Interview with Irvine Chief of Police

The ears of the leader must ring with the voices of the people. For over eighteen years, Irvine City Councilmember Larry Agran has been closely listening to the wants and needs of his Irvine citizens. As an Irvine resident for over 30 years, Agran helped shape the City of Irvine to become one of the safest, most advanced, multicultural and community oriented cities in the world.

Graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960’s, Agran attributes his interests in politics and public service to the inspiration he received from Kennedy’s presidential campaign and the civil rights and
anti-war movements of the time. While at Berkeley, Agran realized that government, when properly organized, was the instrument for civic improvement.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Agran moved back to California and eventually to Irvine where he realized the enormous potential of the city. “When I came to Irvine, it became clear to me that I would be able to shape the future, programs and policies of the city,” Agran said. His desire to become more involved in city politics fueled his decision to run for city council in 1978 where he was elected. Agran served for a total of twelve years, six as Mayor, until 1990 when he was defeated.

After an eight year break from city politics, Agran returned with a dream in 1998. Agran did not want an international airport at the El Toro Marine base – his dream was to create a great metropolitan park in the heart of Orange County instead. Campaigning under the notion of a Great Park, Agran gained support from the people of Irvine and was elected to city council. In 2000 he was elected Mayor for four years and was recently reelected as a city councilmember.

“I feel that over the years, I have learned to become a practitioner of politics and public policy in a way that involves as many people as possible,” Agran said. His style of leadership is truly democratic in the sense that Agran’s political power relies heavily on the support and participation given to him by the people. Agran loves to see citizens and community activists get involved. He urges members of the community to participate and to shape the programs and policies that create the vital quality of life and community for the people. “The fact that we can work together to create these programs and policies is something I am very proud of,” Agran said.

Agran also takes pride in the integration of the large number of people with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, ethnicities, and languages that live in the city. In a highly multicultural community like Irvine, Agran and the rest of the city council has done a remarkable job in celebrating rather than masking the differences we have together. Cultural programs such as the Irvine Sister Cities Project and the Global Village Festival work to maintain these differences. No community can be everything to everybody, but the balance of diversity in Irvine is remarkable. “In Irvine, you can essentially experience the whole world without ever actually leaving the city,” Agran said.Agran feels fortunate to have such a critical mass of Persians living in Irvine. In addition to his experiences with Persian food, language and cultural traditions, Agran also understands the drive and democratic values behind those who fled Iran because of the revolution. He notes that the Persians in Irvine tend to be very committed to retaining their identity but are also not afraid of mainstreaming into American life. He links our rapid and successful transition into the American culture to the disproportionate number of educated professionals that exist in our community – the overwhelming amount of doctors, engineers, and lawyers in the Persian community is undeniable. Statistically, as one of the most highly educated immigrant groups in the United States, we are a great asset to have.

“In the Persian community there is a willingness to get involved in civic life,”
said Agran. This is ground breaking because many other cultural communities in Irvine are unable to engage in politics due to issues of language and the lack of democratic participation within their countries and culture before. For Agran, the election of Councilmember Sukhee Kang, the first non-Caucasian candidate, to the Irvine city council was revolutionary. “His election to the city council sends
a powerful signal that we have arrived; and ethnic boundaries have been broken,” Agran said.

The more unified a community becomes the more powerful it will become.
Agran believes highly in the importance of cultural publications, such as OCPC, that speak to a community. Grabbing people’s attention and getting them to read, to think and to learn is essential in establishing a good democratic nation. “Publications that cater to certain communities are a great asset to the community,” said Agran. “I love OCPC Magazine!”

The Africa Project

Recently with the help of grassroots and highly publicized media campaigns like ONE.org and our country’s shift of media coverage of individuals in neglected, third world countries, our country has begun opening its eyes to the massive social, political, and economic inequalities that are so prevalent within our world.

In America, the ONE campaign has become the biggest voice in years to call for a fight against global AIDS and extreme poverty. The ONE campaign pushes to allocate an additional one percent of the American budget towards providing basic needs such as health care, education, clean water and food for the world’s poorest countries. Though ONE calls for reforms in all of the world’s poorest countries, they have specifically focuses in on the African continent. No other continent, more than Africa has been hit harder by these crises. In Africa especially, ONE is calling for debt cancellation, trade reform and anti-corruption measures to help African nations beat AIDS and extreme poverty.

ONE is not asking people for their money – rather they want people to speak up and fight against AIDS and world poverty so that decision makers will do more to save millions of lives in the poorest of countries. More than half a million Americans have joined ONE since April 2005; 800,000 have signed the ONE declaration pledging to make a difference. More than one million Americans are also wearing white bands as a show of support for ending extreme poverty and global AIDS. ONE aims to bring the voices of every American together with one message and one purpose: to make poverty history.

With the allocation of an additional one percent of the US budget we can help prevent 10 million children from becoming AIDS orphans; We can help get
104 million children into grade school; We can help provide water to almost
900 million people around the globe; We can save almost 6.5 million children under 5 from dying of diseases that could be prevented with low-cost measures like vaccinations or a well for clean water, and We can build a better, safer world for all.ONE believes that Americans working at the local level can
beat extreme poverty and AIDS globally. Here in Irvine I helped create a grassroots/community based effort aimed to support the children and especially AIDS orphans in Africa. This organization is called The Africa Project and our goal is to link our community with one village in Africa.

Earlier this year, several of us in Irvine got together to organize a community based organization to help Africa. Our mission at The Africa Project is to ensure that the basic needs of children in Africa are met. Those needs include having a safe place to live, adequate food and nutrition, access to education, and proper medical care. From July to early August, I am traveling to Nkandla, South Africa with a handful of others from The Africa Project where there are over 1,000 AIDS orphans.

In South Africa the social worker we are working with, Sister Hedwig, is
already working to provided needed support for orphans – but this is no easy task. There are not nearly enough resources available for her to support the orphans she takes care of. In Nkandla the most pressing needs are food, school fees, basic medical care, and school uniforms. When we arrive, we will be presenting our first donation to the village. We fundraised by asking the friends and family in our community to donate at least eleven dollars which will pay for school fees for the year. Thanks to the sponsors of our first campaign – the Ukuqala (meaning the beginning, the start, or the first one in Zulu) Campaign – we collected a significant amount of money for the Orphans of Nkandla. Every person involved in The Africa Project is a volunteer, which means that every dollar we raise will go directly to serving the needs of the children we aim to serve. Our organization is committed to absolute transparency and will report
all of our activities to our donors through the website.

I invite everyone, old and young, to get involved and support those who are less fortunate than us. As a note to my generation: get involved in any way that you can. Our time is now – we are the most influential group of youth since the 60s. We have the power to make a change and that is our responsibility.

Interview with Dr. Peter Keller

Right here in Southern California we have a wonderful museum that has much more to offer than you would think. Bowers Museum, which opened back in 1936 as a museum dedicated to the history of Orange County, throughout the years has become an internationally renowned museum
of world culture of art. You might remember that back in the 80s Bowers closed its doors, transformed and reopened in October 1992 having become six times the size that it orginally was! What has happened since 1992 is truly extraordinary.

In mid July, I was fortunate enough to speak face to face with the president
of the Bowers Museum, Dr. Peter Keller. Peter Keller—a gemologist who
has been in the museum profession for more than 30 years—worked at the Smithsonian Institution, Gemological Institute of America, and Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History before becoming president of Bowers Museum in 1992. Since starting at Bowers, Keller has built amazing
partnerships with The British Museum. The Bowers is the first museum in
the world outside Britain to sign an exclusive long-term agreement to showcase its most famous exhibits.

The most current exhibits at Bowsers include the Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt Treasures from the British Museum which opened in April 17 (to a record 1200 visitors!) and will remain on display until April 2007, and Evita: Up Close and Personal which will be on display until October 16, 2005. I checked out both of these exhibits and I must say I didn’t want to leave the museum! I was mesmerized by the pieces that were in the Mummies exhibit. Now, I am not one who is new to visiting museums, I have been everywhere from The Getty to The Metropolitan in New York, but I was truly impressed!

In years past, the Bowers has exhibited jade pieces from the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912); objects from China’s Imperial Palace; glasswork from ancient Rome; the House of David Inscription, which left Israel for the first time to
come to the Bowers; fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Etruscan artifacts;
and artifacts from Tibet shown for the first time in the Western Hemisphere.

What makes Bowers truly unique is the relationships that have been built. “Peter’s philosophy is that in order to get historical and significant exhibits, you have to meet with people face to face,” said Rick Weinberg, Director of Public Relations. “It’s the personal relationship that gets things done. In the museum world, you have to earn trust.” And that is exactly what Keller has done throughout the years. But he is not alone in this.

Anne Shih, who joined the Bowers Museum’s Board of Governors in 1996,
and was elected to the Executive Committee of the Board, is the Bowers’ leading fundraiser. Her passion for the museum and art is amazing. Together, Shih and Keller have truly elevated the Bowers’ reputation in the museum world.

Currently the Bowers is going through as exciting new transformation. An $18 million project is in the works to open a new 33,000 sq ft wing including 3 new galleries, a 350 seat sloped auditorium and an atrium for galas like weddings, fitting up to 500 people. Don Kennedy, the chairman emeritus, was a key player in this new expansion. “Don has a huge force during the Bowers’ rise as a world-class museum, particularly in the historic agreement we signed with the British Museum and the north wing project,” Keller said.

Partnership, communication, strong relationships – these are all the key points that have led to the success of this rapidly growing museum that happens to be right around the corner for most of us. Plan a family outing on a Sunday and take a trip to Bowers. It truly is “your window to the world’s richest cultures.”

The Africa Project: The Trip

As explained in last month’s issue, The Africa Project is a grass roots organization made up of community members who feel compelled to do something to address the AIDS orphan crisis in Africa.

Our group took the first of many trips to Nkandla, located in the Kwa Zulu Natal region of South Africa last month. Although, through the course of our travels our group lost a few members as a result of various traveling difficulties, five representatives from our team made it to Nkandla. The purpose of the first visit was to learn more about our village and their needs. The following are highlights from the trip and potential plans to help the village of Nkandla.

During the trip the team stayed with The Nardini Sisters who are a group that already provide a great deal of social and medical services in the community. Upon arrival, they presented a check for $4,903 to support the children in the community. These funds were raised through the help of our Ukuqala Campaign. Again, great thanks to all of our Ukuqala sponsors!

The team’s first day in Nkandla included a site visit to the Nkandla Hospital where they met with hospital staff and visited the wards. The hospital provides the majority of medical services in the region and the staff is committed to serving the needs of the people. They face many challenges and the most pressing needs seems to be a lack of housing for medical staff who would be willing to come to Nkandla to work. The result of this are shortages of doctors willing to attend to the medical needs of the community.

The Nkandla hospital is also a teaching site for future nurses. Their nursing school’s greatest needs also seems to be housing for both students attending the school and staff needed to teach the program.

During the week, they visited several families. A few of these families are the ones featured in The Orphans of Nkandla documentary where producer and narrator Brian Woods tells the story of three families devastated by AIDS in Africa.

In one instance, they visited a family consisting of three young men who are literally alone in the world. The Nardini Sisters are committed to keeping them in school, so they are providing food and other support for the boys on a regular basis. Their housing is inadequate and as a group, we have determined that a portion of the funds we took over would go to building them a concrete home. The new brick house will be modest, yet stable and will last the family for many years to come. It will consist of three rooms and is roughly 300 square feet. The cost to build the modest home will be about $2,000 (which will include paying a local village mason worker to build it – an added plus since he will be able to use his skill to earn money for his family.)

A third family they met is comprised of four young children and their older sister. Their story is particularly upsetting, but the work being done for them is hopeful. Over a year ago, Sister Hedwig was visiting the family on a regular basis. The mother was dying of AIDS and the older sister had dropped out of school to work in the forest to earn money for the family. The nuns were providing food and support to the family each week. One Wednesday, the sisters visited the home and brought food as well as emotional support to the mother. That Friday, the mother passed away in her home. Because the home was situated far out on the other side of the forest, the sisters only visited once a week. When the mother died, the younger children did not know what to do and as a result, they lived with their mother’s body in the house for four days. At one point, the two older children walked (a very long way) to Nkandla to find the sisters who visited them each week. When they arrived at the hospital, they were taken to Sister Hedwig who was able to assist. The mother was properly buried and the children were placed at Sizanani Centre, the orphanage run by the convent. They stayed there for several months and received counseling and enrolled in school. Sister Hedwig later found a suitable home for the girls who now live with their older sister. They all currently attend school, relying on the support of the nuns.

Towards the end of their trip the group visited Velangaye High School, which is one of several schools in Nkandla in desperate need of help. The school serves 505 students each day in grades 8 to 12. The principal, Mr. N.E. Mahaye is an impressive leader and is committed to guarantee that each of his students has an opportunity to reach their highest potential. He and his staff are doing amazing things with very few resources. As a group, we have determined that assisting the high school should be one of our top priorities.

The group learned that when going to school most of the students arrive on an empty stomach with little hope of food even when they return home. In addition to the obvious suffering that these children face everyday is the negative effect poor nutrition has on these children’s ability to process and store information. Providing at least one meal per day at the school would improve their quality of life and help them succeed in school. Renovation of structural facilities of the schools including the buildings and classrooms, electricity, toilets, and water supply are also matters essential to the success of the community.

When talking to the students, the group also learned that more often than not,
the students who are qualified to go on to the University or to a trade school
are often too poor to do so. So setting up a fund for higher/continued education
would be very worthwhile.

Together there are so many lives we can change. With one trip we have already changed the lives of dozens of these children – to think that this is only the beginning is incredible. With your help we can continue to change the lives of the hundreds of AIDS orphans in Nkandla. Please continue to help and support our project. Your involvement and generosity is greatly appreciated and has already made a difference in these children’s lives.

Again, if you haven’t already, please don’t hesitate to get involved. Contact us at
www.theafricaproject.com. There are many different ways to get involved. Even by yourself you can develop and host a fundraiser to support The Africa Project. Host a dinner for friends and have everyone donate a set amount. Host a car wash and accept donations. Even bake sales and lemonade stands are activities that even the youngest of supporters can host.