Moral Obligations

While I personally have been disconnected from my faith lately, I have been inspired to think more clearly and honestly about the ways I identify spiritually and the values that are important in my life. Firstly, during this period of reflection, I’ve come to find that the center of all things we base our work on here at AJWS is Jewish values and teachings, which drives our organization differently than other non-profits. AJWS finds that the emphasis on these teachings can inspire our donor community, and our global community by bearing in mind that the moral deeds we do are through the lens of biblical wisdom and thought. These lessons that influence our work are not unique to the Jewish faith or religion necessarily, but rather in practice they’re quite unifying and special to the Jewish people.

Global Impact

Every so often, our director of Jewish Engagement produces an article reflecting on how AJWS is engaging in our Judaism and the relevance of the corresponding Torah portion for the week. Most recently Joseph Gindi wrote a piece about our obligations to our neighbors and the people who are near and far in response to our global activism work. He writes, “[t]oday, however, our radius of concern has widened, due to advances in technology and trade.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains, “Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience.”

Peace

By exploring the ways in which we identify spiritually and how our impact is greater than ourselves, we can begin to understand how the value of our efforts are significant around the world.

After this week, I finally realized that my personal obligation is to continue to pursue knowledge and understanding. With knowledge comes power, and this is very relevant not only in building a skill set that is applicable for future career opportunities but in life as well. I believe that the skills I’ve acquired including creative thinking, intuition, communication and advocacy are all important in my future path. These skills are ones that I can take with me to Brandeis, to Albuquerque or wherever else I may end up. The importance of these skills is not only for personal benefit however. They demonstrate accountability and can be shared with others as I pursue future endeavors. That is why the teachings in this week’s portion are so precise. They clearly state that our abolished distance is only bringing us closer together. We must use our personal knowledge and skill sets to ban alongside one another and fight for the good of our world. I am surprised that in the four weeks I’ve been here, so many AJWS colleges have valued my presence, my skills I carried with me into this internship, and the ones they have taught me as well as the importance of the knowledge that I learn during my time here.

Hope

“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

An “Ethnography” of Social Justice

On the second day of my internship at Avodah, I helped organize the final event of the organization’s New York Fellowship Program. The main goal of this social justice initiative is to provide networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities to young professionals interested in giving back to their community through social work.

Ruth Messinger, Stosh Cotler, and Jill Jacobs were the three panelists invited to speak at the closing ceremony. They articulately addressed issues such as the contribution of the Jewish community to causes related to poverty alleviation, and the role of women in leadership positions, particularly in the world of activism. The panel was moderated by Avodah’s Executive Director Cheryl Cook. They also talked about sources of inspiration they found in their journeys, as well as the importance of making such social justice journeys visible to the rest of the community, in the hope of inspiring new ones.

(The panel of the Fellowship Closing event, organized in the innovative and unconventional location of JCC Harlem)

One of the reasons why I am so interested in the work of the above mentioned activists and the entire team at Avodah is that I have explored only the theoretical side of these issues through my classes at Brandeis. As an aspiring Anthropologist looking to specialize in cultural studies, with a focus on group dynamics and the identity of disadvantaged groups and minorities, I chose the Social Justice internship at Avodah knowing that it would be an invaluable experience. I have spent the past two semesters studying the politics of poverty, group exclusion of the cultural and socioeconomic ‘Other,’ and social identity theory through the works of Clifford Geertz, Henri Tajfel, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michel Foucault, Philippe Bourgois, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and my professor, Janet McIntosh. However, as an undergraduate student, I do not yet have access to the research opportunities of an actual anthropologist, which is why I chose to pursue the experiential learning process of this internship.

Unlike Philosophy or Political Theory, Cultural Anthropology is a descriptive discipline of human nature and culture, meaning that ethnographic fieldwork is essential. At Avodah I am able to observe the community living arrangements administered by the organization, meet with members and fellows of their Jewish Service Corps Training Program, who are learning practical ways in which to address the same issues I am theoretically interested in, and listen to the fascinating stories of activists such as the ones who took part in the above mentioned event.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Social Justice through ‘Avodah’

When I found out about the Social Justice Internship available this summer at Avodah in New York City, I had a feeling it was a perfect fit for me. Avodah is a nonprofit organization that aims to identify, target and address poverty and related social and economic justice issues in the United States. It does so by managing and connecting an extensive network of activists, fellows, and alumni through its Jewish Service Corps and Fellowship programs. The former trains young Jewish people to work and dedicate themselves to social justice work, drawing their inspiration from a fusion of antipoverty organizational culture and Jewish tradition.


(Source: avodah.net)

I think that one of the reasons why poverty is cyclical and challenging to escape is the lack of visibility and attention that disadvantaged or disenfranchised groups and individuals receive in the civic and political arena. Avodah not only gives a voice to these groups, but educates the activists so that their voice is as far-reaching, loud, and effective as possible.
As an intern, I will be working with the Alumni and National Program Network to collect, manage, and analyze data and surveys of Fellows and former Corps Members. I will also provide administrative support to the program of candidate recruitment, followed by assistance to the New York City house turnover process. In making my contribution as valuable as possible to Avodah’s cause, I hope to also become more familiar and ultimately acquire the fundamental skills and knowledge that social justice activists operate with.

Sonia Pavel ’20

From NM to NYC- American Jewish World Service(WOW)!

I have arrived in Manhattan, and already I am enjoying everything the city has to offer. There are so many incredible people living here who do the most inspiring things, and lucky for me I get to experience this first hand. Never would have imagined that this would be such a perfect fit, but so far it has been thanks to WOW! My first week with the American Jewish World Service Organization has surpassed all preconceived internship expectations I had. Everything about the working environment is being nurtured by people who are passionate about the mission AJWS is built upon and I am beyond enthusiastic to begin my work with one of the pioneers in our developing world for Social Justice, Social Action and change. Founded in 1985, AJWS is the only Jewish non-profit community that focuses specifically on Heath and Sexual Rights, Women’s Rights and Land and Water rights.

These areas of work are overseen in 4 continents and 19 different countries struggling to achieve these major and crucial components of living. As part of my time with the organization, I will be serving in the Development Department helping plan donor engagement events, volunteer opportunities for community members and lending a hand in logistics for our Study Tour programs that allow people who support AJWS to travel abroad and see firsthand the work we are accomplishing. So far I have been fortunate enough to attend meetings with various departments here at AJWS including the Finance team, our Communications team, as well as our Administrative team. These meetings have allowed myself and my fellow intern peers to get an inside look at the work we do in the office daily and how we continue to grow and flourish as an organization. The emphasis on my team is donor engagement where we bridge the gap between our generous donors and demonstrate our thanks for their unconditional generosity and consistent belief in the mission of AJWS.

To find more information about the study tours, the mentors I will be working with, and our “strive to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world” click here! Finally, as part of my first week along with all the other exciting experiences I’ve had, I was able to help coordinate the AJWS Pride March in the 2017 NYC Pride Parade! One of the key focuses here at AJWS is working to “advance the human rights of women, girls and LGBT people, end discrimination, stop violence and combat hate crimes.” In this way, we are able to demonstrate our support for these communities and help to eliminate all discrimination towards people who identify differently than others.

Here I have attached the link to the AJWS twitter page where we will be posting throughout the parade in an effort to stay socially engaged with our international friends. At first I was hesitant about coming to AJWS and spending my summer in Manhattan as I am somewhat of a small town girl from Albuquerque, NM however I strongly believe that my time here will be very educational and eye opening. I look forward to enveloping myself in everything related to “pursuing global justice through grassroots change” and witnessing the ways in which Jewish tradition and values are helping to repair our world.

Aryela Vanetsky

Gratitude and Reflection

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This is me holding my present from AJWS, a framed photo of AJWS grantees.

I have completed my internship at American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and I could not have asked for a better experience. My overall goal was to learn about the inner workings of an international human rights nonprofit organization, but I have gained more much than that. I was behind the scenes as AJWS navigated a transition in leadership, Robert Bank, the vice president, become the new president and CEO, and Ruth Messinger, the former president, became the Global Ambassador. I helped with a private AJWS event featuring Frank Bruni, the first openly gay New York Times op-ed columnist. I attended Fundraising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference in the world on philanthropic topics. I participated in AJWS’s global retreat, where I had the opportunity to meet almost all of AJWS’s in-country staff from 19 different countries, who first hand witness the challenging, but rewarding work on the ground.

I am so grateful to have had an incredible supervisor who was attentive and provided me with challenging and engaging work. Without her, this experience would not have been the same. She created a collaborative and supportive environment, but also trusted me to work independently. I worked hard and showed my deep level of commitment to each project I was given. One of the projects I worked on this summer was creating an event planning toolkit for AJWS’s website. Supporters will use the event planning toolkit to plan their own events and educate and engage their family, friends and community members about the work of AJWS. This will result in more recognition of the organization and will be used as a fundraising tool to garner more support.

I am proud of myself for grasping this opportunity and squeezing all I could out of it. I took the initiative to meet with staff members to discuss their professional life and aspects of AJWS that I thought were interesting. For instance, I was interested in the representation of oppression and poverty in published materials of nonprofits and whether guidelines for selecting images and written materials to share with supporters exist to ensure ethicality. I met with the creative director and the director of publications and editorial services, and I was happy to learn that AJWS does have some guidelines in place. I also met with staff members working in Development and Programs. These one-on-one meetings were informative and they opened my eyes to different career possibilities, but also were networking opportunities as I shared who I am and my future plans. I began realizing that my hard work and my passion for learning and improvement were noticed and appreciated when my supervisor and staff members pointed out how helpful I was being. They jokingly would ask me to quit school so they could hire me. Also, at the end of my internship, multiple people offered to be a reference for me anytime I needed. These comments are what every intern wants to hear and they made me feel like I made a valuable contribution.

My supervisor, Neely, and I.
My supervisor, Neely, and me.

One of the challenging moments of working at AJWS turned out to be a positive in the end. When the interns met with Robert Bank, I discussed with him the organization’s silence concerning the many brown and black lives lost due to police brutality. Later, when I spoke with Robert one-on-one, I was happy to hear that he appreciated my tough questions because he said they challenged him. In his opening speech at AJWS’s global retreat, Robert began by acknowledging some of the tragedies the world has seen recently and included Baton Rouge, where the brutal murder of Alton Sterling took place. This was a step in the right direction. I was so impressed by Robert Bank’s openness to hearing constructive criticism and quickly implementing change. This experience has taught me that it is okay to respectfully challenge those in leadership in order to push for improvement. I believe that analyzing and thinking critically rather than accepting how things are is a significant aspect of social justice work.

My advice for someone who wants to pursue an internship at AJWS or at another human rights nonprofit is to think about what aspect of the work you are most passionate about and find a position within that department. There are many different opportunities within one nonprofit organization. Also, be open to working on various types of projects and reach out to staff members in different departments to learn more about their work. This will not only allow you to learn more about the different roles within a large nonprofit, but it can also open your eyes to different career possibilities within the nonprofit world. Finally, do not be afraid to respectfully challenge existing practices or the lack of certain practices that you feel are important and make suggestions for improvements.  

Thank you to the World of Work Fellowship program for this incredible experience!

Marian Gardner ’18

Pain of Silence and the Beauty of Dialogue

I love this vibrant city. Everyone is on a mission to accomplish something big. I have enjoyed being among people who thrive in this fast-paced environment. Traveling through the subway in the early morning among men and women in suits makes me feel important. I am seeing a glimpse of what my professional life after college could be like, which is both scary and exciting. The city is also very expensive, which is a constant reminder for me of how privileged I am to have parents who are able to supplement my WOW stipend. There are many students whose financial standing would not allow them to do a summer internship, which is why the existence of the WOW fellowship program is so critical.

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Ruth Messinger, former president and now Global Ambassador of AJWS

In my work environment, there are a lot more opportunities at work to collaborate with different groups of people. AJWS has many different departments, but they are interdependent. For instance, the Program Division selects which grassroots organizations AJWS funds, but the grants that are given to these organization would not be possible without the work of the Development Division which is responsible for fundraising. The Communications Department creates the materials that describe our work that are essential to Development Division which utilizes them to engage donors. I have been learning about the importance, but also the challenges of collaborative work. It requires a lot of open discussions and compromises, which I see happening here everyday. These are important lessons that will be useful for any of my future career plans. I have been meeting with individuals in different departments to learn more about their professional experiences and their work at AJWS. These meetings have been very insightful for me. Before this internship, I did not know so many different career options existed within the nonprofit world. I can see myself working in the Programs Division because I am so passionate about grassroots movements, and I can also see myself working as a fundraiser in the Development Division. As for skills, I have been working a lot more with Raiser’s Edge database which is a great skill to have as I continue in the nonprofit sector.

The staff has been extremely welcoming and friendly. However, coming into work this past week has been difficult. The media coverage of all the black lives lost due to police brutality has been tough to digest. As a person of color, I find the constant dehumanization of black and brown bodies in this country to be extremely infuriating and I wish all of America felt the same way. I felt isolated, but I remember feeling grateful that I work at a human rights organization. I thought my work environment would provide me with a space to engage in dialogue and be among colleagues who would be equally outraged. However, I came into work and I was disappointed to see that there was silence. Everyone was proceeding as if it was a normal day at work. I attempted to start a conversation with some people, but the responses ranged from blank faces to statements like “I know it is so sad.”

Our new president, Robert Bank, sent a heartfelt email to the staff during the Orlando shooting in which he offered support and acknowledged the different ways each staff was mourning. The organization as whole released a statement standing in solidarity with the families of the victims and calling for justice. Therefore, I repeatedly refreshed my email imbox hoping to see a similar email and statement about standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and an acknowledgement of all the lives lost, but no such email was sent and no statement was released.

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Robert Bank, new president of AJWS

When the interns this week met with the Robert, I had an opportunity to ask him about this silence. My question opened up a dialogue about how difficult it is for AJWS to decide which domestic human rights issues it should respond to. Robert discussed how AJWS, as a non political organization, wants to maintain focus on the social movements they we support in the 19 developing countries in which we work. Additionally, when international organizations begin taking a stance regarding many different domestic issues their mission becomes confusing to their supporters. AJWS responded to the Orlando shooting because we fund many organizations abroad that are working for LGBT rights. However, AJWS also funds organizations that are working to protect the lives of blacks and people of color. For instance, AJWS has spoken out against and funds social movement organizations in the Dominican Republic that use the courts and media advocacy to defend equal rights for Dominicans of Haitian descent. The horrid discrimination of Dominicans of Haitian descent is entirely an issue of racism. In other words, while I understand that different factors complicate the decision of whether to take a stance or not,  the brutalization of black and brown bodies is a global human rights issue and no one should remain silent. While I praise and admire the work of AJWS, I will continue to ask these challenging questions and start a dialogue because there is always room for growth and improvement, and I feel lucky to be at an organization that is open to hearing constructive criticism and constantly looks to improve.

Marian Gardner ’18

Midpoint at Verité

As I reach the halfway point in my internship, things are beginning to pick up at Verité.  Deadlines are rapidly approaching for some projects, while other projects are just being started.  My fellow interns and I have finally become fully comfortable with our roles and responsibilities at Verité, and have learned how to manage our time surrounding those responsibilities.

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Entrance of Verité

I have lived in Amherst, MA, for the majority of my life, so I did not expect to experience it differently throughout the course of my internship.  However, the research I have done this summer has altered how I view the world, including how I see my small hometown. After being at Verité, I have become more inclined to take into account the nature and extent of each individual’s rights, specifically labor rights, whether I am buying produce from a local family farm or am buying food at a mega supermarket chain.

My emotions at the office are more dichotomous.  On the one hand, I spend my time at work researching abhorrent topics such as child labor and human trafficking in an attempt to eventually contribute to the eradication of those human rights abuses. Read the 2016 Trafficking Report here

On the other hand, the people who surround me at Verité are not simply co-workers; rather, they are a community of people who provide one another with support—whether it is career-based or emotional.  I am incredibly thankful to be surrounded by such genuinely good and caring people, who not only push me to learn new skills and information, but who also take the time to sit down with me and hash out any questions I may have.

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The Main Conference Room

I have found both similarities and differences in the world of work in comparison to university and academic life. The main similarity is that research plays a major part in both settings. However, in a university setting, the research goes into some kind of project or paper, which is demonstrative of my academic capabilities and displays what I have learned. In the world of work, my research is for other people. Rather than hoping to get a good grade, I am instead striving to help others. The effects of this research are more immediately impactful. When at school, if I lose focus or procrastinate, it is generally only myself who is affected by it. If I poorly managed my time at my internship, I would be guilty of negatively affecting many. At Verité, each individual comes together to form a community. We work together on projects and ideas, so losing focus is not an option if one wants to keep up. (Check out Verité’s monthly newsletter!)

My time at Verité has allowed me to expand my skillset. This internship has been my first office job, so spending all my time at a computer has been an adjustment. Prior to Verité, I often had trouble managing multiple projects and tasks, and would become overwhelmed. However working in an office has taught me effective ways to organize myself and manage my time. While working in an office is not necessarily what I want to do in the future, it has been an important and valuable experience.

Georgia Nichols, ’18

A Brandeisian Takes on AJWS

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This is me on my first day!

I have just completed my first week at American World Jewish Service (AJWS) in NYC, and I am overcome with excitement for the rest of my time at this incredible organization. Thanks to WOW, I have the opportunity to intern at AJWS as a Donor Engagement Intern in the development division. AJWS is the only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world. Highlights of AJWS’ work includes campaigning to stop the Darfur genocide, fighting global hunger, responding to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and the earthquake in Nepal, and working to end violence against women, girls, and LGBT people worldwide. Here is a link to the organization’s website for more information. Feel free to browse around!

Highlights from my week:

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Stephen McGill and me!

 

Walking in on my first day, I was nervous but excited and up for any tasks. However, I was happy to discover that at AJWS interns are not asked to get coffee and do photocopying. Currently, there are only two people working in Donor Engagement, so I was right away thrust into real work. I have been responsible for finalizing details for an upcoming Study Tour Trip to Guatemala, and beginning the prep work for another Study Tour Trip to Uganda. Study Tours are designed to provide major donors a first-hand look at the impact their dollars are making. When I first heard about Study Tours, I had a lot of critical thoughts and hoped that AJWS is not taking their wealthy donors to intrude into impoverished and oppressed communities in order to evoke more sympathy for the purpose of receiving larger donations. To my relief, I learned that donors visit AJWS’ grantees, local organizations which are funded by AJWS. Therefore, study tours are an important initiative to inspire donors to continue to give to AJWS causes.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to help my supervisor prepare for an event where AJWS’ incoming president, Robert Bank was in conversation with Frank Bruni, the New York Times first openly gay op-ed columnist. It was great to hear Bruni speak about his journey. Here is a link to AJWS’ facebook page for pictures from the event.

Lastly, on Friday I had the opportunity to meet and hear Stephen McGill speak. McGill is the director of Stop AIDS in Liberia (SAIL), an AJWS partner organization. McGill is in New York this week to join United Nations delegates and civil society representatives from around the world for the 2016 United Nations High-Level Meeting to End AIDS. He along with many others is fighting to end the systemic exclusion of marginalized communities including transgender people, sex workers, gay and bisexual men, drug users, migrants and prisoners from this conversation and movement.

Looking Forward:

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This is my cubicle!

I am very excited to continue with organizing Study Tours, helping with a marathon fundraising event, and continuing to learn how to use Raiser’s Edge, which is a database widely used by nonprofits for compiling lists of donors and their information. My other projects will include creating an organized system that will, for example, have information about different venues and caterers that the Donor Engagement department can utilize to efficiently plan different types of fundraising events. In addition, I will be working with the communications department to brainstorm a template and write newsletters on the Study Tours.

My goal is to soak up all aspects of this organization’s work. I want to leave with a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of a nonprofit organization. This includes learning both the positives and the negatives. I want to look into the difficulties that each department and the organization as a whole faces. I believe I joined the organization at an interesting time because the vice president of AJWS, Robert Bank, will be stepping into the role of president on July 1st. I am excited to observe and learn a lot from this transitional period. Attending and participating in meetings has already given me a perspective on the constant need for compromise when each department has a different vision and opinion of how something should be done. I plan to meet with members of the different departments that I am interested in to gain their perspectives on the organization, their contributions, and their journey. I am especially interested in meeting with members of the communication and media department because I am intrigued by how nonprofit organizations present issues and discuss the narratives of impoverished individuals. I want to investigate more empowering ways rather than dehumanizing or exploitative, to present these types of narratives.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my second post!

My First Week at Verité

This summer I will be a research intern at an organization called Verité, which is located in Amherst, Massachusetts. Verité is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes fair, safe and legal labor practices around the world. In particular, they address forced labor/slavery, child labor, systemic gender inequalities and discrimination within the workplace, and dangerous working conditions. They provide four major services including assessment, research, training and consultation in order to help companies identify any problems or violations within their labor supply chains. Verité facilitates working relationships with local NGOs, governments, and international institutions in order to increase accountability among corporations and to expand the capacity of local NGOs.

The entrance to the lower floor of Verité, where the interns work
The entrance to the lower floor of Verité, where the interns work

The community at Verité is warm and welcoming, and the interns are made to feel like a part of that community. On my first day, my fellow interns and I congregated around an oval table in a small conference room where we were introduced to our supervisors, and were given a presentation outlining our responsibilities. The presentation contained staple resources which we will use in our research, such as the US Department of State Trafficking in Persons reports, and the International Labour Organization’s website.

Throughout the summer, I will be assigned to help out with various projects. My first project is to update a few annual reports assessing production labor practices in specific countries; at the moment, I am working on the Taiwan report. A large American pension fund uses these updated reports to guide their investments.  Highlighting changes in each country’s labor practices report, whether the new information is positive or negative, will allow the pension fund to make more socially responsible investments, thus supporting countries with fair labor practices.

Because there is a no naming-and-shaming policy at Verité, much of the information I am given to research, as well as the standing of certain organizations, must remain confidential. However, the research I do will be used to establish statistics that will eventually be presented to the public.

Much of the Verité’s work revolves around combating forced labor. In this TEDx talk, Dan Viederman, the former CEO of Verité, gives an in-depth explanation on modern-day slavery in labor supply chains.

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My desk space and research materials

At Brandeis, I hope to create an independent interdisciplinary major (IIM) in human rights. I believe that this internship will be a highly valuable experience that will contribute to how I shape and focus my major. I hope to expand my researching skills, in order to positively contribute to Verité, as well as to learn new information for myself. Being immersed in an organization that focuses solely on human rights is an incredible opportunity, as I will be able to communicate with and learn from people who have varying roles in the world of human rights, which will allow me to explore the abundance of careers available in that field.

Verité's beautiful backyard/lunch break destination
Verité’s beautiful backyard/lunch break destination

Georgia Nichols, ’18

 

First week with the Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights

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Its a beautiful sunny day and I have no idea where I am going, navigating criss-crossing high-ways into the heart of the city. I pull up to the entrance of UMass Boston and the whole city falls away, melting into the edges of the bay. There is a girl hoolah-hooping by the water in the shade of the trees. You can catch glimpses of the bay through every window I walk by in the Campus Center. I am looking for the door labeled “the Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights” (CGSHR) (genderandsecurity.org)

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The Center on Gender, Security, and Human Rights is an organization devoted to the dual goals of building knowledge around gender and security to inform policy-makers and practitioners, as well as creating feminist gendered analyses to promote justice and sustainable peace. Founded in 2002, the CGSHR is still a small organization with just three official staff members. It is a great place to learn the inner workings of a small NGO, as well as become familiar and well-versed in the latest research into peace building, armed conflict, and the work of the UN. The CGSHR is currently a member of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security and helped to get passed UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This landmark resolution,

reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

The CGSHR is also currently working on the development of a Research Hub on their website – genderandsecurity.org – with the aim to make this the world’s most comprehensive and publicly accessible database of scholarly research on the topics in this field (gender, armed conflict, peace building, security, and justice in post-conflict societies). The Research Hub can be used to inform policymaking, empower women activists from conflict zones lacking access to this important research and information, and help foster new collaborations between scholars in the field.

At the moment, all the interns at the CGSHR are working on entering resources into this Research Hub online. We have been taught how to use a bunch of awesome software tools, such as Zotero (creates citations and stores your research for you!) and SmartSheet. At the most recent staff meeting, however, we were given a list of Annotated Bibliographies that the CGSHR still needs work on, and we made a list of those that we were most interested in. We will find out our assignments soon – the ones that I signed up for had to do with gender analyses of peace building, peace negotiations, corruption (in governments) with a focus on the Middle East. Once assigned a topic, we will be searching for current research within our topic, creating annotated bibliographies, and posting these to the website. I am looking forward to reading widely on these topics, for they will help me to narrow in on what I want to pursue for my senior thesis in politics next year!

IMG_2974The first week here has been full of information and insightful conversations. The staff meeting taught us all about the methods of doing a gender analysis (of anything!) by always remembering to ask questions (What perspectives and viewpoints is the negotiation missing without involving women in the peace process? What different needs/capabilities/and aspirations do women bring to a post-conflict situation? etc.) and what certain key terms in the field mean (DDR, TRCs, CSOs, and the like). Every day (if it is sunny), the interns each lunch together by the bay. And since the office is small, we are encouraged to work either from home or a nearby coffee shop together a couple times a week. The Social Chair at the CGSHR will soon be planning events and finding free concerts/events/things to do in Boston for us all to get to know each other. And I am lucky to get to work with these two girls, also from Brandeis!

Week one leaves me excited to get more involved in the research in this field! Next on my reading list: the IASC Guidelines for Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Settings

– Emily Friedman

Answering Questions with More Questions: Concluding my AJWS Internship

After spending some time reflecting on my experiences at American Jewish World Service (AJWS), it is clear that I not only got what I was looking for in my internship, but even more than I anticipated.  Although it was not entirely unexpected, I am humbled by the realization that I took more than I gave and am looking forward to building off my summer experience during my final year at Brandeis.

I knew from my first day that I would need to learn how to work in an office environment. At the beginning, this was the most challenging component of my experience.  I found the idea of sitting behind a computer at a desk from 9 am – 5 pm to be very intimidating, and was unsure if I could perform at my best under these circumstances.  However, after a few weeks, I developed skills and strategies to help me work effectively in a new environment. I also learned how to better be a team player, growing to feel a part of the communications department and understand the intricacies of a large organization. It was important for me to learn that I am able to adapt and be flexible.

In addition to adjusting to an office environment, I left AJWS with many new professional skills and important experiences. My job consisted mostly of working with social media and the press.  I was responsible for managing and updating AJWS’s twitter and facebook as well as research new social media platforms. I monitored the press for related coverage and developed lists of journalists and publications for AJWS to pitch its stories and campaigns. I also made two videos profiling AJWS grantees.  I now know how to edit videos, adapt my writing tone to fit an organization’s specific style guide, work with the media, and use social media strategically. I’ve also had exposure to branding initiatives, strategic plans and organizational changes. I will benefit immensely from all of these skills and experiences when I enter the workforce next year.

Although these concrete skills are important, I would not say that they were the most important take aways from my summer experience. I am most pleased that I learned how I can contribute to the global struggle to realize human rights, even from an office in midtown, New York City.

One of my main goals for my internship was to connect my academic interests and passion for human rights with professional skills. I’ve often struggled to determine how I can best use my skills, background, and place of privilege to make a difference on causes I believe in. Through my internship, I learned how even the smallest details and actions, from a twitter update to crafting the perfect language for a press release has a role to play in crating a more just world. Although I am not doing grass roots human rights work currently, by being a partner in the global struggle for justice and using my skills to amplify the voices of those on the front lines, I am make a positive contribution.  Although compared to the magnitude of the issues AJWS works to address through all of its work, my contributions are minimal, I take comfort in a saying from the Talmud, which is sort of a mantra at AJWS: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it.”

Like any good experience, my internship at AJWS left me with more questions than answers:

– Is communications the right field for me to work in to pursue my passion for global human rights?

– What are the ethical lines of telling other peoples’ stories through media?

– How can well-intended people from the West help the Global South while respecting culture, dignity and sustainability?

– How can I most effectively “sell” causes I care about?

– How can we integrate a human-rights approach to international development not only into actions, but how these actions are shared with others?

– What is the most effective way for me to make a difference? Grass-roots community organizing? Or working to sustain the powerful efforts of others through writing and communications?

Although I do not have the answers to these questions now, I am confident that I will continue to think about them and contextualize them during my last year at Brandeis and as I enter the “world of work” permanently. I am thankful that my WOW fellowship gave the support and financial means to have this experience and am looking forward to seeing how it connects to my future endeavors.  I’m excited to continue working with AJWS, whether through organizing a Global Hunger Shabbat at Brandeis, or participating in one of its service programs in the future.