It was a heart-breaking Friday day to say goodbye to the state of love Omaha. One thing I found fabulous was the opportunities for all YSEALI members to talk and express their opinions toward both arrangement and the well preparation of the schedule.
In fact, we 21 young learners have provided lots of good comments. The program should be prolonged said Nicholas from Singapore and this awesome program is a life-changing experience, Dika from Indonesia remarked. In addition, I also think that I love Leadership of Mr. Val, he is a real communicator and without him the formal meeting of mayor, congress man, and the Secretary of State would not be possible. I have great faith and strong admiration on his work. Talking about Patrick, I have noticed he has put efforts and commitment in assisting us regarding to critical thinking skills , even it was the work behind the scenes he never complains, I can tell he works hard. Cassidy is worth mentioning, maybe I love her so much. She helps both facilitating and coordinating very well which brings and improves us to the next level in terms of professionalism. Then it came to the farewell luncheon with the chancellor, we had lunch and I got to tell him my roles as Cambodian women, what I am doing and what am I going to do. He said he has great belief in us that we will go and make our country a better place. Later, it was the time to get the certificate of achievement, we all were so thrilled and honored to be titled as UNO graduates. Chancellor, Patrick, Katy, Val, and Paul joined in celebrating our accomplishment. In conclusion, I ended the day with the memorable moments as well as sad feeling knowing that I have to leave amazing place which full of good people who teach me how to love and how to be loved.
Hello there! I am Hanz Denzil Villahermosa, born and raised in the small city of Dumaguete, comfortably located in the central part of the Philippines. As an educator and an active advocate for young people, I was recently blessed to have been given the opportunity to participate in an international program one could easily describe as “life-changing”.
In the coming weeks, this entire blog will feature my entire experience in the 2017 YSEALI Spring Academic Fellowship in the United States of America. I will be writing a five-part account on practically every bit of learning I got in the entire duration of the program – ranging from city and country tours, visits and attractions, some relevant insights I got from my co-fellows and some significant realizations with regards to my personal advocacy and action plan. Since this is the first entry to my blog, I would want to take you on a virtual tour around the city of Omaha, Nebraska, which is the main site of our civic engagement institute.
My next blog entries will then focus on Western Nebraska, Portland,Oregon,Washington D.C, my co-fellows from the 10 ASEAN countries, and my take-aways and realizations on the concept of civic engagement which I learned from the different non-profits and institutions that we visited. The concluding blog entry would then focus on how the entire program helped me re-design my action plan and advocacy in the lenses of fresher, more relevant perspectives and how I can better translate this vision into a reality back in the community I serve.
FUNDAMENTALS: 2017 YSEALI SPRING ACADEMIC FELLOWSHIP
The Young SouthEast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Spring Academic Fellowship is a program that brings together 21 young and vibrant leaders from the 10 countries of the ASEAN region into Omaha, Nebraska for a 5-week intensive academic fellowship on the area of civic engagement. We, the fellows, who are believed to be proactive leaders in our own communities underwent a specific program streamlined to focus on how community and civic engagement operates in the United States. YSEALI aims to equip young leaders to gain a better understanding of social issues and problems and on how to better address these issues using intercultural and regional collaborations when we go back to our respective communities.
NEBRASKA: An Unexpected Surprise
I honestly knew so little about Nebraska. Aside from the Lady Gaga song that mentioned the name of the state multiple times, the place rings a bell for me only because of the fact that I was a bit of a Geography buff growing up and so I was quite sure of encountering this state in geography maps and atlases sometime in the past.
Months before the program,I decided to do some research about this seemingly quiet state. At the end my personal pursuit to knowing Nebraska, I arrived at an overarching impression of the place – Nebraska, situated in the middle of nowhere in America, is a state where nothing much happens except corn-growing and ranching. Pretty interesting for a person like me, who grew up in an archipelagic country in South East Asia, where the sea is just a step away and where almost everything is festive and hot and tropical. Honestly, worry and anxiety started to seep in the contours of my consciousness with the idea that I might be missing out on my great US experience just because I am to be designated in a place many people easily associate with the words ‘boring’, ‘bleak’, or simply ‘plain’.
As a natural optimist in life, I redirected my attention on more relevant matters other than worrying about my place in the world for a 5-week program. I decided to focus more on my personal vision and on how I can get a better understanding of it once I come back. Thoughts of Nebraska took a backseat and I became more excited with what I’d become after the program.
However, I still find it baffling yet equally amazing how life surprises us in the most beautiful and enlightening way. On the last remaining minutes of my 23-hour travel to the US, I found myself getting overwhelmed in the most unexpected way by the sheer beauty of Omaha, Nebraska at night on an aerial perspective. It never crossed my mind, but that exact moment actually was the perfect foreshadowing of my journey in this beautiful city. It finally occurred to me that after three long months of immense anticipation, I was finally about to step foot in the Cornhusker State of the United States of America.
A HOmaha away from Home
I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska in the evening of March 11 and the cold night breeze was the first to greet me. After a 15 minute ride, I arrived at Sonesta Suites, the place where I would be staying mostly for the entire duration of the program. The place exudes the ideals of what many describe as a home – cozy, comfortable, efficient. Each of us were given our own space, a space even bigger than my own apartment back in the Philippines. Sonesta couldn’t be any better of a home than it was to me.
We spent the first few days of our stay in Nebraska exploring and navigating the city of Omaha. As I eased myself from the jetlag and as the place started to make sense to me, I started to perceive a familiar feeling – a feeling only my hometown back in the Philippines could give me, well except the weather. Omaha somehow resonated the same laidback, relaxing aura of the city I grew up in. The wide open spaces that create a landscape of tranquility, the olive green grasses that are somehow starting to reinvigorate with the dawning of Spring, and the gentle, solicitous citizens who never fail to flash a kind smile help make this city very livable and relaxing.
The Old Market
A squirrel in an oak tree
On the other hand, the city of Omaha, just like any other city in the world, is not picture perfect. Together with the city’s multifaceted progress is the escalating concern of the city’s issue on race segregation on particular parts of the city. The increasing issue of segregation might be the only hindrance towards weaving a city of cross-cultural integration and unity in all aspects of human living. However, In the heart of the many initiatives among the city’s non-profit organizations lie small, yet significant efforts that aim to fully break the stigma of division and segregation that seem to taint the city’s reputation.
A Haven of Knowledge and Competence
Just a few blocks away from where we were staying is the University where we were to study our academic courses. The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is the largest and most populated university in the entirety of Nebraska. With a diverse pool of students coming from different backgrounds, affiliations, and cultures, the University is definitely the perfect avenue for us to learn more about civic engagement. Its picturesque facade and tall, gorgeous buildings definitely add up to the conducive atmosphere one can feel within the campus. A few of the more notable landmarks are the iconic Arts and Sciences Building, the UNO belltower that serves as proud insignia of the university and the Library which offers tons of opportunities for learning and engagement within and among students.
A Historical Treasure Chest
The city is home to many museums that house significant information and historical timelines of various happenings that concern the city and the people of America.
The Durham Museum, which was Omaha’s former Union Station, gives visitors a nostalgic feel of one of the most crowded train stations in the midwest during World War II. Its intricate and grandeur halls adorned with gold-leaf decorations and the terrazo tile flooring preserved from the original union station definitely is a marvelous sight. The life-like statues in the main hall gives visitors a sneak peek into the common circumstances of people during those times through the statues’ recorded conversations. From pictures, artifacts, and instruments used by the pioneers, the museum takes you back to the time when the entire state of Nebraska was still fresh from its conception.
The Joslyn museum is another masterpiece of its own. The majestic peach marble walls is definitely an attention-grabber even if one is still on a considerable distance from the towering building. Established as a fruit of a couple’s generosity and legacy to the people of Omaha, the museum offers a wide and diverse range of illustrations, artifacts, and paintings of notable painters among races and across generations. Its iconic architectural design truly exudes sublimity and grandeur.
A Paradise within a Paradise
The child inside me awakened with glee and astonishment during our memorable visit to the world-renowned Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. With over 17,000 animals of various species and kingdoms, the zoo boasts itself as one of the world’s leading entities in the area of animal conservation and research. I felt like I was transported to a different world. I was finally able to see some of the animals I only get to see in movies and documentaries. Amazement and awe took over me during the entire tour. I finally got to see a giraffe, a rhino, a zebra and even a penguin!
I only wished we were given more time to explore the entire zoo for half a day can never be enough to fully navigate its entirety. Some notable exhibits include the Lied Jungle, the Desert Dome, and the Kingdoms of the Night. Truly, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is a paradise within another paradise that Omaha is extremely blessed to have.
Bobbing Between Two States
Another noteworthy attraction lies across the Missouri River, connecting the two states of Iowa and Nebraska. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is a 3,000 foot walkway and bridge that offers a spectacular view of the city’s skyline. We went ‘bobbing’ on the bridge on a chilly morning so I wonder how the bridge would look like at night. Another very memorable thing I did on the bridge was an item on my bucketlist for a long time! I was able to stand in two states at the same time! Isn’t that amazing? The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is definitely the perfect place to relax, unwind, and to just enjoy the majestic view.
The Irony of a Farewell
Now these are a just a few handpicked assets that I found truly fascinating and relevant during my entire stay in Omaha, Nebraska. The weather might be quite cold and harsh for the most part of our stay, but that didn’t hinder us from feeling the warm hospitality of this city’s people. On our 4th week we finally bid goodbye to the city as we ventured on the city of Portland, Oregon, and then to Washington, DC. It was a bittersweet moment, having to say farewell to a city that many of us would never have another chance to come back to, yet also excited to what awaits us in the next part of the journey. As the hours turned to days, and as days turned to weeks, I found myself reveling in the beautiful simplicity that this city humbly evokes. At the end of the day, I found myself loving every part of the city. Omaha can definitely be everyone’s hOmaha.
Hello, can you hear me?
I’m in Omaha dreaming about when we first arrived.
When we had more time than now.
I’ve forgotten how it felt before the schedule fell at our feet.
Our 3rd week in Omaha has officially passed by and believe that no one of us feels much excited about the coming activities as the first day we arrived. We are running out of time. We have started missing Omaha…
If I had to describe this week by only one word, it would be “lucky”. Lucky because I again had great opportunities to upgrade myself with knowledge of conflict management, leadership and social entrepreneurship. Lucky because I has been made an honorary citizen of the City of Omaha. And last but not least, lucky because I was at Yates and learnt about how lucky they were to have immigrants and refugees as their family members.
Located in the midtown area of the city, Yates School provides immigrants and refugees with necessary skills that will help them be successful in the Omaha community. “Many refugees came with shock even though they already had orientation before coming to USA”, Susan Mayberger – ESL Coordinator shared with us. By offering different essential classes such as ESL, sewing and four early childhood, Yates School is obviously a platform for the refugees to start up their lives in America.
What made me feel most impressed was a statement happened to catch our eyes right after our very first step through the main gate: “Lucky to have you at YATES.”. These 6 words themselves spoke everything about the beauty of love between people and people. No matter who you are, where you come from or what story you are holding back, there are always kind hearts and helping hands around if you are in need. Moreover, the immigrants and refugees also strengthen Omaha by strong skill sets, cultural identity and ethnic pride, religious beliefs and support. “They are legal to live here and Omaha needs them” was one of our statements when wrapping up Yates’ presentation. We were all indeed inspired by their great work of building a strong community.
The 21st century, the age of competitions of Information Technology with Global Businesses of Macro Investments which seek personal benefits and satisfaction increase selfishness, self-benefits and satisfactions which give big impacts on individuals, families and communities to start to seek for their welfare, well-being and joys in their daily lives, slowly start to forget the values and spirits of Humanitarian Works –Helping each other to promote common dignity, worth, and just a harmony society. Besides, the unlimited and endless desires, wants and needs of human beings have been creating self-inter conflicts, nu-satisfactions, and hates inside the families, communities and society which also increase un-wanted suicides and ending of thousands of human lives. In the up-coming years on the hands of new generations, what the human society will be and count on it is very un-pleasure to think and dream. Tomorrows are with full of sorrows and hates which will not fulfill the desires of human beings.
In order to remedy and re-install the human society for the promotions of healthy human global society, individuals are responsible to play their roles in forms of increasing humanitarian services, supports and cares. It was very impressed day attending the program at Kiwani Gala on the 31st April 2017 whereby humanitarian services providers were appreciated and rewarded for their contributions towards the needy people and society. In this program, Mrs Claire Herzong, Director of Early Childhood Outreach, Youth Development for Healthy Living for Social Responsibilities Organization spoke on “Just a smile to change the world” which really inspire and urge me to value humanitarian works and services. She said “It just needs a smile to change the world” , if we think this word, it seems every simple but it means a lot as well.
Additionally, humanitarian works and services are demanded to create more beautiful and peaceful family, community and society because if individual is in hunger, venerable conditions, family, community and society is not healthy at all. To promote healthy family, community and society, the needy people must be fulfilled and helped in order to be able to stand on his/her self to face the world with healthy smile and multiply love, care, kindness and peace to other needy people. In doing so, the world will smile again with beautiful human lives with harmony, care, love and kindness. The world has been waiting for you and me to contribute and share our love, care and kindness to make her smile with healthy human social environment. We are the beauty of the mother world and tomorrows of her.
Now it has gone over three weeks with love, happiness, friendship and experience changed me to get more confidence and familiarity with this fabulous City. I have been learnt a Book (A Lifetime of Learning to lead) from Dr. Paul Landow especially about knowing yourself. Paul said “Leadership typically involves leading followers to build good relationship based on respect and trust. Leader has integrity, honesty fairness, equity, justice and compassion”. One of the lecture encourage me is that no matter how hard it is, you should value on what we believe and need to be transparency among the followers. Dr Patrick’s lecture about Conflict Management motivated me how to solve and need to face rather than getting avoid conflict in term of it is a natural.
I have had a chance to get private meeting with City Council at which I get A Honorary Citizenship Certificate and also participate in public country commissioners meeting as well as tour to Mayor’s Office. Because of this experience, I significantly feel myself as a leader of my community compassionately and enthusiastically. One of the board member from Malcom X Birth Site and Foundation inspired me in term of his believes, his leadership paradigm, his commitment through crucible experience and fabulous Speech. YETES community Center is literary the most effective community center for Refugees from conflict affected countries to help them to get safety, confidence and familiarity with this city. Interestingly, this community is not only focus on young people but giving a chance older people to learn about English and life Skills such as sewing, computer and cooking classes as well as nutritious Class.
Omaha’s Zoo is one of my favorite places that I have ever been with varieties of species and some animals that I have never seen. The zoo jungle make me feel being to amazon and I have seen the biggest fish in that jungle. I can see that this zoo is very diverse and one of the space for any creature to survive.
It was on 31st March when young, dynamic and enthusiastic members of YSEALI 2017 were provided chance to visit Yates. Yates goal is to provide sustained and ongoing support to ESL, migrant, refugee and neighborhood families. Yates has helped 2463 refugees from 12 different countries. Most of them come from Burma, Thanakha, Bhutan,Somalia, and Syria. Surprisingly, We, young leaders, got to learn that those refugees decided to come to US because they encountered war and disasters. Furthermore, one of the Yates representatives said that the major problems that refugees face are the loss of families, cultures, identity, and language. Coming to US, they also learn how to adapt to the the working, education, climate and technologies transformation. Another important thing that needs to be taken into account is so as to offer endless help, Yates provides appropriate program with specialized instruction, extended learning opportunities, parent education and Yates, HS thrives student leadership club which enormously benefit the refugees. What impressed me the most is seeing all the refugees living and exposing to better life condition and they seem to enjoy the services provided by Yates a lot. I have met one lady who has 4 kids studying at Yates, she said her family is happy living here. She is so happy that she can have the opportunities to stay in USA and get her child proper education. Her life would be miserable without Yates.
Americans say “Time flies when we are having fun”, I do agree with it. Another week has gone and I can’t believe that we only have 3 more weeks in USA. The study tour to Western Nebraska this week was such an eye-opening experience for me especially on how people encourage others to live better lives.
Our first destination was Community Action Partnership Western Nebraska – Youth Center that offers innovative programming ranging from prevention to intervention and aftercare based in a trauma informed philosophy. From the very first step into the center, I was strongly impressed by every single quote on the walls like “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” or “You can’t live a positive life with negative thoughts.”. My great impression was continually made by a lot more positive words shown at Northfield Elementary School and Gering High School such as “It is impossible to live without falling at something.” or “Be a buddy, not a bully!”.
Looking back, I asked myself whether there was a hidden meaning behind these words or they just spoke what they were supposed to do. Undoubtedly, they were indeed much more than that. They told me about how great encouragement was to give others support, confidence and hope. Thinking about civic engagement and community development, I found it strongly important to encourage community members by positive words. No matter what happens, no problem is too big, and hope is always there. Thus, why don’t we start today by a smile, hopeful conversation or motivating words to each other? Encouraging to make positive changes, together solve our own issues, fully reach our potentials and live healthier lives. Why not?
3rd week in Omaha has gone like a rocket. I have been in involved in any kind of engagement activities with local NGOs in Omaha. One of those places that I am impressed the most in this week is Heartland Worker Center. I will give you a briefly definition about what this organization does. It deals with the local workers’ rights that ensures their voices get included and it also works to improve the quality of local people life in Omaha community through sharing, training and organizing. It raised my concern about participating in the community especially voting for a Mayor in each states. It might somehow be neglected for someone because it doesn’t as big as the president electoral. I got a chance to volunteer here by making a phone call to local people which are pretty much strangers to me to encourage them to use their rights in voting their new mayor. At first I was extremely nervous about it because I was not sure whether the person whom I was talking to will understand my English accent or not. Then, it wasn’t that bad as I expected before. I feel like I wanna win over them to when they hung up to me because of what right things I am doing for them. It’s of course a heart broken job as a bearable operator. I learnt more how did they feel since I experienced in their shoes before. I feel sorry when I dd refused the call from some kind of this purpose. It remind me of caring another unknown that seem to be reasonable for me more and sometimes what they have done is also a benefit of us. 3-minute call might altogether help our community and our live in some cases in the future. Take your time for them! ❤️❤️
The picture I posted above are the example role plays of making a phone call by the staffs at Heartland Worker Center.
“Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving”. That are the best words to describe what is happening in YATES Education Community Partnership School, here in Omaha. A place where refugees can feel like at home, where they can learn academic as well as life skills. All refugees are welcome, no matter how old are they, their religion, race, or skin colour.
I did not expect that this service is even exist in America, which most of the people aware about the country new policies on refugees and immigrants. YATES ECP is funded by the federal state and since the education budget for grants by the new President has been cut off to 13.5%, I just hope that it will not affect them to continue doing it.
No one in this world wants to be refugees, but the problems in their home country forced them to survive in this way. Just spread the love, not hatred. Together we can be the peacemakers.