AHAM - A Sisterhood of Learning
For twenty-one years, the Hispanic-American Women’s Association (AHAM) maintained a single focus: Education. Since 1999, they have contributed $367,300 in scholarships to make almost 140 college dreams possible. But in their 22nd year, they have pivoted to also address the community health through emergency aid, as they rapidly erected a food relief and PPE distribution system that has served over 350 Latino families since March. A closer look at their herculean efforts of love reveals that education intentionally permeates everything they do!
Education is more than a scholarship - it includes the wisdom achieved through experience. This year, the women of AHAM have demonstrated that their passion to practice the curiosity, skill-building, and lifelong learning that they preach, while imparting the lessons they have learned from meeting the community at its point of need.
Hispanic Heritage, the cultural values of family, responsibility, and love for humanity, are integral to AHAM’s ethos of education. Lizett Ramirez, the Head of Culture on AHAM’s Executive Committee says it beautifully: “Education is the basis of society, but an education with integrity - an education with values and ethics.” What good is education if it does not move and equip the educated to support the community in times of crisis? It is with this perspective that AHAM approached the acute needs of the Hispanic community as COVID-19 made itself at home.
“Our first concern was that the Hispanic community was not informed of all the precautions
and security measures that need to be taken,” explains AHAM Treasurer, Patricia de la Llave.
First, AHAM educated itself, engaging specialists to understand COVID-19. Then they ensured that every initiative to serve the community included an educational component. Spanish-language health information was distributed through multiple different channels. Members supported vital safety precautions by modeling and distributing face masks. Every box of food brought to a home contained Census information in Spanish (which means AHAM was working for the Census on the ground before the Census was), and many recipients contacted AHAM for help in completing their Census online.
If AHAM’s President, Vanessa Campana, could create her own curriculum for the Hispanic
community, “it would be a program that allowed people to get out of their comfort zone and learn something new,” she says. “Psychologically it is necessary for the community to survive!”
Vanessa is proud and hopeful as less tech-savvy members persist in learning to connect via Zoom and Google Meet. This year AHAM’s entire Hispanic Heritage Festival, historically held in-person at McAlister Square, will be presented virtually. Vanessa’s energy and leadership helped to infuse members with the confidence that they can master the new skills necessary to feed families across the Upstate. AHAM members were already raiding their own pantries to construct makeshift food boxes when United Way of Greenville County approached them to help them serve hard-to-reach Hispanic recipients. But the learning curve was still intense. Supply chains, storage techniques, timing, and packaging were learned on-the-job as new partnerships were formed with Greer Relief and others.
After a few pick-up style distributions of food boxes in predominantly Hispanic areas, Vanessa noticed that not everyone who signed up, showed up. She spoke with a woman who couldn’t pick up her food box because she lacked the money to pay a driver, which highlighted barriers in our community. This realization helped AHAM pivot to delivering food boxes directly to the most vulnerable and isolated families. “In one situation we had 2 or 3 families where the entire family was infected with COVID,” Patricia recounts. “No one could work because the whole family was recovering. Some lost their jobs. They were stuck. We not only provided food boxes but delivered Gatorade and soup that one of our members prepared. When they called because they could not pay their energy bill, we were able to assist them through the United Way.”
Neither the power and size of the United Way, nor the cultural connections of AHAM could ease the suffering of a community independently. It is through cross-cultural partnerships that each group becomes stronger together than separately. “Working together and working with the partnerships, that is the reason we are stronger.” insists Patricia, and Vanessa agrees. “Crises like this one show us that we are stronger together, because of that sense of unity, of people coming together to accomplish one goal for the good of humanity.”
Let us learn from AHAM that the compassion that unites 53 women from 14 different countries, can lead all of us to unite across any difference or boundary with our neighbors who make their homes beside us.