WDA works with local immigrants

William Witwer

Whitman Direct Action is trying to make a difference in the world, one project at a time.

“WDA is a student-run, student-led group,” said junior member Jojo Robertson. “It’s basically like a nonprofit in that students will propose projects and will discuss everything as a group and come up with a project and then try and implement it as best we can.”

In its mission statement, the student group pledges to help marginalized people through “economically and environmentally sustainable community development,” and they are sticking to it.

“We actually do try and stick to this mission statement pretty closely in our ideals,” said Robertson. “We really want our projects to be long term and not just a one-time charity sort of thing. So we do try all the time to strive for sustainability both economically and environmentally.”

Whitman Direct Action became an official campus group in 2005. Every year since its inception, members propose a number of projects and pick one to complete. Past projects have included building a house in Nicaraugua for a family left destitute by an accident; this past summer Whitman Direct Action attempted to unite immigrant groups known as Home Town Associations.

“We started out with wanting to create a network of Home Town Associations in the United States so they could all work together to help Oaxaca as a state,” said junior member Guari Mirashi. “We had to sort of tone down our efforts and actually get to know them.”

Home Town Associations are established by Oaxacan immigrants: who come in large numbers to the Pacific Northwest for work: that try to help their communities. However, the individual immigrant groups do not work together, and Whitman Direct Action hoped to create a network of these organizations. They soon discovered that they lacked the experience and connections to accomplish this goal.

“One of the challenges has been getting in contact with the [immigrant groups],” said Mirashi. “A lot of them don’t use e-mails as regularly and we’re just so used to that. Last weekend . . . it was more like 15 people got together and started talking to us. They do have a structure of some sort, but it’s way more informal. It’s like: ‘You can call me, and if my phone doesn’t work, you can call: I think, him.'”

Contact was eventually established, and over winter break students will visit some of the communities in Oaxaca that the immigrant groups represent. The student group faces many more challenges beyond unorganized immigrant groups, though.

“Getting funding is always hard, and in terms of membership it just depends on people’s schedules and how much time they can commit,” said Robertson.

They do have to commit a significant portion of time to work. Robertson and Mirashi emphasized how much work the club requires, an average of five to six hours per week. However, the work they do allows them to enjoy their Whitman education a lot more.

“You should not leave out how exciting actually doing stuff is compared to what you might find just going to classes,” said Robertson. “To come out of classes and apply what you’re learning and try and make it function in the real world is a very different kind of thing. And it’s super exciting: it makes everything that you are learning in classes that much more interesting.”