Rice advice

August 30, 2010

YHHAP just received a request for advice from former co-coordinator Efan.  I’ve pasted the e-mail below–if you have any thoughts, please contact her at efan.wu@yale.edu.  Get brainstorming!

Here’s the story in brief:
I’m here in China for the next 10 months working at a participatory documentary center started by filmmaker Jian Yi (a 2009 Yale World Fellow). But this place does way more than documentary.
Some other projects include rural architecture, where some landscape & architecture artists help rural villagers design new houses at no cost, and build them at low cost using sustainable materials. There’s also oral histories, where we find really really old people around here, and ask them about their lives (members of the original Chinese Communist Army, etc.)

One of our newly started projects is a *rice charity project*. The Chinese name for the project is “A Spoonful of Rice.” English name still TBD. Basically, we ask people around the city of Ji’an to commit to donating rice (or other cooking materials, like beans, oil, etc) once, twice, or 4 times a month. People can donate anywhere from a spoonful (which is closer to a cupful, since Chinese ‘spoons’ are more like ladles) to several kilograms of rice. Our volunteers collect the rice from the donors’ houses and then distribute it to needy households. But, a huge component is simply visiting these households–many of which consist of lonely old ladies–and giving them some company and good cheer. We usually hear about needy households from word-of-mouth and other sorts of networks such as church charity groups. Donor households often contact us to join our donation network. The Chinese attitude towards civic involvement & community service is very very different from that in the US. We are hoping that our project can serve as a sort of launching pad for people to get involved in civic activities, and help cultivate a habit of service and caring. We believe that the desire to contribute exists in many places, but that the main thing lacking is a central focal point or organization to facilitate service.
We basically have a 3-step process:
1) Call up donor households to confirm a time when we can come by their house to collect rice
2) Visit donor households to collect rice – Volunteers usually travel by city bus to individual neighborhoods, and then go it on foot
3) Call up recipient households to confirm a time when we can come by their house to drop off rice
4) Deliver rice to individual recipient households, or simply visit recipient households – Volunteers usually travel by city bus, then go on foot

Two caveats of our program are that we don’t accept large one-time donations (if possible, we like to cultivate long-term relationships and an ongoing consciousness about social giving) and that we don’t accept monetary donations (only food items). So far, this program has been steadily growing, and we’ve gotten coverage from several print & broadcast media sources already.
We’ve found thus far that our combined collection and delivery costs often exceed the cost of the items that we have collected.
*I wanted to see if you guys had any thoughts on how we might solve this problem?*
Here are a couple of possible solutions that we are discussing:
1) Talk to the city bus company (it’s all state-owned) and see if we can get free bus rides for our volunteers (identified by a badge and/or t-shirt, and only during designated times).
2) Talk to local markets or other public and easily-accessible spaces to see if they might be willing to serve as collection spots for us — however, this means we would lose the face-to-face contact between our volunteers and the donor families
3) Find some sort of public space where we could go set up a little stand at during designated times so people could bring by their rice donations.
4) Try to significantly increase our donor base so that we can collect more rice each time we go out collecting

Some other questions we are grappling with:
1) What happens in winter, when it gets super cold? Will our volunteers be able to safely travel during this time?
2) How can we plan for the growth of this project? We can’t simply do what we’ve been doing, just on a larger scale.
Will we eventually need a bigger storage space for donations? (we’re currently using the documentary center office)
How will we get in touch with donor & recipient families? (we’re currently calling up every single household every single week to arrange for donation/drop-off times)

I truly welcome any sorts of comments, ideas, advice, suggestions, or experience that you may have.

boxofrice.blogspot.com <http://boxofrice.blogspot.com>

Best of luck with YHHAP in the upcoming year!



Faculty Lunches

August 15, 2010

One of the big projects YHHAP is working on right now is the Faculty Lunch fundraiser.  For the last few years’ parents’ weekends, YHHAP has been hosting lunches for parents to meet notable Yale professors, and the proceeds from the tickets go toward the Shelter Now campaign.  The roster for this year,  looks really great; Akhil Amar, Paul Bloom, Thomas Pogge, Shelly Kagan, Amy Arnsten, and Steven Smith are all on board.  We hope to see you there!

For more info (including faculty bios) and to register, visit http://www.yale.edu/yhhap/Faculty_Lunches.html.

I am a failure

August 8, 2010

I am the worst blog-keeper ever.  Joe and Gabe–forgive me.  Turns out a few people were following this summer, so I apologize to all of you who have woken each morning and eagerly checked your Google Readers only to be disappointed (I jest).  Due to the demands of figuring out this data, my coursework, planning the Freshman Day of Service, and some cool New Haven gov projects, I’ve fallen behind, but I promise that as soon as I turn in this last paper (Joyce, I will beat you) I’ll do some serious updating on the nutrition project and some cool new YHHAP news.

Forgive me.

Crunch time!

June 30, 2010

I finished up my last round of interviews yesterday, and it’s time to start number crunching!  I need to figure out where to get the appropriate stat packages from, but assuming I can find sources at Yale in the next few days, I hope to be done in two weeks or so.

I really left the shelter yesterday on such a high.  I got a lot of help from the staff and clients recruiting participants, and ended up collecting the most data in one day since my first week.  One of the clients I’ve gotten to know well, Bernard, also had just gotten some part time work, and his girlfriend had been hired full time, so it looks like their engagement is still on.  It was great to hear such good news.

Unfortunately, the news for New Haven’s plan for the shelters for the coming year is not as positive.  I still haven’t heard the full story from all angles, but once I have more information I’ll be back with updates.

Have a happy 4th everyone!

Briefly: a breaded question of ethics

June 23, 2010

Last night, coming home around 11:30 from a  dinner party (I know Mom, we’re such grown ups) , my housemate Nick and I wandered by Book Trader and found FIVE LOAVES OF BREAD.  I knew Book Trader sold their day-old bread right at closing for a dollar at loaf, but apparently they leave the rest out for grabs.  Being college students consistently excited by free food, we took all of it.  To be fair, some of it was pumpernickel, so I thought the excitement was totally legitimate—but I also felt a little gross about eating free bread when I can afford to buy a loaf of my own.

“People in Africa,” or why the Toledo Zoo should stick to animals

June 20, 2010

I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Toledo, Ohio–he’s on a Yale fellowship working for the Blade, and living in a fairly quiet part of the city, less developed than the suburb in which I grew up.  Other than a delicious bakery and ant-ridden park, the big highlight within walking distance of his house is the Toledo Zoo, an impressively large attraction for such a calm area.  I enjoyed watching the monkeys eat fruit and the elephants be large.  I spent most of the visit delighted to be delighted, remembering why I loved zoos so much as a kid.

Then, we went to Africa, or, rather “Africa!”  The zoo has recently put together a little theme park to highlight to multitudinous joys of this exotic land, and just about every piece of the exhibit was hugely problematic.  Want to look at crocodiles?  Oh, look, here’s a picture of unidentified black men in an unidentified location wrestling with a reptile.  Want to understand why Africa is sometimes referred to as the “dark continent” (which, apparently, people still do)?  Well, it’s because the people there have dark skin and kill each other a lot… but you should definitely know that there have been human atrocities outside of Africa, so be sensitive now.  Also, apparently everyone in Africa speaks these days.  Hamjambo wanyama!

Even some of the better intentioned exhibits still managed to twist everything around.  One display explained that Africa is a CONTINENT, while the US is a COUNTRY (their capitalization, not my own).  Great, glad we’ve got that settled.  Then, however, the same panel continues to compare the population of all of Africa to the US, China, and a South American country I can’t recall.  Excuse me, but… didn’t we just go over how that isn’t a useful comparison?

The most absurd part, however, is the part that ultimately makes this relevant to a blog about hunger.  Along with categorizations of lions (which were beautiful), we also get categorizations of people.  Actually.  Lining an entire wall was a display entitled “People in Africa.”  Actually.

Apparently, there are precisely six types of people who live on the African continent: the Game Warden, the Herdsman, the Tourist, the Poacher, the Farmer, and the Scientist.  Along with a simplistic explanation of each of these professions comes an identification of nationality and a cute little picture.  And guess what?  Apparently, the Scientist is British, because only white people believe in empirical fact.  And the American CEO tourist would like to return to the continent again “if it’s safe,” it apparently being the entire continent.  She needs a better travel agent.

I’m happy to send anyone interested the complete set of photos including the individual descriptions (alexandra.brodsky@yale.edu), but I think it is clear there is a serious problem here not only with how Africa is portrayed, but how food supply and production is explained.  In this fetishization of the “dark continent,” hunting becomes a metaphor.  We cannot understand how a foreign culture eats–which is particularly important when talking about cultures on a continent often stricken by food insecurity–when different peoples are mushed together to provide us with some poetic display of “the other,” and how the other survives.  Much of Africa’s food is grown on subsistence farms, but not all crops are at constant risk of being devoured by livestock, and there are also plenty of large-scale production factory farms.  For the Masai, hunting may take on coming of age narratives, but I’m just going to take a wild guess that, most of the time, it’s really just about food. And, of course, the presentation of the black men gathering food wearing traditional garb with traditional tools, and the foreign white scientist doing the real thinking, is hugely problematic.  I strongly believe that solutions to African hunger must be spearheaded by Africans, and while foreign scientists obviously contribute a tremendous amount, this is only possible if we progress beyond this ridiculous conception of “People in Africa.”  Solutions will develop when we work from local relationships to food–and yes, absolutely with the help of experts African and foreign–but the type of the “white scientist” implies our only hope is to import in, you know, some damn civilization already.  Didn’t you see what they were doing to the crocodile?

Ups and Downs

June 20, 2010

It’s remarkable how human subject research depends so much on the littlest factors.  In my previous life as a science kid, my research at a Columbia genetics lab was pretty consistent.  Sure, there were occasional exciting or disappointing times when results came in, but the programs on which I did most of my work were just the same one day to the next.  My days at the shelter last week, though, varied hugely.  I was only able to go in twice due to a trip this weekend (more on that in a later post), but came out of the first not sure how helpful another session would be.  I was unable to interview even half the number I usually can in one day–I just couldn’t drum up the interest amongst the clients.  For the first time since I started, I felt like I was intruding.

I think this was primarily due to two factors. Firstly, a lot of the women were having a separate dinner meeting, which makes the whole atmosphere a little more subdued, and my presence more noticeable.  Secondly, and more importantly, a lot of the friends I’ve made around the shelter were absent that day.  There are a couple of particularly gregarious staff members and a number of previous interviewees who I always catch up with before starting the interviews, and I think this makes the interview process less suspicious to new clients who haven’t seen me before.

It wasn’t until my next research day, however, that I realized this.  At the time, I was hugely discouraged. I’m hoping to get 70 interviews by the end of June so I can start the fairly involved data crunching step, and was worried this goal was wildly unrealistic.  After a very successful next session though, during which I felt welcome at the shelter and had a great time, I felt back on track, and was able to assess the reasons for the previous disappointment.  The good news is that as I get to know more people at the shelter, the chances of having another “off day” will decrease.  Looking forward to going back tomorrow!

For now, Happy Father’s Day everyone.  Eat well.