Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Yasi Shaker


Meet Yasi Shaker...Yasi visited The Commons with a group of students from Kalamazoo College during the summer of 2018. Soon after, Yasi returned as Sweet Water Foundation’s 2018 Fall Fellow. Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Yasi came to the United States to study Psychology with a Minor in Anthropology and Sociology and a concentration in Environmental Studies. As SWF’s Fall Fellow, Yasi has been helping the team build fractals, sharing her passion for environmental justice, and becoming immersed in the practice of Regenerative Neighborhood Development. Read on to learn more about Yasi.

Tell us about your background
I am a student at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. My major is Psychology and my minors are Anthropology and Sociology with an Environmental Studies concentration. I’m an international student from Tehran, the capital of Iran. It was interesting for me to grow up in a city because I always had to navigate where in the city I belong. I’m very much an outdoorsy person, and I didn’t really have access to green spaces in Tehran so I love to travel and explore wilderness. I also went to a very competitive, all-girls school that focused on science. I always wanted to learn more about art, nature, environmental psychology, and other topics that weren’t taught in my school.

When I was 16, I began applying for a visa to attend school in the United States, and I came here a year later when I was 17. I’ve been in the United States now for 3 years. It was an interesting decision to study abroad in a place that was so far away. I’ve grown a-lot from the process of applying to different schools and living independently. Although I am a very independent woman, through the process of coming here, I also learned it’s okay to ask for help from those around me and gain from their knowledge.

Why did you decide to come to the United States for school?
I received a scholarship called 1 for 2 Education. One person is paying for my tuition, and in return, when I’m financially stable, I will send two people to school. I’m thankful that an organization like this exists because I’ve learned alot from my education. I’ve broadened my knowledge and learned how to critically think about issues I wasn’t aware of before. I’ve also learned a lot about others by being exposed to their personal narratives.

Another reason I decided to come to the United States was because I felt like I needed to explore and learn from somewhere else and bring those experiences back to my home in Iran. Now, I have the opportunity to talk to my family about things I’m learning here. It’s great because we’re learning from each other and keep each other updated on two different places.

How did you find Sweet Water Foundation?
I came to visit Sweet Water during a sustainability tour called “K to the Windy City” with other students from Kalamazoo College looking for careers that focus on social and environmental justice. During our tour of The Commons, I realized labeling something as as “sustainable” isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Sweet Water’s practice goes far beyond “sustainability” and during the tour, Emmanuel challenged us to think about what sustainability really is. What we knew wasn’t necessarily bad, but, I fell in love with SWF’s practice and the space of The Commons. The whole idea of Regenerative Neighborhood Development and how to change systems locally and from within is not just “environmental work.” It’s like Emmanuel says, the work is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary, which is something I’m passionate about.

How did you end up as Sweet Water Foundation’s 2018 Fall Fellow?
My school offers a “Study Away” program. Since I’m already studying abroad, studying away was a great way for me to explore a new city. The Chicago program is offered through Associated Colleges of the Midwest and includes an internship, seminar class, and an independent research project. I told my supervisor, Ms. Dorothy, that I knew of a place (Sweet Water Foundation) where I’d love to do my internship and she made it happen! I didn’t know if I would ever come back to Sweet Water, but apparently, it was meant to work out. Now, I am forever connected to Sweet Water Foundation.

Is there anything you’ve learned that you didn’t expect to learn?
It’s been helpful to see how a nonprofit like Sweet Water functions. More importantly, I’ve been observing the importance of an organization that values the people who work there. This is a value that I can use when I’m trying to understand how to make something like this exist beyond Sweet Water Foundation.

Research shows that experiential learning is a great way to learn, and I’m happy to experience that at Sweet Water. One way I’ve experienced that is by engaging with SWF Apprentices. I always thought carpentry would be so hard and you would need a lot of knowledge to do it, but I’ve gained skills here that have given me the confidence to do that in the future!

How will you bring what you’re learning back to the people you know outside of Sweet Water Foundation?
I’m hoping to bring the Sweet Water team to my Kalamazoo College to share the experiences I’m having at Sweet Water with others at my school. Staying connected is like bridging the divide we feel sometimes. I’m also going to be a senior next year, so, I’ve been thinking about how I can use what I’m learning at Sweet Water Foundation for my final senior project.

Do you enjoy the people you work with at The Commons?
People have been so welcoming here! I’ve been getting to know so many people, and I’m excited to meet others. Not every place is perfect, but Sweet Water Foundation is trying to make more voices heard and empower different people. As a woman of color, I’ve been trying to understand how I can be in a space with people who are different from me and who come from different educational backgrounds, while also working together toward the same ideas and goals. Diversity and critical thinking are helping us expand and grow.

What is your favorite memory of being the 2018 Fall Fellow?
I have a collection of favorite memories. I have enjoyed participating in events at The Commons like Breakout Chicago and the NOMA Volunteer Day. During these events, I met so many people from across the nation doing similar work.

I have also enjoyed sharing stories with people like Mama Betty, SWF’s Resident Chef.

Another great memory was when I cooked Persian food for the team. There were leftover eggplants, so I made a Persian dish for the team. It was fun to see people’s reactions. Overall, I think the team liked it - they might not eat it every day, but I’m glad they tried it!

My time as Sweet Water Foundation’s Fall Fellow has been exciting for me because in this short amount of time, SWF has become part of my life. It is going to be part of who I am forever. I’m going to bring SWF’s ideas and practice of Regenerative Neighborhood Development wherever I go.

Fun Facts:
I LOVE lavender - I love plants in general! One of my favorite books is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer which is about indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and teachings of plants. It’s amazing how plants are feeding and healing us. I am educating myself to learn more about herbal and medicinal plants.

I love dancing,hiking, exploring nature, gardening anything that has to do with being outdoors, traveling, and learning about different cultures.

Courtney Hug