25 June 2007

Witnessing “Birth”

I was fortunate enough to be in Germany to witness the actual launch of our first two teams there. After visiting Argentina and Brazil, both now with over 50 teams, and coming from the US, which boasts over 1000 teams, I was excited to see where it all begins. Interestingly enough, it starts the same place every team starts – developing action plans and defending their ideas before a panel. We held the first panel in a large room at the Bochum community center. It took about an hour. There was a giant pad of paper (like the ones used in Pictionary) for the team to use for any charts or ideas they wanted to jot down.

After their presentations, we all sat outside and talked about “Compton, the Bloods and the Crypts, Snoop Dog and what it was like for me to grow up on the “West Side” while the panel deliberated. I sat on a wagon. No fan-fair, no hoopla. Just a focus on service. When I asked the teams how it felt to be the first teams in Germany, that idea didn’t really phase them. “It’s exciting, but we just really want to start our project and fix our school.” That’s what’s so amazing about these young people; they just want to do it, get in there and fix the problem and at some level, they don’t even realize just how special they are, or how important their work is. They’re so ingrained in the doing, the bigger picture passes them by.

I do my best to remind them that they’re the “leaders of tomorrow” and “part of a global movement” but charmingly, modesty prevails, which makes them even more superstar-esque in my mind. Of course, I’m always asking the question of why people don’t idolize these young people who are doing something worthy of idolizing (unlike going to jail for driving drunk THREE times, twice on a suspended liscence), but the answer has yet to come to me.

I also got to visit one of the two projects, which is run by a group of five guys and one girl at a local high school. All Turkish immigrants, these kids have struggled from the beginning to get the education and attention they need to succeed. This spurred them to take action in their public school, attended almost entirely by other Turkish immigrants. The school is in decent shape, though heavy rains have caused major erosion of the grounds, particularly the area between their main building and the cafeteria, where every students passes twice a day. “When it rains everone slips and falls. Two kids broke their legs last year. It’s not ok.”

They’ve begun an ambitious repaving project to upgrade an entire section of their campus and help avoid future injuries. At the same time, they’re using it as a way to teach other students valuable skills that could help them get jobs in the future, fighting against the vicious cycle that kept their immigrant community oppressed for as long as they can remember. “I’m lucky. I’m going to college,” Sefa told me, “but not everyone has that chance. They need life skills. Hopefully we can give them some.” Major work starts this summer, with more projects to follow over the next few years. Their spirits are high, and despite everything they have faced, all they could do was laugh and smile about everything. We played ping pong, ate ice pops and even did a mini photo shoot, which they deemed their entry into “Germany’s Next Top Model.” Oh, and Niyazi asked me to send him an autographed photo of Snoop Dog, as well as a picture of me in Compton. I’m going to get started on that right away!