on Monster.com for the free wheelchair mission, and is the development manager now, acting as a liaison between FWM and the partners. “I was involved in a car accident ten years ago that left me paralyzed. And I, at that time, I was a senior in college. And I had to use a wheelchair, obviously, because I was paralyzed from the waist down. That’s when I thought my life was over, Alyson says.”

She has traveled to Rosarito, Mexico to hand out wheelchairs to the citizens who had no mobility. She worked with Javier Tovalin, the secretary general of the city, and some volunteers from a local drug rehab helped us distribute them. One of the recipients for the wheelchair was one hundred and four years old. He was bit by a snake about a year before and lost his leg to this accident. He had to stay home for most of the days and rarely got the chance to go out.

These experiences that Alyson has witnessed built up her attitude towards life: “You know, at the age of 21, thinking that you’re going to start the rest of your world and then it’s taken away from you. So I finished my degree in teaching in Atlanta, but I knew that there was something more that I needed to do. And I actually went on the Free Wheelchair Mission website couple a months before I applied for employment there. I moved to California and went on Monster.com to apply to it. And I’ve been here for almost three years now”, Alyson says.

But in order for these partners to receive the wheelchairs, donations must come from individuals or from fundraisers. Two philanthropic events help donate wheelchairs to FWM. Ashley Herron, the events coordinator for FWM, manages the participation of FWM in these charity events. One of the events is the Surf City USA Marathon, and is their partner of charity by choice. 20,000 runners participated in this charity, and 414 of those were raising money. It occurred in Huntington Beach, California on February 7th, 2010. The event raised over $250,000 which provides over 4,000 wheelchairs to countries across the world. “We have a booth there which allows us to connect with people there and hang out with us. We had a celebratory dinner before the race, which was basically a pasta and carb load dinner”. And because FWM only donates wheelchairs to countries outside the United States, these philanthropic programs allow FWM to teach people in the U.S. the positive aspects of their mission.


Although the day of distributing the wheelchairs may be hectic, Jon says “during the ceremony where we distribute the wheelchairs, there are always two or three handicapped locals who really make the day special. There are some really sad cases of people who are disabled, and it gets really emotional during the day”. In other examples, partners have described the benefits from their donations. For example, a man named Juan from Nicaragua is now able to find a job and walk to church with his mom every Sunday. He couldn’t get surgery on his leg because it cost $300, which he did not have. Another example is of a man named Zhao, in China, who had to ride on his parents back for fifteen years because he couldn’t walk. He literally had to drag his way across his home and even outside too.

However, it can be quite hard for the companies to keep track of the disabled peoples who receive the wheelchairs and how well they have been doing. “We don’t have records of them, and it would be too expensive to anyways. There’s been numerous of people that I have remembered, but it would be good to see how they’re doing now”, John says. Although most partners can’t keep records of their donations, it’s obvious to know that those who were given the wheelchairs have only been positively affected.

This story from Costa Rica is just one of the hundreds of stories which partners from Free Wheelchair Mission have reported. Six weeks after Juan Manuel received the wheelchair, his family told FWM that Juan can now use the wheelchair to ride the 6 mile walk to church every Sunday. Don continues to work with his team to contact partners for wheelchair distribution. The Moroccan woman that Don had seen continues to push Don forward in his mission to focus his talents towards those who are less fortunate. FWM continues to hold a vision that God had brought these disabled people into life for a purpose. Their five values best exemplify all that they have done: “We conduct our mission with integrity and humility. We honor God in all we do. We value individuals and relationships. We encourage creativity and innovation. We manage with accountability, transparency and for cost-effectiveness.”

Notes on the story:
-Interview with Alyson Roth and Ashley Herron via phone
-30 minute Interview with John Scheman via Skype
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