“Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue”

In her wonderfully complex book (and ambitious journey) My Jewish Year, journalist Abigail Pogrebin joins a comprehensive review of the most important Jewish holidays with her personal experiences and anecdotes. She takes a year to find meaning in the celebrations and customs of Judaism as she immerses herself in very different contexts and communities to explore her own Jewish identity.

In one of the chapters, called Activist Shabbbat: Friday Night with the Kids, she enjoys the traditional dinner in the company of a highly untraditional group: a dozen recent college graduates who have taken a year away from their careers, routines, families, and homes in order to fight poverty. The “kids” are none other than the Jewish Service Corps of Avodah, working in four cities around the country in organizations specialized in a wide range of issues, from homelessness to domestic violence, legal representation, counseling, and education. Avodah is providing them with a living and learning space in which the Jewish texts they explore and the constant observance of holidays serve as inspiration for their social justice activities.

It becomes more than a living space when you consider the symbolism of this new community they are part of. These are young people (aged twenty-one to twenty-six) who uproot their regular lives in order to work on the flourishing of other people’s lives. They grow new roots in an environment in which altruism and selflessness replace the infertile soil of possessive individualism that characterizes many of our contemporary societies. It is impressive and inspiring that they choose to do so. A day in the life of a Corps Member looks nothing like a day in most of our predominantly self-centered and self-absorbed existence. The average person will perceive themselves as charitable if they take a few minutes to donate on an organization’s website. These young people are not only “donating” a year of their lives, but they are boarding on a journey in which a few fundamental changes occur.

(Source: avodah.net)

Through the commitment to give back to the less fortunate, they not only come to see that their contribution matters, but they realize how much it is needed. I think that a renewed awareness of how far-reaching and all-encompassing the pursuit of social justice needs to be is the most valuable perspective one can gain from such a program. It is hopefully a realization that can only make one dedicate their entire life to such a mission. Abigail Pogrebin quotes the mission of Avodah as stated by Cheryl Cook, the president of the organization – “Three Words in Deuteronomy, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, Justice, Shall Your Pursue”. The Corps members choose to live by these words and I think the ultimate step of their mission would be making as many of us as possible ask ourselves why we choose not to.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Welcome to BridgeYear

The BridgeYear logo painted by one of our Co-Founders and me over many lunch breaks.
  • Stop by Home Depot for some blue paint
  • Develop metrics for a business plan proposal
  • Come to work in scrubs
  • Make the enrollment steps to the local community college easily digestible for students
  • Assemble IKEA furniture for the office
  • Update the team’s meeting agenda

It may look odd, but that’s how my to-do list reads on any given week this summer. I could’ve opted to write the responsibilities that were listed in my job description, but the truth is that wouldn’t come close to encompassing this out of the ordinary internship experience. The wide range of my day-to-day activities is the result of interning for a nonprofit startup in education, BridgeYear.  Bridge Year is the brainchild of two former college counselors, Victoria Chen and Victoria Doan,  who I’m delighted to call my mentors, and was founded in the summer of 2016 in Houston, Texas.

BridgeYear started off as a community college transition program for first generation students from low-income communities. The goal was to battle the phenomenon known as summer melt, which “melts” away recent high school graduates’ plans to enroll in college the fall immediately after graduation. To decrease the rates of the phenomenon, BridgeYear provided support to students through near peer advisors -college interns like myself– that helped students matriculate into community college. While enrollment rates were doubled, as the summer progressed, BridgeYear realized there were things beyond summer melt affecting students’ futures. After recognizing that students in low-income communities also lack access to workforce opportunities, the program now immerses students in career simulations that expose them to high-growth careers and propels them toward economic mobility.

This is actually my second summer with BridgeYear, as I was part of the inaugural team back when this was only an idea. It was a life altering experience to establish a nonprofit from the ground up; an opportunity I wanted so desperately to repeat because I felt my work wasn’t done.

And so here I am. A few seasons have passed and my passion, purpose, and philosophies on education have only grown. I knew that round 2 of Continue reading “Welcome to BridgeYear”

Getting started at Encyclopedia of Life

Outside of the MCZ where EOL is located

This summer I am very excited to intern at Encyclopedia of Life’s Learning and Education Department in Cambridge, Massachusetts. EOL encourages discovering biodiversity on Earth and their mission is to generate an encyclopedia of all the living species on Earth. One of the great things about EOL is that it is an open platform that can be used by anyone. I enjoy looking up my favorite plants and animals on the EOL website and finding out some pretty cool facts and figures. The Learning and Education Department utilizes a lot of this data to develop tools and applications that support educators, citizen scientists, and students when using EOL.


For my internship, I am working on the City Nature Challenge for the Boston area, which is an annual competition between cities across the nation and around the world to find the most biodiversity in their area. This is a great way to get people outside and engaged in science as well as increase data on the different species. Last year was the first year Boston was involved and we observed over 740 different species over a period of 5 days! I am looking forward to seeing Boston as a top runner in next year’s challenge.

Open science and citizen science, both large aspect of EOL, are great ways to engage the public in science projects through data collection, education, and advocacy. I am interested in it because it has so much potential to raise awareness and educate people about environmental issues facing us today such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. By participating in projects, people can get hands on experiences that relate to these issues and the data collected can be used for scientific research or even impact governmental policy.

eol.org

My first day at my internship, I walked through Harvard Yard to get to the Museum of Comparative Zoology where EOL is located, and a huge turtle shell welcomed me into the building. Right away, I got into what I will be working on for the next couple of months and got familiar with EOL. Throughout the summer I will be reaching out to engage naturalists, educators, and environmental enthusiasts in EOL as well as map out the 2018 challenge for the Boston area. So far, I have contacted and met with a number of great organizations in the Boston area that work together to engage the public in science.

My goal for the summer is to develop and implement recruitment efforts for the 2018 challenge and help strategize ways to get EOL materials out on a national level. EOL’s goal is to have materials used by educators and students all throughout America during the city nature challenge as well as part of other community engagement efforts. Overall, I am very excited to see how the summer develops and what I am able to accomplish.

Gerrianna Cohen ’18

My First Week with the ICM Program

This summer I am working with the Integrated Chemistry Management (ICM) Schools Program, which is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The program entails visiting various middle and high schools across Massachusetts and Rhode Island to organize their chemical storage spaces and laboratories in such a manner that those chemicals do not pose a hazard to students, teachers and the surrounding communities. The program further educates staff about waste management, safety practices and the use of a real time inventory.

My first week went something like this:

Monday: Visited Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett. The team was greeted by a zealous STEM coordinator who escorted us to the chemistry lab and checked in periodically throughout the day. The school is rather small with limited funding, which was reflected by the number of chemicals in their storage facilities. The coordinator was very eager to continue the next step of the program, which is to have the teachers trained in chemical safety in August.

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The completed chemical storage cupboard for the Pioneer School. The chemicals are arranged according to the type of chemical, then alphabetical order and size. Solids and liquids are placed on separate shelves.

Tuesday & Wednesday: We visited Dracut High School. The number of chemicals in their lab was ridiculous – ten 500 mL of sodium acetate solution, 17 500 mL sodium phosphate solution, 62 hydroxide solutions, 34 carbonates, 88 chlorides and 27 hydrochloric acid solutions of varying concentrations. I won’t go on. This occurred mainly because many of the chemicals were purchased as kits and so many were unopened and covered with dust. It must have been difficult to know what chemicals are available when they are stacked and as a result more of the same chemicals were ordered before using the ones present.

Thursday: We visited Swampscott High School. The building was very new but the chemicals stored in it were very old – some older than me. Here we encountered more hazardous chemicals such as a few mercury compounds, several yellowed labels making it difficult to identify the chemicals and a few fluoride chemicals to name a few. What made this school interesting is that the chemicals were mainly arranged in alphabetical order, which meant that a number of incompatible chemicals were stored together.

 

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A storage cabinet containing all chemicals including hazardous waste that will be disposed by a contractor within the upcoming school year. Many of the chemicals are very old or are oxidizers.

 

Several chemicals such as bisulfate, phthalate and thiosulfate salts and numerous organic acids seemed more suitable for chemistry research labs than in a high school teaching setting. Some chemicals I encountered had amusing names such as Onion’s Fusible Alloy and super duper polymer gel. On the other hand I was horrified when I ran into Thorium Nitrate, which is radioactive and mercury thermometers. I hope that the ICM program will help teachers make informed decisions about the types and quantities of chemicals that they order and store in the future.

To learn more about this program and their progress over the years you can visit:

http://www.maine.gov/mema/prepare/conference/2013_conference/24_icm_detailed_general_2013.pdf and http://www.umassk12.net/maillist/msg00362.html for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Leaving Project Harmony Israel: I could never forget you Oh Jerusalem

It is bittersweet to be leaving Project Harmony Israel, to be leaving Jerusalem, the children and staff I have come to know, this country. In many ways I have met my summer internship goals of developing language proficiency in Hebrew, developing my leadership and conflict resolution skills within a work setting, and making memories/forming personal relationships with those who are different from me and learn how to allow that alternative perspective to enlighten my own. However, meeting these goals came in largely different forms than I expected, and some of them evolved because of that. For instance, developing language proficiency in Hebrew became more centered on becoming proficient in certain conversational settings regarding art and food as well as a proficiency in deeper understanding the politics of language in Jerusalem. So, while I did not become more proficient in my Hebrew at large, I became very good at buying groceries, haggling for bargains, naming colors and explaining art projects, and most importantly I became aware of the politics of language (Arabic v. English v. Hebrew) in Jerusalem. Developing my leadership and conflict resolution skills within a work setting came from taking on an authoritarian position, delegating tasks, and creating a cohesive vision and then following through with it even when schedules had to be re-arranged and staffing changed. Part of developing my leadership and solving conflicts in the classroom also meant learning to strike a balance between having fun and maintaining clear boundaries. This balanced allowed for natural memory making because I was more focused on forming personal relationships rather than constantly having to prove my authority. Making memories and creating bonds with my campers and some volunteers for Project Harmony gave me a lot to think about regarding Palestinian rights, identity politics, and the need for A-political (or normalized) environments as complimentary spaces for youth in Israel. I learned from my conversations with campers as young as 10 and as old as 15 that contact is the first step towards recognition, which is the way towards relationships and, ultimately, respect.

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Project Harmony Israel’s Identity Flag sits behind Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin at a press conference.

My internship with Project Harmony Israel has undoubtedly solidified my interest in working in Israel and for the betterment of the state through person-to-person interactions. I think it has also given me a deeper understanding of where my observational skills, leadership skills, and cross-cultural curiosity are best utilized. I certainly learned that I am more flexible than I imagined, that I can manage my time well and think of projects at the last minute, and that I am capable of both working alone and as a team to build a positive educational environment for both Jews and Arabs. I think this ties into what I am most proud of looking back on my work. I am so so proud of the children I came to know and the space I created with them. Together, we completed over ten projects, including an identity flag mural that was presented to Israel’s President Ruvi Rivlin.

 

I am also very proud to have been a part of an organization that encourages dialogue, and to have been a witness to the incredible kinds of conversations that occurred at this camp, including the sharing of other peace organizations and being present for a Jewish boy’s first time experiencing an integrated environment and making an Arab friend. There was actually mention of Ori’s experience in the Hand in Hand Newsletter, which you can read here. I will quote it briefly though,

Mural
Campers Yarden and Basel carry the mural into President Revlon’s home.

“How is it that my kids don’t like Arabs? I’ve always taught them that we are all equal, but somehow my 11 year old thinks all Arabs are bad – how does that happen?

I sent Ori to Project Harmony this summer because I thought it would be good for him. He was scared at the beginning, but the staff at camp was warm and supportive, and he opened up and started playing sports with the other kids. After a few weeks in camp, he came home and told me: “You know what, Ima, you were right. My Arab friends are really cool, and I can learn from them, maybe they can come over?” That was everything for me. I know change doesn’t happen overnight, but this was a start. I told him that my granparents and my father spoke Arabic, and as an Iraqi Jew, the language is part of our heritage too. You can’t judge people by their religion or ethnicity. Being part of Hand in Hand is about really understanding and living the equality I believe in.”

This is a community that gives to each other and I am so proud and grateful to have been and to continue to be a part of its work.

-Risa Dunbar ’17

Reflections on Streetlight Schools

The Streetlight Schools that I was working at during my last week in Johannesburg felt worlds different than the Streetlight Schools that I began working at back in May. The organization didn’t fundamentally change, but my role certainly developed.  The internship helped me to develop new skills as well as to realize my future professional goals and aspirations. When I arrived in South Africa in May, I knew that equitable education was important to me, but now I know that my professional future will involve increasing opportunities for education in the United States or abroad.

This internship not only made me more sure of my goals, but it also improved my skills in the office, which was exactly what I was looking for. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to gain quite a bit of hands-on experience with students in classrooms, but I’ve had little exposure to independent work in an office setting in the non-profit organization.  I now realize that if I was employed in a position which was entirely office-based, I would be unhappy in the long run. It is for this reason that the Streetlight internship was the perfect balance for me: I spent mornings doing research in the office and afternoons tutoring in the Learning Centre.

As far as changes at the organization, I was incredibly luck to be able to witness the organization progress throughout the course of my internship. When I first arrived, I was looking for a team environment, however most of my work was independent.  It was quiet in the office, and while there was a lot to do, it seemed to be going slowly. But as time went on, it seemed like good things were happening left and right. During my time there, we created a Facebook page, a blog about innovation in education, and we also further developed the website. The organization also welcomed two new interns during my last month, both of whom I learned quite a bit from. It was also nice because they moved into my apartment with me, which was in the building that I was working (owned by Bjala Properties, the affordable housing project that partners with Streetlight Schools).

As a matter of fact, I think that that was one of my favorite things about the internship (which ended up making it more like a residency). I lived in the building that I worked. Normally, I think a situation like this might be a little bit too much, especially when putting a large time commitment to a job. I was initially slightly afraid that I would never be able to get the feeling of going home after a long day at work. It was, in fact, an incredible opportunity because it allowed me to learn more about the families that the Learning Centre was serving than would’ve been possible if I had been living elsewhere.

Saying goodbye to some of the learners
Saying goodbye to some of the learners
With the other two tutors at Leopard Tree

All in all, I learned a great deal during my internship at Streetlight Schools. I clarified about  my future career. It also provided me with the opportunity to get to know very knowledgeable people in my field, while working alongside them and observing their inspiring passion for improvement in and through education.

Final Words with ABC

This summer has certainly been an experimental test of my strength in the humanitarian aid world of work. Thanks to the WOW I have successfully been able to have an internship opportunity that expanded my horizons and opened my eyes to the bureaucracy and intensity of social work and humanitarian aid in NYC. My goals were thoroughly accomplished through the wide range of tasks I was set to do at ABC. 

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Everything from my tasks of referring children for early intervention education programs to doing child therapy with the kids helped me reach my learning goals for this internship. I would say that every task I had, even if it sounded as simple as getting a medical record for a child, taught me the hardships of working in and with public assistance groups. I learned what those dependent on public assistant programs have to go through in order to receive the services “our government provides to those in need.” It is no simple task to get a child in school, receive services for children with learning disorders, or get one’s monthly food stamp to buy food for their family. Learning how policies created on a city wide level effect those they are supposed to be helping was the most interesting aspect of my internship for me. I want to build off this experience at Brandeis by taking classes that teach me more about policy creation, implementing policies on a ground level, and discussing with professors the corruption that exists in US government. Beyond Brandeis I will hopefully continue to have my eyes opened to the world of policy making and humanitarian aid projects that help people in my community. It is amazing how much attention is often focused on international humanitarian aid efforts when there are thousands of people within 5 miles of my home in New York who need just as much aid and care, who are suffering from starvation and whose children have witnessed trauma and violence before the age of five and need counseling. 

For anyone interested in social work I would say ABC is the best place to intern. Social work is a balance, you must maintain self care and be effective in the office. As one of my co-workers said: if you don’t feel well yourself, you can’t help anyone else. 

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My ideas around social justice have most definitely been challenged. I have seen how difficult social justice is to accomplish in a world where organizations are run by money and public assistant groups make it difficult for anyone to accomplish anything quickly with the piles of paperwork required for even the most simplest of requests. I have learned that having connections in the world of social justice workers is vital because it helps get paperwork through the system faster and speed along the process of helping those receive aid who need it. I have also learned that although there are many people out there working for social justice, it is an exhaustive and draining task to bring about justice in today’s world. Although I already knew this, seeing how it effects people is quite depressing. Accomplishing social justice is still what I am going to work for in my future and this internship definitely helped brace me for the reality of working towards this goal. Dedication and passion are the two most vital attributes needed to accomplish social work. 

– Alex Hall ’15

Midpoint at Leopard Tree Learning Centre

This week marks the midpoint of my internship at Streetlight Schools and Leopard Tree Learning Centre. Even though I’ve had five weeks so far to get used to my internship and how the organization works, this week, my internship also changed quite a bit.

Monday marked the first day of our holiday program, which is the time of year during which we have students at the Learning Centre for the full day instead of just from 3:00 to 6:00 in the evenings. Now, we are hosting between 25 and 35 kids in the Centre each day, from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. While research isn’t as big of a component at my job any more, I am still continuing with a few minor projects in the office before and after the Centre is open.

Before, my main project was literacy assessments. I started out by doing research, and then ultimately created several literacy assessments for different grades to gauge the English level of each learner. The process showed me a lot about how kids respond to different approaches as well as how to engage with students on an individual level in order to receive the most informative responses. I’ve essentially finished the assessments and now we are using my findings to create the English schedule for the holiday program.

So far, I’m enjoying full days with the kids quite a bit. I think it is much more up my alley than office work — but I’m still glad to have had the experience in the office, as I was really looking for a balance between the two through this internship. The best part is, my interactions with our learners is unlike any other experience I’ve had working with children. I’m constantly learning from them, which is probably due to the unique set up of the Centre. Right now, we are learning with new teaching practices, which is all a part of experiencing new, innovative methods of education. Some of the practices include: student collaboration, older learners teaching younger learners, learners working on their own, and (somewhat) traditional instruction from the teachers. What I like most about these practices is that they engage each student, so that we can really see where they’re at (without having to test all the time) rather than just speaking in front of a group of kids every day.

During the holiday program, we balance the morning between Math and English, and then have other activities in the afternoon, which change day to day. Some of the activities include traditional singing and dancing, sports, painting, clay, paper mache, and theatre. We are also taking some time to plan our Mandela Day project, which is a service project that we will do on July 18th in honor of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. The purpose of Mandela Day is for everyone in South Africa to take 67 minutes of their day to serve others, in honor of Mandela, who served the South African people for 67 years (27 years in prison, and 40 years outside of prison). For more information on Mandela Day, click here.

Another extracurricular that we do in the afternoons is Sky Farms. Sky Farms is a project that Streetlight Schools and Bjala Properties (our partners, mentioned in my previous post) started on the roof of the building next door to the Centre. There, we teach the kids about growing food, about how plants work, and they get to see the entire process. Right now, we have onions, spring onions (scallions), cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, herbs, cherry tomatoes, and more. For more information on Sky Farms, click here.

Today we even had a Treasure Hunt in the park outside of our building. The kids picked up everything, from old bottle caps to pinecones, leaves, acorns, each of which were different and unique (as all of the trees in that park seem to be different kinds). They had a lot of fun, and it was also a valuable experience for the tutors as it provided an amazing opportunity for the learners to take the lead and show us new things.

At the end of each day, no matter what the activity, the learners all sit around one of our classrooms and receive juice and biscuits as a reward for doing well. All in all, I am really excited about the coming weeks of the holiday program and I’m looking forward to all that we learn in this new setting, spending time in the Centre all day.

First Week at the Consortium!

Returning from abroad, I find myself in Boston this summer working with the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. Located on the University of Massachusetts Boston campus, the Consortium is a non-profit organization working towards a just and gender equitable world. Under the leadership of director Carol Cohn, the organization dedicates itself to researching gender and security issues, bridging the gap between researchers and policymakers, and promoting education and activism on these issues. As part of their mission to end conflict and establish peace, the Consortium hosts lectures, discussions, and workshops, most notably their Speaker Series. For the Speaker Series, the Consortium hosts a variety of speakers, such as prominent scholars, policy practitioners, and women leaders from conflict-affected areas to participate and engage in dialogue about their work.

Phoebe Randel is the current Associate Director
Phoebe Randel is the current Associate Director

Unable to attend any of the internship fairs or campus recruitment events, I spent my internship search online. Having an interest in gender and human rights issues, I was eager to find out more about the Consortium once I stumbled upon their site. After researching the organization and their internship program, I sent an application to Carol Cohn, the director. Shortly after applying, I received a request for letters of reference and confirmed my interest in working with the organization. A few weeks following, I received an internship offer and began my application for the World of Work Fellowship!

At the Consortium this summer, I will be assisting the organization with a variety of projects. For the most part, I will be working on projects related to their website.  A week after orientation, all the interns have been actively working on the same website project. We are gathering resources and creating citations for the Consortium’s Research Hub. The Research Hub is a database complied of scholarly resources related to gender, armed conflict, peacebuilding, security, and more just post-conflict societies. After a few days spent looking up articles and pulling resources, I have already been exposed to an variety of gender and security related issues that I have never come across before.

Following this internship, I expect to have a much stronger grasp of the field. Although I have never worked with a nonprofit or gender issues before, through orientation and training, I feel ready to take on the tasks that have been assigned. Initially all the information that we received from orientation seemed a bit overwhelming, but after starting to complete the intern assignments, I see the need for all the training. Additionally, the staff have been so helpful with any questions that I have had. With only three staff members and twenty-five interns, our supervisors have more than enough questions to answer, but they graciously take the time to help us when we need it. And even with such a large staff to intern ratio, I have had the chance to talk with the directors and the special projects manager individually to discuss my interests and just to get to know one another better.

Aside from research and website work, I will be working on budgeting at the Consortium and am one of the networking directors for the Consortium community.  As a networking director, I will help interns connect with each other, as well as with the staff and the directors of the Consortium. So far, I have met many other interns with similar aspirations and interests. I look forward to getting to know everyone at the organization better and to meet everyone that’s part of the Consortium community! I am also so glad and excited to be working with two other Brandeis students for the summer. It was a pleasant surprise to see them the first day at orientation!

Fellow WOW recipients!
Fellow WOW recipients at the office!

Only a week in and I feel that I have already learned plenty, but also that get the sense that I’ll be learning so much more as the weeks pass. I hope to spend more time interacting with our Consortium family, not just within the office and also to explore more of my future academic and career goals as I take on this journey for the next two months.

Until next time!

Iris Lee, ’15

We Start with ABC

I began my internship after being home for only one week. I moved from Paris, a city with harsh housing socio-economic divides, to my home in New York, where one block can house families of every socio-economic status.

ABC

ABC

I am interning at the Association to Benefit Children’s Echo Park location on 126th and Lexington Avenue. I work with social workers to meet the various and vast needs of our clients — families with young children, under five years of age, who are victims of trauma or domestic violence and in need. All Children’s House is the only active preventative program now using child-parent psychotherapy to resort home environments and strengthen family relations.

I learned about ABC when I did volunteer work in the Echo Park school’s classrooms for a community service program in high school. I emailed my previous director asking if there were any positions available for summer internships and I was interviewed by the director of All Children’s House immediately. With my interest in housing and education policy issues and parent-child relations I secured the internship for this summer.

All Children’s House work is accomplished through support groups, weekly meetings, housing assistance, and advocacy for the clients. Depending on the needs of the family, I attend home visits with the social workers, bring the clients to housing court or meetings with housing organizations, help find day care services for the clients’ children, and research health care and housing options for the clients.

 

DV Shelter  http://www.safehorizon.org/index/what-we-do-2/domestic-violence--abuse-53/domestic-violence--abuse-shelters-340.html
DV Shelter
http://www.safehorizon.org/index/what-we-do-2/domestic-violence–abuse-53/domestic-violence–abuse-shelters-340.html

My first week started off with a bit of office work in the morning and then my first home visits. I attend two home visits my first afternoon at work that threw me into the reality of social work very quickly. Within the week I had been to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments, Domestic Violence Shelters, Family Shelters, and low income apartments. My most engaging experience was the forth day on the job. I was asked to take a client who I had just met the day before to the Family Justice Center. The FJC helps families apply for housing, get into shelters, manage their budgets, and also offers other services such as parenting classes and self sufficiency courses. Although much the same as ABC, it has resources unavailable at other agencies, such as access to NYPD offices for documents such as orders of protection, and the legal aid services for housing court. That was what we were there for. Here, I learned that Section 8 Housing is frozen in New York and there is a 2 year wait minimum for NYCHA domestic violence priority housing, and about a 4-10 year wait for the NYCHA applicants who do not qualify for priority.

I have observed the toll social work takes on my colleagues but also the rewards we can feel by aiding families in need. The main issues in NYC right now are lack of housing, and lack of understanding between the different organizations trying to help the same people. The amount of paperwork and the variety of formats organizations “need” prevent much from being accomplished. Now that I know what work will be like, I expect to learn more about the services NYC provides to those in need, and to analyze ways policy can aid people in their daily lives who are faced with homelessness and violence. There must be more efficient and less complicated systems in place to aid those to safety.

– Alex Hall

Getting Acquainted with Streetlight Schools

“Good after…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice to see you!”

After three tries, the classroom full of young learners welcomed me to Leopard Tree Learning Centre in perfect unison. I started giggling as my supervisor, the founder and director of Streetlight Schools (which runs Leopard Tree) introduced me as Ma’am, and told the class that I wasn’t just a visitor, but that I would be their new tutor. Then, as if on cue, the littlest ones jumped up from their seats and all ran up to introduce themselves and hug me. Although I was clearly disturbing the class, their teacher (whom they also refer to as “Ma’am”), let them carry on and eventually we all settled down and listened to her lesson on multi-digit addition and subtraction.

Despite it only being my first day, I could already tell that the class was hectic. There were at least 25 kids in the room, ranging in ages from 5-14. Leopard Tree is split into two classes: younger learners and older learners (with a few exceptions in those divisions). There is one teacher for each class. However, within those two rooms, there are a range of skill levels, both high-need learners and low-need learners. The Centre is intended to be an education lab that caters to children who live in Bjala Square, a property company that aims to bring affordable urban living to Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg. Streetlight Schools and Bjala Properties recently partnered together to bring Leopard Tree to the Square, so that they could assess urban education and attempt to create a model that caters to the needs of urban learners in South Africa. (For more information on Streetlight Schools click here and for more information on Bjala Properties click here.)

Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za
Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za

The learners, most of whom live at Bjala Square, come from a variety of schools in the area, and obviously have a range of backgrounds in literacy and numeracy. That is what makes the Centre so hectic, as of now. It is very difficult for only two teachers to cater to the needs of all of the learners, which is part my job to alleviate as an intern. However, the current set-up of the Centre is temporary: Streetlight is currently working on a huge expansion project, through which the Learning Centre will have a new location where they can accommodate at least 100 learners. They are also in the process of founding a private school in the neighborhood, where they intend to implement the education models that they have been evaluating/developing in the Centre. (The new centre will continue to serve as an education lab to create new and innovative models of urban education.) They hope to open the school next year, beginning with grades R (kindergarten) and 1, and then adding a level each year.

As an intern, my duties fit into each of these different missions. In the mornings, I work in the office, mostly doing research for Streetlight. Right now, I am researching literacy assessments for primary school learners, and using models from leading education systems in the world. I am also in the process of creating assessments that I will be administering to the younger learners to gauge their levels of literacy within the next week. After completing this, I will begin to develop an assessment for the higher levels.

Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/
Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/

In the afternoons, I work in the Learning Centre as a tutor. My purpose as of now is to give extra attention to those learners that need it, but like I mentioned previously, within the next week or so I will begin to administer assessments. So far, I have really been enjoying the balance between research and office work that I’ve been responsible for, alongside fun afternoons with the learners. I’m eager to see how my responsibilities change and progress throughout the coming weeks.

 

Too Blessed to Complain

It has taken me forever to write this last blog because, no matter how many times I tried to start and no matter how many different approaches I’ve taken, none of my numerous drafts seemed right. I mean, how do I even begin to wrap up the hurricane of emotions, labor, thoughts, revelations, and changes that blew through my life in the past two months, leaving me in a hodgepodge of possibilities, ideas, and questions? The answer is simply that I can’t. Having experienced personally how difficult it is to recruit others to your cause simply because there are just so many out there and by observing others in similar situations multiple times throughout my life, I have come to realize that in order for my kids to not go hungry every day, not to get sick, or to have a life beyond wandering the streets, their reality has to become a reality to you and me.

Fortunately and unfortunately, media is more than prevalent in our lives today. It is a topic that has been and is much discussed. Yes, through pictures and videos, people who cannot make the trip to the vast squatter camp in Epako, Namibia can get a glimpse into the shoeless, electricity-less, water-less, and a-lot-of-other-things-less lives my kids and their families have. But I myself cannot deny that I have become jaded to much of the suffering and injustices in the world because of the sheer bombardment of images presented on screens to me every day. But that fog screen has shattered for me during my two months at Tui Ni Duse Pre-School and the harsh lives so many people lead has become very real to me. That is not to say that my kids’ smiles are some of the biggest and brightest smiles I have ever seen in my life. It is something that many people like myself, who come from privileged lives that represent such a small minority in the world that visit places like Epako, experience often; the people here are so happy even with so little. So do we leave them in their sunshiny world that is uncorrupted by the evils of the modern world? Or do we give them the “gifts” the contemporary world has to offer along with the lethal side effects written in small print? I know it is not as black and white as those two questions pose, but they are questions I have been asking myself even before I went to Namibia as I was conducting the academic research beforehand.

As you might be able to imagine, this is a mind blowing dilemma that no one might ever find the answer to. But as my kids flash their beautiful smiles at me from the pictures on my wall, I can only think that no matter what I do, I cannot slip into the complacency of my luxurious life in America and push them back in my mind as “those poor starving kids in Africa,” as many people, I am sure, are guilty of doing. They are not just “poor starving kids in Africa.” Martinuis, despite going through a court procedure for stealing and slaughtering a farmer’s cows, uses his break time to practice spelling out his name instead of playing ball with his friends. Steftelin is a natural-born leader, often organizing her fellow classmates. Isak has stellar attendance, is engaged during class, and can often be seen sweeping up the classroom or running errands for the principal and teachers. Mannes and Rudolf are best friends—they walk to and from school together, share food with each other, wear matching sweaters, and sit quietly by each other.

School Portraits (from left to right): Martinuis, Steftelin, and Isak
School Portraits (from left to right): Martinuis, Steftelin, and Isak
Rudolf and Mannes, Best Friends For Life
Rudolf and Mannes, Best Friends For Life

 

Although I have known for a long time that teachers do not only influence your academic life, this has taken a whole new level of meaning for me: I can now be held accountable for their well-being. After entering the student-teacher bond with these children, I cannot back out now that I am more than 7,161 miles away. I have limitless opportunities here at Brandeis and in America and it has become a matter of life and death for my kids that I make the most of these opportunities. For starters, I am currently trying to establish an internship program so that others can have the strong personal experience I had, create an official website, and find ways to fund the school and teachers. Hopefully, in the future, we can make long-term improvements to school infrastructure to provide a better education and more opportunities to the students at Tui Ni Duse.

Class Photo!
Class Photo!

To everyone and anyone planning to intern, teach, or volunteer, I would say, “Just do it.” We are incredibly blessed to have the ability and resources to make change in the world and to keep that to ourselves is to commit a deep injustice to so many people in the world.

*If you would like to intern at, become involved with, or get updates on Tui Ni Duse Pre-School, please contact me at bhwang@brandeis.edu and/or join the Tui Ni Duse page on facebook.

– Brontte Hwang ’15

Reflecting on a Summer with the Research Alliance

I still cannot believe how quickly my time with the Research Alliance went by this summer! A couple of weeks ago, I completed my project at the Research Alliance and said goodbye to the team of researchers I had the pleasure of working with throughout the summer. During my last days, I distributed the school evaluation reports I had been working on all summer to principals participating in the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI), an initiative that aims to tackle the achievement gap and increase the number of Black and Latino young men who graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers by using new, creative solutions. After looking through the data from the first year of ESI surveys, I became amazed and inspired by the information provided by students that would be relayed to principals in order for them to improve their school climate and policies. Students’ opinions and perceptions would be heard in a constructive manner – the reports gave them a unified voice and carry an undeniable influence in the shaping of the school climate in the upcoming school year. I truly felt as though I was a messenger between students, policy makers, researchers and principals by conveying the data results and as though I participated in a wave of positive change and improvement throughout New York City’s ESI schools.

In the rest of my time at Brandeis and beyond, I hope to leverage the inspiration I felt from working with the Research Alliance to pursue an academic and career path closely linked to education. This internship certainly reinforced my interest in education policy and research, however I hope to supplement this experience with one that is more clinically oriented to include interaction with students. In the future, I hope to combine my interest in policy, research and face-to-face interaction with students by pursuing a career path in educational psychology – helping to uncover which environments are most conducive to learning and figuring out ways schools can better inspire a love of learning and academic success in their students.

I would undoubtedly recommend interning with the Research Alliance to any student interested in education policy and research. The organization is certainly unique as it conducts rigorous research in the field of education on various topics ranging from high school achievement to contexts that support effective teaching with findings that are often featured in the news. (Read about Research Alliance in the News here.) Furthermore, the organization collaborates with policy makers in the Department of Education while being a part of NYU’s Steinhardt School – making it an academic center that successfully connects theory and practice.

Working on the ESI reports has made me a more skillful and effective problem solver as I came up with solutions to challenges that often arise when working with fresh, new data. The tasks and responsibilities given to me contributed to a fundamental social justice mission of education equity and the warm and welcoming environment makes it all the more enjoyable. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with the group of researchers there, to have been welcomed with open arms and to have been entrusted with such a valuable project. Working with the Research Alliance team and collaborating with NYC’s Department of Education, even for a short time over the summer, was truly a rewarding experience. This experience reinforced my philosophies of social justice and my commitment to pursuing a career that contributes to the greater societal good of children’s well-being and prosperity. Fueled with inspiration from working with the Research Alliance this summer, never before has contributing to efforts that seek to tackle the achievement gap been more of a priority.

 

My Last Week at Stepping Stones

My last week at Stepping Stones was quite interesting. We organized a summer camp for a group of college students from the US. They had the opportunity to teach five English lessons to migrant children in west Shanghai, take the children on a field trip, learn Shanghai opera and calligraphy, and interact with local youths. One of my responsibilities was to organize a field trip. We chose to go to the Shanghai Auto Museum. The museum offered guided tours, but we also wanted to design extra activities that could bond the migrant children with the American students. I designed a scavenger hunt. We divided the children into fourteen groups of four. Each group was led by one American student. Each group was given a worksheet. They needed to find the corresponding cars in the museum using the clues from the worksheet. I wrote the rules of the activity a week before and had them approved by my colleagues and the museum. I announced the rules before the activity started, stressing that safety was the priority. The activity was very successful. Every child was involved, and some of them were very excited. I saw groups of students running up and down the museum to find the cars. At the end of the activity, we gave prizes to the winning teams. Other children got souvenirs from the museum. I prepared some extra questions for the scavenger hunt, so Stepping Stones could use them in their future trips to the Auto Museum. From the written feedback, I know that the American students loved the activity as well. However, a few of them complained that the activity was a bit disorganized. To avoid this problem, I could have gathered the American students before the activity and given them tips on how to organize the children effectively.

Besides the field trip, I was also involved in the youth meeting and the opera class. I acted as the translator. While translating, I also learned that, despite the difference of educational background, Chinese and American young people have many in common. For instance, their topics of discussion ranged from online shopping to the urban development. They are interested in food as well as fairy tales.

The end of the summer camp also marked the end of my ten-week internship at Stepping Stones. In these ten weeks, I coordinated a summer program, helped to edit a documentary for the organization, wrote lesson plans for volunteers, helped a professor to conduct her research, met lots of people, and explored my area of interest. These projects have improved my working skills. I learned how to coordinate a program, how to use Premiere Pro to make a decent video, and how to interview a person effectively. By observation, I also learned how to write a newsletter and an annual report for an NGO. All of these skills may come in handy in my future career.

Interning with Stepping Stones offered me the opportunity to see an NGO from an insider’s perspective. It is fascinating to see how a small organization helps thousands of disadvantaged children with their English studies. It is also excited to see that many of the children’s English grades have improved significantly after they participated in Stepping Stones’ programs. This internship has reinforced my belief in social justice. Children, no matter where they are born, should have equal access to education. If the government cannot reach that goal, the civil society, including corporations and nonprofit organizations, should play a major role. Since I enjoy working with Stepping Stones so much, I am considering working in the NGO or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sector in the future. The director of Stepping Stones forwarded us an invitation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai to attend a CSR seminar organized by them in July (this summer). The keynote speakers included the CSR managers from Citi China, WalMart Global Sourcing, and Abbott China. I learned how multinational corporates operate their CSR programs in China and what their achievements are. Since I learned about CSR in my year abroad, I had the opportunity to apply the theories in real world and take in the seminar critically.

My suggestion for those who are also interested in working with NGOs is that they should not come to an NGO with nothing but a determination to “help others”. They should research about the field that the NGO works in beforehand. That is why Stepping Stones require all volunteers and interns to attend a mandatory 4-hour orientation. In this orientation, we learned about the general situation of migrant children in China as well as teaching techniques. In addition, it is likely that the people who work for NGOs gain more than the beneficiaries do. Therefore, one should be modest when working with the beneficiaries. After all, it is a great field to work in. The fulfillment that one gets from working with NGOs and other charity programs is priceless.

Now I am back in Brandeis. I miss every bit of my time in Shanghai. I will stay in touch with Stepping Stones and the lovely people I met there. This internship is definitely one of the highlights of my college life.

The End of a Great Summer at The Walker School

I just completed my summer internship at The Walker School, and it could not have been a more fulfilling and rewarding experience. At the beginning of the summer, I outlined three different internship goals that I hoped to work on, and I feel as if I have made significant progress on all of them. My first internship goal was to have Walker help me succeed in school. During my summer at Walker, I have worked with children who have a variety of emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders, and as such, I have begun to learn and understand the difficulties and struggles associated with them. Although I still have a lot more learning to do, I can utilize my basic knowledge of these disorders to help me do well in school when I take related classes, such as “Disorders of Childhood.”

My second goal was to have Walker assist me in the progress of becoming a social worker for children or adolescents. I feel as if I have made serious progress in the completion of this goal; at the end of my internship, Walker offered me the position of Child Care Worker in their Intensive Residential Treatment Program. This job brings me that much closer to becoming a social worker for children or adolescents, as I will continue to receive valuable experience in this field.

Finally, my third summer goal was to become more comfortable in unpredictable situations. I have also made serious strides in the completion of this goal. Every day at Walker, I was required to adapt to the ever-changing environment and reactions of each individual child. Even the the same child can have drastically different actions depending on the day. As a result, I became much more comfortable in an unpredictable environment, as I needed to respond to the changes in children’s behavior and needs.

I will undoubtedly be able to build off my experience at Walker during the rest of my time at Brandeis and even once I graduate. The Walker School provided me with the knowledge that will help me to do well in my classes at Brandeis. Furthermore, Walker also provided me with the skills necessary to work in the demanding mental health field. My time at Walker has begun to prepare me to become a social worker because it has given me the tools required to work toward that goal.

Even though I have completed my internship, there is still so much more I need to learn. I believe that I will never truly be done learning — every child I will ever work with will always respond differently to certain situations and I can always learn new ways to help that child to the best of my ability. Additionally, although my internship at Walker has ended, there are still many more experiences I want to take on. I can’t wait to begin working at Walker as a Child Care Worker, as my extended time there can only help me grow and assist other children as much as I can.

If people are interested in an internship at either The Walker School or in the mental health field, I would strongly suggest having a serious passion for that field. Working at Walker or in the mental health field can be very difficult as well as emotionally and physically demanding. However, if it is possible to push through the difficult times, the reward you get when you help a child who is struggling outweighs everything else.

If you would like to learn more about The Walker School, please visit this link to watch a short video describing the organization. You can also click here to read about the different programs and services offered through Walker. It’s a tremendous place and I strongly encourage you to read about it.

-Avi Cohen ’15

Taking Little Big Steps Forward (and Sideways and Diagonally)

“Teachah! Teachah! Teachah!” The mob of children shouted as they ran towards our car, arms outstretched and faces beaming. It’s a sight that I’ve grown used to in the past few weeks, but one that never fails to stir up the wild flutter in my stomach and chest. The car slows down and the children press their faces up to the window, still chanting and peering in, impatiently waiting for me to get out. Just like every other morning, I’m amazed by how something so routine could still be so exciting and new as I step out of the car and return the embraces from the dozens of tiny, dusty hands that cover me.

In the past few weeks, we’ve established a regular morning routine: set up the chairs, take attendance, stretch, pray, review the alphabet, and then review all our other basics—colors, shapes, opposites, the five senses, days of the week, and body parts. Afterwards, we separate into groups and dive into the lesson plan that I’d labored over and meticulously thought out the day before for the next three hours until school is out. Despite the overwhelming amount of brainpower and physical labor required every day to prepare for the next, I’ve felt nothing but pure ecstasy (maybe except for the occasional back pains and hand cramps). As cliché as it sounds, all my work so far has felt like a labor of love. The physical strain from writing the alphabet 35 times and hand-making dozens of worksheets pales in comparison to seeing the vibrant smiles on my kids’ faces as they learn more every day. At this point of the internship, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on things; I’ve divided my class into four groups based on their writing, reading, and math abilities and we are making good progress in establishing our learning foundations.

Group 1 doing a shape and alphabet exercise in their workbooks.
Group 1 doing a shape and alphabet exercise in their workbooks.

 

I absolutely love everything about this internship, but it’s definitely not what I had expected. The mountains of hypothetical and academic preparation I did before coming to Namibia seemed all but to fly out the window as I had to hit the ground running as soon as I got settled. Coming to Tui Ni Duse four days a week for a month has made this internship feel like my actual job—and it feels great! I find myself thinking about Tui Ni Duse 24/7—even in my dreams! Constantly, I’m thinking about what I can do with the kids or how I can teach something in a different way so they can understand better. I even wake up in the middle of the night from dreaming about teaching the kids because of a sudden teacher’s epiphany! I know that a lot of it is from adrenaline because I can sleep as little as three hours to make more time for prep work and not feel tired the next day, but I also feel that the challenges of handling a large class alone has pushed me to improve my time management and multi-tasking skills as well as become more pro-active, responsible, and creative. Although I am not strictly following the plan I had laid out for myself before this trip, the literature I read and my anthropological training has definitely come in handy.

Going over our alphabet!
Going over our alphabet!
Group 3 working on an alphabet activity
Group 3 working on an alphabet activity

I am currently planning a parents’ day event when the parents can come and see what their children are capable of doing. I got the idea after visiting the home of a student who decided he didn’t want to come to school anymore. When I met his mother, I took out his notebook to show her the things he had been working on in school and what a good student he was. As she pored over the pages with amazement and pride, I realized that she had never seen any of her son’s schoolwork! Hopefully, this parents’ day will give parents something to be proud of, boost parent support of sending children to school, and shine a light on the benefits of education.

– Brontte Hwang ’14

Midpoint Review and Rethink: Can We Change Their Lives?

“Dear volunteer, this is Terry Chenyu Li, the coordinator of the Pujiang New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) Program. Welcome to our team! …”

This is the format of the emails that I have been sending for the past two weeks. As the coordinator of the summer English program at a community center in south Shanghai, I have to notify the volunteers about their teaching times and give them directions to the center. The NCLC4 program is the distant program from the city center. Volunteers have to spend 30-50 minutes on the subway and 15 minutes on the bus to reach the school. Since most volunteers are foreigners, I try to accompany them on their first teaching days to make sure they can get to the center on time. I usually take advantage of this commute time to investigate volunteers’ motives. This is of great interest to me because of one of the classes that I took in my year abroad at University College London. In this class titled “development geography”, I learned the importance of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and volunteerism, and some of the problems associated with them.

New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) in Pujiang Town. south Shanghai
New Citizen Life Center 4 (NCLC4) in Pujiang Town. south Shanghai

One of the benefits of volunteerism is that it can build mutual understanding between different cultures. Some of our volunteers are foreign students and expats. They live in gated communities and thus have little contact with local communities. One of their motives for volunteering is to “get to know the people better”. Many of them have never heard the terms “migrant children” or “hukou” before. After participating in our program, they become aware of the social injustice in Shanghai. Some of the volunteers are so inspired that they decide to join Stepping Stones. For example, Oliver Pointer, our current training manager, had volunteered with two of Stepping Stones’ programs before he joined Stepping Stones.

Many Shanghai high school students also choose to volunteer with us during the summer. Most public middle and high schools do not admit non-Shanghai citizens, also known as migrant students. For those who do, they usually have separated classes for them. As a result, most Shanghai middle and high school students do not have close contact with migrant children. By volunteering with us, these students develop their understandings of this “unknown community” who build the skyscrapers, clean up the streets, feed the people, and drive the subway. Given that these students could have a great impact on the future of Shanghai, they could, in time, alter the prejudice against migrants and possibly be part of the force that abolishes the hukou system. Therefore, their participation is especially important.

Some of the volunteers at NCLC4. Oliver is the tall man standing in the center-left. I am on the very right.
Some of our volunteers and students at NCLC4. Oliver is the tall man standing in the center-left. I am on the very right.

Working at Stepping Stones also provides me with the opportunity to interact with other NGOs in Shanghai. One that Stepping Stones closely works with is Shanghai Young Bakers (SYB). The French-initiated SYB provides free nine-month bakery training lessons to disadvantaged youths from rural China. SYB adopts the “alternance” concept, meaning that their students spend two weeks of classes at school and two weeks of practical internship at international hotels for the whole duration of the program. Since English is one of the working languages at these hotels, Stepping Stones offers free English classes to SYB students. When I attended SYB students’ graduation on July 15th, I was surprised to see that all SYB students, who had variable knowledge of English before coming to Shanghai, were able to give fairly informative personal statements in English. They even delivered two short dialogues based on their daily conversations. During the graduation ceremony, I talked to interns, volunteers, and staff from SYB. I could feel that they are very passionate about their jobs. They believe that this nine-month training could change many of the students’ lives. However, after talking to one of the training managers at SYB, I realized that the impact might be much less than many people anticipate. The manager suggested that the first ten years of working in bakeries or hotels is a tough time. Only those with dedication and talent would remain in this industry. Some of the students may choose to work in other fields or return to their hometowns, and many of them will remain economically vulnerable in the society.

John is a graduate from SYB. He interns at the Renaissance Yangtze Hotel in Shanghai.
John is a graduate from SYB. He interns in the Renaissance Yangtze Hotel in Shanghai.

This seemingly disappointing opinion exemplifies a real problem of NGOs that I learned from “development geography”: as long as the social structure remains unchanged, NGOs can scarcely change the lives of the poor. The disadvantaged will remain disadvantaged. In China, NGOs have little effect upon the structure of the society. They do not want, nor do they dare, to challenge authority.

If NGOs can scarcely change society, why do we still do what we do? How can NGOs be improved? We had a discussion regarding these questions among Stepping Stones staff on July 16th. We discussed the possibility of turning Stepping Stones into a “social enterprise”. If we provide the same level of English education as educational corporates do, why don’t we charge our students for some of our programs? We could use the money to expand our programs and to help those who cannot afford them. Social enterprise is a possible solution to the sustainability of NGOs, expanding their influence and alleviating social injustice, yet it still cannot fundamentally solve the injustice that is deeply rooted in the local structure of society. This links back to one of my previous points: by raising young Chinese people’s awareness towards the unfair treatment of migrant children and involving Chinese youth in this force for change, we can probably influence the future of China.

I am glad that by the halfway mark of my internship at Stepping Stones, I have met so many passionate people at various occasions. I have explored my studies of NGOs in real life, and real life has raised new questions for my studies. I am sure I will learn more in the next few weeks at NCLC4 and Stepping Stones. The weather is getting unbearably hot in Shanghai, but I am in love with the city and what I am doing here.

I am ending this blog as the format of my emails always end:

“Should you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best,

Terry Chenyu Li”

Facing the challenge of Holocaust education in Asia

There are few people I know who have not watched Quentin Tarantino’s film “Inglourious Basterds”. Most of those who watched it enjoyed the film, which depicts a fictional American commando unit during World War 2, made of Jewish soldiers only, working behind German lines to gruesomely avenge the Nazi crimes against Jews. Interestingly, not even one person who watched the film, told me he sided with the German soldiers, despite the incredibly violent and cruel behavior of the Americans. We all, after all, know that Nazis are bad. That is, until I watched the movie a few weeks ago for the first time with a Chinese person who barely ever studied the Holocaust and World War 2.

Invitation to an HKHTC exhibition in downtown Hong Kong - creative ways to solve challenges
Invitation to an HKHTC exhibition in downtown Hong Kong – creative ways to solve challenges

The said person’s reaction – in support of the Nazis who are attacked in the film – provides a glimpse into the main challenge for Holocaust education in China, the challenge I have been facing together with my colleagues at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre since I began interning here a month ago. How do you explain the Holocaust to local Chinese students who know little of anything about it? For them, the Nazis are not automatically bad, as they are for the vast majority of people who were educated in the west. The first answer to this question is creativity.

The first learning goal I feel I am constantly progressing on so far is, thus, creativity. The most recent example, which I am particularly proud of, is an application my supervisor and I submitted to hold a large exhibition in a very crowded public space downtown Hong Kong. To address the issue of a lack of context described above, we thought it would be powerful to exhibit the artwork of Jewish children who died at the Theresienstadt concentration camp next to artwork created by Hong Kong students in response to studying the Holocaust. Children are easy to connect and identify with everywhere, to anyone. By bringing their sets of artwork together, we can create a connection that will place the distant Holocaust in a local and more relevant context. Fortunately, the selection committee agreed with us, chose our application over many others, and the exhibition will be presented in October, to the eyes of thousands Hong Kong residents who pass by its location every day.

The same sort of creativity was also necessary as I worked with my supervisor and a paid web designer on creating a new and more relevant website for the Centre. The website was launched this week and has received many positive comments (check it out here!). Expanding the Centre’s outreach also naturally required finding ways to make its social networks more relevant, such as posting in Chinese with the help of other volunteers. Overall, since the HKHTC is a new organization, there is much to create and a lot of creativity to develop.

Speaking to students - Experiencing educational work
Speaking to students – Experiencing educational work

Another learning goal I set for myself was experiencing with educational work and learning more about education as a career. Being that the HKHTC’s work is all about education, I constantly feel like I’m achieving this. Be it while speaking or lecturing to students on different occasions or while learning about local curriculums and devising lesson plans that could suit local students with the HKHTC’s education committee members.

Last, but not least, coming here I was hoping to improve my discipline and organizational skills. Since the HKHTC is, as mentioned, a new and small organization, much of my work is independent, and requires both skills. From larger projects, like the ones mentioned above, to smaller ones, like cataloguing the Centre’s resources, creating a Wikipedia value and more, I am constantly required to show initiative and work on my own to get things done.

Cataloguing the Centre's resources - required discipline
Cataloguing the Centre’s resources – required discipline

As I set out for my last few weeks in Hong Kong, I already feel that I have learnt a lot and can be proud of some of my work. I look forward to continuing my work, and feel that my time here left made a true contribution – both to the goals of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre, and to my skills and experiences.

Midpoint Reflection

As is often the pattern when we embark on a new experience, it seems as though just as we settle into a routine and get comfortable in our new environment, it is already time to be uprooted and reflect on the elapsed time. As a summer intern at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools housed at New York University’s Steinhardt School, I am certainly experiencing this phenomenon. It is unbelievable to me that I am over half way done with my internship – how quickly time flies!

One of the major highlights of the first half of my internship was meeting with New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) team that is heading the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI). Three of us from the Research Alliance met with the DOE to discuss the experience of administering surveys in the ESI schools and to bounce feedback back-and-forth on how to best produce and distribute the survey results for the schools’ principals. Because the DOE ESI team leads schools through activities relating to the ESI program and advises schools on relevant policy changes, this meeting greatly inspired me as it demonstrated how the research-based work I was assisting on would be used on the ground to tangibly improve schools. I realized then how much of a collaborative effort education reform truly is as it takes great cooperation between researchers, policy makers, principals, and teachers to make a difference – not a single one of these positions alone could make the necessary change to improve New York’s public schools.

DOE
“The Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) uses new ideas and creative solutions to tackle the educational achievement gap and increase the number of Black and Latino young men who graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers.” PHOTO: NYC Department of Education.

 

Throughout the summer, I have been reflecting on what I’ve learned and the skills I have gained from my internship. At the start of my internship, my goals included gaining a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes process of education research and of the collaborative efforts of a professional research team. It is undeniable that I have learned a great deal so far in my time at the Research Alliance. Thus far, I have led the effort in designing the report template for the ESI survey data that will be distributed to principals of participating schools. I helped select the survey questions and data constructs that will be included in the reports by determining which findings I thought would be most relevant and interesting to principals, and after much discussion on the best findings to report on with both my co-workers and our partner Department of Education ESI team, I have gained a much better understanding of how to present research findings and what sort of findings have the potential to engage a principal’s attention and ultimately, influence school initiatives and policies.

By being involved with the Research Alliance from preliminary steps of selecting the most indicative survey constructs to report on to the anticipated final stage of report distribution, I have certainly gained a much greater familiarity with the many steps it takes to implement and administer an education survey with the goal of obtaining concrete, tangible and processed results for school and policy use. As an intern I have also been granted the privilege of collaborating with a close team of researchers, survey managers and data analysts in weekly meetings in order to track our progress, give feedback to one another and ultimately, to ensure the successful distribution of the Expanded Success Initiative reports.

It has been very eye-opening to be a part of a dynamic research organization that plays a significant role in the movement to advance education equity in New York. My experience to date with the Research Alliance has equipped me with skills that I will undoubtedly carry on in both my academic pursuits in graduate school and, more importantly, with a reinforced commitment to working for an organization with a social justice mission.

I am eagerly looking forward to what my last couple weeks at the Research Alliance have in store for me!

Read more about the Research Alliance’s work in the news here

Finally!

The big, dusty blue and white striped tent that I’ve seen in so many pictures came into view as we drove up to the entrance of Tui Ni Duse Pre-School. Already from about two blocks away, beautiful smiles, inquisitive stares, and shy waves welcomed me to the squatter camp where the school is located in Epako, Namibia. The tent is the only unique marker that separates Tui Ni Duse from the hundreds of other tin house complexes and makeshift stick fences that populate the squatter camp. As I opened the car door and stepped into the bright sunshine, all eyes seemed to follow me—something I’d already grown accustomed to in my first few days in Namibia where people are mostly either white or black. For about the twelfth time in the past five days, I wish I had a shirt that reads, “I’m not Chinese…I’m Korean,” because of the somewhat negative attitudes towards Chinese people in Namibia, mostly due to the invasion of Chinese building or business projects during the past couple of years. But the curious eyes that stared at me soon turned into excited crescent smiles as they realized Teacher Daniel’s sister had finally arrived.

My first day at Tui Ni Duse was a day I had been anticipating for months! After hearing so much about it from my dad and my brother, who had visited before, and after spending half a semester researching the Namibian education system and similar schools in developing countries for a final project, I was itching to put all my academic knowledge to use. This summer internship at three Namibian schools—Tui Ni Duse, a private pre-school for street children and children who cannot afford to go to government schools; Gobabis Gymnasium School, a government approved private school; and a Namibian public primary school—would not only allow me to pursue my love of teaching in a setting that is close to my heart, but would also give me the opportunity to practice my recently discovered passion for anthropology.

Accordingly, my first week has been spent visiting all three schools, meeting with headmasters and working out my weekly schedule for the next seven weeks. Luckily, my sparse Afrikaans was not a problem as most people also speak English. However, I am glad to say that as a combined result of interest and necessity, my Afrikaans is rapidly improving. It has become crucial for me to learn Afrikaans to teach the children at Tui Ni Duse because they are bilingual in Afrikaans and Damara, their mother tongue which I can only hope to start to learn because of its various clicking sounds that most non-native speakers find challenging.

Of the three schools, I have only yet taught at Tui Ni Duse, where I have observed a need for clearer communication between teacher and students as well as between staff members. At most, the five-year-old school that started as a day care for the squatter camp community has only had three local teachers for its approximately 120 students. Together, the inconsistent attendance of both teachers and students and the low level of education among teachers have made it difficult for efficient education. In my two days at Tui Ni Duse, I have observed the “over-aged” class, which consists of about thirty students from ages 7 to 15 who are behind the state’s age-appropriate standards. Although I am still getting to know each student’s academic capability, I quickly realized that my lessons have to be taught in Afrikaans for the students to understand clearly. Furthermore, the lack of school supplies has led to some creative work on my part, making this challenge all the more exciting.

Despite the obstacles I face at Tui Ni Duse, I find that each hardship pushes me further to find ways to help these children learn and grow. Next week marks the beginning of my stabilized schedule, which is divided between the three schools. Hopefully, my observation and assistant teaching at the two government schools will give me a fuller experience of Namibia’s education system and will aid in my development for a stable and sustainable system at Tui Ni Duse.

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– Brontte Hwang ’15

The Month that Changed My Life

I am almost completely at a loss for words when I try to describe all that has happened to me in the last third of my internship. To say it has changed my life is an understatement. Everything is different. But first I need to explain how I got here:

In my last three weeks with Bible Raps, I got to go “on tour.” Matt, Matan, and I went to four different camps in five days, all in the gorgeous northern PA mountains. As a “camp person” myself, I love experiencing the different cultures and embracing all the different modes of camp life. I also got into the groove of my job. I knew when to start handing out the packets at the concerts, which songs to film, and I even got to jump in on some songs. I also helped to run the workshop, working with kids on learning and writing. After driving 12 hours overnight from PA to GA, we were once again at Camp Ramah Darom, my home turf. But this time, I had a lot more to do. Almost all the workshops we put on that week I ran myself. I chose and complied the text to learn, ran the study, gave the explanation, helped the kids write, and walked them through the recording. My  favorite song from the week is about Nachshon, who according to tradition was the first to walk into the sea, causing God to part the waters.  Here is a short video of the song and the recording process!

I also finished up and performed my first original Bible Rap about the book of Ruth! It was so great being able to share it with all of the counselors and kids. With more work, it will hopefully be incorporated into the Bible Raps curriculum and appear on the next album! Here’s a video and a pdf of the Torah Rap-Map.

 

All throughout that week and once I was home, I spent most of my time making videos with the rap-maps of the songs in the curriculum for teachers to use. They aren’t public yet, but I hope to share those soon!

I had such an amazing experience with Bible Raps, especially traveling and running the workshops, that I’m in discussions with Matt to continue working with them! (more on this later.)

After a week at home I was off to Montclair New Jersey for the NewCAJE conference for Jewish education. It was an incredible week. I had the opportunity to perform my Jewish music for the first time and had such amazing responses.

 

Teachers want to use my music in their classrooms and bring me in for workshops. I received encouragement from new friends and musicians that I have loved an admired all my life. I was also able to represent Bible Raps, and ran a 2 hour presentation on their behalf to five incredibly engaged educators. I learned so much from them, and all five want to bring me in for workshops this year!

This is the jump-start to a year full of singing, writing, recording, and traveling. I have been so inspired and motivated from this summer. My advice to budding artists? Just do it. Stop waiting for some future time to make it happen. That time is right now.

– Eliana Light ’13

Finishing up at FVLC

I’d imagine working permanently at a nonprofit can be tiresome, a thankless job where one finds oneself working 12-hour days for a single client. My supervisor seldom took time off for lunch, others snuck bites of sandwiches in between calls.

It’s definitely a hard job.

Nonetheless, at FVLC I noticed that when things got that rough, it would be the people whom you were surrounded by that got you through.

It would be the California sunshine on your walk to work the next day and the farmer’s market blueberries someone brought in to share with the office.

Perhaps most importantly, it would be the check-in call with that client the next day that really helps- when she says, “thanks”.

Interning at FVLC has taught me an incredible amount about the resiliency of people in the face of trauma. Many of our clients entered our office feeling disempowered, angry, hurt, bitter, and ultimately frustrated. Sometimes the staff felt the same way. The goal was for everyone to leave with the same feeling: you will get through it. This summer, it was my job to take the primary steps in ensuring our clients would make it through whatever rough situation they were experiencing.

Having now completed this experience, I don’t know much about where the future will take me other than that I want to continue in this vein of work. In the fall, I will be interning with Massachusetts Citizens for Children, where I will be facilitating trainings around the Boston area to adults regarding how to protect children from child sexual abuse. I will also be working with the organization as a whole on strategic planning, learning more about the gears that shift and propel the group as a whole. I am excited to continue to immerse myself in this world and, in doing so, potentially carve a place for myself after college.

I would definitely recommend interning at FVLC for anyone with an interest in this field. They provided a warm, caring environment that allowed me to learn in a tremendously productive manner. Here is an informational video that FVLC recently created that explains further what they do and how they aid survivors throughout the legal process.  Someone on staff was always available to lend an ear and an opinion. I would definitely recommend receiving your 40 hour domestic violence training prior to beginning the internship because it enabled me to really make the most of my time there. As mentioned in my first post, they did not waste any time in putting me to work because they trusted that I was already competent, which was very helpful.

Ultimately, I had a wonderful, enriching summer interning with FVLC and feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to do so.

Ashley Lynette, ’13

 

Saying Goodbye to SJDS

It seems a bit surreal to be writing this last blog post from here in my kitchen, a place that seems so far removed from all that I experienced during these past two months.  Reflecting on this summer, it was my last week at the SJDS Bilioteca that sums up perfectly how far I came over the course of this internship.  During that last week, a group of us drove up to Ameya – a small, impoverished community outside of Chinandega in northern Nicaragua for a missions trip.  The SJDS library, with the help of the community’s sister church in Colorado, have helped build both a library and a vocational school in Ameya whose resources offer a significant improvement in the types of educational opportunities available to both adults and children of the community.  During this trip, I worked with both the young adults from the vocational school as well as younger children offering various art workshops and activities throughout our four-day stay.

Everyone on our trip had different roles throughout the week and I was responsible for organizing and running all of the activities for the children.  We decorated headbands as a sewing activity for the vocational school, made visual autobiographies, and on the last day used sponge painting to make a mural.  These children so rarely get the opportunity to express themselves artistically, which made my work in providing art projects for them even more rewarding. Additionally, throughout the entire week, I was also acting as a bridge between the community members and the Colorado church members, many of whom did not speak Spanish.  It was my first time really translating and I loved it.  One day, a mother and her daughter wanted to teach the children how to make paper flowers and so while she explained in English I translated into Spanish so that the children would be able to follow her instructions.  Moments such as this or others when individuals, Nicaraguans or Americans, would come up to me asking if I could help translate for them comprised some of my favorite memories from the week.  To have reached the point in my Spanish where I am able to help others communicate with one another and form connections by utilizing my burgeoning language skills proved to be a real stepping-stone.

Returning to Brandeis, I’ll continue taking Spanish classes and getting ready for my spring semester abroad in Bolivia.  While I’m sure that trip will offer a completely new host of challenges and experiences from what I’ve been exposed to this summer, the experience I now have living on my own in a foreign country will I’m sure work to my advantage.  Studying abroad in Bolivia, I plan on exploring even further the issue of social change through my specific interest in the field of education.  Yet, on an even broader scope, I see both of these trips as only the beginning in what I predict will be a long love affair with both the Spanish language and the diverse cultures, countries, and people of both South and Central America.

To any interested students, my advice is be prepared to be both flexible and independent.  An internship at the San Juan del Sur Biblioteca can offer a wonderful experience for growth, and the library is always open to having new volunteers but anticipate a large amount of independence.  Most volunteers come down with at least a rough idea of what they want to do and while the library staff are more than willing to help you achieve that goal it is very clearly your project.  That being said, when dealing with a completely new culture you also have to be willing to be flexible.  Things may not often go as you had originally planned but just remember that often these experiences provide a lesson within themselves and that it’s okay if your plans change along the way.

Working at the library this summer I was able to observe various local, national, and international organizations dedicated to social justice work.  Seeing the various models used by different organizations reinforced my opinion that in order to truly achieve community advancement groups must utilize the resources, people, and ideas that already exist within the community.  Often, even with the best intentions, groups that fail to understand the culture and people with whom they are trying to help end up doing more harm than good.  This summer was valuable in that not only did it offer the opportunity for personal growth but I also was able to observe what other individuals and organizations were working to achieve within Nicaragua.

– Abigail Simon ’14

Learning to Teach: Midway point at the SJDS Biblioteca

It’s funny to remember how before I left for Nicaragua two months seemed like a long time.  Now that I’m here, I’d do anything to have more time.  A week after I arrived, another volunteer came down who was also interested in teaching English.  Together, we have set up English classes and are currently teaching three classes: beginner, intermediate, and advanced that are each offered twice a week.  English classes are provided in the schools in town; however because there is only one teacher for all of the schools the children do not end up getting a lot of English instruction.

Within the past twenty years or so, San Juan del Sur’s primary revenue has shifted from fishing to tourism so now more than ever learning English is an incredibly useful skill for students to have.  In the beginning, the English teacher recommended students for our English class.  Students were recommended based on the fact that they were struggling in school; however as word spread, students brought their friends or others who wished to learn English.

One of my main internship goals was to improve my Spanish.  It’s one thing to stumble over your words when speaking with your host family and another doing it in a classroom full of your students.  This made the first couple of days of teaching a bit overwhelming.  However, I soon realized that it doesn’t matter if I have perfect Spanish because the students are all here to learn English.  Plus some of my students really got a kick out of getting to correct me, their teacher.

We are now starting our fourth week of class, and I can really feel my confidence growing.  At this point, I have no problem speaking Spanish in front of a classroom full of 25 students.  Whether explaining instructions, grammatical rules, or simply asking the students to quiet down, I really feel like I am able to lead a class.  I try to speak English as much as I can with the students, but there are some students who need extra help and often require information to be repeated in Spanish.

Helping a student in the intermediate class

I’m most proud of developing my leadership skills and with the trust I have begun to build with many of the students.  At the beginning of classes, many of them were too shy or embarrassed to admit they needed help but now students have no problem asking their questions.  I have worked very hard to make sure students feel comfortable and safe in the classroom.  Now seeing them feel comfortable joking around or just talking to me is very rewarding.  With each class, I get to know more about each of the students and their individual learning needs.  I only wish that I had more time to spend with them.  Since this is such a small town I often see students outside of the classroom.  I love it when one of them takes the time to shout to me and say hello.

Part of my internship learning goals include improving my communication and leadership skills within a classroom setting and to practice my Spanish language skills.  So far, almost every day has provided an opportunity for me to hone these skills.  Since I am living with a Nicaraguan family and most of my co-workers only speak Spanish, I feel myself getting more and more comfortable with the language.  Considering I intend to use my Spanish language skills in whichever career path I end up choosing, the practice I am getting now is extremely beneficial.

My co-teacher and I have been responsible for creating our own lesson plans in which we try to provide a mix of vocabulary, grammar, and conversational skills that are appropriate for the ability level in each class.  Being an Education major, learning how to construct a lesson plan and thinking about the types of activities that are feasible and effective in the classroom will help me if I choose to pursue a career in teaching.

The independent nature of this internship has given me a lot of freedom to explore my interests and grow as both a teacher and an individual.  As I continue teaching, I look forward to discovering what other surprises and challenges the remainder of the summer will bring.

The verb of the day. During each class, students learn a new verb and practice conjugating it into different sentences.

 

 

First Week at The Sold Project

Learning to ‘go with the flow’ of nature, urban life, car and cow traffic, and super-relaxed co-workers is not always easy, but I’m up for the challenge! I’ve been following suit of the ancient temples that line the mountains surrounding the cities in Northern Thailand- this peaceful Buddha statue was nestled in a garden of broken relics guarding a temple cave twenty minutes north of Chiang Mai.

Hello All!

After a week of roaming around and getting acclimated to Thai time, weather, food and extremely relaxed atmosphere, I am finally all settled in at my home-stay in Chiang Rai. Before I begin gushing about my experiences, let me give you a short debriefing on The Sold Project, and my own ambitions and responsibilities for the summer.

The Sold Project is an NGO here in Chiang Rai that works to provide scholarships for local children who cannot afford the cost of education. Additionally, Sold has a resource center very close to the main school systems outside of Chiang Rai where children are exposed to extracurricular opportunities in English, computers, writing and local social justice issues. Through scholarship money paid by Sold’s donors and the constant dedication and hard work of the on-site staff, Sold’s scholarship recipients are not only receiving an enriched education, but a ticket out of being sold into human trafficking as a means to support their families. Here’s a page explaining the facts of human trafficking in Southeast Asia.

I was invited to intern at Sold after developing a program for teaching emotional expression through visual art. Though many of the students come from traumatic and abusive backgrounds, Thai culture does not allow for any external indication of negative feelings, anxieties or experiences. My objective for the program this summer is to introduce Sold’s students to the possibility of using art as a vehicle for expressing their feelings in a culturally acceptable manner. If all goes according to plan, by the end of the summer program participants will have an ‘artistic toolbox’ to carry forward and use to express themselves in the future.

Yesterday was my first day on site. Though the day was mainly focused on planning logistics and meeting the Thai staff, it was full of adventure and excitement nonetheless. First, the Thai staff put their heads together to come up with my Thai nickname that would be easy for the kids to say and remember. After quite a few minutes of deliberation, they named me Nam Wan, which is Thai for sweet water. After I’d been initiated we all did some brainstorming for how the program would begin, and deciding which Thai staff member would be giving me morning Thai lessons. We then briefly met the kids at the school.  At the first sight of ‘Phalong’, or foreigners, the kids’ eyes lit up and we immediately became lumbering jungle-gyms for masses of 4 and 5 year old girls.

We walked with the children up to the village where many of them live. The village is small, incredibly rural, and nestled cozily into the mountainous jungle. There are gorgeous butterflies and flowers everywhere- it was hard to believe that the families in these homes would consider selling their children.

This next week I will continue to plan my curriculum and meet the enormous community of creative and artistic travelers that have come to this city and never left. I’m incredibly excited to see how the kids (and community) respond to the art program, and can’t wait to navigate the unexpected twists and turns in the road that are sure to arise!

– Zoey Hart ’13

RECENT STUDY: MASS AUDUBON’S JOPPA FLATS CONFIRMS STARFISH NOW “EXTINCT”… INTERNS LEFT IN CONFUSION

Mass Audubon at Joppa Flats

At every team meeting (where we set our team goals) at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats, we create news headlines that describe the recent weeks’ events.  I felt it was rather appropriate to start off my blog with a similar headline.  A starfish? A what? I don’t know what that is.  One of the first things I learned at Joppa Flats is that we call them by their real name—a sea star.  Contrary to urban legend, a starfish is actually not a fish.

Speaking of sea stars, we find these creatures daily in the tide pools at the Sandy Point State Reservation at Plum Island. In only two weeks at work, I have taken multiple school groups out to the nationally protected wildlife refuge in hopes of discovering amazing organisms in their natural habitat.  From kindergarten to high school, hundreds of children come to Joppa Flats daily to learn, discover, and explore.  As an intern for the Audubon Society, it is my job to facilitate this learning and exploration of these young scientists to help them make their own scientific discoveries.

The mission of the Massachusetts Audubon Society is one that I am very proud to uphold this summer.  We dedicate ourselves to protecting the nature of Massachusetts for both people and wildlife.  The wildlife sanctuary at Joppa Flats provides families with clean places for relaxation and recreation, a beautiful backdrop for birding from an observation deck, and a change to learn about the wildlife of the nearby Plum Island (with it’s own marine life touch tanks).  In addition to being the largest conservation organization in New England and being a strong advocator for environmental policies, Mass Audubon provides education programs.  The summer camps provide children with the opportunity to explore and connect with the natural world while developing their interests for the outdoors.

As a summer camp intern, I will be responsible for teaching children aged 6-12 on environmental awareness, conservation, coastal habitats, and local animals.  I will be developing fun science projects using live animals, interactive crafts, and games.  This is such a great opportunity because the kids are able to appreciate science with hands-on activities and obtain a valuable education outside of the classroom!

Even though I am in a teaching position, I am finding that I am learning so many valuable skills.  I also know that I’m going to continue to learn so much about the ecology, marine biology, and the natural world of the New England coast.  I’m already beginning to warn my friends and family that they will never want to go to the beach with me again as I’m sure I’ll never stop blabbering with my extensive knowledge of the local ecology.  In addition to science, I am learning so much about the other interns and even learning plenty about myself along the way.

Not only do I care for the natural environment, my favorite part of the job here at Joppa is the work environment!  Marine biology has always been something that I have loved. I have never been around such a great group of people who also have this passion (and are willing to have conversations with me about it)!  In addition to just being cool and fascinating individuals, the other 8 interns all bring something valuable to our team.  We are all from different schools from several states, have a wide diversity of majors and academic interests, all do a wide variety of sports and clubs, and have a varied taste in music (yes, some of the interns even listen to country music all the time!).  Yet, although we are all unique, we all have the same passion for the environment, education, and science!  Not only are the interns awesome, the summer camp directors/teacher-naturalists that we work with are very welcoming, supportive, insightful, and ENTHUSIASTIC.  They send the interns daily emails explaining how great of a job we are doing, are always accepting new ideas from us, and immediately trusted us with so much responsibility with leading school programs.  My employers lead by example: their enthusiasm and passion for the job is evident throughout the day and it definitely influences my own work ethic.  A perfect example of their characters is that even though they have a very tight budget, they made us write down what gifts they could buy us for $0.25, $0.50, $1, and $5 if we ever need a gift to cheer us up.  It’s nice to have people care about me and truly appreciate all of my hard work.

Most importantly, there are other people my age that live every week like it’s shark week! YES! This internship and my fellow interns are really making me realize that marine biology and education are right career paths for me.  I wouldn’t be realizing this had it not been for Mass Audubon.  I’m very excited to continue to grow this summer and find out more about my love for the marine world and the amazing organization that I am so proud to work for.

Also: LIKE Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center Facebook Page

Matt Eames and Cam Jenkins discuss the safety and discoveries of the tide pools for the school field trip!
Tidepool at Joppa Flats

– Matt Eames ’13

First Impressions at San Juan del Sur Biblioteca

This week, I began my internship at the SJDS Biblioteca or the library of San Juan del Sur. For this small coastal town in Southern Nicaragua, the library serves as a vital educational resource. With a collection of nearly 12,000 books, computers, and free internet access, the library has become a central space in town for community members to congregate. In addition, the SJDS Biblioteca offers a variety of workshops and classes including sessions on public health, art, and English. One of the most unique aspects of this library is the Mobile Project. Designed to target the poorer, rural communities surrounding the town, the Mobile Project brings books to residents who are unable to come to the library. The Mobile Project also raises money to build bathrooms and provide supplies for schools that lack resources and are in critical need.

Outside the Library of San Juan del Sur

In the fall, as I was searching for a summer internship, I attended a lecture by Dr. Rosa Elena Bello, a major community organizer here in SJDS. She spoke about her efforts to remodel the educational and health care systems for women and children in town. Her work and the challenges that this town faced resonated strongly with me. After talking with her partner, Margaret Gullette, who works here at the Brandeis Women’s Research Center, I was put in touch with the director of the SJDS Biblioteca. After explaining my passion for both education and working with children, I was offered an internship for the summer. Over the next couple months, the two of us began tailoring an internship that would combine both the library’s needs as well as my own.

Upon arriving in town, I was taken to the library to meet other staff members and get a tour. Walking into the center of the library you see an open space with walls lined by bookshelves. In the center are rows of tables and chairs that come the afternoon, are filled with children and adults working on school projects or taking advantage of the library’s free internet access. On the left, is a small room containing four computers and a printer, which are usually reserved for students many of whom do not have a computer of their own.

I spent my first week working on the Mobile Project. Three times a week, staff load up trucks with boxes of books and drive out to rural schools on the outskirts of San Juan del Sur. My first day, I helped the children exchange their books. They would file out of the classrooms a few at a time to return their books from the previous visit. Some brought their library card but many did not so we had to look up their name, double check that they brought back all of their books, and write the information down on their card. After that, they were free to pick out two new books. What I found remarkable is that these children were so excited to have access to these books that very few of them ever forget to bring them back. In fact this library has a higher return rate than most of the libraries in the U.S.!

Feeling more comfortable on my second trip out to the schools I asked to help out with that day’s art activity. Before the children go out to exchange their books, they first have the opportunity to do an art project. For many of these children, our monthly visits are the only time they ever get a chance to participate in any type of crafts. For this month, in honor of Father’s Day we helped each of the children make cards for their fathers. First, I read the entire class a story called, The Ten Best Things About My Father. After that we passed out paper, glue, and markers and walked around to help each of them complete the activity. Classrooms here often contain children ranging in ages so the younger children needed a lot of help. In the end, each of the children had a card that was shaped like a shirt and tie. Inside the card we helped them write a message to their fathers.  The children were particularly excited when I showed them how to decorate their cards by drawing hearts.

In two days, my supervisor and the director of the library will arrive. I will be working with her to create a plan for the English lessons and art activities that I will work on with the children this summer. Along with teaching both art and English classes, I will continue my work with the Mobile project. So far, my excursions to the rural schools have been a wonderful introduction for my summer internship. I already feel more comfortable using my Spanish skills. I also have a greater understanding of the school system here and the ways in which the library supplements the educational opportunities for these children. The library is an integral part of this community and over the next two months I look forward to assisting both the children and the library in any way I can.

– Abigail Simon ’14