Veggies, Vaccines, and Voices: New Class of Lang Scholars Announced

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This year’s class of Lang Opportunity Scholarship recipients was announced on January and they have all begun working to develop their projects and find organizations to intern with this summer.

The Lang Opportunity Scholarship awards up to $10,000 to members of the sophomore class to pursue projects in civic and social responsibility every year. This year’s recipients have a diverse array of projects, ranging from issues of food security in Chester to health care access for refugees.

This year, the Lang Scholars will all be taking a new class called Social Entrepreneurship In Principle and Practice, taught by visiting professor Denise Crossan.

Here is a summary of the projects they will be pursuing:

Maria Castañeda Soria ‘18 – Developing an Immigrant Know Your Rights Program in Mexico

Maria Castañeda Soria ‘18 has been working with immigrant communities on migrants’ rights issues ever since her freshman year of high school, and now she is creating a “Know Your Rights” workshop for women in Mexico before they come to the United States.

She sees a need for more programming centered around women because half the population of migrant workers in the United States are women, and yet there are few programs centered around women’s rights specifically. Many migrant women are sexually assaulted or harassed on the job, and if they are working on an H2A or H2B visa (typically issued for temporary employment, such as restaurant, hotel, or agricultural work), their visa requires them to stay with their employer or risk deportation, so many of these problems go unreported.

In the research Soria did in preparation for her Lang Scholar application, she found that around 80% of migrant women have experiences some level of harassment on the job, but the percentage of women who report those incidents are extremely low. “Since we live in a patriarchy, there’s a larger culture of silence around women” she said.

Soria grew up in North Carolina, where both her parents currently work in the poultry industry. Before they worked in poultry, they worked in tobacco fields. “I know firsthand what working in agriculture as a migrant worker is like,” she said. “This work has shaped who I am.”

In the workshops Soria hopes to create, she wants to spread the knowledge that women can still report incidents of harassment even with the stipulations of their H2A or H2B visas. There are often misconceptions among migrant populations about how to respond to harassment cases, or when their employers steal their wages, so Soria aims to provide concrete information on the laws and what organizations women can contact for help once they are in the United States.

Soria said, “There’s sense of empowerment in that: the more knowledge you gain, the more fear you lose.”

Aside from “Know Your Rights” workshops, Soria also hopes to create discussion forums for women to talk about their experiences with each other, lead by local community leaders in Mexico. That way, she hopes to make her project sustainable even after she has graduated.

When asked how she would measure the success of her project, Soria said that she would like to see more court cases brought against exploitative employers. She said, “Over the past few months, there have been more laws in Congress now addressing issues of migrant rights, and I am hoping by the end of these 2 years, there will be more legislation presented and passed. That would be one of the ways I could measure if this was having an impact: if more women are speaking out and coming together to get something done.”

This summer, Soria hopes to do an internship in Mexico City with an organization called the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights). There she hopes to work with migrant women before they come to the United States, because once they arrive, women have to deal with so many other issues, such as overcoming the language barrier, finding a place to live, and all the other uncertainties that come with moving to a new place for the first time.

“I think I know a lot about immigration on this side of the border but not on the other side, so I hope that I can learn more about that and get a better sense of what the women actually go through there. I’m actually a little bit nervousthis will be the first time I go back to Mexico in 17 years.”

Tyler Huntington ‘18 – Creating a Distribution System for Healthy Foods in Chester

Tyler Huntington, Lang ScholarTyler Huntington ‘18 has been working with the Ruth Bennett Farm in Chester ever since he arrived at Swarthmore. Last summer, he worked there on a Chester Community Fellowship Grant from the Lang Center harvesting food, teaching children about nutrition, and going door to door to distribute the food grown at the farm.

The Ruth Bennett Farm is a one-acre farm established 7 or 8 years ago on land owned by the Chester Housing Authority, next to a public housing complex called the Ruth Bennett Homes.

According to Huntington, the Housing Authority had an empty lot and agreed to let the residents decide what to do with it.

He said, “It was a real democratic process, and they decided to make a garden out of it. It started really small, only a few beds, and it grew and grew over the years, into what is now a full-fledged farm with a full-time farm manager. We run kids’ programs and adult lessons on gardening and cooking and it has become a really thriving space. Swarthmore has been involved since pretty early on.”

The problem, Huntington said, was that the farm had grown so much that there was too much food and not enough people to buy it.

“[The fact that] we didn’t have a vast enough or efficient enough distribution network was really awful, because here we were having to throw away good, healthy, nutritious food that was perfectly edible,” he said.

Chester is classified by the United States Department of Agriculture as a “food desert,” which is based on how far residents have to travel to reach a grocery store. Until 2013, there were no grocery stores in the city, and most food was sold in corner stores, whose shelves are typically filled with processed foods.

In 2013, Fair and Square, the first nonprofit grocery store in the country, moved into a building on the Western outskirts of Chester. Fair and Square is operated by Philabundance, an anti-hunger organization based in Philadelphia.

However, according to Huntington, the Fair and Square has not been fully utilized, as it is located on the outskirts of the city and only a third of Chester residents own cars.

Therefore, his project aims to create a better system of distribution they could use to expand their network of recipients.

Huntington said, “I realized that distribution was something we really needed to dial in on and the farm was only going to be as beneficial if the fresh, healthy food we were producing could get to people.”

He hopes to create a delivery system that brings fresh food to the doorsteps of Chester residents, along with recipes for nutritious dishes that can be cooked with that food. He wants to ensure the recipes are culturally appropriate, so he hopes to seek out Chester residents who love to cook and have them compile a cookbook for their neighbors.

He would charge a nominal fee for the food and the cookbook, but the goal is to acknowledge the value of the goods his project and the Ruth Bennett Farm would be providing, not to prevent anyone from being able to afford the food. He is thinking of partnering with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, the newest version of the food stamp program, to help people pay for the food.

He is also considering partnering with Healthy Start, a prenatal program funded by a federal grant for expecting mothers and fathers to help them through a healthy pregnancy and birth. It is a free service for pregnant women in Chester, and he hopes to expand it to include an emphasis on healthy eating, both for a pregnant mothers and their newborns “to get them off to a good start in life.”

Huntington has always considered food and nutrition an important part of his life. From a young age, he would join his father in the kitchen and learn to cook healthy foods in creative ways. He became fascinated with both the social and scientific sides of nutrition. He said, “The quality of your calories can really affect the quality of the life you enjoy and your health in so many different ways, and I think those things just continued to grow as I grew up.”

When asked what he would ultimately like to achieve, Huntington said, “I’d like to see more households in Chester enjoying healthy, fresh vegetables and fruits, and realizing those foods can be preventive of a lot of the illnesses that are prevalent there, like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Those illnesses are twice the rate in Chester that they are in the state and the country and I think a healthy diet is the bedrock of a healthy life.”

“If I can help people to realize those connections and take advantage of resources that are becoming more and more available in their community, that would be ideal,” he said.

Sonya Chen ‘18 – Fostering Mentorship and Identity Discussion Groups in Philadelphia’s Chinatown Community

Sonya Chen, Lang ScholarSonya Chen ‘18’s two-part project focuses on Asian and Asian American youth in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. She hopes to create summer program dedicated to leadership development and social justice education; she also aims to create a mentor-mentee program and build a stronger Asian-American community with these hopefully lifelong relationships.

To find participants and mentors, Chen has been talking with Asian Americans United (AAU), an Asian-American leadership organization in Philadelphia. AAU has some youth programs, but all of them focus on reading, writing, and getting into college, while Chen wants to bring in a cultural and political awareness aspect.

Chen’s interest in building this project comes out of her own heritage.

“My parents were immigrants and I’ve moved between the U.S. and Hong Kong a ton of times. I’ve always been very conscious of not actually feeling Chinese but not feeling fully American, either, so I’ve always wanted to be able to talk to someone about it or have peers who were similar to me to share experiences with,” she said.

As a result of her many moves between Hong Kong and the United States, Chen experienced many different education systems, and found that she preferred a much more creative, student-driven approach to education, which she hopes to model her summer program after.

The program will feature discussion groups, panels, field trips, and workshops to develop leadership skills.

“It’s a space for participants to think about their relationships with their communities, their values, and things they might not be able to think about in a classroom, even though they should” Chen said.

Chen spoke of a number of inequities she would like her program to address: Philadelphia’s Chinatown, like many other Chinatowns across the country, is rapidly gentrifying. Asians have the lowest rates of voter turnout and other modes of civic engagement. Though undocumented immigration is typically seen as a Hispanic issue in the United States, many undocumented immigrants in the country are Asian.

Mariah Everett ‘18 – Expanding Health Care Access for Refugees

Everett with Afghan refugee boy named Imran. Photo courtesy of Mariah Everett '18.
Everett with Afghan refugee boy named Imran Alkozai.
Photo courtesy of Mariah Everett ’18.

Mariah Everett ‘18, a pre-medical transfer student from Albuquerque, New Mexico, spent the last year in Albuquerque taking a class on refugee resettlement and working with a resettlement organization.

Now she wants to create a system to help refugees get better access to health care. One main obstacle for refugees is a language barrier between them and their doctors. Differences in how different countries approach health care compound the problem.

For example, mental health issues are very prevalent among refugees, but different countries approach mental health very differently. The Western model of sitting down and talking with a therapist is uncommon in many other countries, and so figuring out how to address these issues in a culturally appropriate way is still a major stumbling block for health care providers.

Everett has been involved in refugee resettlement in many different ways: “I worked as a tutor after school in one program with refugees and then my mom ended up becoming a mentor for a boy from Cuba. Our family was a family mentor group for another family from Cuba, so through all these things, we became more and more involved in refugee resettlement.”

Though Everett is not yet sure whether the is going to do her project in Albuquerque or Philadelphia, she is leaning towards Albuquerque because Philadelphia already has some well-established resettlement institutions.

Albuquerque has two refugee resettlement organizations, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Catholic Charities. Most of Albuquerque’s refugees tend to come from Cuba, simply because the US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration tries to place Spanish-speaking refugees in places with high populations of Spanish speakers, where the refugees will be more likely to find a job. There are also many refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

When refugees first arrive in Albuquerque, they are eligible for Medicaid if they have small children, and 8 months of Refugee Medical Assistance. After that, they are expected to find other means of insuring themselves, whether through employers or by paying for it themselves. (For more information on refugee access to care, click here.)

Everett says one big problem is trying to design solutions for people coming from such different backgrounds. Ideally, the goal of her project is to create a model for expanding access that could be replicated by resettlement organizations across the country.   

“I also want to create a program that really matters to the people that it’s helping,” she said.

Featured image of Maria Castañeda Soria ’18, by Abhinav Tiku for The Daily Gazette.

Correction: [2/9/2016 2:27 p.m. EST] This article previously stated that refugees are eligible for 90 days of Medicaid. This is incorrect. Mariah Everett’s name was also previously misspelled.

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