USAO Student Reaching Out to Anadarko Youth
At a time in her college career when most students worry about grades, exams and tuition costs, Maya Torralba, a senior political science major at USAO, has taken on the challenge of empowering the lives of young women in her hometown of Anadarko.
Torralba is finishing a 2008 fellowship with Young People For, which has served as a springboard for her work with young Native American women in Anadarko. Her goal is to establish a program focused on cultural pride and self-esteem building for Native American girls. She was the only fellow selected from Oklahoma in 2008. A total of 201 fellows were chosen representing 14 states. There are no representatives from Oklahoma in the 2009 fellow class.
“I am a 2008 fellow. I was nominated by Kevin Killer, a past member from Oglala Lakota College. At the time, Kevin was the People for the American Way’s Youth Ambassador,” Torralba said.
“My experience with Young People For has taught me that today’s ‘progressive values’ are in actuality traditional Native values. It has also taught me that it’s okay to have progressive values and that it’s okay to promote them in mainstream society. My experience has provided me with mentorship, seed money to begin the project and confidence to create a plan and implement it.”
The Young People For fellowship is a leadership development program focusing on identifying, engaging and empowering young progressive leaders. The one-year fellowship equips college students with the skills and resources necessary to create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. As part of the fellowship, participants create a blueprint outlining their goals for the fellowship. Torralba outline the Anadarko project in her blueprint.
“Anadarko is my hometown and it’s crucial to reach out to the youth. There are problems with substance abuse, teen pregnancy and lack of hope. These problems are devastating to the community.”
The Community Esteem Project targets Native American girls ages 12-18. “What I’m focusing on is building community esteem. I want to work with girls on their self-esteem and how that relates to building community esteem.
“I want to show the ladies the power that Native women have had within themselves throughout history. One of the ways we will do this is by having guest lecturers who are local Native elders. We will provide them with lessons on making traditional regalia, beginning with shawls and then eventually moccasins.
“I plan to have elder women sit with them, talk with them and tell them their life experiences and how they have overcome different obstacles in their lives – whether that be substance abuse or domestic violence or involvement in a gang – and how they’ve managed to survive better for themselves.”
Torralba says that there are many root causes for the problems that Native American girls face. “There are a number of factors. There are historical factors – loss of culture through assimilation and government policy that was geared toward assimilating Native Americans into a culture they weren’t used to.
“The result of that was a loss of culture and the question, ‘where do these girls fit into society?’ If they are not assimilated into mainstream culture, they gravitate toward bad elements – gang activity, substance abuse or domestic violence. They feel like they don’t fit into society. But with this curriculum we’re trying to show them that they do fit in because they make their own spot in society. They don’t have to ‘fit’ anywhere. They make their own spot by going back to their traditions.
“What I found working in the educational sector in town is that the girls have a defeatist mentality in their education and academic work. They don’t feel like they can achieve good grades or finish school or actually graduate high school. They don’t feel smart enough, good enough or that it matters.”
Torralba says that time and money have been her biggest challenges to starting the program, which has been well received in the Anadarko community. “The program has been well received by members of the community – including elders and the administration of Anadarko Public Schools.
“I’ve recently had interviews with the young ladies and can’t wait to get to know them better. The girls are excited and can’t wait to get involved.”
Torralba has three main goals for the program outlined in her blueprint – establish a program focused on cultural pride and self-esteem building for Native American girls in Anadarko, ensure sustainabilty for the program and have the girls personally invest themselves into the town of Anadarko. The ladies will invest in the community with community projects and investing in the organization.
“The ladies will conduct community esteem ‘missions.’ These will include making gifts for Silvercrest Nursing Home and eventually constructing a headquarters for themselves by making an energy-efficient, sustainable straw bale house. In the spring, I want to get the girls involved in creating a traditional garden featuring plants such as the ‘three sisters’ – corn, beans and squash. The straw bale house and garden will depend on the processing and finalizing of our 501(c)(3) non-profit status.”
The Community Esteem Project met in December with 19 Native American ladies. The students received information about the project and worked with the curriculum True You! developed by Dove Soap. Help from the community is needed.
“Yes! We do need help! We need funding and donations of art supplies – beads, buckskin, etc. Anyone who has a story of his or her survival and success are also welcome to share.”
Torralba can be reached at 405-933-2140 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
In addition to the community esteem project, going to college and being a fulltime mom of three, Torralba works with other community projects. “I help with the Anadarko UNITY Council and do research for the Celebrate Native Health grant. I am a 2008 fellow with the Front Line Leaders Academy, a member of the Kiowa Tribe Head Start Policy Council and am employed as a grant coordinator with the Kiowa Cultural Preservation Authority. I also volunteer on Saturdays for the Indians for Indians radio program on KACO-FM 98.5.
Torralba is an enrolled member of the Kiowa Tribe and is also of Comanche and Wichita descent. She works for the Anadarko Indian Education Program.