Misrepresentations of Pacific Islands culture in Disney movies

Story by DAYNA BAE

Cultural delineation in media frequently involves praises and criticisms at the same time. The Pacific Islands culture could not avoid such portrayal.

The Walt Disney Company Co., one of the major entertainment companies in the world, has depicted various cultures through its film productions.

As a result, Disney’s animated films gained large popularity and reputation for their diverse cultural representations. Up to the present, Disney has released numerous films including “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas” based on different cultural backgrounds around the world.

With success of prior films, Disney released two animated films “Lilo and Stitch” and “Moana,” both of which describe Pacific Islands culture.

Two films depicted culture and stories of indigenous people in the Pacific Islands. The films starred a number of actual artists and professionals with Pacific Islands background.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah and an associate instructor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, said in an email interview, “Lots of Pacific Islander artists got into the production of the films and movies, and it became a good opportunity for them.”

The production and release of movies about the Pacific Islands not only aroused public attention about its mysterious and veiled culture, but also provided a good opportunity for Pacific Islanders working in the field of animation production.

“The major positive aspect of those films is the showcasing of the incredible potential and abilities of the Pacific Islander artists who lent their expertise and talents to the films,” Fitisemanu said.

According to the Guardian, the writer-director team of Disney’s “Moana” conducted a five-year research trip to Polynesia to interview elders and people living in Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji to have a better understanding about Pacific Islands cultures.

Despite the efforts of the research team, the public reactions to “Moana” varied. Some people showed optimism about the movie for displaying unique features of a minority culture, while others, reported the Guardian, criticized the movie for misrepresenting the culture and history of Pacific Islands.

Fitisemanu said, “Some people are very upset about Maui’s depiction and the way his legendary exploits are shown in the animation.” Maui is a main character who is a demigod in the movie. He also said that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that Maui is not put into context. According to Fitisemanu, Pacific Islands legends are in fact metaphors of actual historical events, unlike how the movie portrays them as mythological and fantastical ones.

Dr. Malie Arvin, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said, “The movie was not making sense to me, because Maui was described as a braggart, comical, and arrogant person in the movie.” She said that Pacific Islanders criticize the movie because many of the legendary stories of Maui’s are missing. “Maui has lots of stories such as slowing down the sun and fishing up islands,” Arvin said.

Another criticism of “Moana” deals with tourism. According to the Guardian, “Moana” caused a flurry of travel articles about the Pacific Islands triggered by the movie’s depiction of vibrant landscapes. Disney partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to promote the film and tourism catalyzed by “Moana” led to more ecological destruction of the Pacific Islands. The Guardian reported that the problem is due to the “merchandise and tourism machine [which] operates in direct opposition to the morals of Moana, a young girl who cares fiercely for her people and her island.”

According to the Huffington Post, one of the major flaws of the movie is its failure to mention Hina, a companion goddess of the god Maui. “In Polynesian lore, a goddess with a god creates symmetry that gives harmony and beauty to the story.” In this regard, “Moana” lacks a critical concept of “symmetry” in the story.

However, this is not Disney’s first time to be criticized for its misrepresentation of indigenous cultures. “Lilo and Stitch,” an animated film released in 2006, was also blamed for using inappropriate lyrics for a Hawaiian traditional song.

According to Arvin, “There is an aboriginal song about King Kalākaua, who was the last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom before he was overthrown by the U.S. government.” The lyrics are a dedication to his honor, which is very respectful about his legacy. “However, ‘Lilo and Stitch’ just took that song and replaced his name with Lilo’s name. It was disrespectful and painful to see,” Arvin said. “And that was really depreciative of the history of Hawaii,” she added.

Although there are fierce criticisms toward Disney’s films about Pacific Islands culture, there are still positive voices that compliment the works for their valiant efforts and attempts.

Fitisemanu said, “If the Disney movie inspired Pacific Islanders to learn more by doing their own research, opening dialogue with family elders and cultural custodians, and increasing the sharing of our own stories with the next generation, then I think that is a good thing.”

To prevent and correct cultural misconceptions created by major film production and entertainment industry, Arvin said that there should be more Pacific Islands directors. “One of the most famous Pacific Islander directors is Taika Waititi. He is a Maori film director who directed Marvel’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’,” Arvin said.

 

Utah cemetery unites Islanders for Memorial Day

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

On a sunny March morning, William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin are leaving their Salt Lake City home. They are going to visit the cemetery where Mabel Lani Poepoe AhQuin is buried. She is William’s wife and Job’s mother. They haven’t visited since May 2017. Job said winter has been cold and the drive is too long.

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William, right, and Job AhQuin in front of their home in Salt Lake City.

Ready to depart Job remembered he forgot something and went back to the house. He grabbed bug spray. He said, “It is still cold for bugs but just in case.”

William is sitting in the passenger seat and is giving directions to a reporter he invited to go with them. He knows every turn and exit along the way to the cemetery. William seems to have taken that ride so many times.

They drive west on Interstate 80. Along the way is the Morton’s Salt Factory and the Great Salt Lake is to the north. William said, “You need to take exit 77 and drive south about 15 miles.” On the deserted road, just off I-80, the Stansbury Mountains are to the left. There is no single car in both directions. Suddenly William said to slow down at a sign that says “Aloha.” A dirt road up the hill takes them to the cemetery of Iosepa. The only monument left behind of the Hawaiians who once lived here in the Skull Valley Desert.

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Today the cemetery is a Utah Historic Site.

According to Benjamin Pykles, historical archaeologist, Iosepa was a thriving town, where Hawaiians worked hard to turn the desert into a paradise. The first settlers came in 1889. They were given those lands by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). They put the foundations of Iosepa.

The town was called Iosepa after Joseph F. Smith. He was a Mormon missionary in Hawaii. Later he became the LDS church president. William said Smith was only 15 years old when he was sent to Hawaii by his aunt and uncle. He was able to learn the language and culture of Hawaiians very quickly. Later he was recognized by the Islanders to be the miracle worker who brought them to Utah so they could be close to their faith and the temple.

William explained that at this time the Salt Lake City temple wasn’t complete so the believers had to walk about 50 miles to the city of Layton where there was located the nearest Mormon temple.

William said that if the Islanders wanted to live in the city at this time, they had to have a skill to survive. He said, “Hawaiians are children of the land and they live off the earth.” They mainly knew how to grow crops and breed animals. They had 1,900 acres of the land in Tooele County, about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and were given the opportunity to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

William said, “The first winter was hard.” He pointed out the numerous graves of children in the cemetery. Children were the most vulnerable to the cold winter and diseases.

The hard work of the people paid off. William said that the Islanders managed to build water canal systems to bring water from the Stansbury Mountains. That’s how they were able to successfully irrigate the soil, grow crops and raise animals.

William said that in 1911 Iosepa was voted to be the most progressive town in Utah. Nearly 230 people lived there, mostly Hawaiians but also some Samoan families moved. They built homes, streets, a school and stores. Then, when the first person died in Iosepa the Islanders needed to organize a cemetery park.

In 1915, the LDS church announced plans to build a temple in the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Laie. The news drove back the Islanders who wanted to help build the new temple in their native, rich and fertile land. The theory of Benjamin Pykles and the LDS Church is that Hawaiians left because there was no longer a reason to be in Utah.

As the years have passed, the houses, streets, school and store have disappeared with the people. Today the wilderness has taken over. There is no sign that once there was a town and nearly 230 people living here.

Only the cemetery reminds of the Hawaiian pioneers

Arriving at the cemetery, William recalls about the area, “Anything that was left was demolished just a few years ago.”

The only memory, left behind by the Hawaiians, is the gate to the cemetery. There is a green aluminum turtle, somehow out of place in the desert, reminding of the Pacific Seas’ lost paradise.

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The graves are lining up in front of the only structure standing.

William wants to demonstrate his gratitude to the LDS church by telling his story.

When he left Hawaii in 1978 and arrived in Utah with his wife and nine children, they hoped for better opportunities. Work, good schools for the children and safer environment to grow a family was the reasons they came. Life goes and after years of hard work and trying to accomplish the American dream, the family lost their house in West Valley City. William explained the family was big. The children who still lived with them promised they will each make contributions to the mortgage payments. Later they were not able to pay any longer. Out of their home, William and Mabel had to find a place to live.

They went to Iosepa with two of their children. At this time some of the abandoned homes were still standing and William was able to survive for a year in a metal home with no running water or electricity. They used a lantern. He said they had a generator, but they avoided using because it was an emergency resource.

William felt it was his duty to clean and maintain the cemetery in honor of his grandfather, who actually was one of the first Hawaiians who came to Utah. William’s grandfather spent only one winter in Iosepa and left; he found the place cold and unwelcoming.

William cleaned the graves and took care of the cemetery. He said the graves were unrecognizable and they had to guess who is buried where. The graves looked like stacks of dirt above ground. To mark them and fence them they had to bring stones from the mountain.

Father and son arrive at the cemetery

William regrets he didn’t take his walker; only his cane. He took a break next to a stone that looked like a bench. He said this is a Hawaiian chess game. It was made by his cousin, who is also buried here. He pointed toward the grave with his cane. William said the game is called konane and is played by two people by placing black and white stones in the indentations of the board game.

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William in front of the konane that was made by his cousin.

Job came back and said, “There are no snakes, you know sometimes the rattlesnakes sleep in the graves, but it is still too cold.”

Slowly William walked toward his wife’s grave. It is decorated with silk flowers and a plastic lighthouse. “I bought this from Walmart. It is plastic, but if it was real, it was going to be destroyed by the weather.” He explained that Mabel loved lighthouses. “Do you know, the oldest lighthouses are in Hawaii,” he said smiling.IMG_0005 v2

William said that not even a year before his wife died in 2005, the AhQuin family was camping here for the Memorial Day weekend. Mabel was already sick and weak. She saw the cemetery out in the wilderness and decided to be buried there. She chose the spot, near the fence so when the family comes to visit, her grave will be the first to be seen from the road. The grave space left between the fence and Mabel’s grave is marked with a bench. William said that for the years of marriage Mabel liked to sleep on the inside of the bed, not near the door.

 

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William at his wife’s grave sitting on the bench that marks where he will be buried when he dies.

One day William will be buried here so he can be between his wife and the fence, to protect her.Today, Mabel’s grave has a headstone with her name and birth and death dates but some of the graves are still unrecognizable. The markers have weathered and are unreadable. William said there was an idea to construct a wall where they can put gravestones with the names of all the people buried in the cemetery. When the plan failed, they lined them on the ground by the gate of the cemetery.

IMG_0008 v2William said the state limited burial in the cemetery only to people who were born in Iosepa. Members of the community discussed with the Tooele City Council and now the cemetery is opened to anyone who wants to be buried here.

Today the cemetery stands as a historical monument. It represents the willingness of people to relocate in the name of faith and belief.

During Memorial Day weekend the cemetery brings back between 800 and 1,000 people from all over the world to pay respect to the first Island pioneers. The tradition started about 30 years ago and William is one of the first people who initiated it.

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The large pavilion with a stage where Islanders will gather to celebrate during Memorial Day weekend.

He said they used to come on that weekend to clean and decorate the graves. Over the years it grew into a celebration. They camp, share food and different performing groups entertain the visitors.

William said the event is open to other communities and everybody can come. He reminded to bring food to share and camping equipment if you decide to stay overnight.

On the drive back to Salt Lake City, William promised to meet the reporter again during Memorial Day weekend.

William, besides the difficult life, is looking forward, making sure the heritage of the first Hawaiian pioneers in Utah is not forgotten.

Iosepa might appear as a ghost town on the map of Utah but is a memory and history for many families that will come to celebrate their departed ancestors this Memorial Day weekend.

 

 

Traveling Exhibit Program provides Utahns access to high-quality art

Story and slideshow by JORDAN SENTENO

According to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the Traveling Exhibit Program (TEP) delivers high-quality, professional exhibits to numerous educational and nonprofit organizations, including underserved communities. The exhibits travel to museums, colleges, universities, community galleries, arts and cultural centers and libraries.

TEP Coordinator Fletcher Booth said the program is particularly important to rural communities where access to high quality, original art is limited. The exhibits nurture understanding of diverse art forms and cultures, promote creativity and encourage cultural activities in local communities. The program also provides artists a way to showcase their artwork, gain public recognition and increase the value of their art.

Laura Durham, who does marketing and communication for the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, said, “The Traveling Exhibition Program is one of the more far-reaching programs we have. It takes visual art to all the regions in the state of Utah, including a lot of schools and community centers that don’t get to see very much artwork.” She added, “The kids especially get very attached to the exhibits when they come to their schools and they hate to see them go. We provide educational materials for the teachers so the kids can interact with the artwork in a meaningful way.”

TEP aims to provide meaningful arts experiences by including educational components that teachers can download and use. The materials vary from exhibit to exhibit. For example, the Design Arts Utah exhibit provides two documents called “Why Teach Art?” and “Looking at Art.” They discuss why art is important and how to look at art in different ways.

“It [TEP exhibits] is the one thing that students will stand and talk about,” said Rhonda Harrison, principal of Fillmore Elementary School, in an interview at Hogle Zoo. “We have seen a lot of conversations about why they think it is drawn or painted. Students look forward to the art work coming [the zoo] once or twice a year.”

Every year, Hogle Zoo sponsors the World of the Wild, which showcases artwork of animals and the wild. According to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the goal of the exhibit “is to bring together the works of serious artists who are interested in displaying their view of wild animals, plants and places with which we share our world.”

According to a press release, “by highlighting animals and plants in the wild, this exhibition strives to educate viewers on the challenges faced by artists and techniques used when depicting animals. Additionally, this exhibition strives to draw public awareness to and increase appreciation for the animals and fragile ecosystems depicted.”

The companion curriculum, “Stamp Out Extinction,” “encourage[s] students to examine wild animals in their community that may be endangered or approaching extinction.” Teachers can help students use printmaking techniques to create posters that promote animal conservations.

Rose M. Milovich, preservation manager and exhibition program director at Utah State University Special Collections and Archives, said, “Having the opportunity to see and study original artworks from cultural, aesthetic and technical standpoints can really encourage creative/critical thinking and doing.” Milovich, who was at the zoo, added, “This kind of encouragement can happen for anyone at any age. Our world needs people who can think creatively – people who can examine the work and find solutions to all that faces us.”

Each year, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums curates about 20 traveling exhibits that feature many different mediums, processes and styles. For example, photographs that won prizes at the 2015 Utah State Fair are being shown at Grand County Library in Moab through April 26, 2016. The traveling exhibits are scheduled for one-month periods at $125 per exhibit and people can sign up for them online.

Fletcher Booth, as TEP’s coordinator, then creates a schedule. On average, he arranges about 80 exhibits each year.

Laura Durham said, “Not only does this provide the communities with a new show to look forward to, it’s also great for the artists who have work in the shows. Their audience is greatly expanded as a participant in these exhibitions and they can put all these locations on their resume of where individuals have viewed their artwork.”

Local man travels to Salt Lake City locations and does hair for older adults

Story and photos by STACEY WORSTER

A career that started at J.C. Penney Salon in 1969 has transitioned into a personal hair business focusing on older adults.

Gary Cunningham, owner of Hair Care by House Call, offers perms, tints and manicures. He spends most of his visits performing a haircut and style, for which he charges $18.

“I cater to my customers’ budget plan,” Cunningham said while he was putting a client’s hair in rollers. “I can afford doing this because my clients that have the money to pay full price for my services always pay me extra,” he said, as he pointed to his client.” It all works out.”

After spending 24 years at J.C. Penney, it was a scary transition to start his unique hair business. Without clients a hair business is not possible, Cunningham said.

“I took half of my Salt Lake City clients that I had at Penney’s and started working by call,” he said. “They were good enough to let me come into their homes.”

He is listed in a booklet compiled by Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services that helps older adults locate services and providers.

“There are so many options in that book,” Cunningham said. “Everything a person could need at home so they don’t have to leave.”

“I attract most clients by referrals from other clients,” he said. “The 55-plus book that the Salt Lake City Aging Services has provided also has helped shape my business into what it has become.”

Hair Care by House Call is listed at the top of the hairdressing section on Page 21 in the 55+ Senior Resource Directory.

“If there were complaints, we wouldn’t be in that book for long,” Cunningham said. “I am at the top of the list because I have been doing hair appointments by house call the longest.”

Because Cunningham focuses on providing hair-care services to older adults, he loses clients to sicknesses and death.

“A lot of people just die,” he said. “I am working with them while they are in their last decade or two so I do lose a lot of clients. There is always somebody that moves into an assisted living home or nursing home and wants to try out a new hairdresser. I am a good option for them,” Cunningham added.

Because he volunteers his time for little to no cost, the amount of money he spends on gas is usually covered by the client he services.

Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center offers "medical and nursing care and skilled care services in a relationship-rich environment."

Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center offers “medical and nursing care and skilled care services in a relationship-rich environment.”

Every Friday at 9 a.m., Cunningham travels to Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center located at 1216 E. and 1300 South in Salt Lake City to see Rebecca Helmes.

Helmes, 84, said, “He makes a big difference in my life, and his efforts go a long ways. He always is trying to please clients.”

She had to leave her lifelong hairdresser about six years ago, found Cunningham and has been happy ever since.

“Gary has followed me everywhere this past year,” she said, “every hospital and home I have been in.”

Rebecca Helmes with Gary Cunningham after their 9 a.m. Friday appointment.

Helmes has been in six different facilities, not counting the few visits to the University Hospital, since she left her home in May 2013.

She is receiving therapy at Mission at Hillside for her tailbone injury. As soon as she is able to walk she will return home.

“Gary went to help me out of my bed this morning, and I let him know I could do it by myself,” she said. “I can’t wait to move back home.”

Helmes pays Cunningham $22 every time he comes to do her hair.

“He drives here, puts a rinse on my hair, and talks to me,” she said. “You go to a beauty shop and it is more expensive than that.”

Helmes, who grew up in New Mexico, said having good hair has always been important to her. “We sure could’ve used a good beautician out there, I tell ya.”

That is why she got so embarrassed after an assistant at Mission at Hillside accidentally got her hair wet. She said her hair became frizzy and she didn’t want to leave her room.

“I had people tell me how beautiful I looked,” she said. “I thought ‘yeah right.'”

Photo of the beauty parlor where Cunningham does Helmes' hair. It is located inside Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City.

Photo of the beauty parlor where Cunningham does Helmes’ hair. It is located inside Mission at Hillside Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City.

As Cunningham grabbed the container of Lemonheads, he said laughing, “Well they are all probably just as blind as you are.”

Beauty is important, too, even when one is gravely ill.

Terra Dennis, director of volunteers at Silverado Hospice in Salt Lake City, said in a phone interview that three or four licensed cosmetologists volunteer their services.

“The volunteers each have two patients who they visit once a month,” Dennis said. “It is usually a quick haircut and then a visit. All patients are pretty ill, so a good visit does wonders.”

Cunningham said his clients have become some of his closest friends.

Helmes echoed this sentiment. “Gary has grown to be one of my closest friends over the past five years. He does a great job and cares about me as a person.”

AARP classes can make older drivers smarter and give discounts too

Story and photos by IAN SMITH

AARP Utah is located at 6975 S. Union Park Center in Midvale.

AARP Utah is located at 6975 S. Union Park Center in Midvale.

We’ve all been in this situation: we are driving and then we get cut off or start tailing another car and we get frustrated. You don’t have to think hard because most people automatically think it’s an older driver.

So you slam on the brakes and press the horn as you fly around the car. You might give them a gesture or something of that nature.

But, older adults who feel like their skills are slipping can be proactive. AARP offers classes that can help aging drivers revive and reboot their skills behind the wheel.

“It provides the focus on the important thing that driving is the most dangerous thing we do every day,” said Paulette Welch, Utah state coordinator for driver’s safety in a phone interview.

The four-hour classes aren’t held on a specific schedule. It varies depending on the demand for classes, which are held at different senior centers all around Utah.

The price for a class varies depending on membership. It’s $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. It also offers an online version of the class that costs members $17.95 and non-members $21.95.

The number of participants also varies. Laura Polacheck, communications director for AARP Utah, said there may be as few as two students in a certain class or as many as 30.

“It’s a safety concern, and it’s difficult because people want to keep their independence,” she said in a phone interview. “That shouldn’t be the prevailing reasons to keep their keys.”

The classes consist of a lot of questions. This helps instructors, who are certified to teach the course by AARP, find out where participants may be lacking in focus or skill. For example, do they place their hands on the steering wheel correctly? When a pedestrian is in the cross walk and you need to turn, when can you go?

Polacheck said aging adults hit the point where they don’t see problems that others may see. They may ignore stop signs and other road signs. As a result, they may receive tickets or have an accident. She said people develop bad habits but no one informs them. Also, they don’t see the problem because they are so used to what they’ve been doing for so long. “We really ask them to reflect,” she said.

Pamphlets contain more information about the driving program.

Pamphlets contain more information about the driving program.

The class reviews the safety of the road and aspects such as reaction time and vision. Instructors also teach participants about new technology that can help them keep their keys in their possession.

“We talk about changing vehicle technology,” said Welch, the state coordinator for driver’s safety. “Many of them know less than younger drivers do.” In fact, she said, people are often surprised by how much they don’t know.

Welch said participants have a great reaction to the class and think more carefully about driving before they get inside of a car. All the information that pours into their ears makes them better drivers once they leave.

Another reward for taking the class is that some insurance companies offer discounts on policies.

“It’s a bit of an incentive,” said Polacheck, AARP Utah’s communications director. “You might not think about signing up for a safe driving course. Insurance companies believe it works otherwise they wouldn’t give the discount.”

However, AARP also recognizes that some older adults are unable to drive safely or consistently. It encourages those individuals to consider alternate mode of transportation.

“You don’t process the information the same [as you age],” said Peter Hebertson, information and referral program manager of Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.

Hebertson said it can be difficult for people to give up driving because it affects their independence. This will become an even greater problem as Utah’s population ages.

 

 

 

 

 

Public transit services for Utahns with disabilities

Story and photos by PAUL S. GRECO

Jonathan Westling has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. Monday through Thursday, he rides a transit service provided by UTA.

Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, people with disabilities have been given equal access to transit programs. Transportation providers have the responsibility to make that participation possible.

Throughout the country, this service is known as ADA Paratransit.

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Riders must call for a curbside pickup by one of UTA’s Paratransit vans.

UTA’s Paratransit service consists of small buses, vans and taxicabs. Riders must schedule their trip up to seven days in advance, and service is curb to curb or from designated pick-up points.

“It’s a pretty good system,” Westling said. “UTA really does try to work with our schedules.”

To qualify to ride Paratransit, an applicant must have an in-person interview and an abilities assessment. For example, if a person is determined to be unable to independently ride UTA’s buses or TRAX rail service, even with training, they qualify to use Paratransit. Also, information provided by a health care professional may determine eligibility.

About 90 percent of Paratransit costs are subsidized, making the cost to riders less expensive.

UTA’s Paratransit costs $4 per ride. “Which I have to admit that is a pretty good deal,” Westling said. “But still for a person with a low income like I do, $4 is quite a bit of money.”

Costs vary from state to state. For example, in Los Angeles County, Paratransit costs $3.25 per ride, while in Colorado Springs, Colo., the cost is $3.50.

UTA’s Paratransit’s Rider’s Guide gives detailed information about what is expected of riders. Penalties are assessed to riders if problems arise.

For instance, after waiting five minutes, UTA’s Paratransit will leave a scheduled rider and issue a No-Show. Los Angeles County and Colorado Springs follow that same guideline.

UTA assesses points for penalties. Receiving 12 points within 30 days will result in a one-week suspension.

Points are calculated as follows: one point for rides not cancelled up to four hours before a scheduled pick up; three points for rides cancelled 30 minutes before a pick up; five points for rides cancelled less than 30 minutes or if the rider isn’t present within five minutes of a pick up.

“Yeah, I’ve been suspended a couple of times but not for quite a while because I am pretty responsible,” Westling said. He said other people he knows get suspended quite a bit.

Cherryl Beveridge, special service general manager for UTA, said in an email, “Because Paratransit service is a civil right, UTA cannot impose penalties that suspend a rider’s service without providing the rider an opportunity to appeal the decision, and to be heard.”

To help riders to not receive penalties, UTA offers incentives.

UTA’s Paratransit gives rewards to riders who have a good record — it’s called the “Responsible Rider Reward Program.”

This program says if a rider does not have any points on their record for a six-month period, free rides are issued. The six-month periods are specified as January through June and July through December.

Depending on how often a rider uses Paratransit during those six months determines the amount of free rides they’ll receive. For example, two free rides are given if riders use Paratransit once per week and have no points issued, 10 free rides for three round trips per week and 20 free rides for four or more round trips per week.

No rider rewards are offered by LA County or Colorado Springs Paratransit services.

Other transit services UTA provides also accommodate people with disabilities.

TRAX rail service connects individuals in the Salt Lake Valley.

TRAX rail service connects individuals in the Salt Lake Valley.

Buses, FrontRunner commuter rail line and TRAX rail services have the capacity to assist those with disabilities who do not qualify to ride Paratransit.

Katelyn Johnson is the program director for Turn City Center for the Arts (CCA). CCA gives people with disabilities the opportunity to develop their artistic skills. As part of her job, Johnson takes groups from CCA on UTA’s TRAX service for excursions.

“Their drivers are always accommodating,” she said, “with a few exceptions, nobody’s perfect.”

Johnson says a problem she sometimes runs into is when people with strollers and such use the seating area that’s designated for people with disabilities.

Katelyn Johnson, right helps a client at TURN City Center for the Arts, located at 511 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City.

Katelyn Johnson, right, helps a client at TURN City Center for the Arts, located at 511 W. 200 South in Salt Lake City.

This means that there isn’t enough room for Johnson, her colleagues and her group to all sit together. She then has to split up her group and wait 15 minutes for the next train.

To help with transporting people with disabilities, UTA created an advisory group. Individuals with disabilities are represented on the Committee On Accessible Transportation to ensure non-discrimination.

Members of this group meet each month for approximately two to three hours. “Attendance and participation are important,” UTA says.

Salt Lake City’s CHOICE Humanitarian, helping African communities

Story and slideshow by ALEXA WELLS

Visit Kenya with three women who volunteered for CHOICE Humanitarian.

CHOICE Humanitarian, The Center for Humanitarian Outreach and Inter-Cultural Exchange, is an organization that helps the countries of Kenya, Nepal, Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico. According to the website, the goal is to “end extreme poverty and improve quality of life through a bottom-up, self developing village-centered approach.”

CHOICE Humanitarian was founded in 1982 by Dr. Tom Evans and Dr. James Mayfield. It is a registered nonprofit organization and takes pride in making every dollar count with solid management and low administrative costs. The headquarters are located in Salt Lake City.

CHOICE expeditions are open to the general public and all ages and different backgrounds. Each village has different projects depending on their unique needs. There are many different tasks that volunteers may end up working on such as: classroom construction, community water systems, bio-gas digesters, health clinics, personal hygiene workshops, pit latrines, micro-enterprise training and other village needs.

CHOICE Humanitarian focuses efforts on two of Africa’s highly impoverished areas, the Kwale and Kinango districts located in the Coast Province of Kenya and East Africa. According to worldhunger.org, in the Kwale area, 32 percent of the population has been reported to be classified as “food insecure” while 40 percent of the population is in absolute poverty. This district results in one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, about 79 percent of Kenya’s populations lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for most of their income. Nearly half of the country’s 40 million people are poor, or unable to meet their daily nutritional requirements. In some places the conditions have improved since the early 80s, but the poverty rate has remained the same at 48 percent. Kenya has one of the world’s fastest population growth rates and in the last 30 years the population has more that tripled. This population growth causes the country to not have enough resources, resulting in extreme poverty.

Lisa Crossley lives in Layton, Utah,  and has participated in the Kenya expedition for the last three years with her neighbors, Tasia and Kimberly Jensen. Crossley and the mother-daughter team  first participated in the program in summer 2009, where they helped to build a school. In summer 2010, they returned to the same village and helped to teach the children in the school. And the following summer, after saving money from the previous year, they helped improve the water catchment systems in Kenya for two weeks.

“My whole outlook on life has changed since I started volunteering in this organization,” Crossley said. “You don’t realize how good your life is until you go somewhere like Kenya. The children of the school eat a cup of grains for lunch and are lucky to have a place to sleep at night. They are so grateful for the volunteers and the help that they bring to the village. I highly encourage anyone to come and experience this, because it is life changing to be able to make a difference.”

People who volunteer for these expeditions gain hands-on experience while working on the village projects that they are assigned. According to the CHOICE Humanitarian website, “They can learn how to combat poverty with new strategies, such as important hydro-electric installations now in the planning stages. With CHOICE Humanitiarian imput, these and other humanitarian organization projects will result in better economic conditions for tens of thousands of villagers.”

Tasia Jensen said, “I highly recommend for everyone to go on a humanitarian trip sometime in their life. It really makes you appreciate what you have, and you learn so much about the African culture. I spent most of my time hanging out with the children. I did art projects with them and helped teach some of them how to read and write. One of the art projects that was created by the students of Kwa Mulungu Primary School was auctioned off by CHOICE Humanitarian, and the proceeds were to benefit the villages in poverty around the world. They were so happy that I was there to help them, I loved seeing their smiling faces.”

All of the expeditions with CHOICE Humanitarian run one week long. Those who are interested in applying need to book their expedition three to six months in advance due to medical testing and travel assignments. Those who don’t have the time or money to go on expeditions with CHOICE Humanitarian also have the option to donate money to the foundation, get involved in Women’s Equity programs, volunteer at CHOICE headquarters, or create a fundraiser. For example, people can donate money to purchase school desks for the schools in these countries that need them.

“The best part of the expedition was the first day that we got there,” Kimberly Jensen said. “The villagers had a welcome celebration in our honor, and we danced around and sang to their music. It was an amazing experience. They were all so happy to have us there, it really touched my heart.”

Details about expedition costs and country-specific needs can be found on the CHOICE Humanitarian website. The price of the expeditions range from $1,995 to $2,195 per person, not including airfare. The fees include village lodging, food, ground transportation, project costs and materials, and two nights in a hotel. While working within these communities, volunteers are treated as a welcomed guest as they help with their daily life schedules.

“I would help them with their water supply and carry the water in giant buckets on my head. It was so heavy and the temperature there was so hot, I thought I was going to pass out. Then I thought, wow … this is what they do every single day, when all we have to do is turn on the water faucet,” Tasia Jensen said.

While the expeditions are only one week long, most volunteers stay extra days and book other adventures and things to do before or after. Things like sightseeing trips, safaris and hikes are all common outside of the CHOICE Humanitarian program.

“The first year that we went to Kenya we booked a week long African safari after our humanitarian excursion. I am so glad that we did that, it was a great experience to see all of the wild zebras, lions, cheetahs, elephants and so many more amazing animals,” Lisa Crossley said.

CHOICE Humanitarian continues to lift the spirits of thousands of villagers within the five countries where volunteers work. In Kenya, the major tool to fight against poverty is education.

“I will continue to volunteer for this organization because it has changed my life,” Kimberly Jensen said. “I do not regret a minute of my time I spent helping the villagers and children in Kenya. I will make sure that my kids get to experience what I have experienced, and I hope that more people will become involved in humanitarian projects.”