Summer of Solidarity

final1.jpgDClogo.jpgWhen I was a teen, I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world. I just didn’t know how. I was lucky enough to attend a week long summer campaign training when I was in college which catapulted me into the world of advocacy and organizing in the environmental movement. It wasn’t until years later that similarly themed advocacy camps for the South Asian American youth community started popping up. I was grateful for my journey, but always wish I could have had access to more at a younger age.

This July there are two 4-day camps for Desi teens, both camps taking youth through a curriculum around identity, social advocacy and connecting with local activists. The first one is DC Desi Summer, based in Washington DC. The second is one I’ve been volunteering with, the Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS) which is a project of the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA).

On July 22nd, South Asian American teenagers from across the San Francisco Bay Area will convene for a life-changing experience. The youth will be attending the first ever Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS), a four-day leadership camp for youth of South Asian heritage seeking to learn about progressive issues, gain organizing skills, connect with other South Asian activists, and develop themselves into leaders. The all-inclusive camp will provide space for young people to learn skills on how to be a social activist, as well as learn about issues affecting the South Asian community both locally and globally.

BASS is open to youth of South Asian heritage ranging in age from 14 to 19 years old. The camp costs only $50, which covers all housing and food expenses for four days and three nights. Held in the beautiful Center for Third World Organizing Training and Retreat Center (often described as the “CTWO Mansion”), the intense camp will cover a wide range of issues such as Creative Arts and Action, Racial Profiling, Hip Hop Revolutionaries, and Environmental Justice. An important component of the curriculum will be a look back at the 100 years of history of South Asian Bay Area student activism.[bass] Continue reading

Khan’s Calculus: Education for Everyone

Salman Khan is a hit on YouTube. But it’s not because he’s a movie star shimmying across the screen sans shirt to the sound of music–that’s another Salman Khan. This Salman Khan doesn’t even walk on screen in the videos he makes, which are filmed in his bedroom closet. He prefers to be the voice in the background teaching people about calculus, chemistry, finance and a range of other subjects.

His Khan Academy channel on YouTube has received over 48 million views so far. But when he first started making video tutorials, he had just one viewer in mind. Back then Khan, who doesn’t have a degree in education but does have an MBA and degrees in math and science, was working as a hedge fund analyst in Boston. He made YouTube videos to remotely tutor his cousin in New Orleans in math. Continue reading

Slumgod Mandeep Sethi Drops the Boom Bap Rap

Poor Peoples Planet.png This past Friday, Bay Area Sikh-American hip-hop lyricist Mandeep Sethi dropped his latest album Poor Peoples Planet, a concept album produced by X9 of Xitanos Matematikos that weaves in the teaching Jiddu Krishnamurti, Punjabi gypsy origins, and classical elements of hip hop. At only 22 years old, Mandeep has already developed a strong base of followers having appeared on stage with artists such as Ziggy Marley and Dead Prez and having jumped on the mic with folks I’ve written about before such as Humble the Poet, Sikh Knowledge and Ras Ceylon. You can get Poor Peoples Planet on iTunes later this week and if you visit Mandeep’s BandCamp you can download the album now. Still not sure? Check out the single below Moving Swiftly, Guerrilla Tactics.

[Moving Swiftly::][GuerillaTactics][POORPEOPLESPLANET by

Full disclosure, I’ve been helping get the word out for Poor Peoples Planet and am excited to support a young Desi American whose lyrics are smart, conscious, and inspired by the hyphenated identity. But in the course of hanging out with Mandeep this week, I was really impressed to find out that he is one of the co-founders of Slumgods. Based in India, Slumgods was founded in 2010 as the first B-Boy collective in India bringing together emcees, breakers, artists of India and America. The Slumgods are bringing it hard and fresh using the the five elements of hip hop as a tool of empowerment for the slum youth in the Dharavi slums with a community center called Tiny Drops Hip Hop Center.

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The Homeless Sikhs of Southall

I recently spent an evening with twenty hearty souls in steady British rain to sleep out in a park to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless Sikhs of Southall.

Actually, there was not much sleeping — it was more of a Hang Out than a Sleep Out and we had pizza and burgers — but the issue wasn’t lost. Finding warm and dry shelter is a challenge for an increasing number of South Asians, mostly Sikh men, in the southwest London neighborhood of Southall.IMG_6358.jpg

Lodging isn’t supposed to be a problem. Southall is the center of London’s vast Punjabi community, one of the most significant Little Indias in the world, home to one of the largest gurdwaras outside India, and a cultural nexus that brought the bhangra phenomenon to nightclubs around the globe. It’s also a hardscrabble quarter that, like New York’s Lower East Side, gave immigrants the means to establish themselves in a new land. The community took care of its own and looks back fondly on its achievements.

So it has come as a shock that in 2010 there are about a hundred homeless men, mostly Sikhs but including Sri Lankans and Somalis, sleeping rough in one of London’s proudest immigrant neighborhoods. Continue reading

Supporting your causes

Ruchira from the Accidental Blogger called me up the other day to tell me she was very passionate about a new cause she was supporting called Save A Mother. She asked if I could highlight the cause here on SM (I urge you to check their website for more info):

India Development Service (IDS) Save-A-Mother project aims to minimize suffering and death associated with pregnancy and child birth. We have been working in partnership with local NGOs in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India, which has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Many other regions in India and rest of the world are in a similar situation where this program can be replicated.

Save-A-Mother programs educate women about pregnancy, nutrition, immunization, delivery and care of the child. Save-A-Mother has a complementary benefit in saving the child also.
Our Objectives

1. Decrease maternal mortality by 50% in Sultanpur in 5 years. (Pilot Project)
2. Replicate this model to two more districts in 2 more years and institutionalise the program.
3. Replicate the program to vulnerable districts where mortality exceeds the national average.
4. Partner with NGOs in other high MMR countries [Link]

Ruchira said that the Chicago-based organizers are primarily looking for involvement via the donation of money. They have a dedicated core of organizers and volunteers, including Ruchira, but they were having some trouble spreading the word and gathering contributions for their efforts, especially from the younger demographic. This led to a conversation between myself and Ruchira as to why it is often difficult to find donations from the under-40 crowd. I attribute it to several reasons:

1) Younger potential donors usually want to donate more than money. They typically have youthful energy and a full supply of idealism. Thus, they want direct involvement, not simply involvement by proxy. Continue reading

The Eidie Goat

GOAT.jpgEid Mubarak, Mutineers! There are two Eids that Muslims celebrate, one marks the end to a month of fasting and another marks the end to pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj. Today we celebrate the latter one, Eid-al-Adha. This Eid in particular is the one where a sacrifice is supposed to be made of a goat or cow (the meat is to be eaten later and donated), in remembrance of the story of Ibrahim being asked by Allah to sacrifice his son and his son being replaced by a goat.

It was for this reason, my friends and I joked around about how we needed an Eid goat. Easter has the bunny rabbit, Christmas has Santa Claus. But growing up as a Muslim kid in the U.S., we didn’t really have anything equivalent. I was always told Eid was my version of Christmas, but then, why did all the other kids get presents and we didn’t? As we got older, it seemed like the Eid goat would have been the perfect solution.

Thus, I had already goats on my mind when maitri tweeted the following “I Want a Goat” video [NSFW]. It’s promoting a program, I Want a Goat, where you can design and donate a goat to a village in India. The modern twist is that this video has hipster charm splashed all over it.

I realize the tie between this video and Eid is tenuous at best. I found the the song amusing and the cause seems legit. The project was started by a woman Debbie who volunteered in the village for seven months and saw a similar program run successfully in India. For only a $20 donation, you will be donating a goat to a village in Koraput. Why goat?

For tribal people who are landless, raising goats is a great alternative source of income. Families who breed goats can earn a good profit selling the kids in the local market. The extra income provides a safety net for families that can be used for things like medicine, food during lean periods and farm equipment. Continue reading

Ahimsa’s Global Lingo

A few years back while I was still living in LA I wrote about the wonderful Project Ahimsa:

Project Ahimsa is a global effort to empower youth through music. The organization was founded in 2001 in response to the violent attacks on Sikhs and South Asians after 9/11. The organization operates under the auspices of the Patel Foundation for Global Understanding, a registered 501c3 non-profit based in Tampa, FL. Project Ahimsa’s mission is to empower youth though developing and supporting community based music education.

The vision of Project Ahimsa is to generate unity from the means to the ends. Funding to develop the “means” comes from music concerts featuring artists from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Artists such as the Black Eyed Peas, The Doors, Nitin Sawhney, MC Rai, JBoogie’s Dubtronic Science, DJ Cheb i Sabbah, Karsh Kale, Bobby Friction, and MIDIval Punditz have all performed at Project Ahimsa benefit events. Attended by a diverse audience of non-Indians and Indians alike, Project Ahimsa events are built on a healthy collaboration between international artists, non-governmental organizations, public institutions, corporations, and promoters creating a diverse experience interesting to all ages and backgrounds. [link]

Here is one of several videos from Ahimsa’s website that explains what “empowering youth through music” means exactly:

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A few reflections on the South Asian Summit

The South Asian Summit, held this past weekend in D.C., was an amazing experience for which SAALT deserves a great many thanks. The passion present in the room was undoubtedly invigorating to all in attendance. Most importantly, I learned something about the fundamental hurdles many of these South Asian American activists face in the pursuit of their varied causes. I believe that some of these hurdles have solutions that readers of this website (with their varied skills) can help with if only made aware of the challenges. Over the course of the next several months I plan to profile many of the organizations that attended SAALT and solicit from them what their needs are so that some of us can pitch in.

As a blogger residing behind the computer I rarely get to meet first-hand the dedicated activists we often write about. It is the difference between seeing ice cream and tasting it. The folks at this conference breathed their causes and it makes you re-evaluate whether or not you are doing enough in your own life. This really is the time to think and act beyond your immediate sphere.

At the beginning of the conference we were each handed a post-card which we were to self address and hand back to the organizers. The post card asked a single question: “What did the Summit inspire you to do?” The message we wrote was for our own benefit and the post card was to arrive in the mail to remind us of our commitment.

The challenge at the Summit has inspired me to attempt something big and I have started researching and working on a plan. The next time I attend a South Asian summit I would like to be able to say that I did something to move the ball forward, if only by a few yards. Continue reading

Hell in the time of the Junta

The news out of Myanmar/Burma keeps getting worse. On Thursday evening the British paper The Sun is blaring the following headline: THE death toll in cyclone-ravaged Burma could hit 500,000 – more than TWICE the total killed by the Boxing Day Tsunami. The biggest problem right now is that the effort to fly in precious water and food are being thwarted by the paranoid military junta that runs the country and is too suspicious and inept to grant visas to aid workers:

With up to 1.5 million people in Myanmar now believed to be facing the threat of starvation and disease and with relief efforts still largely stymied by the country’s isolationist military rulers, frustrated United Nations officials all but demanded Thursday that the government open its doors to supplies and aid workers…

“The situation is profoundly worrying,” said the United Nations official in charge of the relief effort, John Holmes, speaking in unusually candid language for a diplomat. “They have simply not facilitated access in the way we have a right to expect…” [Link]

The Tsunami was unimaginably bad…BUT at least the rest of the world wasn’t as impotent then as we are now. Considering the massive devastation in 2004, the world actually responded relatively quickly to minimize deaths after the actual event (certainly faster than the Hurricane Katrina response). This however, is just frustrating. Children are dying of thirst because visas aren’t being granted! For my part I am doing what I can. I found out that the relief organization CARE International was one of the first to have boots on the ground in Myanmar since they had an office there. They are actually disbursing aid. I also know that the first of the checks that our Uncle Sam is sending our way to help with the U.S. economic recovery will be hitting our bank accounts this week. I know it flies in the face of a sound economic strategy to send money meant to boost our economy straight overseas, but I’m willing to upset those “elite” economists. I just sent a chunk of change to CARE. I’ll just pretend there was no rebate. UNICEF is a good bet too. Continue reading

Posts that fall into the cracks

As has been said (by some of the individual bloggers that write here) many times in the past, we don’t always have the time to blog all the wonderful news tips, events, causes, new blogs, etc. that are sent to us via the tip line, email, or the top secret phone line. It isn’t that your tip/cause/event isn’t worthy, it’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day to blog everything and still pursue a normal, blog-free life. In order to be worth crafting into a post in the first place, some items take a lot more research and individual interest than others. We all attempt to add some value to any item we post. We encourage you to use the News Tab and Events Tab as much as possible.

That being said, I did want to draw your attention to three recent “tips” that I didn’t want falling through the cracks:

1) The fellowship application deadline for Indicorps is fast approaching and I know there are many SM readers who would make perfect candidates:

Who: You! Indicorps seeks to engage the most talented young Indians from around the world on the frontlines of India’s most pressing challenges; in the process, we aim to nurture a new brand of socially conscious leaders with the character, knowledge, commitment, and vision to transform India and the world.

Why Now: We are currently recruiting soon-to-be college graduates and professionals of Indian origin for our August 2008-2009 Fellowship. There are over 50 exciting community-based projects ranging from educating tribal youth in Maharashtra to increasing production of natural dye based products in Karnataka.

2) There is a new blog worth checking out called Out Against Abuse. It is a forum dedicated to issues surrounding domestic abuse in the South Asian community:

Out against abuse is an online blog based forum created to bring together activists, volunteers, survivors, and members of the community to encourage the discussion of gender related abuse and how it affects the South Asian community. We hope through constant dialogue and collaboration we can all learn from each other and work to educate our community on how to end gender related violence in our homes and lives. [Link]

3) Finally, The Kominas have a new album out titled, “Wild Nights in Guantanamo Bay.” Taz featured them in a post back in 2006. I hope they get on to the new Harold and Kumar movie soundtrack with that title:

This is the highly anticipated debut release of quite possibly the most popular Taqwacore band in existence. The CD was recorded with the band fresh off the first US Taqwacore tour. The CD includes old crowd favorites like “Suicide Bomb the Gap” and “Sharia Law in the USA,” but also includes newer songs with a more punk edge, like “Blow Shit Up.” [Link]

Keep sending in the tips. We won’t be able to blog each one but we do read them all.

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