By Alyssa Valdivia
FRESNO, Calif.,– I am going to the University of California, San Diego to major in Sociology in the fall so that I can give back and make a difference in my community. How did I get here?
It all started at camp.
I was asked last summer to attend Sisterhood Rising Camp, a five-day retreat in the Sierra Nevadas. I didn’t know much about this retreat, but I was fortunate enough to be invited.
This gave me the opportunity to escape from my city. To disconnect from the people I am surrounded with in order to reconnect with myself.
I trusted in the goals of the camp which were to practice self-healing and build community.
The very first memory I have of arriving at the beautiful camp was the inevitable feelings of anxiety. I was surrounded by large trees, clean air, and about 100 other women I did not know. But because I had already bonded with the four other girls from Fresno, I knew I could face the camp.
On that first day the adult allies gathered every single one of us into a huge room and had us sit in a huge circle. Here we had the opportunity to work in a collaborative group and create community agreements to keep the space safe.
My emotions automatically went from unfamiliar and uncomfortable to positive and extremely trusting. I didn’t expect to build that trust so quickly, but the camp was structured to make us feel safe and heard.
In the next few days, I had the opportunity to challenge myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I was able to hear the struggles of other young women and also share part of my own struggles. I was empowered hearing the struggles of the adult allies and the way each one of them has overcome those struggles.
I had the chance to find my spirituality, be cleansed with sage and learn how to meditate.
I found my voice by being reminded that I had one. I was constantly practicing my ability of using my “lioness” voice and I was also able to find out what kind of leader I was. I learned the effects of patriarchy, classism and racism, the very root issues that impede access to health, education and success.
The retreat was like an emotional rollercoaster for us. We shared our tears, our laughter, our anger, our fear and even our personal complications. We even faced some new obstacles together, like climbing a 30 ft. rope course, bungee jumping from an area above 20 feet, attempting to zip line and even canoeing. We also found the strength to break wood and release negative energy from people who have put us down before.
In the end, each person still had their own problems back in their city, but each one of us helped empower each other to continue fighting our fight and to get involved with our community. We left the camp empowered to bring our new skills and sisterhood back to our communities to implement change.
We found inspiration in each other and clung to each other so tight that some of us even cried when we had to let go and return back to our homes.
The good news is that I returned from camp to Fresno where we started Women Empowered (W.E.), Fresno’s chapter of Sisterhood Rising. And over the last year, I have learned so much from W.E.
I have developed a strong friendship among my sisters and my mentors, from dedicating an afternoon once a week for sister-circles to sharing via social media accounts and cell phone numbers – and making it a point to go out with my sisters as much as possible. I’ve grown to love and support them as they have done for me.
Like at the camp, we have adult mentors who have guided us through the process of creating community agreements and have supported us throughout the year. They do not forget to remind us that we are in a safe space and if we wish to share something personal about our life that it is okay to do so. They provide us with a space that makes us feel comfortable and research opportunities for us to grow as young women and leaders of our community.
The foundation of the W.E. program is called Xinachtli. Xinachtli is a culturally based youth development practice that recognizes the importance of the physical, mental and emotional health of an individual. The program emphasizes that within our own communities are indigenous practices that promote healthy development, restoration and lifelong well-being.
I have developed a strong confidence in myself because of W.E. I have developed a strong friendship with my sisters and my mentors and I have been able to create friendships with mentors and young leaders across California. I have also received many opportunities to remain involved with my community. In the end, W.E. has become a second home for me and has helped me find my passion in community leadership, which led me to my major.