12 April 2007

Dana, Dina and Veena Oh My! Saving The World From NYC

I arrived in New York City this morning after a rousing five hours on the “Chinatown” bus, which is owned and operated by a small – no medium-size – coalition of some of America’s most efficient and straightforward Chinese immigrants. At some level it felt oddly comfortable, what with the Mandarin being spoken, everyone yelling at each other and three or four people screaming into their cell phones throughout the entire ride, including the bus driver. The woman next to me kept gasping while whispering under her breath, “Oh my, that is so rude!” After a good two hours of this futile huffing I leaned over and said to her, “there’s no use. It’s cultural. Just deal. It’s the Chinatown bus.” She giggled, apparently under the impression that I was joking. I decided to let it go.

After a wonderful early afternoon catching up with friends and eating a delicious corned beef sandwich from Lenny’s (how Manhattan is that?), I boarded the subway on the Upper East Side for my first official event on the Dream It. Do It. World Tour (remember, America is part of the world too, so NYC counts). The venue – an old warehouse building set literally underneath the Brooklyn Bridge – was almost too NYC-shabby-chic-adorable-charming-perfect, if that makes any sense. Within minutes of arriving my face was buried in the donated Trader Joe’s cheese and crackers, chocolate chip muffins and donuts (I later complemented this meal with a jumbo slice of tomato and green things pizza and now my stomach is pissed).

Slowly but surely people started arriving. I put the enormous bowl of Oreo’s back on the table and started to mix and mingle, immediately blown away by the incredible young people present.

First it was Amanda and Krystal of Team HOPE. Both students at NYU, they started an organization that seeks out in-kind donations of, and raises money to, buy school supplies for the children of women living in the Urban Women’s Retreat in Brooklyn, a refuge for victims of domestic violence. “Of course we do the tutoring thing too, but how much can we teach them if they don’t have pens, paper and pencils? This is all about giving them a full opportunity to learn.”

From there I met Nadia, famous in these parts because her venture is now over twelve years old. “I started when I was twelve,” she told me. “I’m not planning to stay with it forever though. I just want to get it self-sustainable at a national level then I’ll move on to another project. I’ve got lots of hopes and dreams.” Apparently, yes. I introduced Nadia to Amanda and Colleen, who had come all the way down from Schenectady (you can bet I had to google that so I could spell it correctly) for the event and had been working on a project similar to Nadia’s; attempting to bridge the generational gap between young and old people in America. They spent quite a while sharing ideas, which is exactly what this event was all about. More than fifty young changemakers coming together, telling war stories and feeling like they’re a part of something bigger than just themselves; rather, they’re leading a global movement of young people who are changing the world.

This led me to what I can only refer to as my most enjoyable encounter of the evening. Meet Dana, Dina and Veena. No, seriously, those are their names. Granted, they weren’t all working on the same project (Dana and Dina are working to support social activist groups in their effort to create change while Veena is building a high-school curriculum model to educate young people on the benefits of fair trade, not free trade, duh!) but their outfits complemented each other, they all went to school together and by the end of the night they were finishing each other’s sentences. Naturally I found the whole sing-song name thing absolutely adorable.

The rest of the evening when incredibly well. We gave away some awards, I spoke about social change and nearly fainted from heat exhaustion and everyone left with some donut, muffin and cheese leftovers. Really, who can complain?
Off to some site visits tomorrow, so more talk of awesome people soon.

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