An update from Hena, a sophomore majoring in political science and public relations who participated in the Alternative Breaks trip to San Francisco:
San Francisco is a pretty interesting city. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I’m glad it wasn’t.
Our group arrived in SanFran (as group leader, Katie, likes to call it) on Saturday afternoon. As we walked to our hostel, we passed by a man experiencing homelessness who could tell some of us were on edge. He uttered the words, “Wave and don’t get robbed!” Katie thought he said, “Wave and don’t give up” so she made that her motto for the rest of trip. It was a good motto to have as we trekked up the hills of San Francisco! We arrived at our 1920s hostel, which was absolutely amazing. People from so many different cultures and backgrounds surrounded us. Some were staying there as they toured San Francisco, and others were students at local schools. We got dinner at Mel’s, a San Francisco diner, that night and then got some groceries.
The next morning we began our service journey with Quesada Gardens Initiative. On Monday, we got to hear a lot about the purpose of the community garden and its history. It was amazing to hear from the leaders and to see their passion come through.
I think what I found most interesting was their mission. In Dallas, when we think of community gardens, we think of being “granola” and environmentally friendly. We think that these gardens serve as means to create good clean food. Although this still stands true for Quesada, their main goal is community building. The two gardens (Quesada Garden and Bridgeview Garden) are set in Bayview, a culturally rich neighborhood with an absolutely amazing view of the bay.
Before the gardens, no one knew his or her neighbors. The lots were full of trash and people went about doing their own thing. The founders of Quesada Gardens decided to find a way to combat these issues alongside others through a community garden. The project also continues to grow because their mission is so broad that they are able to do a lot of different things. For example, they have movie nights by the garden and they offer a summer dance class to keep girls busy and away from drugs, crime, etc.
We got to work in the garden for the next few days. None of us expected it to be as hard as it was. We de-weeded the two gardens, and planted in one. De-weeding was especially hard work. For me, it was kind of a stress reliever and I really enjoyed it. After working in the garden even for a few hours, we all began to realize how much it really takes to put together and run a garden. The weeds never seemed to go away! I knew it was hard, but I never realized just how hard. I also realized how rewarding it was. With gardening, you get to see the fruits of your labor come to life, and now I’m excited about hopefully having at least a small garden when I have my own home.
On one of the days, Mary (the Bridgeview Garden leader) took us to a groundbreaking ceremony for the Bayview Opera House, and the mayor was there. For a lot of us, it was one of our favorite experiences of the trip. We got to hear from many natives of Bayview and San Francisco about the new things that they were doing to develop a stronger community bond. For them, developing community helped solve other issues like crime and drug use. They were all so passionate and dedicated to the work that they were doing.
After the ceremony, we all reflected on what community means. For Dallas, the term community is completely different. In San Francisco, people eat, live, and work in the same area. In Dallas, community has less of a meaning; it is almost something we hope for but don’t know how to achieve. That night in reflection, the ceremony led us to discuss the idea of creating a larger sense of community on campus. It got the discussion started and inspired a lot of us to think about our actions and how we can change them to strengthen community bonds at SMU.
The service was a truly amazing experience and I know it was just what I needed to remind me of how much of an impact I can make. If two people starting a small garden can bring together a community, I can’t even imagine what I can do with all of the resources that we have as SMU students and Dallas residents.
San Francisco was also an amazing city with so much to do. Each neighborhood had its own identity and something interesting to offer. The weather was perfect and the city was vibrant and full of energy. We got to see Chinatown (great Chinese food!), the Mission (look up Mission Dolores park, it is the coolest), Upper Haight, Nob Hill, Soma (where they have the coolest food truck park), and the Golden Gate area.
For our fun day, we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge (which was actually pretty tiring) and took a ferry ride back toward Fisherman’s Wharf where we enjoyed Ghirardelli Square and great seafood. Our last dinner together was perfect. It was crazy to see how close I got to people I had only known for a few days. Every person in our group was inspiring. Everyone had their own goals, yet they were able to think about helping others. Everyone had a different impact that they wanted to make, and I’m lucky to have spent a week with them doing service and opening up to new experiences.