The following guest post is written by Reality Tours summer intern Bryan Weiner. Every summer, Global Exchange hosts a robust intern program, where interns work closely with a staff member and participate in a weekly workshop to gain knowledge and skills. This past Wednesday, the Global Exchange interns joined the Reality Tours staff for a “local” Reality Tours in the Mission, SF.

Mission Dolores Park.

Mission Dolores Park.

Have you been interested in going on a Reality Tour? Do you think that all reality tours require a plane ticket to far away countries? Have you ever thought of doing a Reality Tour in your own neighborhood? This past week, the Global Exchange Reality Tours staff prepared a short and informative “local” Reality Tour so that we could learn more about the social, political, and historical aspects of the diverse, vibrant neighborhood we work in, the Mission District of San Francisco.

The tour began in the Global Exchange conference room where Professor Mike Stanfield of the University of San Francisco gave us an overview of the history of California, San Francisco, the Mission system and the Mission District in particular. While the indigenous tribes of the region mostly avoided the San Francisco peninsula because of the gloomy, foggy weather, the Mission District, being the sunniest part of the city, attracted many diverse people from all walks of life including missionaries and people seeking their fortune in the Gold Rush. Unfortunately, many indigenous groups were brought here against their will and quickly succumbed to European disease, causing the Mission Dolores to live up to its name (Dolores means pains in Spanish). The neighborhood has always been a vibrant, dynamic crossroads that has continued to bring waves of immigrants, shaping the constantly changing face of the community.

The group entering Arriba Juntos - photo by Bryan Weiner

The group entering Arriba Juntos – photo by Bryan Weiner

After the introduction, we ventured out to Arriba Juntos, a community organization that primarily serves the local immigrant community. Marilyn Bunag, Programs Manager, gave us a tour of the grounds and an overview of the various services that they offer. Arriba Juntos has assisted many people get up on their feet, find a job, gain skills, learn English, get off the street and find a place to live. She shared many touching success stories such as the story of John, who was homeless and now has a full-time job at a high-end San Francisco restaurant.

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The group of interns walking up Clarion Alley. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We left Arriba Juntos and walked down Clarion Alley to see the amazing display of street art that covers the entire alley. Upon arriving to our next destination, the Women’s Building, we saw and received and in-depth explanation of what is probably the most remarkable mural in the city. After pointing out all of the key female leaders depicted in the mural, Development Director Tatjana Loh gave us a tour inside the historic building and told us about all of the important community services offered at the center, such as low cost and free legal services, computer literacy classes, and a food pantry for immigrant families. Upon arriving to the third floor, we were greeted by the throne that dates back to when the building belonged to the Sons of Norway (the building has always been used for community organizations).

The mural on the front of the Women's Building. - Photo by Katie Koerper

The mural on the front of the Women’s Building. – Photo by Katie Koerper

We said goodbye to Tatjana and made our way up the street to our final destination, Mission High School, where a bright and outgoing junior, Connor, showed us the community garden that the after-school program has been working on to promote a healthy lifestyle amongst the students. He also gave us an in-depth description about the school community that has worked together to turn a struggling and often-violent inner-city school into a nurturing place that has become a destination for students all around the Bay Area.

Before heading back to Global Exchange we made one last very important stop… ICE CREAM! At Bi-Rite Market. It was an exciting, informative, and fulfilling day. I recommend you take the time to give yourself a Reality Tour of your own community! You will be surprised at what is just around the corner.

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