San Domenico Upper School Social Justice Club
The San Domenico High School Social Justice Club is committed to creating awareness among ourselves and our community concerning social injustices, both locally and globally. We act upon this knowledge in solidarity with the global community in order to positively impact the world. As a group, we are dedicated to fostering respect and equality and we strive to create equal opportunities for all.
Student Newsletter Aeqvitas
The Voice of the San Domenico Social Justice Club, named Aeqvitas in honor of the Roman goddess of justice and fair dealings.
Current Featured Article: Black History Month Provides Forum for Celebration and Discussion
By Ayodele Abdul-Hadi '17On Monday, February 1, 2016, San Domenico Upper School held an assembly celebrating Black History Month. Student rotated through a series of workshops led by the Black Student Association (BSA). The workshops included discussions about Black history and its relevance to "American history", an explanation and tasting of African foods, and a conversation about how African-American culture has influenced pop-culture. Read more from the current issue.
Volume 10 (2016) Issue 1
Past Featured Student Articles
- An Issue of Plastic by Min Seon Kim '08
- Students Come "Face to Face" with Orphans in the Middle East By Leslie Flores '09 and Brittany Smith '09
- Microfinance: An Economic Revolution Empowers Women By Shanna Kohn '09 and Negeen Suri '09
- Social Justice Spotlight: Hannah Prados in Roatan, Honduras By Nora Dalipi '09
- Nora Dalipi at Home in Kosovo By Negeen Suri '09
The community of San Domenico has always been environmentally friendly. In fact, San Domenico School was recently named one of the three most sustainable schools in the nation. At San Domenico, everyone is aware of environmental issues, and we work to better our surroundings in many ways, yet the issue of the overuse of plastic is rarely noted. Therefore, I would like to help make the San Domenico community more aware of plastic overuse, for I believe that our community could make petite sacrifices such as using less plastic in our daily lives to protect the future of our Planet Earth.
A calculator, pencil case, pencil sharpener, mechanical pencil, compact disc, pair of scissors, CD case, hole puncher, iPod, ruler, and a digital clock. These are the items that I find on my desk daily, yet I had never before realized the similarity in these objects: they are made of plastic. In 2002, about 107 billion pounds of plastic were produced in North America (source: The Environmental Literacy Council). In the modern world, plastic is seen and used daily yet people are not aware of how much. Plastic has become such a necessity that it has developed into something quite unnoticeable.
"Society's consumption rate is now estimated at well over 500,000,000,000 (that's 500 billion) plastic bags annually, or almost 1 million per minute," states the website ReusableBags.com. Unaware of these issues, society has become addicted to plastic. In 2003, Americans consumed 13 billion liters of bottled water, much of it in half-liter servings (source: Garbage Land, by Elizabeth Royte). Water, as well as most liquids is very often sold in plastic bottles, and I know that my family is not the only family guilty of buying bottles of water in bulk at Costco. So, now, here is the question for our community: where does it all go?
The majority of the consumed plastic finds its way to the oceans, decaying over the course of many years and eventually disturbing the environment. The overuse of plastic has caused harm to the environment, ranging from killing birds, to polluting the waters, and leading to an environmental catastrophe. When plastic was first introduced, a positive factor was that it was sturdy and did not degrade easily. In the disposal of plastic however this is an issue. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to break down, and as they break down they release poisonous material into the water and soil (source: National Geographic). The chemicals used to make plastic eventually go back into the environment. These chemicals were toxic when the plastic was being made, and still are toxic when it degrades.
A few of our San Domenico students--Kate Adams, Monica Meyers, and Natalie Marsh--participated in community cleaning at a beach last year, and they saw first-hand the amount of plastic mounting up on the shores. It could have been the bottles of water that I throw away carelessly, that Kate, Monica, and Natalie saw on the beach. Therefore, to the community of San Domenico, I challenge you to be more aware of the overuse of plastic. This does not require great measures, such as eliminating the use of plastic entirely, but if everyone could take initial steps such as: purchasing water not packaged in bottles, but in big containers; drinking filtered water from the tap; and using canvas bags at the grocery store rather than plastic bags. By being more aware of this issue, and by taking steps to prevent further damage, we would be helping to make the world a much better place, one step at a time. We owe this to our environment, for as citizens of the world, we have a duty to protect it.
Now in its fourth year, led by Art Department Chair Jill Hoefgen, The Memory Project combines art and social justice in this international program connecting American high school artists with orphaned children around the globe.The program was founded by Ben Shumaker, whose efforts were featured in an article in the University of Wisconsin Law School magazine, which, by chance, had been passed along to Hoefgen, another Wisconsin native.
Hoefgen contacted and Shumaker, who in turn sent photographs of eight children living in orphanages in Egypt and Iraq, whose portraits would be painted by students on campus.
Hoefgen was particularly excited about the Memory Project, an inspiring venture that not only connects social justice and art, but also people—as individuals—across the world from different cultures, backgrounds, and countries.
“Not only are the portraits cherished by the children who receive them, but as the artists become familiar with the faces of their subjects,” says Jill Hoefgen, who teaches painting, drawing, and photography classes at San Domenico. “They begin to appreciate how their art, their personal interpretation of the children's expressions, will impact the recipients for a long, long time.”
Hoefgen was able to quickly recruit a variety of enthusiastic student volunteers, many of them members of the Social Justice Club.Participation in the Memory Project has shown students that they can have an impact on people who they have never met, and whose hardships they could not understand firsthand.
Candace Shankel painted a portrait of an Iraqi boy whose name could not be disclosed for fear of his and the other orphans’ security. “It is amazing to think that no matter how far away and different I am from these kids, I can still impact their lives and show them I care,” Shankel reflected.
Last May, Shumaker personally delivered the finished portraits of the Egyptian children in an orphanage in Cairo.
He reported that the portraits were welcomed with parties at orphanages throughout the country, and one San Domenico student, Jenny Su, personally received a letter from one of the children.
Four months later, the portraits of Iraqi children arrived at their final, undisclosed destination.
Orphanage director K.D. Jasoor Abdullah sent a letter to Hoefgen, reporting that the children received them with “a big smile, excited glances, and much curiosity about the artist whose picture was on the back,” referring to the San Domenico students. He went on to express his gratitude to the students whose “sweetest fingers and the pure hearts that made these unique jewels of peace seeds.”
For artistic San Domenico students who are interested in spreading awareness of current issues, the Memory Project has been a rewarding experience.Photographs of the eight paintings are on display in the second floor hallway of the Upper School Academic Building.
What do San Domenico students and a Moldovan farmer have in common?
They are both taking part in a revolutionary enterprise called microfinance, a process of lending small amounts of money to poor entrepreneurs in developing regions such as Asia, Latin America, Africa, and in our school’s case, Eastern Europe.Beginning in December 2006, the Social Justice Club embraced this new socially responsible economic revolution by partnering with Kiva, a San Francisco-based microlending agency.
While the Social Justice Club raised $275 through bake sales, Kiva arranged for our club to provide a loan in that amount to Tatiana Severin, a Moldovan farmer living in the village of Pruteni, near the Romanian border.
Severin needed the money in order to purchase seed and tool necessary for increasing her next crop yield.
“Her harvest was abundant last year,” a representative from Kiva relayed via email last month. “And she is determined to return her loan in full.” As of October 14, $250 out of the $275 loan has been repaid, and the remainder is expected before the end of the year.
In 2006, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Bangladeshi economist Muhammed Yunis, the principal founder of this process of micro-lending.Microfinance banks are important resources for women in particular, due to the fact that it is nearly impossible for women to generate income in most developing countries, and results show that the success rate in lending to the poor is higher when working with women.
Microfinance is a growing enterprise that is helping women in poverty reach financial independence and therefore empowering them and their communities. For the first time in history, an industry is working to ensure the availability of money to all levels of economic status on a global scale.
Once Tatiana Severin has completed repayment of the loan generated by the San Domenico Social Justice Club, the money will be cycled back to another female entrepreneur in another region.Once Tatiana Severin has completed repayment of the loan generated by the San Domenico Social Justice Club, the money will be cycled back to another female entrepreneur in another region.
When rain pelts Hilltop Christian School, the blue tarp “roof” covering the wood slats barely keeps the students dry.
“It’s very hot and noisy, and very different from American schools,” said San Domenico Senior, Hannah Prados and winner of the Julie Davis Butler Award, who spent three weeks of her summer teaching English and working in a medical clinic on Roatan, a small island off the coast of Honduras.The island is in the Caribbean Sea, and while tourism has reached pockets of the island, poverty and illiteracy still plagues the people.
“Roatan has a unique population. It is part of Spanish–speaking Honduras, but English is the main language because the island was first populated by British pirates and then marooned West African slaves known as Garifuna. Recently, large numbers of Spanish speaking Latinos have migrated to the island from the mainland and now make up over half the population. This has caused a strain on the education and healthcare systems.“The literacy rate in Honduras is fifty percent,” said Prados. “And thirteen percent of the people have no access to education. Currently, about nearly thirty percent of the youth complete sixth grade.”
This is where Prados steps in. While a portion of the funding from her Julie Davis Butler award covered travel expenses, the remainder went toward the cost of shipping over 450 pounds of donated textbooks from Marin County to Roatan.Every afternoon, Prados taught a class of 25 kindergarteners. Most of the children spoke only Spanish, but Prados taught numbers, days of the week, shapes and colors. In this school most students are bi-lingual by the fourth grade.
“I was never without a group of girls surrounding me. They followed me everywhere I went,” she says.Prados crosses her fingers that these girls will be part of the mere twenty percent of children who go on to high school.
Prados’ service in Roatan didn’t stop when the text books closed. She also worked at La Clinica Esperanza in Sandy Bay, Roatan.
The clinic serves sometimes 300 patients per week. Most of the patients come from an area known as La Colonia located up a hill several miles from the clinic. The residents there are among the poorest of the poor, due to their lack of education, and inability to speak English, which makes it difficult for them to find jobs in the tourism industry.Very few houses have electricity, and none have indoor plumbing. The windows do not have glass, exposing everyone to mosquitoes which carry malaria. The community retrieves their water from a single spigot. These unsanitary living conditions lead to malaria, intestinal worms, dysentery, and skin infections.
“Most of my time at the clinic was spent translating for doctors and nurses and assisting them during examinations,” says Prados. “This experience was rewarding and exhausting. It was something I always intended to do, and I am happy I did it. I want to go back there again and help Honduras. She strongly believes that all people should help the ones in need in any way they can. She is also optimistic that people are going to help reduce the social injustices that are currently happening in the world. She adds, “A little humanitarian action by someone will help change the whole world.”Hannah Prados is currently coordinating a letter-writing program between San Domenico Primary School students and the students in Roatan, Honduras.
“I just really wanted to help,” claims Nora Dalipi, a junior at San Domenico, when asked what motivated her decision to volunteer at the Center of Rehabilitation of Mothers and Children in her homeland of Kosovo, a country plagued with conflict and instability since the last decade. As an international student, Nora came from Kosovo to the United States in 2005 in search of better opportunities and education.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to help, and I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity of working with children.” The center, located in the Kosovo’s capital of Prishtina, is a day center for orphans whose family members perished in the bloody conflict between the Serbs and Albanians during the reign of Slobodan Milosevic.
There, the children play soccer, take art classes, create new friendships, and receive English lessons. “I was one of their English teachers… from mid July to mid August,” Nora explains as she sorts through her photographs of the children she had taught. From toddlers to teens, almost all revealed a contagious grin.“But I was very nervous when I agreed to do it,” she quickly adds. “I had never taught before, and I was afraid they wouldn’t like me as a teacher… I didn’t know what to expect.” However, this worry was soon proved to be completely unnecessary, because from the very first day she and her students clicked instantly. “I think it was because I was the only English teacher who actually knew how to speak Albanian…” Nora says with a laugh.
However, she and her students have more in common than just the language they speak. Nora’s childhood was very similar to those of the children, but unique to any other San Domenico student: forced to grow up amid the fear and oppression that accompanies ethnic cleansing, Nora claims that her experience has also allowed her to “connect on a more emotional level with the kids.”
Through her teaching, Nora’s goal at the end of the summer was to make sure her students knew their significant role in the reconciliation process after the war: “Kosovo is still in chaos… the other day there was a bomb near my home! The kids need to know that they are the future… that their [generation] is the one that will change Kosovo into a peaceful country at last.”
Nora and her students soon grew very close, as she strove for each child to participate during class, whether in a simple discussion in limited English, or through name games, songs, and other activities, keeping the students entertained and amused throughout their studies.
“Most of the students weren’t use to this… usually, they would sit still and listen while the teacher spoke for hours.”
While at the center, Nora strove to create, through her games and activities, a strong teacher-student relationship; the “same kind of [relationship] I have with my teachers, here [at San Domenico]”.
To the children of the Center, Nora’s method of hands-on learning was a completely new experience, yet it proved incredibly successful, and surprisingly fun. However, at the same time, no amount of learning or fun could overcome the heavy sense of loss that the center in itself emitted.
“You had to be very careful about what you said… most of these kids have been through so much in only their first few years of life… [it’s] more than any of us ever will have to go through.” Though Nora claims to have been curious of each child’s complicated past, she never dared ask, explaining that to do so would be unnecessary: “We were there to have fun… to forget for awhile our difficulties…” Nora then later admitted that she couldn’t bring herself to ask her students anyway, because she was “scared of what she would hear.”
Nora’s last day at the center was the most emotional, however, as she was forced to say goodbye to the students that she had played with and taught for the past month. With a laugh, she admits that she “grew very attached to them… the kids even claimed that if I did not return next year, they would come to the United States and drag me back!”Now that she is back in the U.S., her reflections on her past summer have led her to conclude that “they taught me more than I taught them… we, as [privileged] people, take so much for granted… these children who have been through so much are still smiling, and still happy.”
A Reflection on Our Tradition of Social Justice and Student Activism
By Gaby Andrade '08, Student Co-Facilitator
Over the course of the last two decades, the Social Justice Club has evolved to become the largest student run club at San Domenico, with nineteen students ranging from freshmen to seniors. Although the Club itself has gone through many incarnations, its original motives and objectives have remained constant.
In an effort to gain a more thorough accounting of San Domenico's long-standing dedication to social justice as well as our ever-evolving club's history, I made a point of talking with Sister Gervaise Valpey, O.P., President Emerita of San Domenico and a mainstay in Bay Area social justice
Ever faithful to the Dominican traditions of justice and stewardship, Valpey has worked to ensure that the twin issues of social justice and ecological sustainability are prioritized in San Domenico's curriculum and community.
As Principal of the Upper School in the 1980s, Sister Gervaise sought to create "awareness of the need for change in various situations."
In the mid-1990s, Sister Gervaise used a grant worth more than $100,000 to launch the Sustainable San Domenico campaign, which included the establishment of the organic Garden of Hope.
But, as Sister Gervaise explained, even graduates from the Dominican Convent Upper School sixty years ago understood the importance of a commitment to service.
This dedication to social justice has as much to do with students as it does their teachers.
"With people more interested in focusing on social justice, it was the students who said ‘we need to have a club'," Sister Gervaise explained when asked about the origins of the club.
This dedication continues to hold strong, despite ever changing times and concerns.
In the 1950s, the school was home to a chapter of the Junior Red Cross, which, according to its charter, was dedicated to promoting "service to others and better understanding around the world. "
In 1960, some of the members of the group had the opportunity to join others from around the country in a meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House.
Over the course of the next decade, as students became more aware of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, environmental, and other local concerns, students reorganized as the Community Concern Club.
By the late 1980s, the Community Concern Club had reorganized again as the Social Justice Club, which, despite a respit of a few years in the late 1990s, continues to this day.
Sister Gervaise noted that San Domenico's community service programs such as those incorporated into Spring Discovery and the Julie B. Davis Butler Award projects, have served as launching pads for a deeper focus on social justice. She stated that Spring Discovery Week has always had a component of service, such as having freshmen help at St. Vincent's Dining Room in San Rafael or St. Anthony's in San Francisco.
While the club maintains its dedication to the original Dominican values of the school, the focuses and interests of the club have evolved with the times. According to Sister Gervaise, there has been much more student leadership, inspired faculty members, as well as awareness of students that "they can make a difference."