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The American Friends Service Committee Pan Valley Institute is proud to announce that the third cycle (2016 – 17) of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program (TCOFP) Gets Underway

Date: August 3, 2016

PRESS RELEASE – For Immediate Distribution


2016 fellowship program gets underway

Fresno, Calif. – In the month of July 2016, the Pan-Valley Institute (PVI) began its third installment of the 18-month fellowship program designed to strengthen the cultural organizing skills of Central Valley's emerging immigrant leaders. Five fellows, each from a different cultural background, will work together to achieve the knowledge and experience that will help them on their journeys to affecting social change in their Central Valley immigrant communitie and beyond.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that has been working for nearly 100 years to promote peace and social justice in the U.S. and abroad. Founded in 1998, the Pan Valley Institute (PVI) creates safe spaces for immigrants and refugees to learn from one another, and to design organizing strategies for promoting social change and building community. For the third cycle of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program fellows will invest more time and have a more intensive experience thanks to a $200,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

"TCOFP aims to provide fellows with the tools necessary to form a deeper understanding of their communities, and gives Central Valley immigrants the unique opportunity to share, analyze and reflect on their individual and collective experiences," said PVI Program Director Myrna Martinez Nateras. "The third TCOFP session will move the fellowship program to a second phase that will capitalize on the experience and knowledge accumulated thus far by 16 cultural organizers that have participated in two cycles of the TCOFP. This new cohort of fellows will begin to generate interwoven community ideas and test potential solutions."

The 2016-18 fellows are:

Wasan Abu-Baker, was born and raised in Palestine.  She was brought up in a highly educated household with a father who was politically active and outspoken for the civil rights of Palestinians through non-violent action. This upbringing, faith, family, and friends have instilled in her a desire to motivate others to do good and to advance their opportunities. A bachelor in Medical Technology and a masters in Childhood Special Education. Her education gives her the tools to approach the technical and humanitarian side of issues plus the ability to design science and art programs to build understanding and communication between diverse groups of people. She has volunteer in elementary schools, is a board member of MyDeen Center, the Central Valley Islamic Council, and has worked with various charitable efforts in the Fresno area.

Grace Ngozi Grimes,was born in Imo States Nigeria as the fourth child of five children. She comes from a family that's strongly believes in democracy and civil rights.  Her father acted as spokesperson and her mother was the Chairwoman for the Women's Right's movement during the 60's. As a young girl Grace attended school, but at home she was encouraged to understand and practice the Igbo culture. Because of her parent's example Grace remains motivated to advocate for others. She has a degree in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy and is active in the community of Igbos by taking on leadership roles in various community programs in Fresno and Los Angeles areas.

Brenda Orda Garcia, as the daughter of indigenous Zapoteco farmworkers from Oaxaca, Mexico, Brenda Ordaz spent her childhood on the move as her parents followed the crop seasons. She was born in Ensenada, Mexico and migrated to California's Central Valley when she was 11 years old. Brendais is an alumni of the Tamejavi Cultural Organizing Fellowship Program and a curreFellow of the AFSC Lovelace Fellowship. Her goal through these fellowship is plant a seed that will help immigrant youth develop a sense of belonging, creating a strong sense of identity and personal strength to help them act on the issues that affect their lives. She also hopes to help build a community where everyone can be equal and where the human rights of every person count.

Chelsey See Xiong, is a 1.5 generation Hmong who was born in a Hmong refugee camp in northern Thailand before her family immigrated to Central California in the mid-1990s. A TCOFP alumni See is currently the student coordinator in Fresno State's Office of Asian Pacific Islander Programs and Services, and writes for the Asian Pacific Review, a studentnewspaper. In 2014, she signed on to work on Hmongstory 40, an exhibit that tells the migration story of Hmong communities that settle in California Central Valley.

Simranjit Singh Sran, is a Central Valley native who grew up in the small farming community of Kerman. Since high school, Sim have taken an active role in advocating for the local Punjabi Sikh community through the Jakara Movement. Jakara engages large Sikh youth in various projects to strengthen their identity and consciousness as Sikhs, foster education through service-learning, and inspire activism and volunteerism. Sim is pursuing a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Fresno State with hopes of one day becoming an educator.

Together, the fellows will be working toward accomplishing three goals: 1) to increase immigrant leadership in the Central Valley by opening venues for immigrants to express their political opinions on local, state and national issues; 2) to continue building and sharing resources for PVI's  cultural organizing model; and 3)  to deepen their cultural organizing work through strengthening networks, encouraging collective leadership and supporting other cultural groups.

They will work toward accomplishing these goals through a number of interactive group dialogues, meetings, training sessions, community outreach opportunites and creative expression public presenttaions.

"By establishing themselves as leaders in their immigrant communities and sparking a dialogue about the challenges they experience, fellows are able to begin working toward the ultimate goal of inspiring community action towards social change, serving as a voice for those who would otherwise go unheard," Nateras said. "Their commitment to this program allows us to humanize the prevailing immigration debate and to acknowledge immigrants new and old as positive contributors to the Valley's economic, social and cultural wellbeing."

As in the past, the third TCOFP cycle will conclude with the cultural and art-making public presentations through the Tamejavi Culture and Art Series.

For more on the TCOFP, please visit or call (559) 222-7678.


Established in 1998 as a project of AFSC, Pan-Valley Institute's mission is to create a place where immigrants and refugees can gather to learn from each other and rebuild their world. AFSC is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace, and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

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