My most important takeaway from my internship is to be patient. Social justice work takes a long time and you can’t expect to solve every problem in a day, let alone a summer. Sometimes it takes a (very) long time for projects to be published and even if they are published, it can take some time before they achieve their intended purpose. I wish that I had known the importance of staying patient going into the internship. Even with this knowledge, I sometimes feel like my work is not reaching enough people or having enough of an impact. It has been important to be kind to myself and lower my expectations.
That is the other important thing to learn about work in social justice, but especially human rights: it is frustrating! Either there is no obvious solution and you really need to get creative about what the next steps should be, or there is an obvious solution that is nearly impossible to achieve! Often it is a combination of the two. For example, at the beginning of my internship, I focused on advocacy for the Rohingya. I went through two weeks of research to learn about Covid-19 rates among Rohingya in refugee camps and vaccination efforts, only to be told to focus on a new project by my supervisor because of a lack of feasibility. The clear solution was to increase vaccination for refugees in India and Bangladesh, but this would have been impossible for our virtual-based organization.
My advice for anyone interested in genocide prevention and human rights work is not to get your hopes up too high. This sounds really disheartening but I think it’s true. It is unfair to yourself to go into an internship with the expectation that you will have a significant impact on preventing a genocide in Ethiopia, China, or even here in the U.S. This work depends on so many people, and one person cannot do the work of hundreds. Managing expectations and being fair to yourself is not only important for your mental health, but crucial for not getting disgruntled or disheartened with your work. Understand that this is hard, but that there are so many amazing people just like you with the same passion and drive. Work with them and over time you will make a difference!
In the next few weeks, I will leave my internship with three soon-to-be published country reports (Egypt, U.S., Czech Republic), two of which lacked reports (you can find them here when they are published). I will also have a number of infographics and documents about the Rohingya genocide and its similarities to the Holocaust. Additionally, Genocide Watch will have a presentation on Brazil’s eco-cide to use in classrooms and other pedagogical areas. These concrete deliverables do not include my achievements updating the Alliance Against Genocide Watch website and my efforts in coordinating between Genocide Watch and our Alliance members. I have also begun the process of adding a new organization called Cultural Survival to the Alliance.
While this experience was not the rainbows and sunshine that genocide studies is (that is supposed to be a joke), it was a really amazing learning experience. I plan to take these new skills and perspectives to all of my future endeavors!