By Victoria Chan
I’ve always wanted to travel the world. When I was a child, my mom would read me her journals describing her travels in Europe when she was in her 20’s. I was determined to leave the United States, to see the world. For fun, I would visit travel websites and look up costs of different one-way tickets to faraway places. When I graduated college I got a job with an international Humanitarian organization. This job allowed me to see the world and help those in need, which was in alignment with my passion. Since that first job, I’ve lived in a hut in the rural area of Swaziland, sat with lepers in India and listened to stories of women living in poverty in the Philippines.
In May of this year I joined the Women’s Foundation of California. This was my first time working in an organization with a statewide focus. Suddenly I was bombarded with issues I never thought of such as immigration, criminal justice and the struggles of undocumented students who dreamt of graduating from college and finding jobs to give back to this country that they loved so much.
Last month I joined the Race, Gender and Human Rights donor circle for a trip to Southern California to visit a few of our grant partners. It was a Friday afternoon and we were in the Inland Valley with Time for Change Foundation. Crammed into this van, we were driving to homes where formerly incarcerated women lived with their families. Kim Carter, the Executive Director of Time for Change Foundation, said something that really struck me during our ride. She said she refused to leave the Inland Valley, despite people trying to convince her to leave to go somewhere “better”. It suddenly hit me how ignorant I’ve been about the issues right in my own community. You see, I grew up in Southern California, in a city where a freeway divided the poor from the rich. Growing up, the people on my side would never venture past that freeway line boundary unless absolutely necessary.
As I listened to Kim, I realized that I was standing amongst amazing people who felt a profound identity with their city. They understood where they came from, embraced it and wanted to give back to the community that shaped who they were. I saw that I’d been focused on “helping and seeing the world” that I never took the time to look around me and see the needs of my own community. I was driven with this passion to help others, which was why I took time off of school to go to India when the 2004 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, but I never ventured off my Central Valley college campus to see the struggles and injustices that took place beyond those invisible boundary lines. I also never took the time to appreciate where I was raised and what role it played in making me the person I am today.
A few weeks ago when I was back in San Francisco I met a single mother of two on a bus, her name was Tiana. We spent an hour talking about her fears, her children and her dreams. She had just started at a new job that had demanding hours, which would give her less time to spend with her children. She wanted every possible opportunity for her children — for them to do martial arts, dance, paint, sing and write. For them to do whatever their heart desired – instead of falling prey to the drugs and gang violence that surrounded her neighborhood. At the end of the conversation she thanked me for taking the time to see her and show some kindness to her children. And yes, I can honestly say now that I am beginning to see that there are battles of injustices to fight right here, in front us, Not just in faraway places. We just have to open our eyes to see..