By Jacob Engels
Early Sunday afternoon, I got a chance to speak with one of the founders of Project Bithlo, Anna Eskamani. Anna, an Iranian American and Florida native, is a graduate of UCF with a dual degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies. She is currently seeking her graduate degree at UCF and is involved with the UCF College Democrats, which is overseeing Project Bithlo.
What is Project Bithlo and how did it get started?
Project Bithlo is a non-partisan initiative of the College Democrats at UCF, Project Bithlo is a student led movement to support the work of United Global Outreach (UGO) and to work towards transforming the community of Bithlo.
I was born and raised in the East Orlando area and went to Corner Lake Middle School, so Bithlo has always been a part of my life. In middle school, I had a lot of friends who lived in the Bithlo area and that is the first time that I experienced first hand the poverty that so many Bithlo residents were stuck in. My family is a middle class family and we didn’t have much to give, but when we could we donated our old computers, clothes, and a lot of other stuff to struggling Bithlo families.
Fast forward to about a year ago, and that’s when I met Timothy McKinney of United Global Outreach I was able to see all of the good he was doing for the Bithlo area and decided it was time for me to get involved. That’s when I had the idea of leading a non-partisan effort to help the Bithlo area. Congress might not get along and work across the aisle, but we can and we will. The people of Bithlo need and deserve our help.
What has happened so far and what does the future hold for Project Bithlo?
We have taken two trips so far to Bithlo and were guided by Tim McKinney and UGO. It was very eye opening and informative. I think it’s important to be on the ground and in the community to determine what it is that they actually need. Whether its the government or non profit groups, people often assume they know what people need and we don’t want to go into Bithlo with that assumption. It’s important to be on the ground and figure out how we can best deliver support to the Bithlo community.
Working With Younger People —
As college students, we need to work with the younger people. For the most part, Bithlo’s youth don’t really have things to do after school and that needs to change. We want to help them get out of the community and interact with the surrounding areas. We are currently working with the Orange County Academy to schedule a day where the students can come to UCF and visit the campus, learn about why college is important, and how they can work towards getting accepted and securing the funding they need to become enrolled.
Sex, Birth Control, STI’s —
Project Bithlo also wants to help educate the younger people in Bithlo about safe sex, condoms, and other forms of birth control. The STI and pregnancy rates in Bithlo are very high and we need to tackle that problem. We’d also like to work with the newly opened medical center in Bithlo and maybe help them educate the community about safe sex and what kind of protection can be used by both males and females. Ideally, we’d like to help make condoms and other forms of birth control more readily available.
During UCF’s “Moving out Days” we are going to work with UCF students to donate work clothes and dress shoes to the community center in Bithlo.
We also want to work to make it safer to travel around Bithlo and beyond for residents. I think an overpass in some part of Bithlo that would help residents get across Colonial is crucial. Another voting location would be nice as well. You shouldn’t have to walk miles to vote and you shouldn’t be forced to cross a dangerous street to be involved in the democratic process. That is not what this country is about.
Bringing municipal water to Bithlo is another goal we have. There a quite a few dumps and properties that are leaking dangerous chemicals into the water basin and polluting well water. We need to filter the water and eventually get municipal water out there. The issue is always funding, but we are confident that we can make the case for Bithlo and help shape public opinion.
Are you working to get other campus groups involved?
We are currently working on a proposal that will help us reach out to all of the clubs currently operating on campus. We started in February, so we are still fairly new. However, we are working hard to involve all student organizations in our efforts in the Bithlo area.
What has the response been like so far?
Everyone we have talked to so far has been very responsive and interested in helping out. There is a lot of misinformation about Bithlo floating around as well as a considerable amount of students not knowing what Bithlo even is. Our goal, as we see it, is to educate UCF students and plug them in to volunteer efforts happening in Bithlo.
Has Timothy McKinney & United Global Outreach been involved in helping Project Bithlo get started?
Tim has been really helpful and he has done so much for the community in Bithlo over the past few years. We have no intention of reinventing the wheel. Our goal is to provide a student base of volunteers that can assist United Global Outreach in transforming Bithlo.
How can people get involved with Project Bithlo?
By summer, we should have a lot of our different volunteer programs honed and perfected. Until then though, we will be volunteering as tutors at the Orange County Academy and helping them in any way we can and encourage others looking to get involved with Project Bithlo to do the same.
To learn more about Project Bithlo and how to get involved, please click here
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other businesses and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org