Lessons Learned

Wow, it’s been over three weeks and I am still having difficulty processing this incredible summer. Throughout the 10 weeks of interning at Roots, I have met the most inspiring people, learned tremendously, and contributed to an organization I believe is making real strides towards peace in the land. I have increased my knowledge, humility, faith, hope, and passion.

One of my many goals for this summer was to determine if non-profit work in a peace-building organization in the region was something that I might like to pursue as an eventual career. While I still have not decided in which direction I would like to head professionally, I am still strongly considering the non-profit world, perhaps even more than I was before. What is definite is that this experience strengthened my resolve to work toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians through dialogue, activity, and action, in order to improve lives on both sides. I believe that this grassroots work can only truly take hold on a local level, so my desire to move to Israel after graduation has been strengthened as a result of this experience.

In this blog post, we were asked to talk about what we are proud of accomplishing this summer. I am most proud of not being afraid to go to new places, often thought of as “dangerous” by various communities, and to talk to people with backgrounds and opinions very different from my own. I am proud of myself for having an open mind, for asking questions, and for seeking to learn as much as I could. I am glad that I took risks and jumped into unknown situations – including the internship itself!

If I were to give advice to someone thinking about going into this field or interning for this organization, I would give them the same advice I received: be proactive and make the most of your time. Be flexible and ready for anything. Most of all, don’t be afraid to put yourself in new situations, talk to people, ask questions, and share your own ideas. Being the only intern can be very lonely, but you also have the opportunity to have a real impact on a small young organization – and that is priceless.13721269_660056010811577_1805919981_n

I realized that I join organizations like Roots and bVIEW (Brandeis Visions for Israel in and Evolving World), which have no specific political agenda, because I myself do not have a specific political solution in mind for this conflict. What I do believe, however, is that no political solution can achieve peace while we are all arguing with each other. Dialogue, mutual action, and a transformation of perceptions of the other must precede, coincide with, and continue after a political solution is enacted. At Roots, I sat with a group of Palestinians and Israelis (settlers, no less!), of different ages and backgrounds, as we went around the circle, articulating which political visions we support. With unbelievable calm and respect, every individual gave a different answer – almost half of them including the words “I don’t know.” This was quite a departure from the usual Israel/Palestine conversation on campus, wherein individuals enter conversations with set opinions and perceived facts. I learned from this summer how important it is to be okay with not knowing all the answers, to be open to discussion and changing perceptions, and to working with people you disagree with to resolve conflict. If Israelis and Palestinians living in the Gush Etzion area and from Bethlehem to Hebron can do it, surely we students at Brandeis can too.

Rebecca (Rivka) Cohen ’17

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

Working with Refugees on the Path to Employment at IIB

I have so much to reflect upon about the beginning of my summer as a Workforce Development intern at the International Institute of Boston (IIB). IIB is a refugee resettlement agency, with two other locations, in Lowell, MA and Manchester, NH. When a refugee (or asylee, Cuban/Haitian entrant, or Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipient) is resettled in Boston, they are enrolled in Case Management, Employment Services, and English classes. I work with Employment Services. You can read IIB’s mission on their website, but to explain it in my own words, I will describe my job as a Workforce Development intern.

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This summer, IIB is in a temporary location, since their new building is under construction. Their interim space is now with the Asian American Civic Association (AACA), another non-profit with a goal of developing the workforce and promoting economic self-sufficiency.

My walk to AACA in Chinatown.
My walk to AACA in Chinatown.

I do many different projects and tasks with Employment Services. I create resumes for clients and then meet with them to review. I apply for jobs for clients after knowing their preferred positions and locations– the positions are mostly entry level, but the jobs vary on the English level of the client. I make retention calls to clients after they get jobs, and update the records, which is important for IIB to track how clients are doing in their jobs. Clients are enrolled in CRES or TAG, and both are funded by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, and you can read about them here. Something I did not expect was the amount of French I would be speaking (I took French from 6th-12th grade). I am often assigned to meet with Haitians with low-English literacy because I can translate material.

A big part of my job is teaching. On Mondays, I teach the Cultural Orientation Program (COP). New clients are enrolled in COP which runs for four weeks. This class covers living in the US, rights/ laws, education, personal finance, government, health/ hygiene, and sex ed. I never thought about these aspects of life in the US since I grew up here, but many of the clients come from countries where there are different cultural norms and expectations.I never pictured myself teaching consent to a group of young men from Somalia, but this internship always surpasses expectations.

On Fridays, another intern, Sylvia, and I lead the COP trip. Examples of the trips include the Freedom Trail, Boston Public Library, Harvard Square, and the State House. Also on Fridays, Sylvia and I teach the Workforce Orientation Workshop (coincidentally, another WOW acronym) to the same students in COP. After the trip, we give the students a break, and we prepare for the afternoon class, which also runs for four weeks. This class covers getting a job in the US, job etiquette and workplace standards, interview skills, and personal finance/ budgeting/ taxes. This class is a great way for people to learn about jobs they may have in the US, and how to apply and interview for them. It is difficult to find a job in a new country where you may not speak the language well, do not have professional references or a career network, and do not have an equivalent degree in the US to one you may have earned in your home country.

COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and who may have low levels of English proficiency.
COP trip to the State House. IIB often requests this guide, Brian, who adjusts the tour for people who are new to the country and may have low levels of English proficiency.

My main goals for this summer were to see how this furthered my career interests and to apply what I am studying in school to my work. For my career interests, I have become more interested in non-profit management. For my academic goal, I have seen how my studies apply to my internship. I have been able to apply Politics and Economics classes, as well as certain classes like American Health Care. When I am teaching US policies, laws, and personal finance, I want to think more about what I have learned at Brandeis, and how it can help refugees who are assimilating to American social, political, and economic life.

I have already seen how rewarding the work can be– two brothers were recently resettled in Boston and enrolled in programs at IIB. From teaching them in COP and WOW, I could see how determined they were to get jobs. They were excited the day they received Social Security cards, which meant I could help them apply for jobs. I helped them apply for a job, took them to the local Citizens Bank to set up bank accounts, and practiced interview skills. In the same week, they each interviewed and were hired at the same full time job. After their first job, they can come back to IIB to enroll in the Service Industry Training Program or the Hospitality Training Program, and they can use any other employment service.

This is just the beginning. I’m looking forward to a fulfilling summer at IIB!

Emilie Kahn-Boesel ’18

Dominican Republic and the Preservation of the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano Cultures

The Fundacion Cultural Cofradia, is a non-profit organization that promotes and preserves the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions in the Dominican Republic. Cofradia is located in Santo Domingo, the capital, but their mission extends throughout different regions of the country. They work closely with the portadores de cultura, which are the people in the community in charge of keeping these traditions, in order to provide support in the areas most needed. This support comes in different forms, such as the creation of schools, workshops and festivals centered on these traditions.

People dancing perico ripiao in Yamasá

I contribute to their mission in two different ways, the office and field work. As part of the office work I file documents, communicate with el Ministerio de Cultura, (the government office in charge of approving the projects and providing the monetary support) and follow up in the updates of previous projects. During the fieldwork, the Cofradia team and I travel to diverse parts of the country and visit the communities that most need our support. Here, I interviewed the portadores de cultura on their traditions and how they function in the communities. I also document events by photography and videos which are later used as documentation to create new projects.
Last summer I traveled to the Dominican Republic to visit some family members. As part of my visit I wanted to learn more about the Afro-Dominican traditions. When I expressed this to my aunt she put me in contact with the Director of Cofradia, Roldán Marmol.  Director Mármol invited me to a fiesta de palo, a religious practice that mixes African and Taino religious beliefs with Catholicism. Later I expressed my interested in learning more about these traditions and religions. He told me about his organization and we discussed the possibility of an internship.

Gagá group
Gagá group

 

During my first week of work I met the entire team of my co-workers and learned about the projects they been working on.  I was provided with books and articles that talked about the diverse traditions of the Dominican Republic. That week we participated in the celebration of San Antonio sponsored by the Brothers Guillen in Yamasa. There I photographed the event and first experienced Gaga, a tradition born out of the sharing of cultures between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For me, it was the first time, since I arrived to the island, that I have witnessed such a harmonious and unifying manifestation of the two countries traditions living as one.

The more I work with Cofradia the more I realize the importance of providing visibility to the Afro-Dominican and Dominico-Haitiano traditions. One cannot set apart these traditions with their communities, which means that if the traditions remain invisible and unappreciated the community suffers the same condition. These traditions are rich in knowledge, dance, music, art and history. I want to learn how to work with both the communities and the government to create projects that support the preservation and changes, that come naturally with time and new generations, of these traditions.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana.

Me documenting the inauguration of La Escuela de Gagá in the Romana