Inspiring Young Woman Leader of the Week: Miya Sommers

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Miya Sommers was born and raised in Berkeley, California. She is currently attempting a double major in Global Studies and Cultural Anthropology with a minor in Japanese at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She founded the UCSB chapter of Nourish International this year, and they’re planning to go to Nepal to work with the Sarswati Peace School. She also works as a resident assistant for the residence halls on campus and act as the Vice President for the UCSB wrestling club.

My first question for you is: how did you get started with this project?

I first learned about Nourish International last year from one of my global advisors. This organization was looking for students across the US to start chapters at their universities. I looked into Nourish, and I really enjoyed their model of sustainable development created and implemented by a coalition of communities and students. I applied to start a chapter, and was granted permission to bring one to UCSB!

During our winter quarter, the Nourish team was looking for a community organization to partner with for a summer development project. I was emailed by a UCSB third year student, Olivia Wong, currently studying abroad in Japan who had recently founded an organization called Inspire a Child. This organization was created because she noticed an increase of soccer trafficking of child due to the FIFA soccer tournament. Many children who exhibit some talent in soccer follow coaches who promise them that their skill will bring them future success. However, many are just abandoned after leaving their homes or are sold into slavery. Therefore, she wanted to combine a child’s love of soccer with compulsory education to keep their interest in school and give them hope for a brighter future, rather than the one coaches promise.

Olivia was searching for partners when she came across the Sarswati Peace School. Although there is not a lot of soccer trafficking, she still wanted to incorporate physical education with classroom learning. So she contacted Subhash Ghimire, the schools founder, to set up a project. Then she contacted me to see if my team wanted to join her to aid in the construction of a field, and library, in addition to setting up a peace curriculum.

And that’s basically how we got our start.

What you would be doing in Nepal and how you’re preparing now that for that trip?

Our most labor-intensive part is building the soccer field. We’re going to working with local contractors in the planning and building of the field. The soccer field is extra cool because we’re going to be bringing sOccket balls. These balls can convert 15 minutes of play in three hours of energy. This is crucial because the village we’re going to, Arupokhari-1 in Gorkha, doesn’t have electricity and will have it’s first water pipe by the time we get there in July. We’ll also be working with the students in class and doing some improvements to the school. Olivia is also trying to install solar panels for the school. Since we’re doing homestays, we’d also work with the families in their agricultural work.

Right now we’re trying to secure travel grants from our university and local NGOs. And we need to establish a complete schedule of events, and make sure we have alternate plans in case the monsoon rains prevent us from working on the soccer field.

So tell me more about yourself and your interest in development?

 I’m originally from Berkeley, California. I’ve always been really interested in traveling because growing up my Dad always told me stories about his trips across the world. I’ve definitely been interested in less industrialized nations because the environment is more pristine and the pace a lot slower. My dream places were in Asia, especially since my Dad spent a lot of time in Thailand and Nepal. My older brother’s middle name was from one of my Dad’s friend in Nepal!

That’s really why I’m excited to go abroad this summer. While I’m really grateful for my multi-ethnic background giving me alternate perspectives with in the US, there’s still a lot more I need to understand and experience in places outside me homeland. Anyway, while growing up, the systemic inequalities between North and South continued to become more apparent to me. I couldn’t really understand where this gap came from nor what could be done to solve it. It wasn’t until my first year at college that I started seeing the complicated pieces in this problem, and understand development’s role as a solution. I started getting involved with Human Rights groups on campus and i took introduction to global studies and cultural anthropology. These classes explained to me that the divide between “developed” and “developing” was the result if centuries of imperialism and colonization.

Even now, countries are struggling under the neo-imperialism by ridiculously wealthy states. What the classes I took emphasized was the importance of the communities and grassroots movements to change this system. Therefore, development was a tool where we can look for solutions within the community rather than (foreign) government mandates.

I’m really interested in agricultural, educational, and female development because I see these as the keys to ensuring a better future for our world, but that have been largely ignored.

Can you talk a bit more about what you’ve worked on in college/high school? You mentioned Nourish International, but are you involved in anything else?

What really got me started was being part of our Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus. There I met a lot of really progressive and active members in my community. From there, I joined our Human rights Board on campus, and helped them put on awareness events about issues with political prisoners, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and food justice. I’m also trying to become more involved with the Associated Student Government to work on stopping tuition increases. But most of my attention is centered around Nourish and my job as a Residential Assistant for the dormitories on campus.

 

That’s really great! You’re really doing a great job as a female leader on campus.  Do you see gender inequality issues on your campus? I was part of a fellowship at my university that focused on that, and we really saw a gender gap in leadership – very few women were running to be student senators or president.

Actually, at UCSB there is a lot of female involvement. I’m running for a senator position with my campus’s progressive party, and of the of the four executive positions we slated, three of them are female, with our president identifying as a woman. The other more conservative party still has significant female presence, just low on women of color. We have a lot of great resources on campus that really support female leadership development like our women’s center, the center for sexual & gender diversity, and the Fem studies department. The only problem I see is a sexist culture in the neighboring residential part. UCSB is known for it’s party reputation, and this in turn leads to disrespect to women that go out.

Are you seeing cases of sexual assault on campus?

In the circles I operate in, this is a big issue. However, the women’s center said that most assaults here go unreported. Aside from really involved students, this is not an issue our campus is really interested in. There’s also a lot of pressure on girls here to look and act a certain way. Women are expected to dress up in heels and tight skirts when they’re going out. We have a very sexualized culture here when it comes to the nightlife.

Another issue I know about, but really experience is low number of women, and women of color in “hard ” sciences. I’m a global science major, so my liberal arts classes are very diverse. But my friends that are in upper division engineering, math, or programming classes tell me that they’re usually the only girl in class, and that everyone else in a white male.

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