By Priscilla Rodriguez & Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writers
Since 1999, the San Francisco-based nonprofit Oasis for Girls has served hundreds of young girls of color in the Bay Area, equipping them with the essential knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the face of adversity.
“We help them to break the barriers of gender, racial and social inequity that they are going to face, and that they have already faced, so that they can build the strong future that they deserve,” says Executive Director Wendy Calimag, who has been with the organization for nearly one year, developing the youth program.
Through its distinctive three-program Springboard Series, Oasis for Girls leads young women between the ages of 14 to 18 through workshops, projects, and conversations that encompass a variety of topics and issues that affect women, minorities, and those growing up in particularly underprivileged communities.
These three factors alone, Calimag explains, are enough to create major setbacks for young girls of color who are growing up in underprivileged neighborhoods.
Oasis for Girls has therefore become a key player in many of the girls’ lives, helping them to better understand the type of challenges they might face as women of color and how they can best prepare themselves to become advocates for their own success.
The first in the sequence of programs is RISE, which focuses on helping girls develop life skills that are essential to womanhood, including self-advocacy, awareness, and self-defense, and many of the issues affecting women’s rights and leadership in the 21st century.
“It’s not enough to teach girls skills because girls of color are going to face discrimination and gender discrimination,” says Calimag, “so we go deep into these conversations with the girls on topics of inequity and identity.”
“As a girl, [we ask them] how will you advocate for yourself and how will you be safe? How do you teach your community not to blame victims? How do you hold society responsible for changing policy effectively? We can’t separate gender and race and being in an under-served community, and we really talk to the girls about all that.”
The second program of the series, CREATE, focuses on the use of art and creativity to address social justice issues and the particular role of art within urban settings and across the Bay Area.
Participants are encouraged to embrace creativity by starting conversations on important topics through poetry or spoken word. Every year, the girls work on art projects together to find a way to bring these issues to the forefront in a public setting and to discuss solutions and the implementation of positive change. This year, the girls created an elaborate drawing on a poster to brainstorm change in their communities.
The third and final leg of the series is ENVISION, which helps girls to explore career options alongside learning important skills and the dynamics of a just work space. In many cases, the girls get to participate in internships and stay connected with various companies throughout their education.
This well-rounded and thorough approach to teaching young women the political and social skills necessary to navigate their careers and lives as women of color is absolutely critical and sets the organization apart from others, says Calimag.
Additionally, because the program is an all-girls program, Calimag says it creates a space where girls begin developing their voices early in their lives so that they will feel empowered in the real-world and will be supportive of their female peers.
“You may have heard or experienced this yourself,” says Calimag, but contrary to stereotypes that uphold ideas about catty interactions between females, girls can be (and are) supportive of each other and are excited for one another’s success.
“We are honest with each other. We are honest about our varying experiences in life and how they have impacted us,” says Calimag.
“Our past experiences growing up as women of color, or as immigrants…it’s all important, and we give these girls the opportunity to speak up and to have their voices heard.”