A month of ‘Avodah’

It has now been a month since I started working for Avodah and I am already thinking ahead about the ways in which I could help their cause even when I am done with the internship. I have already contacted friends and colleagues to let them know them about the Jewish Service Corps, which is a project unique in its scope and mission, as I have learned by working closely with Avodah’s alumni programming team.

(Source: avodah.net)

The first aspect of the Service Corps that distinguishes it from most social justice and youth activism opportunities is the fact that it allows members the freedom to design their own path. Whether they are interested in offering legal assistance to immigrants or volunteering in the healthcare system, Avodah provides them with a wide range of placements, i.e. partner organizations for which they will work for the duration of the year. Poverty alleviation is the nucleus of the organization, but the Jewish Service Corps recognizes that the roots and effects of this phenomenon run too wide and deep to be tackled unilaterally. The many ways in which Avodah’s undertaking can be addressed is reflected in the plethora of directions in which Corps Members can branch out. This serves another key goal of the program, namely encouraging leadership among young people who want to be active members their communities. The Jewish Service Corps lets its participants choose their own journeys, while making sure they are not alone.

(Source: avodah.net)

I think this is where the essence of the work, mission, and organizational culture in a nonprofit like Avodah truly lies. The Corps members become part of a cohort of like-minded young people, activists, volunteers, employees, and most importantly alumni of almost twenty years of programming. This is how the organization manages to impact more than just the current group of activists it trains. “Igniting social change”, the second part of Avodah’s motto, refers to this ‘family’ that bridges generational, geographic, social, and economic gaps. It refers to connecting a surgeon who enrolled as a healthcare enthusiast in the Service Corps fifteen years ago to a recent college graduate interested in refugees’ rights. Through this network, Community engagement, which is Avodah’s latest area of projects, ultimately amounts to community building.

Sonia Pavel ’20

Reflecting on My Work So Far

So far, I have had a really interesting time at my internship with Umby, a platform that allows individuals to donate to support small amounts of insurance for people living in global poverty. I still have a couple weeks left to go, but as I look back and reflect, I feel like I’ve expanded my horizons and learned a lot.

Source: National Society of Black Engineers

I’ve learned a lot about social justice work. I’ve definitely redoubled my commitment to work in this sector after graduation. I’ve learned that I am open to a wide variety of issue areas. Before this, I knew very little about international poverty; frankly, it felt like an insurmountable issue that I didn’t have the energy to tackle when there are already so many problems at home. Now, I’ve learned so much about poverty in a huge variety of countries, from Cambodia to Mexico. It is heartbreaking that so many people face poverty, but it is heartening that there are real projects being done to combat it, often led by people from that region. I have learned a lot about microinsurance itself, its potential, and how it truly will help thousands of people moving forward. I hope that my organization has the ability to participate in this movement and help to make a difference.

I wish I had asked more questions from the beginning. Working for a startup means that a lot of our work is still in development. I wish I had spoken with my boss, who is the founder and CEO of the company, about all sorts of things from the beginning: her business plan, her media plan, the umbrella prototypes, and more. Now, I have had the opportunity to see a lot of these aspects come together; for example, we are in the process of contacting reporters to spread the word about the product, and I’ve seen mock-ups of the full website. These aspects have given me greater insight into what it looks like to start a business. I have the ambition of starting a nonprofit of my own someday, and these sorts of experiences are really valuable to see the nitty-gritty of how this happens. I just wish I had asked about this from the beginning. Luckily, I got to see them in the end!

Flexibility is key in the nonprofit world! Source: SatelliteToday.com

For those who are interested in working with a nonprofit, particularly a startup, I would advise, above all, to be flexible. Things almost never go as planned, especially in the nonprofit world, and even more so in the startup world. I have always done well by being flexible and cheerful about doing a huge variety of tasks, even if those tasks involve filing for a while or Googling random facts about Mardi Gras (both tasks I’ve done during my working life, both of which ended up being useful in the end!). Being flexible also allows you to discover new things about yourself, such as your own creative interests. At least, it has for me! For example, I know that I’m not interested in marketing as a career, but by accepting this internship I found that I really love getting to write blog posts all day, or really write anything at all, which I think is knowledge that will serve me well – and be transferable – as I continue my working life.

Overall, I’ve had a pretty fun experience working for Umby, which has been very different from all the work environments I’ve had before. I’ve learned a lot about the sector, about the issues, and about myself during the past couple months, and I look forward to closing out my experience positively!

Wrapping up

Throughout my internship I have learned so many valuable lessons. The most important one is that you have to be flexible, creative, and reflective because everything is a learning process. Working at a relatively new start-up has also reinforced this. The programs OSW runs are extremely new and depend heavily on the audience. For example, the program we run in downtown Oakland is extremely different from the program that we run in Alameda because there are two different, distinct demographic groups that attend each one. The people who attend these events are receptive to different movement coaches, music, and food, so we have to be extremely aware of what different people need and be flexible enough to change our program to fit their needs while still providing the same support.

At the end of one of our programs last week, my bosses came up to me and said, “We’re never letting you go. You have to stay and become head of HR and our operations director. You can’t go back to Boston.” Honestly, that meant so much to me because it showed me that I am actually making a difference. As an intern, I sometimes feel as though I am learning a lot from the organization and the experience, but that I am not giving back as much as they are giving me. This showed me that I was wrong. Now that I am taking this time to reflect, I think I helped the organization branch out and make connections with different providers in the area, find potential new interns for the fall (to replace me), and create a fluid transition when they shifted their main program to a module system earlier this month.

As I have written in previous posts, my internship is not a typical internship. My bosses push all of the interns to step outside of our comfort zones with projects, be vulnerable with them and each other, and be confident in everything that we do (whether or not we feel that way inside). I wish I had known this about the organization beforehand because I believe it would have taken me a lot less time to open up to them and become comfortable doing these things. I think I would have been a better intern from the very beginning instead of half way through.

My advice to any future interns at Open Source Wellness or people seeking an internship in healthcare or nonprofit work is to be open to new experiences and different types of people. A career in social justice or health care both involve working with people who have backgrounds that are completely different from yours and from each other. Be open to them and what you will learn from one another. Also, make connections and be authentic. Oftentimes, when people are struggling with difficult health issues, they are embarrassed or distressed about their situation. It is extremely important to connect with them on a personal level and share your own story and struggles so they know they are not alone and have nothing to be ashamed of. Finally, be passionate. A career in public health or community health is not easy because change happens slowly. Only people who are truly passionate about healthcare and community health will have the patience to make lasting change.

Here are the only two photos I have at work:

(The interns practicing taking each other’s blood pressure)

(Me taking a patient’s blood pressure during our program)

Thank you for keeping up with my summer journey!

Long Lasting Change

I have learned many things about social justice since my time here, but the one thing that has stuck with me has been to keep yourself and others aware of our impact domestically and globally. Change starts with knowledge and knowledge is power. If we as a community are staying up to date and aware of the problems we face, it becomes easier for us to stand up together and fight for the right causes to make positive, long lasting change. The advice I would give to someone in a comparable situation to me would be make the best of the time you have. Opportunities like these come and go so quickly that you don’t have much time to reflect on what you’ve learned or how valuable those lessons are.

Before coming to AJWS I wish I had known that individual actions are more substantial than you think. As cliché as it may sound, each person can leave a mark on something. I feel like I have already done that here at AJWS. People risk everything just to ensure others are prioritized and taken care of. For example, in an article publish recently by an LGBT newspaper, our very own Robert Bank was featured and speaks about the impact one man has had on his South African community, despite the brutality he faces regularly.

Words of motivation

Before my internship here at AJWS, I was hesitant about taking on the responsibility of another internship. In my previous experience, working as an intern was less than exciting and often it felt rather tedious and boring. While working and learning for free isn’t always going to be a joyous occasion, it is intended to be meaningful. Since my time here at AJWS is nearly over, I can confidently say that I would never pass up another internship opportunity, much less one centered around Jewish values. I feel this way simply because you never know what will come out of the time you spend with the organization, the connections you’ll make along the way and the skills you’ll acquire consciously or subconsciously. From the beginning, I have felt very fortunate not only to be considered for the position but to have been accepted and allowed the opportunity to do this. Every day when I am surrounded by people who strongly believe in the work they’re doing, it is motivation for me to continue to prioritize my academics and my future career. I am very much considering the possibility of working in a field that emphasizes and works to promote human rights globally. There are many job titles and positions in the corporate sector as well that hold the promotion of civil social responsibility to a great degree.

Donor Engagement Celebration of AJWS achievement

I will miss the time I have spent with my fellow intern peer Madeline, who has sat with me every day this summer and helps to keep me focused and on top of task. I will miss Aliza who started me here at AJWS and has taught me so much about the dedication and patience it takes to be successful. Without her guidance and insight, the projects I have had here at AJWS would not be carried out with such detail and poise which she has helped teach me. I will miss Neely who has believed in my abilities from the first time we met and knew I had the tools and resources to take matters into my own hands when necessary. She has been a constant source of light, a confidence and reassurance booster as well as my own personal concierge giving me tips and tricks about how to navigate NYC. I will miss Kaylan who made me laugh with something witty she said every time I saw her. I will miss Robert who is leading this organization beautifully and cares immensely about our mission. However, I will not miss the freezing cold A/C blasting from 9:00am to 5:00pm making the office feel like Antarctica. As my summer comes to a close, I look forward to being home with my family before heading back to school and beginning my journey as a young advocate and leader for human rights on campus.

I’ll miss this walk to work.

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

Thinking About the Future

One of the most difficult skills I have learned so far in my internship has been marketing. I have no previous experience with marketing. As a brief reminder, I am serving as a Marketing Intern for a startup that provides microinsurance to people living in international poverty by soliciting donations from individuals. My role has been to raise awareness of our brand and, mainly, write blog posts pertaining to microinsurance so that readers understand what it is. As a result of this, I’ve gotten a lot of experience in areas like social media strategy, reaching out to news outlets to raise awareness of our work, and, of course, writing blog posts.

Source: Minfow

I am interested in working in the nonprofit sector in the future, and so far have felt very flexible about what my specific role would be within that sector. I have built up skills that I feel will be broadly transferable; for example, last summer I was a Grantwriting and Development Intern at a large nonprofit. I’m excited to be building another transferable skill set in marketing, because I think this can definitely come in handy when looking at nonprofit jobs. I think it will expand the jobs that I’ll be qualified for, and make me an overall more attractive candidate. I don’t know if marketing is a passion of mine, but I am definitely open to learning more about it and gaining more experience with it, and I’m excited about how it might open up my job prospects.

Some facts about how huge the nonprofit sector is. Source: Visual.ly, shared by lifeofgraphic2

I have definitely learned more than just this hard skill. The environment of 1871, the incubator where I work, has definitely been a really interesting place to be. Last summer, I worked in a very traditional office environment. Being in a wide-open space, where a lot of people are talking on the phone, conducting meetings, and just generally doing their work in the same area has made me a more flexible worker. I’ve enjoyed the stimulation of working here, and I know now that I can work in a huge variety of office environments. Again, I think this flexibility is key for working in the nonprofit sector, where work culture and atmosphere vary widely. (The IRS has 25 different categories for what counts as a 501(c)(3), the official designation for a nonprofit – this means that there are a lot of differences between any two given nonprofits!) I am confident that I could be happy in a lot of different situations, and this has been confirmed by my work at 1871.

I’m excited to see what the future of my career looks like! For now, I’m enjoying building my skills and experience, and seeing what I like and don’t like. This summer is making me feel hopeful that I’ll be happy no matter where I end up.

My New Skills

Over the past eight weeks my internship at Open Source Wellness has allowed me to grow and learn so much in a short amount of time. I believe this is mainly due to how small and young the organization is. The OSW staff is composed of the two founders, four undergraduate interns, and one graduate student intern, and officially started running programs in October of 2016. Due to this structure, I am given a lot more responsibility than most interns at larger organizations are given. I have gained numerous skills because of the uniqueness of start-up culture.

First, I have strengthened my organizational and leadership skills. During our Tuesday night events, I have been tasked with helping coordinate and organize the event, and with leading the meditation portion for two weeks. Although these tasks were daunting at first, I have seen that I can take on challenges that are typically out of my comfort zone and still succeed. At Brandeis, I am a coordinator for Big Siblings through Waltham Group. As a coordinator, I am in charge of running and leading multiple events. I believe my responsibility to help run OSW events and leading the meditation sessions have helped me gain both the skills necessary to organize the logistical aspects and have the confidence to lead the actual events.

Second, I have strengthened my professional networking skills. One of my main jobs has been to reach out to healthcare providers to form referral partnerships with them. I call, email, and meet with them to explain the program we run at Open Source Wellness, and urge them to refer their patients to us. Through this task, I have gained extremely valuable networking skills. I now know how to speak with professionals on an individual basis, and I have gained more confidence when I speak with people who are much older than I am and who have a lot more experience than I do. This will help me in the future with my networking skills because I will know how to communicate professionally and be Pleasantly Persistent.

Third, I have learned how to understand and relate to people who are different than I am. Many of the individuals I work with live in a low-income, re-entry housing community, and are mainly people of color who have been incarcerated or homeless. This is a very different demographic than I am used to working with and that I, myself, can relate to. Through this experience, I have found ways to connect to people who are extremely different from me. I have seen firsthand that most people struggle with the same health issues, regardless of their backgrounds, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity.

Lastly, I have also learned a lot about myself in the workplace, including my strengths and weaknesses. I have discovered that it is difficult for me to draw boundaries when I am asked to do something that goes beyond my capabilities or job description. I find that when a superior asks me to if I want or can do something I say yes, almost automatically, even if I cannot. I have been pushing myself to stick to my boundaries and communicate with my supervisors when I am unable to do something. Here is an interesting article about crossing boundaries in the workplace. I also found out that it takes me longer than most people to become comfortable in a work environment. It took me a few weeks to get to know the work environment at OSW before I became comfortable, personally and professionally.

Round Tables and Tangent Topics

I have now been working for Avodah for three weeks, but I feel like I have been part of this environment for much longer. The main reason is that the entire staff and interns make it their mission to promote the same values and foster the same atmosphere in the workplace as in their social justice projects. Since both the Service Corps and the Fellowship–the two main programs run by the nonprofit–rely on networking and community building, it seems only natural that the organization will uphold the same level of cooperation internally. However, I did not expect it to be so embedded in their daily administrative and management tasks.

I have participated in two staff meetings so far, and they both have been relevant examples of this organizational culture. The staff members leading both of them started by introducing a topic only tangentially related to the ensuing discussion. For instance, the first time I was in a meeting, Avodah’s president Cheryl Cook started a talk about homes and homelands, roots and belonging, to then transition into a wider debate about Avodah’s mission and values as a community builder. We went around the table (which included colleagues connecting to our office in New York from Chicago, D.C., and New Orleans) and we each talked about our home – if we had one, where it is, what is is, and with whom – after having read the following piece.

Besides the work I have been doing for Avodah on the administrative side, which included learning how to use Salesforce, transferring survey results from one platform to another, and compiling reports about donor involvement and alumni, I believe that this is the most important skill I hope to gain from my experience. I would summarize it as an intersection of being dedicated and genuine. It is often the case that the internal administration of nonprofits is very much separated from their actual social justice mission, which I think affects both how employees relate to their work and how the organization is run. With business and profit-driven models populating more and more of the activist environment, I think it is important for organizations like Avodah to maintain such a standard of involvement and commitment to their mission and culture. Even if I am helping with the organization of our upcoming events or doing prospect research for potential donors, I am aware that the poverty alleviation mission of Avodah on the field is “at home” in our office.

“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

Furthering Social Justice

Open Source Wellness officially began running their first event in October 2016 and their second event this past April. Considering it is an extremely young organization, the founders have many goals and milestones they want to achieve. Their main social justice goal is to reach more people in low-income communities.

The organization was founded by two psychologists, Liz and Ben, who came up with the idea behind Open Source Wellness while they worked in different health clinics in Boston. They continuously saw patients who were referred to them by doctors who told the patients that they needed to change their eating habits, exercise more, or reduce their stress to combat the chronic health conditions they were facing. Wealthier patients could hire a nutritionist, personal trainer, or join a meditation group. However, people who lived in low-income communities went back to their same lifestyle because they did not know how and did not have the means to change the way they ate or acted. Through these experiences, Ben and Liz decided to open a “behavioral pharmacy” to help people make major lifestyle changes at little or no cost. Their doctor could write a prescription to go to Open Source Wellness to get support in making lifestyle changes. Even though this is their mission, Ben and Liz have been struggling to reach this demographic.

Below are pictures of Liz and Ben:

 

To combat this issue, the other interns and myself have been reaching out to providers, including clinics, doctors’ offices, and community centers in low-income areas in an attempt to form a referral partnership with them. We have been giving them free spaces that are reserved for their patients in our month-long program upon their referral. By reserving certain spots for their patients, we are creating a scarcity of spaces that they can fill which will incentivize them to fill the spots. Hopefully, once they see how helpful the program is for their patients, they will start sending more people. Some of the clinics we have been speaking with seem extremely interested in our mission, so we started talking with them about running an event in their clinic. These would be solely for their patients or members and would happen in the clinics or centers. West Oakland Health Center and Project Open Hand are two of the groups that we have been meeting with.

If the clinics followed through with their pledge to get their patients to sign up for our July cohort, which starts on July 11th, that is what progress would look like. It would also include one or more of the new clinics or centers allocating money to OSW to begin an event in their building, exclusively for their patients.

Provider outreach has been my main long-term task as an intern at OSW. I have spent countless hours emailing, calling, and meeting with doctors and administrators to tell them about the program that OSW offers, and to speak with them about creating a referral partnership.

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

Bringing Brandeis Knowledge to Oakland

During the spring semester at Brandeis, I took the course Narcopolitics with Professor Brian Fried. Through this course, I learned about the correlation between drug use and incarceration rates. A recurring issue that we discussed throughout the course was the elevated rates at which children of formerly incarcerated persons are likely to be incarcerated when compared to children whose parents have not experienced incarceration. This comparison shocked me at the time. Currently, I am witnessing the reality of this fact and it is extremely unsettling.

Here is a link to an article that explains the cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

Many of the individuals I work with at Alameda Point Collaborative, a low-income housing community, were previously incarcerated or homeless. The people who attend events through Open Source Wellness are mainly in their fifties and sixties, and many of them have older children who have also been incarcerated. One of the women who regularly attends our events explained her experience with incarceration. She described her long struggle to move past this difficult time in her life because of the legal, social, and emotional restrictions she experienced. Now, her son faces a long prison sentence. She spoke about her inner struggle about the best way to support him, and if she chooses to support him at all. She does not know if she can deal with the responsibility of trying to get him released early or if she is willing to support him when he is released because she feels she put a lot of effort into trying to break the cycle of incarceration. She said she understands that it is more likely for her children to be sent to prison, because she did, but she hoped her children would break the statistic.

Above are pictures of the community garden and kitchen where the residents of APC grow and cook the food that they serve at our events.

Many of these individuals have been incarcerated for drug offenses. There are strong genetic links and environmental factors that influence drug use. The children of parents who have drug or alcohol addictions often begin their lives with a hereditary vulnerability in addition to the impact of their parent’s drug addiction. Additionally, the loss of parental role models for long periods of time during a parent’s absence due to imprisonment negatively impacts breaking the cycle of incarceration. I recently read an article about recent research that proposes that 40%-70% of people in the prison system have Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) which the researchers contest has a strong genetic link, further adding to the cycle of incarceration.

In Professor Fried’s course I learned about the unfairness of U.S. drug laws and the impact they have on the cycle of incarceration. With this knowledge, I am more informed about the challenges facing individuals who were incarcerated, especially the difficulties encountered in breaking the cycle of incarceration. My role at the Open Source Wellness program, is to help run the weekly event by facilitating a group discussion in a weekly women’s circle. I feel as though my increased understanding of incarceration in the U.S. is helping me support these women in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them.

Social Justice at Work

I am a Waltham Group coordinator at Brandeis. I help run the Hunger and Homelessness program, which serves food at the Waltham Community Day Center and holds drives each semester to collect food, clothing, and personal care items for individuals experiencing homelessness in the Waltham and Boston area. The Waltham Group is the most incredible organization at Brandeis, and I have learned so much from being a part of this program. I also got the opportunity to take a Community Engagement Practicum, reflecting on my work as HnH Coordinator in an academic setting. In this class, we focused on centering the population we’re trying to serve: listening to their voices, involving them in the planning and administration of our programs, and never patronizing them just because they have less societal privilege than we do.

Me at an HnH Educational Outreach Event

I have been thinking about Waltham Group, and this class specifically, lately during my internship. A great aspect of most microinsurance companies is that they are often formed in response to needs from community members. This gives community members the ability to explain what they need and what would actually help them. This is powerful; it gives agency back to individuals experiencing hard times. This is what I want to do when considering the blog posts and promotional materials I am in charge of developing.

My workspace – where the magic happens! Just a big table and my laptop.

So far, I have been building up a collection of blog posts about microinsurance, fun facts about umbrellas, and more. (Right now, the website is just a landing page with basic information; the section where my blogs will be posted isn’t there yet.) The basic message of most of these posts is about doing good and being kind to the people around you. I love this central conceit, but I have also been trying to focus specifically on people around the world who are looking for agency and power in very difficult times. Many have lost jobs, homes, and family, but they continue fighting for a better life for themselves and their children.

By focusing on the stories of these real families, I hope not only I am personalizing microinsurance and international poverty issues, but that I am letting individuals experiencing poverty tell their own stories as much as possible. As we learned in my Community Engagement Practicum, there’s no need to be a “voice for the voiceless”. People aren’t voiceless unless you’re speaking over them. I hope my work with Umby uplifts and centers these voices in every blog post.

-Lily Elderkin

My first weeks at the MCAD

“Why don’t you tell me why you are here?” This is the question I ask each person as they sit down in the intake room at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). As a neutral organization, the role of the commission is to investigate claims of discrimination and if need be, transfer them to a higher court for judgment.

For the past three weeks, I have been observing and training to be an Intake Specialist. As an Intake Specialist, my role is to interview each individual who enters our doors and determine if they have a legal basis for a discrimination claim. My most significant role as an Intake Specialist is to write up the formal legal complaint that becomes the basis upon which the Commission investigates each case. This requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to concisely convey the alleged injustices of each individual.

This past week have finally been cleared to begin conducting the interviews on my own. What at first seemed like a daunting and somewhat scary task, has become the best part of my days. With each intake I conduct I gain more confidence and realize the extent to which I am truly making a difference in each interviewee’s life. Whether we take their claim or not, I provide a sympathetic and unbiased ear for them to express their anger, sadness and frustration.

Each intake I conduct is extremely different. The Commission has jurisdiction over education, housing and public accommodation cases. Therefore, each case I receive is unique and requires deep analysis and attention. It is safe to say that I am never bored at my job! A typical intake last about 2 hours, as it is my job to ensure that I receive all pertinent facts of the case. While the work is emotionally taxing, the relief I am able to provide is extremely rewarding. While I was expecting to learn about law and the ins and outs of government work, as an Intake Specialist I have become proficient at the important skill of successful customer service.

When I am not conducting intakes, I have been assigned certain cases to investigate. This is a tremendous responsibility and a unique opportunity to get first-hand experience working directly with other attorneys. My overall goals for the summer are to become a proficient Intake Specialist, as well as learn as much as I can about law and advocacy.

As a triple major in English Lit, Anthropology and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I have always been unsure of my career track, as I have many paths to choose from. These past few weeks at MCAD has focused my interests and influenced me to consider a career in law and advocacy. Working alongside law students and attorneys, and viewing their passion and commitment to eradicate discrimination has been an extremely inspiring and eye-opening experience.

As the summer progresses, I am looking forward to taking on more responsibility at the Commission and continuing to contribute to their social justice fight against discrimination.  Through a combination of hands-on learning and educational training sessions and lectures, I am confident that I will leave this internship with an abundance of new knowledge and skills that I can add to my educational toolbox.

Learn more about MCAD their mission and history.

Jessica Spierer ‘18

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

Starting at Umby

I am spending this summer in Chicago at a startup called Umby, which is a peer-to-peer microinsurance platform. Microinsurance is just like regular insurance, except that it targets at individuals living in poverty internationally, mostly making less than $4 USD a day. To address their needs, the premiums and coverage for this type of insurance are relatively low, but it provides an important safety net for families trying to escape the poverty cycle. Umby works by selling umbrellas to consumers, with the money then going to insure one family (of the consumer’s choice) for a full year.

The main social injustice that Umby is redressing is global poverty. In developing countries around the world, individuals are especially vulnerable to the financial hardships which affect all of us at one point or another: health problems, property damage, and the like. However, for someone who is making barely enough money to get by, these hardships can be absolutely devastating. Studies have shown that individuals facing these hardships will do things like selling off their assets, dipping into (quite small) savings accounts, and reducing their food consumption. The problem is that these short-term solutions actually reinforce poverty in the long run: without money-making assets like livestock, it can be difficult to pay for the next hardship; without building up savings, it can be impossible to do economically advantageous but expensive activities such as sending children to school; reducing food consumption to the point of malnourishment or undernourishment can result in long-term health problems that will cost more money later. This is where insurance comes in. If a family has the ability to use insurance to pay for these hardships, they no longer have to deplete their assets or savings, ultimately helping to break the poverty cycle in the best cases.

Further, according to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change is affecting the poorest countries in the world the most. Many forms of microinsurance help protect against the power of global climate change, including catastrophe insurance and many forms of livestock or crop insurance. This is another social justice issue: the wealthiest people in the wealthiest countries have the ability to ignore the effects of climate change, but those living in poor regions around the world do not have the infrastructure or the funds to recover from natural disasters.

I am specifically in charge of marketing for Umby. Umby will be officially launching at the end of the summer, so I am developing blog posts and social media strategies to ensure that people will hear of it and will be interested in donating or buying an umbrella themselves. Without the effective marketing efforts, we may not be able to provide microinsurance at all.

We are working inside of 1871, which is an incubator in downtown Chicago for startups, most of which are related to tech. This is a really cool environment to work in, as there are a ton of other young people working on a variety of new ideas, many of which are related to social justice. Most of 1871 is taken up by a huge, open workspace, where dozens of people sit on their laptops or talking to one another. It is a very artistic environment, with one side of the room taken up by this huge sculpture of downtown Chicago. There are also murals on the walls of the building done by local artists. It is definitely way cooler than your average office.

The sculpture at the front of 1871
Mark Mulhern’s “Anger/Fear of Retaliation” in the halls of 1871

By the end of the summer, the major event that will be happening is the official launching of the company. I hope by then I will have raised awareness on social media and provided some helpful blog posts that spark interest in the mission and work of Umby, and are entertaining and fun to read.

Lily Elderkin

Giving Flight to Hopes and Dreams

The WINGS logo and motto (which I handily borrowed for my blog title).

For the past month, after a rigorous 40-hour training session, I have been interning at WINGS, a not-for-profit domestic violence housing agency that provides critical relief to those who are victims of domestic violence. While WINGS primarily offers housing services, anyone can call the emergency hotline that WINGS offers 24/7 in conjunction with the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline. Over the phone WINGS volunteers, interns, and staff provide callers with emotional support, help develop a safety plan, give advice, offer appropriate referrals to other programs, and, if possible, complete a shelter intake. A shelter intake occurs if the three following criteria are met: one of the shelters has space, there was a recent inciting event that led to the victim fleeing the abuser, and the guest does not pose a major safety concern.

WINGS runs two emergency shelters: the Safe House in the Northwest suburbs of Cook County; and another in downtown Chicago known as WINGS Metro. These emergency shelters offer temporary housing for victims and their children. WINGS also offers transitional housing that survivors can qualify for where they are able to live in a shared home for up to two years, additional access to counseling services, and case management. Permanent housing is the final stage of housing support that WINGS offers, and provides survivors suffering from disabilities including PTSD with permanent housing. In conjunction with all the housing programs, WINGS offers community based services and extended services such as: back to school items, doctor visits, legal services, and a plethora of additional services.

As an intern at WINGS, my primary job is organizing and running a 3-day/week summer camp for children residing in the Safe House. A conscious approach is required when interacting with the children and parents. Every day the children begin the day discussing their feelings in conjunction with the Feelings Chart,

We use a similar but more comprehensive chart with the campers in order to discuss how we are all feeling and our expectations for the day.

and we take time to learn and apply various coping mechanisms and stress relief practices. At the end of each day interaction notes are written for each child in which their overall attitude and emotional state are cataloged for record-keeping.

The primary purpose of the summer camp is to provide children with a fun, welcoming, and loving environment (a concept that is foreign to many of them), while also providing parents with a respite that allows them to work on reaching their goals (finding a job, going to referred programs, applying for transitional housing, etc.) Providing these children with a safe environment is critical as it removes them from the cycle of violence which shows many domestic violence abusers have been abused themselves. In collaboration with the summer camp, children’s advocates work with the children to develop a safety plan, offer counseling, therapy, and other services. By the end of summer, I hope to have been able to impact these children in a positive manner by providing them with a safe, fun escape. As aforementioned, this internship requires a trauma-specific approach, and I hope to further develop my experience working with children using this specific approach.

Statistics, facts, and additional information about domestic violence can be found at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.

 

Nakeita Henry, 19

 

Todos Somos Esperanza: A Summer of Social Justice in San Antonio

I finished my summer internship at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center in San Antonio, Texas last Friday, August 19th. It was a (dare I say) fun and educational experience that taught me about San Antonio, myself, and social justice.

I met my learning goals in that I learned more about water justice and environmental issues in San Antonio. I especially learned how communities interact, shape, and benefit (or not) from the many aspects of “environment”—health, schools, safety, neighborhood cohesiveness, and gentrification, along with natural elements such as water and air quality. While I went in with a general context of my home city, I explored causes and effects of various environmental issues by working with people and policies.  This meant that I needed to do extra research, and push harder to keep informed about various topics like affordable housing rates, San Antonio’s history of ‘urban renewal’, impact fees, and more.

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Screencap of my presentation, 8/11/16.Video

I’m most proud of my growth in public speaking. I have always dreaded public speaking and I managed to avoid it for part of the summer, despite the encouragement from Esperanza’s director from the get-go. I avoided saying anything at the first few community meetings, including the one that I helped plan. Eventually, I had to start phone banking and reaching out to community members for events. Then, I had to prepare to speak about affordable housing and the SA Tomorrow Plan. I was nervous speaking both times in front of the Housing Commission and even more nervous my first time in front of the San Antonio City Council.  I ended with a presentation on impervious cover, something I believed needed to stay in the already weakened SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan. The director of the Esperanza told me that every time we speak to advocate for change, it is a gift to the community. I’d like to think that my voice along with those of other allies helped push for community and environmental justice in San Antonio.

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Staff and interns at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, Summer 2016.

I think my summer internship at the Esperanza Peace & Justice center helped affirm my interest in community organizing and social justice work. I enjoyed working in a collaborative community with other interns and with other staff members. The work reflected communities we were trying to serve (and that people were from). On a personal note, I learned intersections of my identity such as class, being Mexican-American/Tejana, and queerness. I also learned that community members must be included in social justice work and must be empowered to make change in affected communities; otherwise, those trying to advocate for change follow the same pattern of patronismo—saying that they are doing things for people’s “own good” without actually consulting those affected—as the current forces in power. I learned that while I like working well in a collaborative setting, I should structure my own time a little better.

My advice for someone seeking to work at the Esperanza is that flexibility is key. Oftentimes, Esperanza and our team of interns had to work with various people. Sometimes people would side on progressive issues, who usually would not; other times we watched presumably liberal city council representatives vote for more conservative measures. Dealing with community members often required all sorts of flexibility, like speaking Spanish or talking about another event that wasn’t originally on the phone banking script or trying to explain the concept of privilege. Time-wise, we would often have to drop or focus less on certain projects if other events came up, such as votes on an affordable housing bond or even building maintenance. Everyone had their own schedule but we would share what they were working on, either at staff meetings or debriefs with the intern supervisor.

Also, the nature of the Esperanza Peace & Justice (and hopefully other community/social justice organizations) is to acknowledge and fight against oppression from all angles. This means it was difficult to focus on a single issue—I was involved in “Queer Corazones” outreach, a gentrification event called “Take Back Our City, affordable housing meetings, phone banking for different cultural performances, along with my “primary” focus on SA Tomorrow. I went in thinking that I would focus on one issue, but I ended up with a taste of different types of experiences.

Overall, my summer at the Esperanza was an amazing one. I learned different skills that I can take with me on campus and beyond and hopefully I will be able to return next summer and for years to come.

Anastasia Christelles, ’18

Social Justice WOW Fellow

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 Summer of Hope: Thoughts on Working at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center

At the Esperanza, I enjoy not just working but living as a part of a community. Everything done here reflects the values of inclusion and community. One of the aspects of working at the Esperanza includes self-reliance. Since our community is predominantly working-class, many folks don’t have the privilege of paying someone for building maintenance. The interns spent a couple of weeks repainting walls after taking down an art exhibit. Everyone takes turn cleaning bathrooms or mopping before a performance, and we invite community members to help fold La Voz before mailing out the magazine.

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Photo courtesy of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center. I’m on the scaffold.

As far as outside of the workplace, I already knew that San Antonio is extremely economically segregated, but my time at the Esperanza reminded me how true that is. Early on, the director and other staff members took us to different parts of town—Eastside near the Hayes Street Bride and the near Westside—to learn the history and conditions of people living them. Developers have started targeting the Westside, a predominantly Mexican/Mexican-American working-class side of town. Many cities have been hit with gentrification and displacement and San Antonio is no different.

Working in the real world back at home feels like more of a relief than working in college. Although I have to drive nearly everywhere I go (welcome to Texas), I know where I am and can often navigate without the assistance of GPS. My internship feels like a full time job, considering I spend more than forty hours a week at the Esperanza. More importantly, I feel like the work I do affects people other than those that live in a campus bubble.

One significant change is my outlook on meetings. This summer, I’ve observed city council, comprehensive planning, and housing bond committees.

Photo from The Rivard Report. That's me in the hat.
Photo from The Rivard Report. That’s me in the hat.

Many meetings I’ve attended in college revolve around planning events or discussing long-term organizing strategies. The meetings I’ve sat at (or spoken at in some cases) affect the lives of the over one million people living in San Antonio. It amazes me that policy can be decided in a simple conference room. For example, I recently attended two meetings surrounding San Antonio’s affordable housing bond. This bond had the potential to provide affordable housing and emergency repairs to families. At the meeting—in which the committee had to make draft recommendations for affordable housing—members were surprised to learn that they could not pass most of the policies for legal reasons.

Much of the work for SA Tomorrow involved reading, research, and coming up with creative solutions. One of the other interns majored in urban planning and environmental policy, so while she already had background education around sustainability, I have to read extra to understand some proposals in the works. Hopefully this extra work will pay off when studying for my environmental studies minor.  I’m also learning to take the initiative on certain projects. One of the interns and I are spearheading a social media campaign talking about water in San Antonio. This will build my social media skills, which I can transfer to campus organizing.

Anastasia Christilles, ’18

Social Justice WOW Fellow

Internships can be another way to grow and learn

The alarm clock wakes me up around 7:30 a.m. The sun is already trying to sneak into my room. I do not think that El Paso has a much time living in the darkness. The scintillating sun does not leave until 9 p.m. and comes back sooner than it is expected.

After a shower, I put on some sunscreen, have a little snack, and grab my belongings, ready to go to work. I can walk daily from where I am staying to Cinco Puntos Press (CPP). Obviously, a routine has formed, however, it is a routine I very much enjoy. My supervisors, they described themselves as “hippies”—although, according to them, they were not the sort of hippies who would do drugs or used to go insane when they were young, back in the 60s. They usually order me that the first thing that I must do when I get to work is to grab a cup of coffee, so that I am wide awake, and I am happy to follow their orders.

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A regular day working at Cinco Puntos Press (CPP).

They have all appreciated my work and I have come to appreciate their hospitality and selfless guidance. As the days go by swiftly. I have done a little bit of everything. I have had the opportunity to proofread a Spanish translation of a successful sequel to a series of books that CPP has published for quite some time already, known as Maximilian. The third installment is titled, Maximilian and the Lucha Libre Club: A Bilingual Lucha Libre by Xavier Garza. It is a gleeful story about a young boy who happens to have an interesting, comic, yet dangerous family. They are all involved in the business of lucha libre (a term used in Mexico for a form of professional wrestling). The boy begins to train to become the next big thing, just like his uncle the Ángel Guardian (Guardian Angel). Although Max has still a long way to go, after all he is just a boy. However, he has two professional, expert trainers along him: his uncles. They are on the verge of retiring and Max’s family has commenced to seek and train the next big successor. It seems that lucha libre is intrinsically pumping through Max’s blood because he seems to be their man.

Furthermore, the truth is that I have enjoyed every book that I have read from CPP. I have given the privilege to attend the pitch meetings, in which the three editors (Mrs. Lee, Mr. John, and Mr. Bobby Byrd) choose the books they will like to publish the upcoming spring of 2017. They select a few options from the hundreds of submissions that CPP receives for consideration.

In fact, I had the chance of reading two stories that would, eventually, if chosen, become picture books. One I liked ; the other one I did not. I had to write a report, about 350 to 400 words on what I thought it works and what does not for each of the submissions that I read. Both stories were, of course, centered around diverse characters. An excerpt of my report from the submission I liked, “Lois Dreamed” by Kara Stewart:

[…] I think the metaphor of Lois’s yearning to become an acrobat has an element of universality. Any child that reads this story may replace Lois’s personal longings of becoming an acrobat with his/er own goals (i.e. becoming a doctor, astronaut, president, etc.). They will for sure understand that the color of their skin or gender or any other intersectionality, will not dictate what they ought to become. […] [D]espite the story being about an Indian, it undoubtedly has universal elements that would make of this book: a book for everyone.

Not only does CPP need my opinion on the book they publish, but I have also been collaborating on getting their books out there. One of such books, it is a book, titled, Photographs of My Father by Paul Spike. It is a great book, which I happen to have read as well—one of the perks of this job is that I get to read as many books as I want for free. The story about Rev. Robert Spike, who later became a civil rights activist and was mysteriously killed after finding out that the funding that was supposed to go to a federal Mississippi education program was in lieu going somewhere else–to fund the Vietnam War.

This book was published in 1973 and when it came out, it was reviewed by a lot of newspapers and publications, including The New York Times. Nevertheless, the book stopped printing, and what CPP decided was to re-print it again. The bad news is that not everyone is interested in reviewing a book that has already come out and reviewed. Therefore, my job has been reaching out to different outlets that could potentially be interested in selling, endorsing, or reviewing the book, and I have been successful at it. This task has allowed me to develop my marketing skills, which I did not really think I had.

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Working on the e-books.

I have also come to realize that close-reading skills are indeed transferable. In the current week, I have been compiling a spreadsheet list of all the contracts of rights that CCP has signed with different publishing and film companies over the world. Some contracts are one-time deal, while others are renewable, others have expired, and others are about to. I need to follow up on each and every single one of them. I need to make sure that CPP has received the payments from the companies on which the agreement has been settled. Also, I need to add the contracts’ expiration dates on Google calendar. In addition, I ought to reach out to the companies whose contract with CPP has expired, inquiring whether they would like to renew their contract or not.

Mr. John Byrd has also been introducing me to how to convert books into e-books, using InDesign. InDesign skills were skills that I used to possess, but throughout time, I have forgotten half of it. But, thankfully it is coming back, thanks to Mr. Byrd’s guidance. This is still a work in progress, notwithstanding, I look forward to telling you more about it as I keep trying.

My time at Cinco Puntos has allowed me to think about my future. I can definitely see myself doing this.

Best,

Santiago Montoya, ’19

Budding at Roots

Roots (also known as שורשים or جدور) is a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative aimed at building a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence, and transformation among Palestinians and Israelis through projects such as dialogue groups, photography workshops, interfaith exchanges, and children’s activities. Roots is based in the Gush Etzion/Bethlehem region, in the West Bank, on a plot of land that is owned by the Abu Awwad family and lovingly referred to as “the field.” Instead of a formal office space, the administrators of the organization, along with a network of volunteer activists, mostly work from their homes, while holding meetings and events at “the field.” This plot of land includes a room lined with beds, a small kitchen, an outdoor area with couches and plastic chairs, a greenhouse, and a freshly planted field with a small playground.

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Chairs set up for a dialogue group at Roots

Roots was founded on the basis of “dignity, trust and a mutual recognition and respect for both people’s historic belonging to the entire Land.” Their mission is to build a grassroots model for co-existence through non-violent means, believing that this can affect larger change in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This young organization has managed to reach nearly 13,000 people in their productive two years of existence.

The intern position at Roots is an informal role, so my schedule and tasks vary tremendously. As someone who is passionate about the work Roots is doing, but is not yet a member of either community, I see myself as a helping hand, assisting whomever I can however I can. For example, my first major task was to navigate Israeli bureaucracy in order to get twenty cameras out of customs for a women’s photography workshop Roots is running in a few weeks. While this was not a task I was expecting to undertake, it was definitely a learning experience nonetheless.

Aside from the cameras, I have been tasked with setting up a Facebook page for Roots’ international supporters, learning how to use Salesforce and enter donations data, organizing a meeting between an Israeli and a Palestinian who are each interested in running interfaith gatherings through Roots, helping with shopping for an interfaith iftar (break-fast during Ramadan), and other miscellaneous responsibilities.

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One of my goals for this summer is to gain insight into an Israeli/Palestinian non-profit, observing how grassroots peace organizations are built from the bottom-up. In the short time I have spent with the organization, I have already learned a great deal about the details and discussions that go on behind-the-scenes. Through my attendance at meetings of the leadership and the volunteer activists, I have already seen how much deliberation goes on about every decision – both regarding logistics and ideology.

Another goal that I have already begun to work on is my language skills. During meetings and events and just sitting around the field schmoozing, there is almost always a mix of English, Hebrew, and Arabic. I have sat through entire meetings in Hebrew, and while I don’t understand everything 100%, I am sure that my Hebrew is improving already. Additionally, I have begun to talk to Palestinians in Arabic and attempt to adjust to their dialect. While my Arabic is barely conversational, I have already received appreciation for trying to talk to others in their mother tongue.

I look forward to learning more, to doing more, and to becoming more inspired by these selfless individuals who care so much about their work every day.

Rivka (Rebecca) Cohen ’17

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

 

The Truth Will Set You Free: Interning at CIC

This summer, I will be interning at the Chicago Innocence Center in Chicago, IL. The Chicago Innocence Center (CIC) is a non-profit organization that uses an investigative journalism lens to find evidence towards exonerating wrongfully convicted prisoners. Unlike most Innocence Projects throughout the nation, CIC is not attached to a legal clinic or law school and instead sits at the intersection of law, journalism, and social work. Since 2011, this incredible organization has helped exonerate four wrongfully convicted individuals. Some of these individuals were in prison for thirty years or more. Some spent much of their time in prison in solitary confinement, which was detrimental to their psychological well-being. Many individuals experience police brutality leading to false confessions. Through CIC’s research, they are able to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system and find the truth in cases that have been ignored or lost in bureaucracy.

 

The CIC Office Building

CIC strongly believes in independence, diversity, and community engagement. Their team of summer and year-round interns come from colleges all over the country and represent diversity in race, gender, hometown, and academic concentration. As one of the summer interns, I am so lucky to work with six other college students from schools all over the country. On my first day, I met my fellow interns, who are truly an incredible group of young people interested in social justice and positive systemic change in the criminal justice system. I am really looking forward to working together with the interns to help CIC with its mission. While the main CIC office is located directly in the heart of downtown Chicago, my work as a research intern will take me all over the city. In addition to working at CIC headquarters, I will travel to libraries, prisons, archives, and courthouses.

While my research will take many forms, I am starting by introducing myself to criminal law through text. Right now, I am reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which discusses the mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States as well as The Death of Innocents by Sister Helen Prejean, which chronicles the Sister’s experience working with men on Death Row whom she believes to be innocent. These texts will give me an introduction to the flaws in our criminal justice system. Additionally, I am working on finding relevant events to attend that explore race, violence, the prison system, criminal and restorative justice, and community development. I look forward to networking with important leaders in the criminal justice reform community through attending workshops, speeches, and symposiums.

Taking the Train to Work

 

I am so excited to continue my work at the CIC in order to fulfill my goals for the summer. I hope to apply sociological theories I’ve learned in school to real-world situations, gain experience in both legal and social work strategies to determine if I want to pursue law or social work in post-baccalaureate studies, and develop a stronger personal confidence. I truly believe CIC will serve as a catalyst to help me achieve my goals and I am so honored and excited to continue to contribute to an amazing organization.

Starting at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center

This summer, I am working at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, located a bit north of downtown San Antonio. The Esperanza Center serves primarily the Westside of San Antonio, but also reaches out to other underrepresented and marginalized folks—women, people of color, queer people, the working class and those with low income. The most condensed way to explain what Esperanza actually does is arts programming and community organizing, but that includes a broad spectrum of activities. The Esperanza Center will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2017.

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Esperanza Peace & Justice Center (photo: A.Christilles)

Since there are only five full-time staff, interns take on various responsibilities. I am more involved in Esperanza’s environmental work, which consists primarily of reading and analyzing the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan and writing about the proposed Vista Ridge Pipeline. SA Tomorrow is a three-part future plan for the city. This week, my job has been to read and critique the Sustainability portion. Often, “sustainability” or “green” measures detrimentally affect low-income and marginalized people by raising prices and forcing people from their neighborhoods. Much of the critique I am doing revolves around implementation of the plan and gentrification. Representatives from Esperanza and the greater community will meet city officials to address these concerns while the draft undergoes finalization this summer.

I will also keep track of the Vista Ridge pipeline. The proposed pipeline will transfer water from Burleson County south to San Antonio. The pipeline poses different issues pertaining to privatizing water. The financial instability of the project, only recently addressed, and steep water rate hikes are the top of these concerns. The Esperanza Center and other organizations like Mi Agua Mi Vida Coalition have demonstrated against the pipeline’s construction.

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Proposed Vista Ridge Pipeline (image from the San Antonio Water Authority website)

With all of the other events going on at the Center, information about this deal has fallen to the wayside, so part of my job is keeping folks updated about this through La Voz, the Esperanza Center’s monthly publication.

I’m excited to be back home and interacting with the issues that first led me towards environmental justice. I have already seen firsthand how climate change affects my home, and I appreciate the opportunity to approach these issues from an intersectional perspective. Environmental destruction affects people on different axes, and the Esperanza Center takes this into account. I find it more productive to work in a place where I grew up and where have context. I also appreciate the opportunity to work off of a college campus. I hope pursue a career in grassroots activism and social justice work, and this would internship would grant me the opportunity to see how it works in the real world and not just a campus bubble. This internship will guide me in exploring parts of the city I’ve never seen before and hopefully inform me more about my Chicana culture as well.

Anastasia Christilles, ’18

Completion of Internship at AIDS Action Committee

During my eight weeks at AIDS Action Committee (AAC), I was able to learn and grow immensely from my interactions with coworkers and our clients. I am proud to say that at AAC I was able to meet all of my learning goals that I defined at the beginning of my internship. An academic goal that I had was to be able to use information that I had learned in my public health classes to further examine the health disparities that clients at AAC faced. Through the “Getting to Zero” training series that AAC facilitated, I was able to learn more about the root causes of HIV/AIDS not only through a scientific model, but also through a public health lens that focused on social, psychological, political, and economical perspectives of the disease.

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Artwork in AAC’s entrance lobby

A personal goal I had was to learn more about real estate and the housing market. Learning the housing search terminology and the procedures for obtaining property information was the most challenging, but also the most rewarding part of my internship. Towards the end of my internship, I worked on a draft for a “Housing Search Guide” that would be able to help guide future interns and employees in AAC’s housing program. Creating this guide was a rewarding experience because I had the chance to collaborate with my coworkers to create something that would benefit future AAC employees: people who all share the common goal of being social justice advocates for those living with HIV/AIDS. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to work in the housing department, as I was able to see first-hand how large the need is for access to safe and affordable housing and how acquiring this housing can drastically improve quality of life, especially for those who are sick.

Additionally, a career goal I had was to learn how to best educate and advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. Attending the “Getting to Zero” training and helping to facilitate housing search groups provided insight on some of the most pertinent needs of AAC’s clients. One video that I watched during the training was HIV: The Goal of Undetectable, which highlighted the mechanism of how HIV acts in the body and helped me better understand how HIV treatment works. The videos and brochures presented to us during trainings were informative, engaging, and simplified enough for people of various educational backgrounds to understand. For additional information on HIV/AIDS that I used as part of my trainings, click here.

Brochure from one of the "Getting to Zero" trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.
Brochure from one of the “Getting to Zero” trainings on Young Adults and HIV/AIDS.

Working at AAC helped me to clarify my career goals, as I was able to see a wide range of services that AAC provides. Though I worked at AAC’s Boston site, I had the chance to visit Youth on Fire, which is AAC’s program in Cambridge that helps homeless youth, and I also worked at AAC’s Cambridge site in Central Square, where I got to visit the Needle Exchange Program that focuses on harm reduction for intravenous drug users. By seeing such a wide range of services and being able to engage and relate to such diverse groups of people, I relieved that my interests in public health are indeed very broad. The one commonality between my experiences is that I learned that advocacy is a field that I am definitely interested in gaining more work experience in, and that I want to pursue further opportunities in HIV/AIDS and public health.

 

One bit of advice I would give to a student interested in interning at AAC is to take advantage of the wide range of services provided here and try to experience different parts of the organization even if they are outside of the department that you are working in. This was crucial for me, and as a result, I was able to network with a wider range of people who still shared so many common interests with me. Another piece of advice would be to keep an open mind. I had a few misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and harm reduction at the start of my internship and some of the educational outlets that AAC provided me with were able to shift my understanding of different concepts and allowed me to view topics such as HIV/AIDS treatment, sexuality and contraception, drug use, and other harm reduction topics in a new light. I encourage students interested in learning more about HIV/AIDS to use internships as an educational tool by and taking advantage of hands-on opportunities to learn from diverse groups of people.

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Picture in AIDS Action Committee hallway.

 

Ngobitak Ndiwane, ’16

AAC Half Way Point

It’s hard to believe that I am already at the half way mark of my internship experience with AIDS Action Committee (AAC). During these four weeks, I have had the opportunity to learn more about some of the barriers facing access to affordable housing. My position requires me to make calls to property managers and landlords to inquire about whether they have affordable housing units available for rent for people of low-income. After making the calls, I update AAC’s online database and hard-copy files so that our clients can have the most up to date information about the affordable housing options that are available when they start to fill out applications. Despite this seemingly simply routine, there are significant systematic barriers that block access to affordable housing for those who are poor.

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AIDS Action Committee is affiliated with Fenway Health in Boston. Photo taken from fenwayfocus.org.

The wait list for many affordable housing units are often over 2 years long and it is very rare to find a complex that does not have a wait list. Despite how overwhelmingly difficult it is to find affordable housing, many property managers discriminate against poorer individuals seeking housing. Though many luxury apartment complexes have affordable units available, this type of housing is often times not listed on their websites or other advertisements due to stigma. Working at AAC has enlightened me on a wide range of social inequalities and health disparities and has made me want to become a better advocate for those who are sick and living in poverty.

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First floor of AAC.

At AAC, they are currently holding a bi-weekly training workshop series called “Getting to Zero”, in which staff members are trained on different topics related to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment so that we can learn how to better advocate for our clients. After attending one of these meetings, I was able to gain knowledge on how to help people living with HIV/AIDS stick to their treatment plans and learn about some alternative treatment methods if people are not responding well to their medication or forgetting to take their medication. Though my main work at AAC is not in direct service to people living with HIV/AIDS, the training was extremely informative and allowed me to gain better insight on AAC’s mission. I am looking forward to attending more “Getting to Zero” meetings and I am especially excited to view the HIV/AIDS advocacy documentary “How To Survive A Plague” in one of our upcoming trainings.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit Youth on Fire, a program of AAC located in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA that serves as a drop-in center for homeless and street-involved youth ages 14-24. Youth on Fire aims to respond to the basic and urgent needs of homeless young adults at the highest risk of communicable diseases and victimization. It was a rewarding experience to get to connect with the youth there and just hang out and get to know them better. At AAC I have gotten to interact with a demographic of people that is definitely different from what I would encounter in a typical college academic environment. I am hopeful that I will take the advocacy skills I learn at AAC with me back to campus and use them in the future as a public health provider.

-Ngobitak Ndiwane ’16

My First Week at UFE, United for a Fair Economy

This summer, I am the development intern at United for a Fair Economy (UFE). UFE is based in Boston, MA. Its mission is to challenge the concentration of wealth and power in the United States. UFE works to close the wage gap, advocating for jobs with living wages, progressive taxes, and a government that works for the common good. In addition, much of UFE’s work promotes equal opportunity for people who have been marginalized in our society for reasons including race, class, gender, and national origin. Projects include popular economics trainings, collaboration with other organizations to support grassroots campaigns for tax fairness, and materials to bring attention to important issues. UFE’s website is in both English and Spanish, as is all of the materials it produces and the events it hosts. UFE maintains that democracy must embody these components of equality.

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As the development intern, I assist with fundraising and donor communications. My responsibilities include research, donor appeals, and informational material preparation. By helping to raise money, I will contribute to UFE’s important mission. I found out about this internship through Brandeis University’s community service department. UFE partners with the Hiatt Career Center at Brandeis to hire one intern each summer as part of the social justice WOW program.

Overall, I enjoyed my first week at UFE. I learned a lot about what the organization and each branch does. I read previous intern’s projects and talked to the staff. I also began forming relationships with staff and board members. Everyone involved is very committed to their work and UFE’s mission as a whole. Their dedication is exciting and I look forward to working with and learning from all of them.  One of UFE’s most striking resources is, “11 Things the Wealthiest Americans Can Buy for the U.S.”.

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Also this week, I completed my first project, an information and statistics sheet to be handed out at UFE’s board meeting. In doing this, I learned how to use the database in which UFE stores all information about donors and communications. I used the information in this database and Excel spreadsheets to assemble statistics on UFE’s individual giving and online giving over the past few years. I then researched data on philanthropy in the United States, and created a summary for the board.

In my time at UFE, I hope to gain professional, non-profit experience. I would like to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at a non-profit organization, or small organization in general. This being my first internship, I would also like to gain experience with the skills required to be successful in the real world, like time management, organization, and communication skills. In addition, I hope to apply what I have learned in school, including an understanding of economics and writing skills. Also, I want to utilize other more abstract strengths I have honed in school, including hard work, dedication, and a desire to learn. Lastly, I hope to develop relationships with my coworkers at UFE. This internship is an opportunity to meet some amazing people and  I am excited to learn and grow this summer in this position.

– Rebecca Epstein ’18

My First Week at the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center

My First Week in Indianapolis has already come to an end. Last Friday, after a three day organizing training with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) in Chicago I arrived at my work site in Indianapolis. Here I am working with one of IWJ’s affiliate organizations, the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center (IWJC). This week was an exciting one, not just for me, but also for IWJC as an organization. IWJC was established about a year ago, and this week they were officially approved for a 501c3, as an affiliate for IWJ.  They also learned that they received their first grant this week as well. As a new member of the team, I could really feel the excitement that brought.

The IWJC is a non-profit organization working to help low-wage workers come together to organize as well as provide them with resources and trainings such as “Know Your Rights at Work.” They are working on campaigns with taxi drivers and 1099 misclassification, including work against wage theft and much more. So far IWJC has been running solely on volunteer work, they are therefore not able to hold regular walk-in hours for them to advise people but that is hopefully going to change soon.

My tasks include reaching out to the community to let more people know about the center. I will also be helping with the campaign to organize taxi drivers who are meeting at the IWJC. Further I am helping to advertise for our Fourth of July Justice Jam event. My work will impact the organization because it will hopefully help it grow. By letting more people and organizations know about the work that IWJC is doing and the services they are offering they will be able to assist more people. By reaching out to other community centers, we also want to create a local referral list for people who come to us with issues that do not fall into the areas of work that IWJC focuses on.

My goals for this summer are to develop organizing skills. I have already been able to learn more theory during the IWJ intern training and am now starting to put it into action. One of the most important things is to build relationships, which I will hopefully start doing soon. I also hope to gain a better understanding of specific workers rights’ issues and how to fight them. I have also already been able to learn more, for example about the problems taxi drivers face in Indianapolis.

Taxi Drivers meeting at IWJC
Taxi Drivers meeting at IWJC

As a sociology major, this internship directly relates to my studies of inequality, social movements in the United States. Being a part of an actual movement will help me understand the work that goes into these changes and it will let me understand how the theory is put into practice. My career and academic goals are very closely related to my personal goals because I wish to work towards a more just and equal society. I believe that this internship will help me see inequality fist hand and help me act against it.

– Tamar Lyssy ’16

Final Words with ABC

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

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

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

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

– Alex Hall ’15

Midpoint reflections at ABC

As the mid point of my internship is here I cannot believe how fast the time has gone. Looking back on my goals outlined in my application for the WOW Grant it is amazing to see how this internship has allowed me to reach my goals and inspired new ones for the next half of the summer. I hoped to expand my knowledge on housing and education inequality in New York City and I most certainly have done that. I have, and continue to, reach my goal to understand how policies created by the mayor and New York Government effect people on a day to day basis. I have also been able to accomplish learning about social work degrees and grad school options through conversations I have had with my co-workers. I can tell I have learned a lot on the issues at hand because in the first couple of weeks at work I would have to research a lot of the resources discussed daily between social workers and now I can participate and even suggest using certain tools in my discussions with the social workers based on research I have already done.  I have learned exactly how much the NYC system creates a sometimes tedious process for many families to receive the needs they request due to the piles of paperwork I have helped them fill out simply to receive benefits and home services. I have also become much quicker at navigating the New York City government resources website and compiled resources for the social workers to use in a Resource Guide on our shared hard drive in the office.

 

Example of a resource tool for our clients on staying safe from the Family Justice Center flyers
Example of a resource tool for our clients on staying safe from the Family Justice Center flyers

I am most proud of my idea for ABC to become partners with corporations to receive donations of goods our families need. One of the things many New Yorkers take for granted in the hot summer is the fact that when they go home they get to be in the AC. Many of our clients live without AC in small apartments, over crowded with many family members. Another large donation request we have is for baby items, leading me to do research on baby stores the generate donations from overstock or returned goods. We will hopefully become partners with corporations before my time at ABC is over so that I can personally handle the paperwork and applications needed to go forward with this proposal. I am most proud of this research project because I feel it is something that will last after I have to leave, and could be a long term solution to many of our clients requests. For example, the organization Good360 creates year long contracts between NGOs and the providers.

I am building skills to conduct quick research and find contact information that is normally hidden on websites in order to contact people personally when trying to access information for a client. This is a good tool to have in future jobs as finding personal contacts when dealing with large organizations is often a tricky task. I have also become extremely self aware of my limits on how much trauma I can listen to in one day, and also of practicing self care – a very useful tool in social work and humanitarian aid jobs. Balancing aiding others while taking care of one’s own mental and physical state is a vital skill.  I now know how I affected I can be by secondhand trauma stories and how not to get overly emotionally attached to clients, while caring for them at the same time. Through the research I am doing on corporate partnerships, I am also learning how to write grant applications – a skill I know I will need in future jobs and on my own grad school applications. Overall I feel like everything I have done from research to self-learning will aid me in the future as I have learned a lot about myself through this internship and the kind of work I am / am not interested in pursuing.

 

The colorful school hallways on the lower floors of the building are lovely to walk through when stressed at work!
The colorful school hallways on the lower floors of the building are lovely to walk through when stressed at work!

– Alex Hall

At the midpoint with LFC

Wow, I cannot believe that half of my time at Lawyers for Children has flown by already! It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was so nervous to begin a new journey at my internship. I am proud to say that I am now in a place where I have gained more knowledge than I ever could have imagined, and feel as if I have been working with LFC for ages! It feels wonderful to be doing work where I feel like I can make a difference for others.

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This is the intern conference room, where we sit each day. Look at some of my fellow interns, working so hard!

Before the summer began, I originally stated that my major goal for this process was to use this opportunity to gain insight into my future and really grow as an individual. I believe that this internship is so valuable to me in both academic and career aspects because I am able to learn about what it takes to be a social worker, as well as the more specific topic of how to work within the foster care system. At Brandeis, I am a psychology major hoping to continue on to graduate school after my senior year. However, this can seem daunting because there are so many different options and careers that can come from studying psychology. Do I want to work in human resources? Get a Masters’ degree in social work? Further my education even more for an advanced degree in psychology? Oftentimes it is difficult for those of us studying psychology to get a hands-on experience in the field. I am so fortunate that I am able to get an inside look at the life of a social worker this summer, and I can honestly say it is something I am really considering for my future. Before this summer, I did not have a great understanding of what a social worker actually did. But through working with my supervisor at LFC, I am learning the daily routines of a social worker and am able to picture myself in this position. I am even able to “pick her brain” and find out where she went to school or what courses she recommends in order to further pursue this career.

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One of the many playrooms at LFC, where interviews with clients are held. This particular room also includes a Baby Boutique where our young parenting clients can pick out clothes, books, and other necessities to bring home to their own children.

On an individual level, I am so grateful for and humbled by this experience because I truly feel that every day brings about new challenges for me. The New York City Foster Care System is extremely tough to learn about and work with…and working with these youths each day is something that I have never experienced before. It is so difficult to see kids, who are about my age, struggling to make ends meet or keep their spirits high. But each day I know that I am learning something new and gaining exposure to situations that I could only dream of seeing first hand. More than that, I know I am forming relationships with my clients and can be there for them as a much needed support system. It feels absolutely amazing when I find out that one client has finally passed her GED exam and we are the first call that she makes to celebrate; or when another client has been granted access to her own apartment and wants us to stop by so she can “show it off”. Each time that I speak with a client, not only does it feel great to actually know the specifics of what they are talking about (housing applications, insurance policies, etc.) and see that I am learning factually, but also to know I am making a difference in their lives and helping to improve their situations. I will forever use these skills, especially as I hope to progress into a social work career. I have learned what it takes to create interpersonal relationships and be a professional in this field, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me.

 

My week at Lawyers for Children

This summer, I am so fortunate to be working as a social work intern with the non-profit advocacy organization Lawyers for Children. Lawyers for Children, or LFC as everyone likes to call it, consists of attorneys and social workers that provide free representation and services to children of New York City who have been either voluntarily placed in foster care, or are involved in cases of abuse, neglect, adoption, or high conflict custody cases.

LawyersForChildren

As an intern, I work under the supervision of my assigned social worker, and I am able to be involved in her cases first hand. This includes reading the cases and writing up case notes, visiting the youth’s foster home or group placement, sitting in on client interviews, and attending court for our youths when necessary. Along with about 20 other legal and social work interns, I also am able to participate in training throughout the summer. This allows the interns to not only learn more about what LFC as an organization seeks to accomplish for the youths, but also take a deeper look into the New York City child welfare system itself and the exact situations that we are fighting for for our clients.

Though I’m sure most people feel this way on their first day, I was incredibly nervous as I was making my way to the offices. However, I was calmed as I walked through the doors and saw crafts and paintings all over the walls created by the LFC clients. Not only that, but the working environment itself was so friendly and all of the employees were beyond welcoming. All of the interns sit together in our own conference room/office space, so we have really been able to get to know each other. There are even a few Brandeis alums in the office which helped to make for an easy transition. It was incredible to me how comfortable I felt at this internship so quickly. Within the first week I, along with the other interns, were really able to hit the ground running and be completely immersed in the organization. I sat in on and observed 4 court cases in Manhattan’s Family Court for a few of our clients. During this time, I sat with my assigned social worker as she interviewed our clients to find out more about their wishes and goals moving forward in their foster care placement cases, and we then relayed this information to the lawyers representing each case. I also was able to visit a mother-child foster care placement home, where all of the residents are aged 16-21 women in the system who have children of their own.

New York Family Court

This summer, I’m hoping to learn more about the inner-workings of the New York City foster care system. I am so looking forward to assisting this organization and advocating for our clients to the best of my abilities. Because this is such a hands-on experience, I am excited to learn what it really takes to be a social worker and hopefully determine what path I may follow in the future.

 

We Start with ABC

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

ABC

ABC

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

– Alex Hall

Centro Presente: Last Blog

This past Saturday was my last day at Centro Presente. These nine weeks went by so fast, I remember my first day like it was yesterday!!!!. As an intern in the Legal department, some of my responsibilities were to organize events to inform the immigrant community about the current issues that affect the community as well as to organize educational training on basic rights for undocumented immigrants. As time passed, I helped with administrative responsibilities such as doing translations of documents and assisting people when they came in into the office to receive assistance. With these responsibilities, I have the opportunity to gain knowledge in Latino immigrant community as well as how to organize events which I did not have any experience before. I learned that it takes a lot of time to prepare an event but it feels great when I see the outcomes at the end.

 

During my time at Centro, I also joined some of the protests that the Worker Rights Organizer from Centro Present, who along with allies of Centro organized pickets outside of restaurants that belong to employers who did not pay their workers what they worked for.  I am very happy that Centro is helping these workers to get the money that they have earned with their hard work.  I am very sad to know that these kinds of things happen in a country like United States where there are so many laws that protect workers. I think it may be because employers take advantages of employees that they may think that do not know their rights, thank god for organization like Centro that are paying attention to these cases and are doing their best to help workers against exploitation

 

 

 

As I finished my internship, I want to learn more about the issues that many immigrants are facing in the United States. I feel that my summer experience was only a glimpse of what the issues that many immigrants are facing in this country. I would like to gain more knowledge and be able to help more those whom I am able to help.

For students interest in an internship with my host organization, I advice them to get ready to learn a lot about the different issues that immigrants face in the United States. Be ready to meet different people as the Latino community is composed of many different people which make the experience even more worth experiencing.

As I return to Brandeis, I plan to join the Brandeis Immigrant Education Initiative, a recently created student-organized to create awareness on Brandeis campus about current immigration issues. I want to share my summer experience with my fellow-Brandeis people and give my ideas so that we can create more awareness and help the immigrant communities to fight for their rights. During this internship, I realized that there are a lot of injustices in this world and a lot has to be done to live in a more just place. I learned about the issues in many different perspective which made me realized that we need to work to get social justice.

– Ivonne Moreno ’13

 

Saying Goodbye to SJDS

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

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

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

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

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

– Abigail Simon ’14

Leaving South Africa

The summer is coming to an end, and I find myself back at home in the US after having completed an amazing experience interning at the art therapy center in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Having completed my internship, I now realize the immense growth that has come along with it. I arrived in South Africa alone, without knowing anyone, and I left with friends, new ideas, and a new culture. The time I spent there seems completely unreal. I alone was in charge of organizing and executing the Holiday Programme. I prepared all the logistics in advance and during the program made sure everything ran smoothly. I then wrote a report that I presented to my supervisor, the director of the organization, which will be sent to all the funders who supported this program. Throughout the duration of it, I was also privileged to see great facilitators at work with a group of mixed adolescents from all over the city.  Some were HIV+, others were orphans, and the rest were living in a condemned building. Seeing these children and the energy they bring, makes you question how and why so many of them have been abused.

Sketch of Mural
Mural painted with the adolescents on the third week of the Holiday Programme

My goals were to learn about art therapy and the ways it can be applied. By watching different counselors and observing several ranges of age groups, I did just that. I also wanted to figure out if this could be a potential career choice and I now realize how much more I connect to art therapy as opposed to art education. Working with these specific children going through such difficult circumstances makes me realize how much work still needs to be done to improve their lives. Two months of work, is not nearly enough to transform their whole living environment, which is what I most want to do for these groups. It made it difficult to come back, knowing that the work with these groups is only beginning, and I still want to be a part of it. As I look to my course schedule, I will have to factor in more psychology courses in order to be better prepared to enter into an art therapy masters program. I want to learn more about art therapy, in order to be as skilled as the facilitators with whom I worked, and come back to Lefika with a degree and be able to lead my own groups.

To a student interested in an internship at Lefika, I have several suggestions. Before coming, be sure to research more about art therapy and the different approaches to it. Almost all of the past interns have come with a masters degree in art therapy, which means that the directors are used to being able to hand over entire projects to interns and have them manage them. This was one of the hardest aspects for me because of the immense responsibility with little supervision. Another suggestion is to try to organize your trip around one of training workshops the center runs and the Holiday Programme. The workshop gave me an introduction to how art therapy is done at Lefika, which prepared me for working with the actual groups; and the Holiday Programme has groups running from 8 AM to 3 PM every day versus regular school sessions of only a few hours of therapy groups each week.

Traveling through Johannesburg is in itself another mission- there is no safe or reliable public transportation and distances in the city are quite far from each other. I managed to get around by making good friends who would pick me up, an amazing host family who really welcomed me, and occasionally calling taxis. You can rent a car, but driving is on the other side of the road and some areas are dangerous to even pass through.

All in all, however, my time spent interning at Lefika La Phodiso and living in Johannesburg were completely unbelievable and unforgettable! I learned so much and am so thankful to have been given such an amazing opportunity! If you have any more questions feel free to ask!!

– Nicole Bortnik ’14

Learning to Teach: Midway point at the SJDS Biblioteca

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

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

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

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

Helping a student in the intermediate class

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Commission Update

The interns from the commission come from all kinds of backgrounds, some are local Rhode Islanders but there are quite a few out of staters or local students some in undergrad RI schools, and Law students. Everyone is very friendly and motivated to work.

My first few weeks were difficult, I had some struggles with my workload at the commission. There seems to be a high expectation of self sufficiency that I had conflicts with, for example Interns are responsible for reviewing cases of discrimination that are filed with the commission as they progress or reach a conclusion. This means that I can either receive a fresh new case that needs investigation or a case that has been going on for years and requires final review for closure. Whatever the case may be along the way interns are responsible for finding out what is missing in order to progress in the case and sending out those requests for information to all parties involved. We write our correspondence using few templates that are saved on USB drives and the rest comes through comes as you go through asking questions and getting exposure to legal language in your interactions with other investigators at the commission.

 

Interns also get access to what are called PDC’s, which refer to pre-determination conferences. PDC’s occur when an investigator is having difficulty reaching a recommendation as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence suggesting the legitimacy of the claims that the complainant alleges. All parties involved are invited to attend a hearing in which they can explain both sides of the story and it is the only time we get to meet the people involved in each case. I really enjoy the PDC’s because it brings each case to life and makes your work feel more validating. At the end of the PDC the commissioner usually stays for a few more minutes to give the interns law advice, for those who might be thinking of attending law school after college. There are about 10 commissioners appointed and so far I’ve met about 7. I find it interesting that some of the results of our involvement in these cases as interns will most likely never reach us seeing as they will outlive our internship stay.

 

The work can be very intimidating at first, but I noticed that the long work days provide interns with lots of practice and soon one gets used to the workload. It’s very reassuring when it comes to thinking of future work experience. For now it’s got me thinking of law school, since the majority of interns at the commission are currently enrolled in law programs.  Here’s a link to the commission website 

here’s also a link about attorney Cordona, an appointed commissioner who advised us about law school.

Midpoint Evaluation at Family Violence Law Center

Working with Family Violence Law Center has certainly been a tremendous experience thus far. Not only have I had the opportunity to learn about California Family Law, but this kind of work inherently includes a constant reminder for personal reflection. When working with individuals in crisis, it is imperative that one puts aside one’s own personal biases or primary reactions. If a client says their partner is physically abusive but they do not want to leave the house they share, it is not my job to tell them that they’re wrong, but rather to safety plan and meet them where they are emotionally. I can offer to help them find a domestic violence shelter or a program that will help them financially to relocate, but ultimately their subsequent actions are solely their decisions. This can be frustrating, but it also fuels a fascinating internal dialogue that I have noticed emerge not only in myself but also in my coworkers: that which we say aloud and that which we wish we could say. Occasionally the two diverge when a client decides to take part of one of our services (restraining orders, counseling).
Answering crisis calls!
My position entails taking them through these first steps towards recovery, by removing the client from contact with their abuser (e.g., restraining orders). In my learning goals, I had included a wish to challenge myself, which I have certainly found here. Each client provides a different unique challenge, with each challenge posing a new entanglement that keeps everyone on their toes. I can see my own growth by virtue of how others in my office treat me. My supervisor has been increasing my workload; other co-workers let me answer the crisis hotline without supervision; they have begun to give me new volunteers to train, who shadow me on the hotline or when doing legal screenings (intakes).
One of our past clients sells tacos to the entire office building every Wednesday. She’s lovely and a wonderful chef!
My coworker/professor of the hotline arts Becki, enjoying tacos!
I am most proud that I can actively feel myself learning how better to help others in traumatic situations. In the past month, I have begun to rely less on advice of other advocates in the office because I am able to problem-solve given the facts available. Clearly I still have a lot to learn, but it’s exciting to be in this relatively fast-paced environment of California family law and I am excited for the opportunity to continue growing in this field.
Ashley Lynette, ’13

Tweeting for Social Change: My First Weeks at American Jewish World Service

I remember first hearing about American Jewish World Service (AJWS) when I was fourteen years old and participating in a philanthropy project at my local Jewish Community Center. The organization’s mission and the way it uses Jewish values to inspire Jewish communities to help marginalized people across the globe deeply resonated with me. As I aged and discovered my passion for human rights work and international development, I never forgot about one of the first organizations to inspire me. Therefore, I truly see it as a privilege to be an intern in American Jewish World Service’s communications department this summer.

AJWS’s mission is: “Inspired by Judaism’s commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.”  Through service projects, educational programs, advocacy, and grants to grassroots partners in the developing world, AJWS works to empower marginalized peoples across the globe and pursue justice.

On the opening day of the Rio +20 conference, 300 indigenous people occupied the dam to spell “Pare Belo Monte,” meaning “Stop Belo Monte”. The Belo Monte Dam, which will be the third biggest in the world, will flood their homelands and destroy wildlife. By posting this on Facebook, I help share their work.

I am fortunate to not only be a WOW intern but to have gotten my internship directly through Hiatt. AJWS partners with Brandeis every year to offer placement for one WOW intern. This year, it was me! I wanted to apply for an internship with AJWS for a while and was thrilled to learn that there was an expedited process for Brandeis students. It’s an amazing opportunity!

AJWS has fourteen total interns this summer. I am the lone intern in the communications department. My responsibilities include content development for the blog, social media work, media monitoring, and video making. Although I am not directly furthering AJWS’ mission, I hope that through the writing and social media work I do this summer I can leave even a small contribution to an incredible cause.

These sunflower seeds were delivered to Capitol Hill and the White House to represent the 18,000 people who signed the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill. During the delivery, I shared our success through social media.

I see this internship as a unique opportunity to combine my academic passions – global human rights and peace-building – with the writing and social media skills I gained through my extracurricular work. I hope to improve my writing skills, and particularly want to learn how to craft my tone for different audiences. In addition, I am eager to learn about effective outreach and audience retention. I also hope to see how the different components of nonprofit work interact in order to help a larger cause. I am most nervous about working from nine to five and sitting behind a desk all day.  I am excited to experience working in a nonprofit, particularly since it will allow me to discover if this is a good route for me when I graduate Brandeis next spring.

After my first two weeks, I still am growing into my role in the communications department and establishing a routine. I spend the bulk of my day managing the Facebook page, generating content, and researching articles on current events related to AJWS’ work. Unlike other college students, when on Facebook or Twitter, I am not procrastinating, but doing my job! The most meaningful project I have worked on so far was interviewing and recording an event with a leader of one of AJWS’ partners in India. His stories were incredibly moving and displayed the profound struggles, beauty, and potential in India.

Often times, when I am compiling spreadsheets and writing Facebook statues or tweets, it is hard to remember the “why” behind my daily tasks and feel motivated by my work. However, after hearing from about our partner in India’s work firsthand and realizing that I can use my voice to share his stories, I remembered why what I do is of value and how it contributes to the bigger picture. As my internship continues, I aspire to remember to always work with intention and complete awareness of my global partners in the universal struggle for justice.

– Erica Shaps ’13

No Equity without Solidarity

“I’m glad you made it on time, Sarah!”

“Absolutely! I am really excited to be here.”

I had been nervously waiting with ice coffee in hand at the non-profit Partners in Health (PIH) lobby for a few minutes, waiting for my site-supervisor to walk through the front door of the main office entrance. While I had read much about PIH in books, watched videos online, and discussed the organization’s global impact with friends, I had never quite made it past the lobby of their central Boston office. I knew that once I saw my site-supervisor cross the threshold of the office entrance, I would begin engaging with the domestic epicenter of this vastly global organization.

“Fantastic that you made your way up here. But we’re actually about to head right out. I have a bit of a wild goose chase for us…”

May 24th was my first full day working with PIH, but I ended up spending no more than twenty minutes beyond the lobby of the non-profit I had long looked up to. While I had anticipated my first day to be limited to small steps like acclimating to my desk area, a lot of handshakes, and a swirling array of new faces and names to learn, my first day ended up being a more proper introduction to PIH and my summer internship.

PIH is a health-oriented non-profit that is based in Boston but delivers its impact to 13 countries; Haiti, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Kazakhstan, Burundi, Guatemala, Liberia, Mali, Nepal, and domestically within the Boston-metro area. An organization that operates with a mission that is both medical and moral, the PIH approach is one based in solidarity rather than charity alone. Founded in 1987 by Dr. Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, and Dr. Jin Yong Kim, the non-profit entity was a logical second step from Dr. Farmer’s extraordinary healthcare projects in rural Haiti.

Children in rural Malawi make PIH’s primary logo with their hands. 

“We’re heading out to IBM’s headquarters for the day,” my site-supervisor tells me while we wait for the T to come to a full stop. “They’re hosting a Volunteer Festival for the employees, you know, so they can learn more about different opportunities that they can be a part of in the Boston area. PIH hosts volunteer nights once a month that IBM can help out with.” The train doors open as Boston University students and non-profit workers pour from all of the doors. “So Sarah,” my supervisor turns to me as we push our way onto the train, “how would you explain PIH to someone?”

A lot of people have learned about Dr. Farmer and PIH through a book called Mountains Beyond Mountains. It is an up-close biography following Dr. Farmer through many years and many countries; the author, Tracy Kidder, justifies the subheading of his book as “The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World.” Kidder’s book was my first introduction to PIH as well, though it was not my first taste of the growing field of global health. Since high school, I had been passionate about healthcare access in marginalized communities, particularly women’s healthcare. I had decided upon entering Brandeis that my education and future career goals would be oriented towards empowering my global community to seek and achieve a better form of healthcare. And, when I read the snippets of Dr. Farmer’s life characterized in Mountains Beyond Mountains, I felt solidarity in his dedication as he climbed the steep and rocky foothills of rural Haiti to reach remote patients that sought healthcare.

The picture above shows Dr. Farmer with a young patient in Haiti. While PIH’s work spans thirteen countries, the largest efforts have been based in Haiti. 

In February, I organized a panel for ‘DEISImpact!; a week-long celebration of social justice at Brandeis, both on and off campus. My panel was called “Idealism and the Undergrad: Student Involvement and its Effectiveness on Global Health Initiatives.” I gathered an American student studying global development and a Burmese student who was both a doctor and public health specialist in her home country, both of whom study at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Dr. Tschampl, the Health, Science, Society, Policy (HSSP) Internship Instructor and the Boston Global Group Leader for RESULTS, and my site-supervisor, the Community Engagement Coordinator at PIH. My goal in hosting this panel was to address my question of possible value and harm that could come from hopeful and idealistic undergraduates engaging with international clinics. How can undergraduates be a part of a sustainable healthcare movement without adequate training, experience, or education? Through ongoing dialogue after this panel with my site-supervisor, I was able to secure my current internship at PIH.

I am currently collaborating with several PIH employees and volunteers to create a project which will increase domestic knowledge about PIH. While the program has yet to launch, my role is to design various components of this program as it will be piloted to numerous communities in the United States.

“Partners in Health? So what do you guys do?”

Not many of the IBM workers at the Volunteer Festival had heard of PIH. But as more people came to our table, my site-supervisor and I shared stories of the wonderful work that PIH does with each of them. Not all of them signed up for a volunteer shift, but more than a few did. I think a lot of the reason why so many people signed up for the PIH volunteer night was not because the volunteer work particularly struck them. Rather, it was the idea that they would be joining a movement that tackling a Goliath issue — providing sustainable and equitable healthcare to impoverished communities around the world — an immense problem at which Dr. Farmer and his many supporters chip away day by day.

I am not the only person to have been moved after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains or heard people talk about PIH. Far from it. The office is filled with many young and brilliant workers working on a range of projects under the umbrella that is PIH. It’s this impactful and visible work that drive so many students, doctors, and local community members want to become a part of PIH. This summer, I hope to learn what my role, both as an undergraduate and as a hopeful doctor a few years down the line, could be in such a great movement.

 “No data in the world, no good vaccine, no potent medicine will get to the poorest of the poor without you. There will be no equity without solidarity. There will be no justice without a social movement.”

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Chief Medical Officer, Partners in Health

 

 A village healthcare worker takes notes on a patient in rural Haiti. 

 

For more on Partners in Health and Paul Farmer, see below:

The Good Doctor,” an article profiling Dr. Farmer by Tracy Kidder (author of “Mountains Beyond Mountains”)

Realigning Health with Care,” an article co-authored by Dr. Farmer.

Mountains Beyond Mountains,” the detailed biography on Dr. Farmer and PIH by Tracy Kidder.

– Sarah Van Buren ’13