Archive for December, 2011

Hunger in the Horn

By xpressmagazine

By Tamerra Griffin

A brief scroll down any notable news outlet’s web page will yield the latest from the turbulent political arena, which seems incomplete without an alleged sex scandal or controversial leaked footage; recaps of big-name universities’ athletic events, and the NCAA infractions thereof; multi-million dollar celebrity weddings (and subsequent divorces); not to mention the occasional, but always well-received, human interest piece that spotlights a local hero.

However, save for the now-quintessential photo of an enrobed East African woman delicately swaddling an emaciated, wide-eyed child gaping at the camera, one will be hard pressed to find detailed information regarding arguably the most severe human rights crises of the century.  In the midst of volatile international relations and a domestic morale that has certainly seen better days, it would seem that humanitarianism and philanthropic efforts would become more crucial and prevalent than ever before, used at the very least as a means of boosting a sense of global optimism.  And yet, as the famine in Somalia forges through the country and into neighboring nations in the Horn of Africa, it is ironically becoming the biggest deal that Americans aren’t talking about.  The question is: Why?

The United Nations released its official declaration of the famine in two regions of Somalia, southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, on July 20, 2011.  Since then, however, the famine has spread to six different regions, forcing Somalis to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.  Regardless of preexisting conditions in a country, a UN-certified famine must fulfill the following requirements: acute malnutrition rates among children exceeding 30 percent, more than two people per 10,000 dying each day, and each citizen’s average daily caloric intake falling below 2,100 (or just 40 calories more than an ultimate cheeseburger and 24 oz. vanilla ice cream shake from Jack in the Box).  But while the July report ignited a global public outcry that made it seem as if the crisis had just occurred, Somalia and the greater region of the Horn of Africa has been suffering for some time.

A people’s history

The famine in Somalia did not occur in a vacuum.  In fact, no food crisis does.  In the case of Somalia, a number of factors contribute to the impending food shortage that has affected nearly half of Somalia’s population of just over 9.3 million.

Given its location on the equator, which slices through the southern tip of Somalia, the nation’s climate is mostly dry, arid, and hot, with average high and low temperatures ranging from 104 degrees to 59 degrees, respectively, each year.  Furthermore, Somalia receives very little rainfall (a condition many environmentalists cite as yet another effect of global warming), which makes it susceptible to drought.

This is precisely what happened in the summer of 2011, and the inability to produce enough crops sent the prices of such essential foods as red sorghum (a grainy cereal that looks similar to couscous) skyrocketing.  Following the United Nations announcement in July, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a study illustrating the extent to which Somali farmers were forced to inflate the prices of their products.  In Bakool, for example, the going rate of red sorghum increased 186 percent between June 2010 and June 2011 (to put it in context, this would be as if the price of a 14 oz. box of Cheerios went from $4.69 to $13.41 at Safeway).  The drought also had a significant effect on the local livestock, of which ninety percent reportedly have died of starvation since the onset of the drought.  With the decline in availability of these two crucial sources of food, Somalis could do little else than hope for rain to replenish their crops.

Famine in Somalia

Malnourished Ethiopians are treated in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia. Cate Turton/Department for International Development.

Developmental dilemmas, civil unrest

Additionally, Somalia’s low status on the global power pyramid means that it suffers greatly from the slightest shift in economics.  Acknowledged by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as a least developed country–a title based on low income, weak human assets, and economic vulnerability–Somalia, according to SF State professor of Africana Studies Dr. Serie McDougal, is without the means to respond to such natural events as droughts, which is not the case in other areas.

“Somalia doesn’t have the infrastructure to deal with climate change, or even natural disasters,” he said.

McDougal exemplifies this developmental disparity in other regions as well.

“We all know about the earthquake in Haiti, but there was also one in Concepción, Chile [on February 27, 2010].  Even though the magnitude was larger, the latter dealt with it in a matter of months; with Haiti, it’s been years,” says McDougal, who  has worked at SF State as a professor for four years and currently teaches several courses in Africana studies.
The irony is that even though Somalis suffer greatly from climate change conditions, they actually leave a pretty tiny carbon footprint compared to other countries.

“If there is a flood in San Francisco, we have the infrastructure to respond to it,” says McDougal. “We also have the irrigation capacity to use conserved water to bring it to places that have drought.  But in San Francisco, with all of the industry and cars, we actually contribute more to the climate change than Somalia ever could.

“The people least responsibe for climate change are the ones most effected by it; Somalia is a perfect example of that,” he says.

The impact of these environmental factors notwithstanding, there is another element that plays into this multifaceted plight.  The political field in Somalia is extremely vulnerable right now, which has paved the way for radical groups to emerge as national authorities.  This group in question is known as Al-Shabaab, which means “the youth” in Arabic.  Opposing the leadership of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia–which is recognized by the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States–Al-Shabaab consists of the branch of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts that overtook the southern half of Somalia in the latter half of 2006, and has since performed a number of militant acts in the country, like the Mogadishu suicide car bombing on September 17, 2009, that killed 11 peacekeeping African Union soldiers and a number of citizens seeking care at a nearby hospital.  Currently, Al-Shabaab controls southern Somalia, where the famine is most severe, and until very recently has denied the entrance of foreign aid organizations looking to provide Somalis with food and water.

Famine in Somalia

Children queue for food at a distribution center in Mogadishu, Somalia in August, 2011. James Hooley/FCO

Redefining humanitarianism?

Given all of these layers in the stratum that is the famine in Somalia, one might presume–hope even–that the case would be handled with immediacy and zeal.  But alas, unlike the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan, this particular human rights crisis is receiving little to no attention by the general American population.  According to research done by CNN Money, Americans raised $275 million for Haiti and $87 million for Japan, both within the first week of the respective disasters.  This money was generated through non-governmental organizations; the American Red Cross raised $2.8 million towards the Japan earthquake and Pacific tsunami response on text donations alone.  Regarding Somalia, not only are statistics chronicling American donations elusive, but it was not until August 8, nearly three weeks after the UN’s declaration of famine, that President Obama permitted a donation of $105 million to be sent to the East African country. In overheard conversations regarding the topic, students still react in ways that indicate they were not even aware the famine existed.  In Professor McDougal’s classes, he notices not necessarily a disinterest among students, but an overall lack of new information.
But who is at fault for that?

According to Kate Kilbourne, the web and social media manager for the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed), this responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the news.
“It has to do with media attention,” she says. “I fault mass media and its outlets.  Famine is prevalent, but people don’t know about it.”

Professor McDougal takes a less critical perspective, instead looking more closely at the potential gains by developed countries in providing aid to Somalia.
“At any given time, there are a number of humanitarian crises in the world, and countries choose which ones to put at the top of their list [in terms of who to help] based on a strategic interest,” he says, citing as an example the United States’ decision to intervene in Libya, a country from which they could gain immensely, than that of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is currently undergoing a civil war that has claimed over three million lives in a five-year period.
But both Kilbourne and McDougal’s ideologies align when it comes to the importance of preventative, rather than reactionary, aid.

Famine in Somalia

Luli Hassan Ali looks after her severely malnourished child Aden Ibrahim Ali (4) with brother Mohammed (6) sitting next to them, in a clinic in Dagahaley section, Dadaab camp. Dadaab camp is the largest refugee camp in the world with people fleeing the civil war in Somalia. In recent months the rate of new arrivals has increased dramatically due to the added factor of drought that is affecting the region. It has now become severely overcrowded. Andy Hall/Oxfam

Reflecting her organization’s focus on female empowerment, Kilbourne suggests that “rather than giving money or food to countries suffering from drought or famine, we need to train mother support groups on how to grow their own food so that they are less reliant on external entities.”
McDougal concedes that while it is a good sign that Al-Shabaab has lifted its ban against foreign aid workers entering the country, he still believes that “when it comes to precautionary aspects, it is really a question of this: can we achieve a stable, representative government, and can we get international private companies to invest in water conservation and agricultural self sufficiency in Somalia?”  Until this happens, he argues, “it’s going to be this same crisis response, where we bring wheat, rice, and other food in the wake of a disaster.”
In the case of environmental disasters like the one in Somalia, philanthropy seems to take on a different meaning.

“There is definitely a philosophy of what it means to help,” says McDougal.  “What I’ve been taught is that it’s a selfless and spontaneous thing: somebody drops their bag, and you immediately help them by picking it up.  But when it comes to international relations, help is far from selfless.  It’s very quid pro quo, and it transforms help into a strategic means of exercising power.”

So until the media makes an effort to illuminate the food plight in Somalia, and until larger governmental organizations sincerely accept the concept of helping without seeking anything in return, the chances of seeing a significant improvement are disconcertingly slim.  Somalia has dropped its bag, and the rest of the world, for the most part, is taking its time in picking it up off the ground.


The Mission’s Day of the Dead tradition reminds the crowd to cherish the best of times.


By Victor Rodriguez

Photos by Cindy Waters

Amid the penetrating smells of the burning incense, the parade is underway with dancers in their positions, percussionists at the ready, and participants each holding one figure of the Aztec calendar. People line up on the sidewalks and curbs to watch the neighborhood pilgrimage. A morbid view is not uncommon, and many people, both adults and children, wear the traditional black-and-white face paint of a human skull to recall the better days they had with their dead.

The black lines on her face indicate careful time management in preparing for the event. A spider web on her forehead, thin and wavy lines on her cheeks that begin with plastic blue diamonds, and the skull’s teeth formed to make more of a frown than a smile. They portray her with a melancholic expression on this particular day. Holding a candle very close to her chest, Rachel Lesage watches the parade with careful contemplation.

“This candle is in memory of my mother,” says Lesage, “It’s a way of channeling with her according to this day’s tradition.”

Dia De Los Muertos

City College student Antonio Lewington shows off impressive make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Dressed in black and carefully arranging marigolds of cloths on the bun of her hair, she has made the Mexican holiday a part of her tradition for fifteen years in remembrance of her loved ones.

Day of the Dead, a tradition crucial to the Mexican culture, dates back to Aztec times. It is a day where people pay their respects and feel a connection to the other side. Sugar skulls, marigolds, incense, and altars are common attributes to the “decoration” of this holiday, much like stockings stockings and pine trees represent Christmas. But in the Mission, the celebration does not limit itself to the Mexican population, it reaches a good amount of the diverse culture in San Francisco.

Dia De Los Muertos

Shrines and letters to deceased loved ones line the outskirts of Garfield Park during the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

“Here, I have my dad, and on the other side is my first boyfriend,” says Pedro Valverde, describing the candle he made to display the pictures of two important people in his life. According to Valverde, such a major celebration in the city is important to uphold the tradition he started being a part of in Texas.

Dia De Los Muertos

SF State students Zach Canter and Lauren Vizzini ride the Muni to the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Glass candles, the ones common in the religious community, are custom made by the people who recall those most important in their lives. The light signifies a welcome to the spirit of the deceased, and a recollection of better moments spent with them. The wrapping around it can be colorful and intricate, but most of the light up a picture of those departed.

Dia De Los Muertos

Antonio Lewington holds a candle of the Virgen de Guadalupe at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission Distict on November 2nd.

Valverde looks up at the parade as it begins on 22nd and Bryant, holding his father’s rosary with one hand, and says, “This is a way that I can have soul access with him on a day like this.”

Dia De Los Muertos

SF State student Tara Deaton shows off elaborate make-up at the Dia de los Muertos celebration in the Mission District on November 2nd.

Yet, the parade does not call for a very silent and tearful march, as one might initially believe since it is a day of mourning. The parade is a form of ritual for the crowd to experience a joyous emotional connection. Though the humor of the sugar skulls and face-paints seems a bit dark, Michael Wilson interprets it like others do.  An event like this is important to be considerate of the dead: “It’s a cultural experience that gives us a way of being respectful of the dead.”

San Francisco’s Central Subway


By Chris Torres

Photos by Hang Chen

It’s twenty after eleven on Tuesday morning in Chinatown.  People browse storefronts, trudge up the hill, hang laundry out to dry from lines strung from a neighbor’s side window.  Folks exchanging information, glances, loose change.  A pair of tourists from somewhere in Europe armed with a map and cameras pass into a hole-in-the-wall shop selling produce and postcards.  A man hoses down the sidewalk.  San Francisco’s most densely populated neighborhood woke up hours ago.

It’s standing room only on the 30-Stockton bus between Broadway and Market.  People have places to be—it’s Tuesday.  Market Street is going to be packed.  BART is running on time.  More are boarding from all doors, and it looks like this bus is going to miss the next outbound Caltrain by three minutes.  “Please hold on.”

San Francisco has a plan to completely overhaul this crowded line.  With a cost hovering around $1.6 million, and a time commitment of roughly a decade from the plan’s inception, the city can’t afford to back out now. Ground on the project was broken last year, and the Central Subway is expected to be operational in 2019.  With 48 percent of the total funding coming from federal sources, 23 percent from the state and 29 percent from local sources, the project isn’t so daunting, at least according to the SFMTA.

Central Subway

A construction worker wields at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street as pedestrians cross the street, Nov. 15, 2011. The construction is working on the wiring for the Central Subway project.

The completed second phase of the T-Third Street line, an underground subway running north along Fourth Street from King Street and the existing light-rail line along Third, will travel underneath the Market Street Subway, then continue further north under Stockton Street, and turn around under North Beach.

The new alignment is “expected to dramatically increase ride time from the beginning of the Third Street alignment to the northern terminus at Chinatown,” according to a Board of Supervisors Resolution.  The Board estimates ride time between Broadway and Market Street to be improved from 20 minutes to about 7.

There have been alternative plans tossed around, such as whether to run the subway under Fourth Street, or rather continue the line under Third to later link up with Stockton Street.
The SFMTA predicts that by 2030, the T-Third Street, including the Central Subway addition, will have a “20 percent higher ridership level than the N-Judah,” which is currently Muni’s busiest line.  Additionally, the MTA predicts an estimated 30,000 jobs will be created by the project.

Central Subway

The Central Subway construction at the intersection of Stockton Street and Geary Street creates traffic problems in the Union Square area. Only commercial vehicles are allow to drive through the construction area.

While the project’s ‘why’ might not be in question, its ‘how’ might be. SF State professor Jason Henderson, an expert in the geography of transit, is neither for nor against the plan.  But he sees the terminus at Broadway as a major flaw.  “The problem with the Central Subway is that it doesn’t come out the other side… the original versions had it actually coming out on to Geary, and then run[ning] to the west side.”  During BART’s construction, there was talk of running a line down Geary, then north over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County.

Somewhere during planning, it was settled that the Central Subway would turn around underneath North Beach, just past the proposed Chinatown Station.  While the line could, in theory, be further extended in the future, the $1.6 billion price tag is something that Professor Henderson finds difficult to reconcile.  It would make more sense, he says, to spend that money to augment the existing system to be more in line with San Francisco’s “Transit First” initiatives.
The Van Ness Corridor is currently undergoing tests to determine if a strictly transit lane could improve Muni’s flow along the often busy stretch of Highway 101.  Another option would be to add more limited, or express, bus lines to reduce the number of stops on the highest volume lines.

Central Subway

David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

“There’s two problems in San Francisco that make Muni unreliable,” Professor Henderson believes.  “Number one, the cars.  The buses get stuck behind the cars… the other thing is that they [passengers] board at the front door.  There really should be all-door boarding.”

The Neighborhoods

Driving a subway line through existing infrastructure is no small task.  “The project will require the demolition of rent controlled housing stock and displacement of 19 low-income households from Chinatown,” according to an MTA impact study.

The report further predicts that the Stockton and Third Street Corridors are expected to “see a 26 percent increase in population and a 61 percent increase in employment,” as a result of the Central Subway.  Planners are hoping the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART will allow for easier commuter access from across the Bay Area and down the peninsula.

The Stockton Street Corridor is among the busiest thoroughfares in San Francisco.  Terry Joan Baum, a playwright and activist who ran for mayor in the 2011 election, told XPress in a September, 2011 interview that she’s completely behind “solving transit needs right now with really extensive rapid transit bus [service], with infrequent stops.”

Mulling over the logic of driving a subway tunnel under existing downtown urban infrastructure, noting that it’s “absurd on the face of it to have this gigantic project because a few blocks of Stockton Street move very slowly.”  She suggests to simply fix those few blocks of Stockton Street with simple changes, such as eliminating street parking along some stretches, or making the most crowded segments bus only.

Central Subway

Muni riders packed the platform at Powell Station during rush hours.

The Third Street stretch of the line has grown in the years since construction.  Around 54 percent of Third Street Corridor residents do not own a car.  While long stretches of Third Street are non-residential, much of Potrero Hill, Bayview/Hunters Point, and the surrounding areas are.  In addition to the line’s proximity to Caltrain and BART, the T-Third Street also serves both AT&T Park and Candlestick, as well as the growing UC San Francisco developments in Mission Bay.

If the growth in South Market and along the Third Street Corridor is some indication of a neighborhood’s evolution with the addition of rapid transit, then the  MTA’s prediction of increased population andemployment could be an accurate glimpse of the future.

Subway Stations

In order for the Central Subway to come into working order, some existing structures will have to be demolished to create stations.  The Board of Supervisors has already set plans to provide assistance to those displaced by the project’s construction.  While there is no true way to immediately predict how, or if, the transit improvement might give rise to growth and development in the surrounding neighborhoods, the city does know that it will need to provide these relocation packages to build Chinatown Station and Moscone Station.  The Board of Supervisors are including provisions in the package that would allow tenants of these properties not only to remain in San Francisco, but also in or reasonably near their current location.

The first of two critical properties, a gas and smog station at 4th and Folsom in South Market, is operated by Convenience Retailers LLC, and is the planned site of Moscone Station.  The adjoining smog shop is independently owned and operated.

Central Subway

David Gellor cuts I-beam for the Central Subway construction at the interception of Stockton Street and Geary Street, Nov. 15, 2011. The grow is doing wiring works for the future underground project.

The MTA report notes that service stations are strategically placed to best serve drivers through a region’s busiest thoroughfares.  It further recognizes that such stations can’t be relocated too closely to opposing corporate entities if it would negatively impacting their business.  Convenience Retailers LLC has already relocated.

The second property, located at Stockton and Washington, is a privately owned, rent controlled, multi-unit building, and the planned site of Chinatown Station.  The building houses eight retail tenants, ranging from restaurants and hair salons to a butcher shop and office space.  Upstairs, there are 19 families living in 18 residential units, amounting to about 56 total people.  Tenants can negotiate their own relocation package, including the property owner for the building itself.

The report recognizes the area’s historical significance, as well as the tourist draw.  Much as the Tenderloin and Chinatown was reconstructed after the 1906 quake and conflagration to support a large bachelor workforce.  At present, many of these units are housing entire families and, according to the MTA’s impact report, are showing “significant signs of deferred maintenance.”

San Francisco is set to take on some distinctive changes over the next ten years.  In addition to the Central Subway, the waterfront will see some new cosmetic renovation for the America’s Cup in 2014.  The new Transbay Terminal, which should be in service by 2019, includes plans for thirteen new towers around the new terminal.  If all goes according to plan, the city’s skyline could be dramatically different by 2021.

A subway line is only one small piece of this.

Helping Youth Reach Their Full Potential

By xpressmagazine

By Victor Rodreguez
Photos by Eric Verduzco

She sits cross-legged, runs her hands through her black hair and smiles between each sentence, describing a scene into a life that is now just a memory. Her parents had a hard time trying to fund her educational endeavors. By the time college rolled around, she was on her own. Yet, now as she leans in to her desk of the SMART program’s new location, she recalls the track she’s on from new career opportunities that arose finding her way through the educational system. For Nonoko Sato, the matter of trying to help local kids with the same motivation she had more than eight years ago is personal.

Students who come from various backgrounds and have tried their luck in public school, sometimes find that the end result is ineffective. A chance for higher education or even just graduating from high school can seem so distant through little or no fault of their own. That extra push to keep up the educational endurance comes from the dedication of directors and mentors of various programs who seek to make their pupils excel.

Help is wherever someone is willing to look for it. “We assist students who want to learn, but their family income and status keeps them from continuing after high school,” says Sato, executive director for Schools, Mentoring and Resource Team (SMART). “Our goal is for them to understand where education will take them if they really want it and that we are there helping them until they’re ready for college.”

At Risk Youth

Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In common terms, these students would be labeled as “at-risk youth,” but that term means so much more than just an unsuccessful tenure in public school. Different programs target different circumstances, like household income, juvenile detention, foster children, and poor academic performance, among others.

At San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (SFCASA), the main goal is to help children in foster care by mentoring one-on-one to help them with life’s endeavors and a better future that would otherwise be difficult beyond their control.

“We provide mentoring and advocacy for youth in foster care on a one-on-one basis,” says Sally Coates, executive director of SFCASA. “Think of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and we mentor in a similar fashion, but beyond that, we have the legal authority to advocate for the youth in the court room based on the best interests for the youth.”

When they end with their students at the age of eighteen, those who carry on can be referred to the Guardian Scholars, an educational opportunity program at SF State. Their aim remains the same in creating a system of support that covers the students academic, social, and even financial needs. A report shows how desperately these young people need the system, since only one percent of former foster care youth go on to pursue a college education, and even then, only eleven percent of the same youth will obtain a bachelor’s degree.

At Risk Youth

Aidé Aceves, Program Associate at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

In a similar sense, Nick Wightman, regional director of a program at YMCA San Francisco, overlooks and assists in helping students with their primary struggles.
“We definitely work to help kids get more engaged in school and see themselves as successful so they can graduate high school, go to college or whatever it is they aspire to do,” says Wightman. “With at-risk youth, there are many factors in play that have to be addressed along the way.”

Also working one-on-one, Wightman describes the objective of the YMCA program as helping the at-risk youth academically and with social skills by partnering them up with a mentor. While not necessarily academically focused, the mentors and the program make efforts to help these students cope with their status at their normal schools, where most of them are brought by referral from counselors and agencies.

Perhaps the efforts speak for themselves when describing the dedication that each program’s volunteers offer for these kids. And not all have to necessarily address the academic front. While some programs might be more successful in achieving results than others, it is crucial to understand that there has to be a consensus between what the child wants or needs, and what the mentor can provide.

At Risk Youth

Ben Buis, Director of Operations at SMART, watches as students develop a story board , Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

At least for Kaina Walker, this is the approach that she overlooks as the programs director for Youth Justice Institute, a program dedicated to transition their youths into positive members of the community when life circumstances prove too difficult.

“These are mostly students ages fifteen and sixteen, who are high-risk,” says Walker. “Many of them are either in juvenile detention or on probation, so they need lots of support.” Walker explains that the goal for mentors, most of them being college students (many from SFSU), is to provide company and address the needs accordingly for the purpose of mental health. This approach makes their kids obtain a feeling of empowerment, for the betterment of the community.

Walker claims that success is not measured by tracing the magnitude of the student, but by embedding in them that they can give something back. The importance is in planting that seed, and that the effect is unpredictable. Whether ready and immediate or sometime later, that is where success can be attributed.

Yet, to draw from inspirations that follow strenuous experiences also makes it crucial to “nip it in the bud,” meaning that students can be prevented from having to confront any rigors relevant to their education by themselves entirely. In one such example, Ben Buis comprehends the significance to be the first in the family to attain the goals that their preceding generations came short of, and therefore makes the mission of the program a part of his personal effort.
“I struggled through college,” says Buis. “There was no influence to help me through it, both financially and academically, so my need to teach and serve the program is to help the students in these types of situations.”

At Risk Youth

Ana Maria Sauthoff, Program Manager at SMART, instructs students to their next activity, Oct. 3 ,2011. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

Where as Sato overlooks and handles partnerships with schools, other educational organizations, and families associated with SMART, Buis contributes his part by ensuring that the mentoring and the program fulfills and educates the students based on their needs. “I’ve always tried to assist students directly in what they need,” says Buis. “While we try to support them academically, it also counts to support them socially and emotionally.”

It would be inaccurate to try and pinpoint that academic opportunities have greatly risen for many more students, diminishing the crowd that is have not obtained a high school diploma. The U.S. Department of Education (through the National Center for Education Statistics) charts that from 2000 to 2008, the average freshman graduation rate for public high school students has remained at an average of about seventy-three and a half percent. That’s almost three out of four students, a figure that is similar to the proportion in California.

A middle ground has to exist between the student and those interacting with the student. Where family and teachers have come up empty-handed, mentors are there to trace the source when all else has fallen short.

“Mentors are aware that this can be a scary world for these youths,“ says Walker. “While they are motivated and push college mentally, they understand that these kids need to be kept company for mental health.” Walker notes that within the program, it is essential for mentors to respect the needs of the youth.

At Risk Youth

Students at the SMART program in San Francisco, Calif., interact with one another playing activities before they meet with tutors who help them with homework. SMART is an after school program that provides a learning space for selected students to develop academic skills with the help of college student volunteers.

“In this way, mentors are also learning from the kids,” he says. Metaphorically, biology would liken this sort of rapport as a form of symbiotic relationship of mutualism.

“Many of our [SFSU mentor] students have been able to move forward in their careers,” Walker says of the program mentors over the years. “Many are now probation officers, police officers, lawyers, Juvenile Hall counselors, community service providers, moved on to get their masters, etc.”

Most of their jobs entail working with youth and helping them in many different roles. So despite the dismal job market, now it is more important for mentors to get first hand experience to compete with others. Education does not appear to be enough, according to Walker’s observations.

“Academics have been faulty, but these are students who want to learn,” says Sato, “The idea is to let them venture, [something] parents can sometimes have a hard time understanding.” She explains that each program has a role to play, to make their students reach a full potential.

Granted, not many programs can become readily available to the needs of any struggling student, but staff members work to minimize in taking no for an answer. Not to mention that any effectiveness can only come from the dedication of a staff. Denying the “no” comes from several fronts; from the governments and bureaucracies that cut the funding, from teachers and faculties who have given up, and from parents who do not believe in the causes and probabilities of higher education.

Nevertheless, bearing in mind any instances of program success, maybe they can collectively influence the attention of the general public. In a positive manner, it can raise the hope that more doors can be opened for under-privileged and at-risk youths, bringing down that percentage and giving a national dilemma a path towards resolution, starting in San Francisco.

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