On April 26th, 2012, Patience Lehrman was one of 12 Champions of Change alum invited to speak with President Obama about her work in promoting immigrant integration across the country.
A little over a year ago, the White House created the Champions of Change program to recognize ordinary Americans across the countries who are doing extraordinary work in their communities. During the last year we have held more than 40 Champions of Change events, honoring over 500 Champions from all 50 states.These are people who are working to end youth and domestic violence, to green our cities, and to renew and strengthen communities through service and innovation. They are working to promote immigrant integration, to provide housing counseling, and to establish broadband access in rural areas of the country. As President Obama said, “By making their communities better places to live, our Champions are helping to ensure that our country’s best days lie ahead.”
To celebrate the program’s one-year anniversary, President Obama met with a handful of Champions of Change. He learned about the work they are doing in their communities and asked what being a Champion of Change means to them.
Each one of them had a unique answer. As Patience Lehrman, National Director of Project SHINE noted, the Champions program expanded the platform of her work nationally and internationally. Five months after the Champions of Change designation, she was invited as a guest presenter at a global immigrant integration conference in Hamburg, Germany.
As the President has often said, change doesn’t happen from the top down and it doesn’t always come from Washington. It happens from the bottom up, and it is driven by people like the 12 remarkable individuals who came to the White House.See link below for full story.
Post by Patience Lehrman
Today marks the last day I serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Project SHINE. Reflecting on my experiences with the organization and community, I find it very fitting that I am ending my VISTA term a week before our country nationally recognizes the need to take the time to offer thanks for that which we have in our lives. For me, the concept of gratefulness only begins to describe how honored I feel having worked with the communities and volunteers involved with Project SHINE. Trite as it may sound, I believe that any measurable contribution I gave to the community cannot match how much I gained from my time with Project SHINE and especially the communities SHINE serves.
There are many moments which bring me pride and joy from my time as a VISTA. Working with the Tyler Art School and Community Learning Network at Temple University on the Immigrant Voices exhibit, managing the Tai Chi program with the Chinese and Latino elders from Coffee Cup Senior Center and students from the Department of Critical Languages, and running the Immigration Awareness Movie Series to draw awareness to immigration issues of today are some of my favorite projects. Making immigration an open and accessible topic in these ways, I truly believe, allows us all to see immigrants as people, not problems and immigration as an issue that affects us all. Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "we are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness," and I very much frame my understanding of this experience and the knowledge I have gained from that concept.
Looking back, my most cherished memories are from the occasions in which I was able to interact with the remarkable community members SHINE with whom SHINE works. The look in one learner's eyes when he finally understood the difference between a "d' and a "b" is an expression I will never forget. The tenderness and appreciation on another learner's face when he articulated his love for America and why he wanted to gain his United States citizenship, too, is ingrained in my memory. By that same token, the depth of pain of a female refugee who shared how she held her child as he starved to death in a refugee camp is not something I will ever allow myself to forget. While I will never fully understand what she feels, I carry her story with me and will do my very best to ensure that fewer women will suffer as she suffered.
These are just some of the many stories and memories I came to experience during my time at SHINE, and every single day I marveled at the strength of the spirits of those immigrants and refugees who had been through more struggle in one day than many of us can imagine in a lifetime; yet, somehow they are able to see the good in the world.
I would be entirely remiss without recognizing the terrific, passionate, and eager volunteers who dedicate their time to the communities SHINE serves. Their efforts and energy regularly re-invigorated and reminded me why I also chose to volunteer in the first place. Each and every one of them are incredible; and simply put, SHINE would not be SHINE without them.
It is with a heart fully of love and respect that I offer my deepest gratitude for those who shared their stories and lives with me over this past year. Because of them, I am a better person than I was a year ago; because of them, I am forever changed. Thank you.
For Mabium Sirleaf, a Project SHINE intern, education is the key to unlocking a successful and self-sufficient future, a lesson she learned through strife and triumph. This December, she will be graduating with her advanced degree in social work. Her journey to her MSW was not an easy one, but as she explained, "the lessons along the journey make us who we are, not the end destination."
Mabium came to America in 2005, after living through the Liberian civil war, the of her father a a very young age, and refugee displacement. Mabium says she survived because her mother's determination for Mabium to receive education. “In my culture--the Mandingo culture--it is not encouraged for women to become educated,” Mabium explained, “but my family firmly believed that every child, regardless of their sex, should be given an education. Because of this belief, my siblings and I traveled from Liberia to the Ivory Coast, to Ghana while we were displaced during the civil war just to continue our education.”
Mabium’s mother's indefatigable efforts for her children to gain an education stemmed from her own personal experiences. Mabium’s mother was a child bride in Liberia. however, she did not suffer many of the pitfalls of her child-bride peers because she received an education, despite the cultural stigma surrounding educating women in Mandingo culture. Because of this schooling, when Mabium’s father passed away unexpectedly, Mabium's mother was able to support herself and her children by opening and managing a chain of gas stations.
With the words of her mother imprinted on her heart, Mabium never forgot the importance of education. After traveling from country to country to gain her schooling despite war and civil unrest all around her, Mabium knew she should go to America to finish her education. In 2005, after years of attempts, Mabium finally won her green card through Liberia’s lottery system, and immediately enlisted in college at the Community College of Philadelphia. She then continued her education at Temple University, graduating with a degree in Political Science, and is now finishing her Master’s degree at Temple University in social work concentrating in social policy. Through her program, Mabium volunteered with Project SHINE this year on program development and coordination at many community partner sites.
However, Mabium is fully aware that both she and her mother is the exceptions to the rule. “In my country,” Mabium explained, “only about 5% of the people are independent thinkers, and even a smaller proportion of those people feel self-empowered. I believe that it is a lack of free and open education that leads to this. I want to help create a world where everyone has access to a good, free education.” She understands that she was one of the "lucky ones" who were able to escape from a life of ignorance and small-mindedness. Mabium takes her circumstances very seriously, and is determined empower women and children all over the world through education. She hopes to work for the United Nations Girl Up program which focuses on educating young women around the world of different cultures and ideas.
“Social change inspires me, because I believe that everyone should be given the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves and to follow their dreams. That is why I am so inspired by Project SHINE and will continue to work with the program whenever I can. The program truly offers people hope when they have had none. It shines happiness where it most needs to be.”