Second Chances for the Formerly Incarcerated: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea. PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our sixth and final interview with Kori Chen, who is using his award to conduct a 40-hour employment training program for formerly incarcerated Alameda County residents. 3

PVF: Tell us about your project and working with formerly incarcerated individuals. Why did you decide to work with this population?

KC: After graduating college I was very passionate about social justice issues and went to work for various organizations who worked in the community with people directly affected by the prison system. I learned how the United States has the largest prison population of any developed country in the world, and saw how it mostly imprisons low-income people of color. A few years ago I decided to change course and began working in the coffee industry, but with a goal of exploring how small businesses could create opportunities for people coming out of prison.

PVF: How did you select individuals to participate in your employment training program?

KC: For the past few years I’ve volunteered with an organization called the Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC) that works with the (unfortunately) growing population of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) prisoners in California. They run a re-entry program called Roots 2 Re-Entry that connects formerly incarcerated APIs in Alameda County with services like housing and employment. By partnering with APSC, I was able to build relationships with some folks in the program and recruit them to be a part of this project.

PVF: How is your employment training program structured?

KC: I manage a coffee roasting company, Red Bay Coffee, so I’ve tried to expose the participants to all aspects of the industry and the business, from customer service, to the bagging and assembly line production work of coffee, to the actual roasting and education about sourcing beans from farms around the world. Even though our business is specific to coffee, my hope is that participants gain an understanding of business and organizational skills that they can transfer to other work or life in general.

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PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community?

KC: Being an Oakland native, I realize there is a rich history of social justice movements here. I think this is a special place full of challenges, but also full of people trying to solve and face those challenges, and I’m inspired by that culture and legacy.

PVF: Tell us about some of the challenges that you have faced so far in making this project a reality?

KC: Even in a progressive place like the Bay Area, it is still hard to convince employers to hire formerly incarcerated community members. I think small food businesses that I’ve seen and work with do a much better job than others in terms of giving opportunities to marginalized groups like the formerly incarcerated or undocumented, but we can and should do much better.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?

KC: I hope to provide participants with an opportunity to grow, and I hope that I can offer testimony to other employers about the importance and power of giving marginalized folks a chance to succeed.

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PVF: What would you like people and businesses to know about working with formerly incarcerated individuals?

KC: We’re all in this community together, and if you’re in a position to offer someone an opportunity to succeed, do it! There’s a tremendous satisfaction that comes with it. I hope we can all find the courage and empathy to get over any fears or preconceived notions we have about people and just try to work with and learn from each other as human beings. I’ve learned so much from formerly incarcerated members of our community about life and living. I think so many of them are yearning for an opportunity and it’s no small thing to provide such opportunities to marginalized groups, especially in a high cost of living area like the Bay.

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects led by young people like yourself?

KC: That we are grateful, and please continue to give what you can, we have a lot of work to do!

PVF: What are the next steps for you and your project?

KC: I’d like to support the participants in their future dreams. They are very entrepreneurial! I’d also like to expand the program to create more full time, living wage employment for the formerly incarcerated in our company and the industry.

PVF: Anything else you would like our readers to know?

KC: We always hear about negative things happening in the community or the world, but I’ve witnessed so many people lending a helping hand to others. Never underestimate the power of simple acts of kindness, they inspire me every day.

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Helping Parents Advocate for their Children’s Education: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea. PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our fifth interview with Paul Monge-Rodriguez, who is using his award to conduct a feasibility study for a San Francisco Parent University. When implemented, the University will help caregivers become better-prepared advocates and partners in their children’s educationpaul-monge-rodriguea-photo1.

PVF: What inspired you to conduct a feasibility study for the San Francisco Family Academy?

PMR: While working as an education policy director for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a San Francisco based family advocacy non-profit, I worked with various other community based organizations and school district staff to evaluate the scope of family and community engagement programs being provided by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). While the district had articulated a clear set of standards for supporting family engagement in schools, we still lacked a concrete strategy to help actualize some of these new standards. When I transitioned into graduate school, I began to search for proven models and best practices used by school districts around the country to strengthen their family and community engagement efforts. Through this research, I discovered two promising models used by other large urban districts: the Parent University program in Boston Public Schools, and the Parent College program in the Los Angeles Unified School District. These models had successfully partnered with community-based organizations to offer leadership development and capacity building opportunities to thousands of public school parents and caregivers across their cities. After several months of studying these models and interviewing program staff in Boston and Los Angeles, I realized that a similar program could be re-created in San Francisco to help improve the quality and impact of the family engagement services we provide to our families in SFUSD.  As an initial step for bringing this new family engagement model to San Francisco, I believed it was important to first gauge the level of interest from parents and community organizations around creating a Family Academy in San Francisco. The feasibility study was our way of ensuring that a Family Academy program had the support from families and community members before we proceeded with developing a model.

First Focus GroupPVF: How are you selecting participants for your study?

PMR: We managed to convene focus groups of parents with the support of various community-based organizations and service providers that work with families across the city. As a result, we succeeded in bringing together a diverse group of parents from elementary, middle and high schools from all corners of the city. During these focus group sessions, we provided written and verbal translation in both Spanish and Chinese to meet the various language needs of the parents who were in attendance.

PVF: What do you hope to accomplish with your project?

PMR: The primary objective of the San Francisco Family Academy is to help expand opportunities that meaningfully prepare parents and caregivers to become true partners in supporting the learning of San Francisco’s children and youth. We believe that we can achieve this end by partnering with community-based organizations to offer parent empowerment workshops and leadership development trainings. So far, we have succeeded in securing the support of parent and community groups as well as the Superintendent of Schools for SFUSD. Right now, plans are underway to officially launch the inaugural San Francisco Family Academy in the fall of 2015.

PVF: Have you faced any challenges so far? If so, how have you resolved them?

PMR: The greatest challenge for me has been the physical distance. Over the past year, I have been completing a graduate degree on the east coast and have had to do much of this work around launching the San Francisco Family Academy remotely. To overcome this obstacle, I have relied heavily on email and phone calls to arrange meetings with school district staff, community organizations and other partner groups. On occasion, I have flown back to San Francisco during breaks and long weekends to lead in-person meetings.

PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community?

PMR: Growing up in an immigrant family in the Bay Area while attending public schools, I experienced firsthand the many ways that schools often fail to provide sufficient opportunities for involving parents and families in supporting the learning of students. For working families like mine, there have historically been issues of access that have prevented the full participation of our families. Despite the various events, meetings and appointments that schools offer to families, such activities can create obstacles for parents by not providing child-care, not offering verbal or written translation of materials for non-English speakers, and by being offered at times when working families cannot participate.

There are now decades of research suggesting that family involvement is crucial to the development and academic success children across all ages, from early childhood to early adulthood. If we can provide San Francisco parents with knowledge and experiences that build their capacity to advocate and support their children, then we can ensure that every child has access to a quality education and achieves excellence in their schools.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?

PMR: Through the San Francisco Family Academy, I hope that we can succeed in better equipping every SFUSD family to advocate for their children’s educational success. I believe that promoting an environment where families are better informed and engaged can translate to improvements in both individual students success as well as in the performance of schools district wide.

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects led by young people like yourself?

PMR: Young people here in the Bay Area have always possessed the capacity and intuition to develop innovative solutions for addressing some of the most pressing social problems within our communities. What we often lack, however, are the resources and investments to transform our visions into realities. That is why programs like the Bay Area Inspire Awards are so critical. They help to empower individuals with local solutions for local issues that can tangibly improve people’s quality of life.

PVF: What are the next steps for you and your project?

PMR: We are currently in the process designing key elements of the San Francisco Family Academy, including:

  • Official Mission and Vision
  • Curriculum Design
  • Organizational Structure and Staffing
  • Governance
  • Budget and Program Sustainability
  • Branding and Communications
  • Evaluation Design

We will continue to work with SFUSD staff and community partners over the summer up until formally launching the first San Francisco Family Academy in the fall term of the 2015-2016 academic year.

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Helping At-Risk Youth Find Their Voices: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea.

PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our fourth interview is with Holley Murchison, who is using her award to help at-risk youth in Oakland find their voices and become effective public speakers.H. Murchison Photo

PVF: Tell us about your project and the importance of helping at-risk youth become effective public speakers.

HM: Your voice is one of the brightest tools you have to take a stand, spread ideas and create change. I believe that some of the brightest ideas for sparking change, especially within education, will continue to come from our youth. And we’re at a point in history where it’s more important than ever that when given the platform(s) to share, they feel prepared.

My project is a public speaking training program for transitional age youth and students from underrepresented high schools and communities. The training will equip participants with the communication skills needed to thrive in the evolving world and workforce — from making self-introductions to pitching ideas and leading discussions. The biggest goal with the training is to help each participant really hone their delivery and speaking style so that no matter the occasion, they can connect confidently, meaningfully and authentically. Based on their personal experiences and research, throughout the training participants will develop presentations expressing a viewpoint on an issue of importance to them – or – introducing an idea for the change they’d like to see in the world, starting with their communities.

PVF: How is the public speaking training program structured? What makes it unique?

HM: Initially I planned to pilot the program this spring across six weeks at different high school, youth enrichment and TAY program locations. But after working with Skyline HS in Oakland over the past few months customizing weekly workshops for their Education Academy students, I realized the training program would have more of an impact if facilitated over consecutive days with more rigorous sessions. And I thought it would be more beneficial to launch it closer to the start of the school year, not at the end. So this July, I’ll be offering two, weeklong immersive trainings open to 10 – 15 participants each. Each week will begin with a Sunday brunch orientation for participants and their families. The training will be facilitated Monday – Friday (half day) with a closing ceremony on Saturday where participants will share their final presentations with family, friends, program supporters and a listening panel of special guests.

BAIA Blog Post (Oratory Glory)

Students at a workshop led by Holley.

All of the workshops, exercises and challenges within the training are centered around topics, content and concepts youth care about and can relate to. Throughout the week they’ll also hear from millennial social entrepreneurs and creative professionals across industries to learn how they’ve come to define success for themselves and how their ability to communicate effectively plays a role in that success. There will be a few surprises and goodies sprinkled throughout the week, too. I’ve always enjoyed learning most when I was given opportunities to apply what was taught vs. memorizing it for an exam, so when it came to restructuring the program, I wanted to make sure it was interactive and engaging and I’m really excited about the vision for it.

PVF: Tell us about some of the successes you have had so far.

HM: I think the biggest success so far has been finding key players who believe in the project and are willing to be a part of the team to help bring it all together. I’ve been able to connect with fellow educators to get their feedback and support with the development of the training. I’ve also partnered with an awesome strategy and graphic design studio; they’ll be designing all of the materials associated with the training. And in terms of space, I have a few really great options in Oakland and I’ll be deciding soon where the training and closing ceremony will be hosted.

PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community?

HM: Growing up with four siblings in a single parent household, my mom always taught us to take care of each other and those around us – essentially, to be good to people. That’s a lesson that’s guided me through life. And when I think about creating change in the world, for me that starts with home, in my community. It’s important to make a contribution where you live, to add value. That’s how communities thrive and grow together. To me that’s what it’s all about.

Holley Murchison KRON 4

Holley was interviewed on Kron 4 News recently about her project.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?

HM: There’s a “what next?” component built into the training that will support participants in identifying what intentions they have for their final presentations beyond the week. Each participant will be asked to commit to at least one action step to move those intentions forward. This could mean anything from executing the ideas they’ve presented – to – revamping their presentations to deliver to an even larger audience. I’m in the process of figuring out how to creatively match youth with the support and resources they’d need to carry out their action step(s).

My hope is that through the connections participants make with the special guests and each other, they’re able to not only carry what they’ve learned into the new school year but are confident enough to share it with others and help amplify youth voice wherever they are.

PVF: What would you like donors to know about funding community projects led by young people like yourself?

HM: I’m grateful for the opportunity to relaunch the youth training through the BAIA grant and I believe that beyond enabling young people like myself to lead initiatives, providing funding and other resources for community projects reminds people that change is possible, plants a seed for even more to take action in their communities and exposes them to new access points to be able to do so.

PVF: What are the next steps for you and your project? 

HM: My next steps are working with my team to finalize and launch the student sign-up process for the program kick-off as well as continuing the planning process for the program’s closing ceremony. After the summer, I’d like to partner with a few high schools, youth enrichment and TAY programs in the Bay Area to begin offering the training to more youth during the 2015-16 school year.

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Facebook Invests Locally with 4th Year of Grants

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, has just launched the fourth round of grants from the Facebook Local Community Fund.

Through this PVF-administered initiative, Facebook has given out $400,000 to nonprofits serving Belle Haven and East Palo Alto, which are areas that particularly struggle in the midst of the Bay Area’s ever-widening inequality gap. The grants aim to support nonprofits that have a history of proven success in providing services to the Belle Haven community, as well as youth-serving nonprofits in East Palo Alto. Recipients have reported that these funds have helped them expand and sustain programs that benefit the underserved:

Robotics ClubFrom Bayshore Christian Ministries (BCM): “The grant was used to help to cover the cost of an instructor for the robotics course offered in our summer camp in East Palo Alto. Grant funds were instrumental in helping BCM purchase two additional robot kits with software, as well as art supplies for the summer program. These additional resources allowed smaller groups of children to enjoy working with the robots and increase the individual time they spent building and programming. All students who attended were from minority groups and two thirds of the participants were girls.”

pvf-148From Citizen Schools: “Your contribution has provided students at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto more access to hands-on, project-based apprenticeships that engage them in the use of computer technology and social media. These apprenticeships connect our students with real-world STEM professionals who lead them in exploring a diverse array of fields, from environmental science to software engineering. Creating that interest in the middle grades is a crucial step in building future talent pipelines to fill the growing number of STEM-related jobs, as hands-on learning has proven to influence students’ likelihood of pursuing careers in STEM fields. Our extensive evaluations have indicated that after participating in a Citizen Schools STEM apprenticeship, approximately 80% of students express interest in STEM careers – more than double the rate among 8th grade students nationally.”

This year, Facebook hopes to make even more of an impact by increasing the grant size to $5,000-$10,000. Interested in applying for the latest round of funding? Check out our website for more details. We are accepting applications now!

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De-Stigmatizing Mental Health Services: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea. Megan_Winkelman_Photo (2)PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our third interview with Megan Winkelman, who is using her award to focus on mental health awareness.

In the past seven months my project evolved from creating an online map resource for patients seeking mental health care, to developing an awareness campaign that supports community-wide mental health de-stigmatization and provides spaces for facilitated dialogues about mental health, including tech employees and other community members. I partnered with the community mental health clinic and training center, Access Institute for Psychological Services (Access Institute) for the first two events. We developed a screening and discussion night around the film “Mary and Max.” The film explores a variety of mental health issues and we followed the screening by a presentation and community discussion.

As we plan our next set of community events, we are also investigating ways to share mental health patient education and local resources with high school and university seniors from the Bay Area, many of whom stay in the region for their first job (a stressful transition), and may delay seeking help until they reach a crisis point.

Megan Winkelman Event 2

As part of her project, Megan coordinated a screening and discussion of the film, “Mary and Max” to jumpstart a conversation about mental health.

We have found that stigma impedes mental health treatment for Bay Area residents in both high and low-income brackets. We hope that by increasing awareness (throughout the community) of how mental health care works and who the community’s mental health providers are, organizations such as the Access Institute will see more patients at all income levels, allowing them to expand their services and start treatment earlier when symptoms begin, when recovery is much more likely.

In a sense, my project has gone from using tech tools in the service of Bay Area community mental health to uniting the tech community with the wider Bay Area community in a discussion about improving the mental health of all. My community partner Access Institute and I hope that the high unmet need for mental health services in both these populations will unite them across their socio-economic differences, and that this union may even inspire cross-community collaborations that may include technical solutions to local problems, as envisioned in my original project.

Megan Winkelman Event

Megan has been coordinating multiple events centered around mental health in the Bay Area.

Something that became clear at both events was that the vast majority of Bay Area residents don’t know what mental health services are available to them, and it’s only when their (or their loved one’s) mental health approaches a crisis that they start looking for support. We also received feedback that it was eye-opening for attendees to realize that they don’t need to have a mental illness to benefit from mental health care. For example, having a family member struggling with a disease can affect the rest of the family, and they may benefit from the therapy that Access Institute offers.

My mental health advocacy journey began while staffing the Bridge Peer Counseling Center in the winter of my freshman year at Stanford University. I met a deeply depressed teen mother from East Palo Alto who was struggling to finish high school, raise her baby, recover from childbirth, and file a restraining order against her abusive ex. She was too exhausted to cry; the weight of her pain thickened the air between us, and her story stayed with me long after we had left that faded green couch.

When I received the Inspire Award in June 2014, I intended to create a map of mental health providers designed for Bay Area community members seeking out mental health care for the first time. After our Inspire Awards board and recipient meeting, my productive conversations with the group directed me to consider creating resource materials for a different audience: providers of social services and health services who refer patients to mental health providers or liaise with such providers.

In this way, my project goal departed the creation of an online resource map in favor of hosting events with Access Institute for both tech employees and community members as part of an effort to raise awareness of affordable resources for mental health care and an anti-stigma campaign.

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Where’s Bill? Helping to Address the Issue of Affordable Housing in San Mateo County

Affordable housing is the top issue of concern in San Mateo County. In response to this concern, the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County called a meeting of 35 program directors chaired by Congresswoman Jackie Speier in March 2015. The meeting came about after a discussion between myself and Mark Moulton, Executive Director of the Housing Leadership Council, and was underwritten by Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.

The action agenda now is to find and access surplus land because there is a 100,000 unit housing deficit in San Mateo County. An example of new housing is the use of underutilized parking lots at community college campuses to build housing for teachers, which has been tried and has worked out well.

Jackie Speier EPA

Congresswoman Jackie Speier in San Mateo County

 

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Partners in Philanthropy

The following blog post is by guest writers Marc and Ragni Pasturel, who are PVF donors and partners.

Our partnering with Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) goes back more than 20 years. We admire Bill Somerville’s pragmatic, empathetic and contagious approach to grantmaking. So when we decided to create a Donor Advised Fund, PVF naturally came to mind. We are still sold on its commitment to quality education and to fighting poverty in our midst, all with minimal overhead and without lengthy grant applications.

MarcTeachingComputers

Marc Pasturel teaching computers to eager 10th grade students at Lamdon Model High School in Zanzkar Valley in Northern India.

We trust PVF’s suggestions because Bill has first-hand knowledge of organizations, schools, and people in need in our area. Our giving became personal as we got to meet the grant recipients, staying in touch with them to follow their progress. Being involved with organizations where we can make a difference, both with our time, such as tutoring, as well as with our grants, is a winning combination. Philanthropy is a two-way street: giving morphs into gifts, and “givers” morph into humble recipients of thankfulness: it helps us sort out our own priorities and values in life. This is the gift that money cannot buy.

It was ex-priest Larry Purcell of the  Catholic Worker House in Redwood City who introduced us to Bill Somerville. Larry’s tireless dedication to feeding and sheltering the less fortunate has been a shining model for us, a source of motivation to participate in his mission. In addition to our ongoing financial support, Ragni has enjoyed the opportunity, complete with challenges and rewards, to tutor children in Sister Mary Jane’s after-school program.

Ragni Pasturel tutoring 1st grader Diego at the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City.

Ragni Pasturel tutoring 1st grader Diego at the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City.

The Saint Francis Center in the unincorporated area of Redwood City is another example of PVF’s ability to recognize exceptional leaders in the community and to fund their projects. For several years we have admired Sister Christina Heltsley’s work as its Executive Director. In order to serve the poorest of the poor, the Center has managed to buy and refurbish over forty apartments, offering families a decent place to live until they reach financial stability. They provide a stellar education to 12 children selected among the 100 poorest local families, from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Their parents must spend at least one day a week at the Center to further their own education, primarily to learn English but also basic skills such as computers and interview skills. Their facilities include a classroom, a free clothes bank and a food bank, as well as a first-class Siena Youth Center for afterschool programs for youths ages 10-17.

CesarChavezSchoolPlayground

Students at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto.

Amika Guillaume, the principal at  Cesar Chavez & Green Oaks Academy in East Palo Alto, is an innovative and supercharged leader in the field of education for at-risk children. She motivates her ethnically diverse student body to excel; the school motto: “DREAM BIG – WORK HARD – GIVE BACK” says it all. Amika manages to involve parents in their children’s education. It is rewarding to contribute by funding special programs at the school, such as field trips, college tours and special art projects.

Another exceptional person we’ve met thanks to Bill: Sister Trinitas Hernandez who founded the  Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto in 1996. The center offers four English classes each day, Monday through Thursday. A child care center, made possible by the Junior League of East Palo Alto, is available for those attending the classes. In 2001 her order, the Daughters of Charity, purchased the 48-unit apartment complex where the classes are given, thus enabling many families to have a decent place to live.

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Sister Trinitas of the Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto.

Last but not least, we value PVF as the umbrella 501(c)(3) organization for our 15-year involvement as US delegates (always eager to recruit!) for a Franco-Italian-Swiss-American NGO which supports a school, Kindergarten through 10th grade, in the isolated Zanskar Valley of Northern India. At 12,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, and cut off by snow from the outside world eight months of the year, “Aide au Zanskar” founded a private school in 1988. It has grown to 12 grades of 30 students per class, 49% girls. It offers the mainly Buddhists of Tibetan ethnicity a quality education while keeping their language, customs and traditions. Its curriculum spans four languages and four alphabets. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited the school three times, pointing to our school as an example of modern education while preserving the Tibetan heritage.

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His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, visiting Lamdon Model High School in Northern India in 2014.

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