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

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

 

Mid-Point Post from UMB Campus Center

I’m a little more than 50% done with my summer internship and I can’t believe how fast time has flown by! This summer has already been incredibly educational and I’ve had chances to develop myself professionally and personally. Knowing that I only have 5 and a half weeks left makes me even more motivated to make the absolute most out of the learning experiences I’ve had.

So far, the Consortium has given me the chance to expand my research skills, improve my work ethic and meet a few really interesting people! I am currently working on an extremely extensive research project on Gender and Environmental Security. I inherited over 100 PDFs on the topic and my job is to make sure the entire database is organized into subtopics and to further expand it with up-to-date scholarly materials. Once this is done, I will write an annotated bibliography in which every document has a proper citation and notes! While this task sounds pretty daunting, I can’t wait to be able to say that I am quite familiar with a really important topic and that I’ve organized all this information in an accessible way for those who may need it – namely NGOs all over the world that will hopefully apply scholarly information to their grassroots organizing.

On top of this research project, I am also dealing with a few documents that contain very specific UN language and topics, such as country background reports. Being part of the NGO Working Group on Women, we create materials that are to be used as reference for all other NGOs in the group. This mostly means updating documents reflecting the UN’s progress in applying resolution 1325 to a variety of countries, in a variety of settings such as post-conflict.

While all of this seems like a lot to balance every day, work life has been made easier by the wonderful group of fellow interns I’ve been lucky enough to meet. With only 3 paid staff members, the Consortium runs almost solely on interns. Due to the nature of our organization, we mostly end up being female rising seniors from excellent Universities all over the country, all interested in NGO work, research and gender analysis. I didn’t think I could find that many people interested in all of these things!

For the second half of my time at the Consortium, I hope to continue to develop relationships and skills. Most importantly, I look forward to tying this learning experience to time I have left at Brandeis, developing a senior thesis topic, preparing to apply to grad school, jobs, etc! Let’s hope it doesn’t fly by way too fast because it has truly been a wonderful summer!

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This is my view from the place I spend the most time in – The UMass Boston Campus Center.

 

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

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.

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”

Busy in the Small Non-Profit

Approaching the midpoint of my internship at WATCH, I can look back and appreciate the progress that I have made since it started almost two months ago. Although I had been familiar with the setting and the work at WATCH from my semester involvement with the Housing Clinic, I had made it a goal to understand and experience firsthand the work of a non-profit organization. WATCH proved to be a great place to get the right perspective about the public sector. The amount of responsibility that I am given at WATCH, as well as the degree to which I am involved with the inner workings of the organization, would have been unheard of had I been employed at a government office, big organization, or larger company. As an intern at WATCH, I have been given the opportunity to work closely with the full-time team, which is comprised of only four people: an Executive Director, Development Director, Office Manager, and Program Manager. In a big organization, I would have worked in a small department, which would have had its own niche objective, and I would not have been able to see the big picture. At WATCH, our staff meetings involve only the full-time staff and me. I am able to learn about every role in great detail, and this experience gives me a great perspective on the management and inner workings of a non-profit organization.  *maybe add an example about viewing the annual budget and having a real-life example to what I learn in my economics classes.

Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting
Here is the flyer we made for the TAG meeting

My other main goal was to learn more about community organizing and successfully engaging with community leaders to seek action to better the housing situation in Waltham. We decided to schedule a Tenant Action Group meeting (TAG) at the end of this month. In this meeting, community members will get educated about their rights as tenants, and we will try to address a specific housing problem that the people are facing, such as unsanitary and unsafe housing conditions. We are hoping to empower the TAG participants to actively seek change and action from their local representatives – for instance, sending personal letters to them describing the issues they face. The first step we took to schedule this meeting was to compose and send out a mailing to recent Housing Clinic clients inviting them to attend. Next week we are going to call approximately one hundred people to notify them about the meeting. I am very excited about it and cannot wait to get my first taste of community organizing. To learn more about community empowerment and organizing, please visit WATCH Community Organizing page.

I am using several methods to keep track of my personal progress and growth. I have a Google document in which I write down everything I do; projects, activities, people helped, etc. I track clinic progress under four categories: Walk-Ins, Emails, Phone Calls, and Letters that we empower tenants to write to their ward councilors, which are the representatives of each ward in Waltham in the local government. In the first period, we had 26 Walk-Ins, 9 emails, and 32 phone calls. We did not write letters to ward councilors because we are still working on implementing letter writing to the intake process.

Sending out the mailing

At the beginning of my internship, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of work, follow-ups, and resources I was told to update. At this point, however, I feel that I am finally on top of my work and I am now much more experienced than when I started. I spent a great deal of time learning about the Massachusetts housing law, and about different resources that I can offer as an advocate. I feel proud that I can assist the clients that come into the Housing Clinic and actually be able to help them with their struggles. Since I started, we have had a couple of success stories, such as a family who got their security deposit back from their landlord after two years of court disputes with the support of WATCH. Also, we helped a number of households communicate with their landlords and demand repairs to their apartments in order to improve their living conditions. Besides increasing my knowledge of the law and assisting people, I feel that through personal contact with real people and real situations, I become a better communicator and problem solver. Working at the Housing Clinic entails rationalizing, thinking critically, and assessing the problems I encounter. It is gaining skills like these that I am most proud of during my internship experience, and I believe that they will prove invaluable as my career path develops.

 

– Shimon Mazor ‘16

Midpoint Reflection

My internship has been going well. I have grown accustomed to the working environment and my coworkers, and my work processes have begun to speed up. With a reminder from the WOW advisor, I just realized that this is already the midpoint of my internship, how time flies! It took me some days to get into this “working beat”, so now I want to cherish the time left, keeping this “beat”, and contributing as much as possible in the second half of my internship.

The Jinan urban planning projects I had been previously working on got delayed due to some political reasons. I feel it is a pity that we cannot continue this project since we have done a lot of research on papers, reports, and international examples. Then I was assigned to the Beijing urban planning and transportation group. We have regular meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning & Design to discuss transportation policy every two weeks. Our organization provided the government technology and policy support, and our goal is to assist the government to write a new Beijing Transportation Guide. Three other interns and I are working on one chapter of the guide called “International Transportation Examples.” I am mainly researching the transportation of the following cities: Hong Kong, Portland, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen. I learned a lot in this research process, both from how successful transportation projects in those cities have guided people to live a lower carbon life and how unsuccessful urban planning can result in inconvenient transportation to citizens. Also once the roads and the transportation systems are built, it is very hard to change it later on. So the best way would be doing the right things from the very beginning. I read a lot of papers and reports in the past three weeks, both about real policy and academic theories, and I realize how different they are and how hard it is to make theories a reality by making policy and working in the real world.

This project is a perfect match to my academic learning goal. It enhances my research abilities through reading many papers and reports and summarizing them for government use. Reading is the easy part!  However, it sometimes gets ambiguous which parts of the material are related to my research topic and which parts I should just ignore. This project trained me to find the key points among tons of materials in a short time, and this will also help me build stronger academic reading and writing skills, and at the same time, will be good preparation for graduate school in the future.

Second, the “International Transportation Examples” chapter we are working on will be discussed in our following meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning and Design, which makes me feel proud that I am doing a “real” project and that my research results will directly reach policy makers, and hopefully contribute to the Beijing Transportation Guideline. I am proud that my supervisor is very satisfied with the Hong Kong transportation report I just finished; he said it is a very mature report and it could be used directly in the Beijing Transportation Guideline. He also used my report as a good example for other interns. Through writing reports for government, I realized how important it is to strictly follow the structure requirement and rules. Details such as words count, type setting, and page design, if done incorrectly, can all lead to the need for revision.

Third, from this internship, I did not only gain working and research experience, but also expanded my network and learned about how an NGO works in China. I think a successful NGO in China needs to maintain a good relationship with the government because we need their support and approval to get projects done. Many of my friendly colleagues are experts in different fields, such as transportation, urban planning, LEAP modeling, statistics, computer science, etc. Also, I am very lucky to be in the same office with the program director, who is in charge of hiring new staff and conducting interviews. Sometimes she evaluates candidates and shares with me what characteristics of candidates she is looking for. For example, she weighs candidates’ working experience, the ability to get work done, and responsibility more than whether their major and degree match the position. And she prefers candidates who are willing to be devoted to work without excuses to those who have many “personal” requirements and whose personality stands out too much or does not fit the organization culture. It really opened my eyes and influenced me about what kind of staff is preferable from the boss’s view.

In the second half of my internship, I hope I can do more research and have a better understanding about the relationship between urban planning, transportation and low carbon city construction. Since I also have strong interest in analyzing data, I hope that I can diversify my working fields and join other groups which will focus on data analysis and do more technical work so that I can gain both research and technical working experience from this internship. Again, thanks for the support from WOW to make this great opportunity come true to me.

– Yifan Wang ’14

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This is my office table, where I did most of my research.
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Our action plan is on the wall of our meeting room, very clear to both staffs and visitors

Injustice and Hope behind the Glamorous Shanghai

My internship is in what I consider to be one of the most exciting cities in the world. The skyscrapers in Lujiazui point their needle-like rooftops to the sky. Hundreds of thousands of cars run across Puxi on the Yan’an Elevated Road. If you drive slowly on the elevated road, you could spot some of Asia’s most expensive real estates in the former French Concession. Yes, this is Shanghai, a city known for its rapid urbanization and its splendid lifestyle. However, behind the shiny office buildings and luxury shopping malls lies the institutional discrimination against migrant workers and their children. The Hukou system restricts non-Shanghainese’s access to the social welfare in Shanghai, such as free public education and healthcare. Many migrant schools were established to provide education for migrant children. In recent years, the Shanghai municipal government has integrated migrant schools into the public education system and has allowed migrant children to join public schools. Nevertheless, many migrant students still have learning difficulties, especially in English. Schools in many other provinces only offer English to students from the third grade and above. Meanwhile, schools in Shanghai offer English from the first grade. Thus many migrant children cannot catch up with the class assignments. In addition, most of the migrants have little knowledge of English, so they cannot provide sufficient assistance with their children’s English studies. As a result, migrant students are in relative disadvantages when competing with Shanghai students.

Stepping Stones aim to help these migrant children with their English studies. It runs English programs in numerous migrant schools and community centers across Shanghai. All the teachers are volunteers. Some of them are foreign expats, some are exchange students, and some are passionate Chinese. Their main tasks are to help migrant children with their spoken English and to increase their interests in English. As an intern, my task now is to assist Professor Friederlike, a German Professor, to investigate the feedback from teachers, parents, and students.  Professor Friederike used to be a volunteer at Stepping Stones. She is interested in how the English program has changed the children’s perception of English, how the program has changed their grades, and how it could be improved. She is also interested in the Chinese people’s perceptions of NGOs and migrants’ living conditions. Her research topics are in my interest as well, and I learned quite a lot from our conversations with teachers, parents, and students.

Tangsi Elementary School in Pudong, Shanghai. 999 migrant children study there.
Tangsi Elementary School in Pudong, Shanghai. 999 migrant children study there.

We have spoken to four English teachers, one parent, and more than ten students at two schools and two community centers. Their feedback is all positive. When asking what is their definition of “volunteer”, they tell us that volunteers are warmhearted and benevolent people who are willing to help those who need assistance. Students enjoy the classes taught by volunteers. These classes have greatly increased students’ interest in English. A teacher from Tangsi Elementary School tells a story about a student from the second grade. The student used to be sleepy in her English class, but he is now very active in the English classes taught by volunteers. In these classes, students not only can consolidate their English studies, they can also gain new perspectives of the outside world. For instance, volunteers introduce western festivals to the students, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. The children have the opportunity to experience these festivals in their classrooms, and the experience has inspired them as well. One of the students that we interviewed hopes that China will adopt Thanksgiving and make it a day for children to thank their parents.

Although government regulations are unfair and the prejudice against migrants is rooted in some local people’s minds, you can still see that many migrants enjoy their lives. Living in this mega-city can mean that it is hard to find the sense of belonging, yet migrants have discovered and developed their own communities. Moreover, they have not given up their dreams. The students are confident about their future. They talk about going to colleges in the US, becoming a lawyer, and teaching English abroad. What really impresses me is that the migrant students from Tangsi Elementary School donate money to a school in the relatively underdeveloped Anhui Province every March. They believe that even though they are not rich, they still need to help those who are poorer than them. I am moved by their kindness, and I am glad to see that such spirit is still powerful among the so-called “selfish and spoiled generation” that is the Chinese youth nowadays.

 

View from Stepping Stones' office, with the skyline of Xujiahui in the back.
View from Stepping Stones’ office, with the skyline of Xujiahui in the back.

 

In the following weeks, I will be one of the program coordinators at a local school, so I will interact with the volunteers and the students more closely. I am looking forward to that, and I hope I can learn even more about social works and social justice. Everything is changing rapidly in Shanghai, and I am glad to be part of the change.

 

Terry Chenyu Li

The first week at China Sustainable Energy Program (CSEP)

I just finished the first week of my internship at the Beijing office of China Sustainable Energy Program (CSEP). CSEP is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Beijing, China. The main goal of CSEP is to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in new and existing Chinese cities by promoting and implementing sustainable urbanization and transportation systems. These goals are achieved by working with national and municipal governments to establish pilot projects demonstrating the effectiveness of sustainable urban development in China and providing personnel training programs. The Beijing office aims to provide program management and funding to more than 40 regional projects around China. Technology support is provided by China Sustainable Transportation Center (CSTC). There are about 30 staff members in this office, and there are four interns helping for this summer. Most funding of CSEP comes from HP Inc.

My internship mainly consists of two parts. First, I will be tracking progress of the projects, conducting data entry and analysis, writing project evaluation reports, and translating some related materials. Second, I am very lucky to have a chance to join the Jinan Sustainable City Planning Project. We will analyze real residential energy use data gathered for the last three years and conduct some research for further project refinement.

I found this internship from “Earth Notes” sent by Prof. Laura Goldin. “Earth Notes” is a list of internship opportunities for students of environmental studies and other types of related social work. The summer internship in CSEP got my attention and interest immediately because of its location in China and because the energy field has always been an interest of mine. I sent them my resume and after a phone interview, I got this summer internship.

The first week of this internship has been interesting and a bit challenging. My supervisor and other colleagues are very friendly and helpful. They impressed me with their professionalism and problem solving skills from the first day I was there. My assigned jobs consist of both urgent and long-term projects. One urgent job is preparing a group of Chinese mayors before they travel to  the U.S. to learn about sustainable city planning next week.  We are now busy preparing schedules and translating papers for their trip. The long-term project is the Jinan Sustainable Planning Project, for which I will do research with another intern over the next two months. We have set goals and we will meet our supervisor on a weekly basis. This project is kind of challenging for me because it requires strong background knowledge in urban planning, but I feel like I am learning a lot and getting more and more familiar with this field as we work. The whole organization has a file sharing system accessible to interns for ongoing projects. This common file is very useful to me. I read a lot of reports, related academic papers, and background information about this organization.  I now have a much better understanding about how this non-profit organization works and how to combine theory with practice.

Finally, in terms my expectations about the internship, I hope to learn about sustainability in urban planning through reading both academic papers and reports from real projects. Second, I wish to work closely and network with my colleagues and become aware of more opportunities in the sustainability field, both in the United States and in China. Third, by conducting a research in a team environment, I hope to develop a better communication and problem solving skills, and to have a better understanding about cultural differences between the U.S and China in this field.

CSEP logo
The logo of CSEP
The view from the window near my desk (Beijing)
office
A very “green” office!

– Yifan Wang ’14

Picking a Major, Following a Career

When I was in high school, I remembered debating for a really, really long time what I wanted to study in university. I knew what academic subjects I was particularly good at, what I was really, really bad at, and what subjects I found to be especially intriguing. I was good at history, a bit of a struggler in the sciences, and deeply passionate about what I now understand to be sociology. Beyond this, I had it stuck in my mind that what I majored in undergrad must directly relate to what career I ultimately would take on post-grad. Balancing a profound excitement for social justice and the glimmering hopes of my self-proclaimed tiger mom, my attempts at channeling all of these thoughts and opinions into some kind of major caused me to be more confused than before. I wanted to take these pieces and lend into some sort of study – a life path that would ultimately bring me somewhere that made me happy on all of these fronts.

 Chief Medical Officer for PIH, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, working one on one with a patient in rural Haiti. 

But I was ultimately able to come up with a formal version of a major. Whatsmore, I came up with a potential career plan that fit all of my key points. I hope to one day work as an OBGYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) for an NGO that does long term health infrastructure development in Southeast Asia. I knew the what, I knew the how, and in knowing that this was a direction that made me happy, I knew a bit of why. But my ‘why’ was solidified in working with Partners in Health, a health infrastructure NGO, this summer.

Partners in Health operates with the following as a long-form mission statement; “At its root, our mission is both medical and moral. It is based on solidarity, rather than charity alone. When a person in Peru, or Siberia, or rural Haiti falls ill, PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make them well—from pressuring drug manufacturers, to lobbying policy makers, to providing medical care and social services.  Whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family—or we ourselves—were ill.”

It was not until being faced by banners around the office that proudly served as daily reminders of this statement that I internalized the importance of long term health infrastructure. In the past, as I was formulating my future plans, I thought of working with organizations like Doctors without Borders; emergency medical relief programs. While Doctors without Borders certainly is an essential NGO, my heart finds more of a kinship with Partners in Health and their mission to structural development of healthcare infrastructure. With an organization like Doctors without Borders, crisis; be it war, a natural disaster, a civil conflict, or other emergency event, is required for a form of intervention. Once the crisis is nearly over Doctors without Borders tends to leave the area. I once read in a Doctors without Borders memory book “Hope in Hell” that some global posts are abandoned if the estimated time slated to complete the intervention surpasses a few years. It’s not a bad model. But to me, it feels that that short-term approach overlooks a crucial point – the crisis, whatever that might be, is often the boiling point for structural inequity within that nation. A natural disaster is so devastating because access to clean water was already so limited before it. War or civil conflict has such horrible, horrible consequences because of pre-existing structures of violence and unrest. Crisis is not the problem; it’s a consequence of a problem. In approaching healthcare with a full understanding and undertaking of structural violence, Partners in Health is different.

Patients under the care of Doctors without Borders, a crisis-prevention healthcare NGO.

Thinking about what I did this summer, and how that translates into what I want to do in the future, both in and beyond my career, I want to go back to what I ended up studying during my four years at Brandeis. I am currently a double major in Biology and International and Global Studies, making my way through the pre-health track. I’m also minoring in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, supplementing both my global and clinical perspective with these essential lenses. I think about the full education I received by being an undergraduate at Brandeis and how that has effected and shaped my perspective on health, healthcare access, and the global community. And I think back on the summer that I spent at Partners in Health, in many ways the intersection of all of my academic passions at Brandeis. From the three or so months I spent at the organization, I learned a lot about the why of my intended career choice; both why I wanted to pursue the career path I did and why it made sense in the larger context of the world. As I finish my undergraduate career up this May, and begin another academic journey into medical school, I hope that I might take with me lessons of true, sustainable development work and an even deeper dedication to healthcare for the poor.

 

A PIH project; the layout for the new Zanmi Lasante Hospital to be build in rural Haiti. 

“What I tell my students all the time is: you speak English, you have a passport, you have a responsibility to use those tools. Go see these places and talk about them. Write about them. Be an advocate. It’s a huge job, but the coolest thing ever is to change the world.”

– Joia Mukherjee, Chief Medical Officer of Partners in Health

See Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Joia Mukherjee and many, many other amazing people speak this weekend at the Millennium Campus Conference!

An article by Joia Mukherjee, “Structural Violence, Poverty, and the AIDS Pandemic”

Learn more about Partners in Health in this “Global Journal” article.

– Sarah Van Buren ’13

 

Boxes Beyond Boxes

“It’s constitutional!”

A loud cheer erupted from the break room at Partners in Health.  Employees were laughing, hugging, shouting – excitedly calling friends and family.

“It passed! I know – I couldn’t believe it either. Hold on, I’m getting another call…”

The controversial passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was celebrated at PIH.

In the kind of excitement and noise one would expect from a win at a football game, a hundred or so PIH employees celebrated the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; affectionately Obamacare. As an organization that promotes health equity for all, focusing both in the United States and around the world, the idea that access to healthcare would become easier and more accessible for many in the States was a big win.

 

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In preparation for my WOW internship, I had set out a few learning goals for myself during my summer with Partners in Health. I had hoped that I might gain stronger insight on how non-governmental organizations with an international focus operate from far away. Partners in Health operates in twelve countries around the world in addition to hosting several programs in Roxbury, Boston. How was it that they could manage, evaluate, and amend so many programs that were so distant?

Boxes.

The response to PIH’s overwhelming number of programs in such demanding capacity is boxes. The entrance to the PIH office on Comm Ave is always a bit of a fortress as the receptionist’s desk is barricaded by mountains beyond mountains of boxes. In these cardboard boxes are everything that PIH clinics need; EKG machines, clothes, alcohol wipes, ultrasound machines. These boxes, shipped in from around the US, find brief refuge in our Boston office, before being sent off to the site where it is needed. Some of these materials are donated, others are purchased – in either case, the materials are always of high quality and are safely kept away under layers and layers of bubble wrap. There are uses for all materials that line PIH’s hallways, something that I am made aware of as I climb over these piles to get to my work area.

So, why the boxes?

Partners in Health, an NGO that prides itself on transparency and efficiency, is able to host all of its programs by keeping their overhead costs unprecedentedly low. With a whopping 94% of all revenue being rerouted to health-related programs, 6% remain to being distributed for administration and fundraising efforts. That 6% supports the entire Boston office in terms of salary of employees, the office and its ability to run smoothly, as well as PIH’s campaigns online and in person.

 

 

Ratio of PIH’s expenditures by direct programming, administrative costs, and fundraising efforts.

 Having low overhead costs mean that PIH is strapped for space and funding. So in lieu of a warehouse or separate floor to store all of our materials, PIH chooses to store its materials around the office – making sure that the best medical supplies get to the its programs. Low overhead also means a lot of improvisation; mismatched chairs surround the tables in board meetings, clunky computer monitors donated from Harvard sit in rows. It’s all part of keeping the NGO honest and making sure that majority of donations get to the right place – where health infrastructure is in the most disrepair.

 

 

PIH’s income, largely based in fundraising and grant writing, charted against PIH’s expenditures.

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I think one of the interns I work with said it best when asked to describe what exactly the culture of Partners in Health is;

“We’re a bunch of serious development nerds, doing what we love.”

The best thing about any work or internship experience is when you find that the people in the office are just as academically obsessed with the same things you are. That’s what I am finding at Partners in Health. Every individual, both in and out of the office, is so committed, so dedicated to the fight for global health equity that many employees are here from early, early in the morning to very late into the night, simply because they feel so devoted to the work that they do. Volunteers dedicate weekends and evenings towards working on projects, many from home during their spare time. And the more time I spend at Partners in Health the more I feel myself growing, both in my knowledge of development work as well as my commitment to it.

 

One of Partners in Health’s recent campaign to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS treatment.

The rewards employees and volunteers reap from working at PIH is in the knowledge that we are each taking small steps towards global health equity. And in the face of big changes, like the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we cheer with the excitement that the notion that healthcare is a human right is being recognized on a global scale.

My big question of how an NGO like PIH functions so efficiently in so many countries lies in these answers; low overhead, investment of most donations into programs for health infrastructure, and gathering dedicated employees who find engrained in their hearts the need for the prioritization of healthcare for all. In channeling this passion into sustainable programs for the poor, small steps on the path for global health equity are taken.

“Equity is the only acceptable goal… And that’s when I feel most alive, when I’m helping people.”

– Paul Farmer

 http://www.pih.org/news/entry/reflections-from-nepal/

http://www.pih.org/news/entry/revolutionary-cancer-care-in-rwanda/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/opinion/14kidder.html

– Sarah Van Buren ’13