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!

In the Air

Holy Rosary Cemetery and Union Carbide Complex, Taft, Louisiana, 1998 by Richard Misrach

Getting to see from the inside how a documentary film is created has been an invaluable experience for me. In the past, from the perspective of a viewer, I had no idea about the extensive thought and planning that is put into every minute detail.

But that amount of work is necessary—it’s vital to making something that’s good, that stays true and authentic to the story and portrays it in a way that is meaningful and lasting.

As I’ve detailed in my previous posts, the situation on the Gulf Coast is dire. Countless vulnerable communities are being threatened by an encroaching petrochemical industry and a government unwilling to protect its citizens.

Cypress Tree, Alligator Bayou, 1998 by Richard Misrach

This is a beautiful, fragile region of our nation, a place that has witnessed firsthand some of the most tumultuous moments of United States history. And, too, it is often forgotten and exploited; its delicate ecosystem is on the verge of collapse. As climate change accelerates, the Gulf Coast is one of the first regions that’s being impacted—and it’s dramatic: Louisiana is losing approximately a football field of coastal wetlands every hour.

Remarkable people live here, too, struggling to lead normal lives as plants continue to spew toxic chemicals into their air and water. I’ve already detailed the tragedy of Mossville, Louisiana, a majority African American community founded by runaway slaves that’s disintegrating because of aggressive petrochemical industry expansion.

And then there’s Africatown, Alabama, and Reserve, Louisiana, and the East End in Houston, among many others.

The resilience of these communities is extraordinary, but the bigger picture can be very discouraging. Communities of color are being systematically targeted and exploited by a ravenous petrochemical industry and complicit governments, and precious little is being done about it.

This is where I believe there becomes an urgent need to tell these stories, to put faces to the facts and figures of the suffering, to broadcast the human beings that live in these communities.

For me, this is why my time this summer at Fiege Films has been so rewarding and engaging. In doing my (admittedly small) part as a Research Assistant here, I’ve been able to contribute to this overall mission, and hopefully help get a littler closer to bringing about justice for these communities.

The film, currently titled In the Air, is in the production phase. You can follow our social media for updates and more information, and you can donate to help offset production costs and make this project a reality.

Work with a Purpose

In my time so far this summer at Fiege Films, I’ve had the opportunity to really get a good sense of what working on a team is like. I’m instinctively independent, and I usually like to work on my own, so working here has definitely been a bit of an adjustment compared to how I usually get things done when I’m at school. 

Collaborating with a team on a creative project is something that’s relatively new to me, but I’m finding that it’s a really rewarding experience. Because it’s a team, we each have the opportunity to ask for input and get feedback. I think that having the immediate ability to get other people’s opinions on things makes the overall work stronger.

In terms of technical skills, I’ve learned a lot more about video editing than I thought I would. Working on a project in which I assembled choice segments from hours of interview footage, I was able to get frequent feedback on the artistic direction of the project, but also learned and developed a lot on the technical side. Using programs like Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe Media Encoder day-to-day, I think I’ve gained a lot more technical skills that I’m eager to keep working on when I get back to school.

I’ve really been enjoying my time so far at Fiege Films, and the office environment reflects where I would want to work in the future. I like the balance between independence and collaboration, the fact that I’m given plenty of free reign and leeway on assignments, but there’s still always the opportunity to ask for clarification or for help if things aren’t working quite how they should.

In researching the Gulf Coast, I’ve also been able to develop my investigatory and analysis skills, which I’m sure will be handy when research papers start to roll in.

I’m learning different search strategies, and how to dig deeper if at first I can’t seem to find what I’m looking for. For example, in researching the petrochemical complex around Mossville, Louisiana, I was able to dig deep into the Calcasieu Parish tax records to find exactly how much of the surrounding land was owned by oil and chemical companies. And, after a little research, it shocked me.

This chart, put together by The Intercept, further elaborates on how research can illustrate a historic culture of exploitation:

I think this summer has been so rewarding because the purpose of all of this editing and research and development has been for something that I firmly believe in.

Even though doing research work can take a long time, it really doesn’t feel cumbersome or boring—I think it’s because of why I’m doing it. Because I get to be part of a team that’s passionate about fighting for social justice for threatened communities like Mossville, because I’m personally invested in the mission, this experience has been very rich and rewarding, and it’s been going by really fast.

For the future, I think this means that I’m on the right path, career-wise. I’m glad I’m studying film, because this internship has confirmed for me that it’s a great and effective way to tell stories that matter. And I think that’s why this summer has been so great for me, because I get to work creatively with a great team to help further a cause I care about. 

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

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.

The Art of Listening

As a Cultural Anthropology major, I have come to understand the significance of experiential learning as a way to expand my education. In fact, the very nature of Anthropology requires fieldwork to fully understand how to analyze and internalize a culture. This became apparent to me this past semester as I had the unique opportunity to participate in an experiential learning fieldwork practicum called “Sages and Seekers.

As an addition to an Anthropology course on aging, I conducted interviews with an elderly community in order to enrich my understanding of ageism and marginalized groups within society. What began as simply an opportunity to gain extra credit, transformed into an inspirational experience that forged new relationships and developed key interpersonal skills. Using my well-honed communication skills, I conducted in-depth research and interviews with community elders that required discussing sensitive subject matter. Each student was paired with their elder counterpart, allowing for unique relationships to form.

Throughout the semester, I became extremely close with my Sage Sandy. With each personal story he shared and research questions he answered, our relationship deepened. The process of researching and personally connecting with each interviewee sparked my interest in advocacy. I became passionate about telling each senior citizen’s story to fight against ageist discourse.

This ability to intuitively listen has become extremely vital to my role as an Intake Specialist. When filing discrimination complaints, I must develop a relationship with each individual I interview in order to create an atmosphere of trust and understanding. While the MCAD might not be able to help each individual who enters our doors, we provide them with the opportunity to share their story.

Additionally, the MCAD affords me the opportunity to advocate for individuals with claims of discrimination, specifically in categories I have studied in depth. In this way, my interdisciplinary background has fueled my specific interest in the MCAD. My Anthropology and WGS courses specifically study marginalized groups, providing me with a distinctive and valuable perspective.

For instance, recently, the MCAD has expanded its jurisdiction to include new protected categories including age, sexual orientation and disability. Specifically, a governmental recognition of sexual orientation as a protected category is a major win for the LGBTQ community. As the MCAD explains:

“In 1965, gender was added to the Commission’s list of protected classes, opening up a huge new front in the battle against discrimination. Protection for families with children and recipients of public assistance came in 1972 and 1973. In 1975, a law was enacted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of age. Discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation was added to the Commission’s jurisdiction in 1984 and 1989 respectively, while increased attention to the issue of sexual harassment generated a large number of complaints. Moreover, the Commission’s expanded jurisdiction to award emotional distress damages, back pay, and legal costs contributed to the dramatic increase in filings” (http://www.mass.gov/mcad/).

I am honored to work for an organization that is committed to advocating and fighting against social injustices. I believe that my past academic experiences, specifically, my interdisciplinary liberal arts education has deeply impacted my approach to this internship and my passion towards law and advocacy.

Jessica Spierer ’18

“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.

Progress at Umby

My organization, Umby, a peer-to-peer microinsurance startup, has a vision of ending poverty around the world. This is definitely an ambitious goal, but the hope is that microinsurance has the power to do just that. By allowing individuals living in poverty to invest in savings, education, and new ventures, microinsurance can break the poverty cycle and help whole generations of families.

Image from the Kathmandu Post

While Umby is certainly not in a position to end poverty all by itself, we do have the opportunity to raise awareness of people living on less than $4 USD a day – the realities of their lives and, most importantly, what their needs are. In the US, we certainly have to face the reality of poverty in certain ways: walk down the street in any urban area in the country and you will see people living outside, many of whom are asking for our help. But it is still easy to ignore what poverty is really like for those that experience it, especially those that are living in a context that is vastly different than the one here in the US. I think one of the most valuable aspects of Umby’s work is the peer-to-peer aspect. The eventual platform will allow people with the resources to provide support to directly connect with those who would be receiving the microinsurance. This allows for powerful connections. It will raise awareness of the realities of international poverty to those of us who have the immense privilege of living in the US.

A map showing the percentage of people living below the poverty line. In the US, it’s between 10-20%, while in parts of Africa and South America it is over 60%

This has also been my role. As I reflected last week, my role as a Marketing Intern means that I am in charge of informing people who’ve never heard of microinsurance, as well as trying to bring to life the realities of living in some of the poorest countries in the world. I believe that this ties into the idea of raising awareness, and hopefully will lead to people making donations to support microinsurance for families experiencing poverty.

This is a small step towards ending international poverty. Of course, a simple raising of awareness is not going to be enough to end poverty, especially in countries where there is a lack of infrastructure and/or a corrupt, unstable government. However, I believe that getting privileged people interested in these conversations and issues is a wonderful step on the way towards reaching a poverty-free world. The more people are willing to work together to address these problems, the faster they will be eliminated.

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.

Thinking Out Loud-AJWS

People often ask me, “where are you from?” to which I reply, “Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Most of the time, those who ask are shocked to hear my response. While New Mexico is (contrary to common belief) in the United States of America, it is difficult for some to conceptualize why someone my age would be drawn to an opportunity like the one I’ve chosen to take on. This opportunity I am referring to is my work with the leading Jewish non-profit human rights organization in the world and living alone in a five-story walk-up apartment complex in Midtown West Manhattan, spending my summer 2,000 miles away from home. The appeal is more than the independence I have in this beautiful city that I am experiencing every day. The appeal is more than the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that are so unique to Manhattan.

The appeal comes from the lessons I am learning about myself, and the responsibility and the work I’m doing here at AJWS that contributes to the greater good of people who are living around the world. The attraction comes from the idea that ambition is self-guided, and it only takes one person to have the confidence within themselves to know where they come from, and where they are headed.

That is what motivates me to wake up, strap on my heels, walk to the subway, grab my coffee and indulge in the meaningful work AJWS promotes daily.

The motivation behind my decision to come to Brandeis was built on the idea that social justice is fostered by generations who take pride in advocating and fighting for others. I am very passionate about finding innovative ways to network with people and learn more about where they come from and what they stand for. The work I am responsible for here is relevant to the AJWS social justice model: “[Advocating] for U.S and international laws and policies that help overcome injustice; [conducting] research to learn about and strengthen our work and advance the field of human rights; and [using] strategic communications to amplify our grantees’ voices and influence policy makers in the U.S and around the globe.” Through networking and communication, we can build stronger connective bonds that allow us to understand one another and strengthen our relationships. These conversations, presentations, proposals and travels are the crucial pieces that make up AJWS. The transparency and fluidity within each of the departments is what fosters the success of the organization.

Similarly, at Brandeis, we as a community use inter-connectivity to make our community stronger. If we as a community, nation and world are open-minded and tolerant of other points of view and perspectives, we can begin to open a dialogue that is positive and meaningful. Words are powerful, but so are actions. Regardless of our backgrounds, our hometowns, or our soon to be destinations, we are all traveling and living in this world together. Peace, love, unity and respect are the four elements that make up a successful thriving community and if we continue to instill these values within ourselves and those who come after us, we will uphold the social justice model and build a better future.

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

The Neuropsychology of Social Justice

In neuropsychology, there are a few categories of subjects that a lot of researchers are hesitant to explore because of their complicated and messy nature. Empathy and social interaction are two such subjects, and I am spending my summer investigating these phenomena in human behavior at the Social Interaction and Motivation (SIM) Lab at Brandeis University. We are exploring the physiological and neurological processes that underlie how human beings interact, connect and empathize with one another. More specifically, we are investigating what are fundamental neurological and physiological differences that occur when someone interacts with a person of their “in-group” (same race) versus a person of an “out-group” (other race).

Because it is an ongoing experiment I cannot share too many specifics; however, the experiment we are currently running involves inviting in Boston-area community members and asking them to complete a series of surveys and tasks while we record their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG). Participants meet each other and are asked to share personal experiences, as well as complete a few tasks together. Specifically we are interesting in recording from pre-motor neurons, looking for a phenomenon called “motor resonance.” Without boring you with the nitty-gritty science of it, this phenomenon of motor resonance is thought to be the neural underpinning for human empathy.

If you’re interested in learning more of the science and theory here is a link to some useful background information. 

What does this have to do with social justice? Well, by investigating social interactions we are hoping to find some valuable answers to the mystery of human empathy. Empathy has become an increasingly important skill in today’s social and political climate, and I hope that by better understanding the neurological and physiological events of empathic connection (or lack thereof) we can apply this new knowledge to social justice movements. Here at the lab, we want to understand what facilitates empathy with some groups of people, while others are discriminated against and even sometimes dehumanized.

There has been previous research into the neuroscience of prejudice and intergroup relations, and the experiment we are running this summer hopes to build on the existing literature.

Here is another link about the neuroscience of prejudice and intergroup relations

As a research assistant, the majority of my job is to help run the actual experiment. This involves greeting participants, getting them settled into the lab, preparing their EEG cap, and setting up tasks. This first month especially has been a lot of learning protocol, but we are now running the study a few times a week. When I am not running the study, I am often helping graduate students with their research or conducting literature reviews.


This is me, interacting with an EEG mannequin. We use these to attach all the electrodes to the cap before we place it on the participant. 

Before the summer ends, I really hope to have a better scope into how scientific discovery can alongside with social movements. In social neuropsychology, a lot of the research on prejudice and bias (alongside social interaction) provides deep and sometimes dark insight into human social behavior. It does not simply suffice to be aware of these discoveries; the real challenge lies in how do we, as researchers and scientists, get this information out to the public in a way that is useful and constructive.

Defining Social Justice

When thinking about internships, one of my first thoughts was what Social Justice really is? In all honesty, it is a difficult question. Brandeis takes pride in the fact that it was founded on principles of social justice. Our name itself comes from a key proponent of social justice. But even still, I wonder how am I impacting others with my internship, and what kind of change am I making? That is when I realized something. The definition of Social Justice is in the end, determined by how the individual views it. For it, social justice is about making a difference for someone with less opportunity, and seeing them pay it forward.

I am an intern with United Way, a nation wide non-for profit who focuses on the community. United Way’s mission is based on three essential parts of a community. Education, Income, and Health. Through the United Way, I am currently working with PRONTO, a sister non-profit that operates out of Brentwood, New York.

PRONTO is primarily a food pantry, which uses a thrift store within the complex to help raise money to afford food for the pantry. The typical customers for PRONTO are lower income people, oftentimes Latino or African American, and typically not many of them speak English. These are people with little ability to even afford their own houses, as Long Island is notoriously expensive. Every little bit we are able to contribute makes a difference at least from my perspective.

Here, let me share a case. There was a girl around my age. She’s Latino, recently immigrated to the US, and just had a daughter. She is a single mother and it is hard for her to make ends meet. This was her first time at PRONTO. I was working the front desk at the time, and when she was called by one of the staff for her interview, I could see the giant smile on her face from my desk. In a way, that’s what the work is about. Making a little difference, one person at a time.

In all honesty, people are scared right now. There has been a decline at PRONTO ever since Donald Trump got elected. People are scared that ICE is waiting in the bushes, intent to grab them as soon as they approach PRONTO. They face the fear of being deported just because they left the confines of their homes and apartments to get food. It’s terrible, and is what our reality looks like. I guess the next challenge for me, as a student of Brandeis and someone who focuses on social justice, to combat that fear. I think I can do this.

Love Is Still the Most Powerful Force On the Planet

The mission statement of To Write Love On Her Arms, the organization with which I am interning, does as much justice to its mission as two short sentences can:

“To Write Love on Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

There are many different ways that TWLOHA addresses these goals. One of the most important of these ways is the blog on the TWLOHA website. Twice a week, a post is published on the blog. These posts often directly discuss the four issues referred to in the mission statement, but also discuss abuse, eating disorders, bullying, anxiety, self-care, and recovery, among other topics. The posts bring these issues to light in an attempt to humanize the people who suffer from them, and to provide encouragement and hope to people struggling. They are also an effort to reach people who are not struggling and convince them to care about those who are, as well as an effort to reach people who are struggling and remind them that recovery is possible, and it’s okay to have a mental illness even in a society that tells you it isn’t.

Another important way TWLOHA addresses its goals is by serving as a bridge between treatment and people struggling. The “Find Help” page contains a constantly updating list of carefully selected treatment services for locations around the United States and even in other countries. It also features a list of national resources that can be accessed by anyone in each of the countries listed. TWLOHA also offers counseling scholarships to help pay for treatment for those who can’t afford it, and invests money directly into places like suicide hotlines and foundations for advocacy and the funding of research. To date, TWLOHA has invested over $1.5 million into organizations that directly and indirectly help people who struggle with mental illness.

As an intern this summer, I have a few different responsibilities that I’ll be tackling along with my fellow interns. All seven of the interns answer emails for the first half of the day. This is more important than it sounds. The emails include everything from partnership requests, to expressions of gratitude to the organization, to telling stories of one’s struggles. Often there are emails that ask for help because the senders have no where else to turn. My job as an intern is to respond to all of these emails thoughtfully, with compassion and encouragement, and in a way that shows the sender that we care about them. This is one of the things we do that has the most impact on individual lives. We receive so many emails from people who say this organization helped them find their reasons to keep living, or that a reply email we sent to them was exactly what they needed to hear. I had no idea sending a simple email could make such an impact on someone’s life.

Another one of my responsibilities is to seek out more resources for the website, especially in the few states and many countries that don’t have any listed yet. I also help go through the applications for the next intern term, and I have been organizing our blog archive. Last weekend, I got to run the TWLOHA booth at Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware. After reading so many emails thanking us for the work we do, I had an even deeper appreciation for the organization than I did before I arrived. However, running the booth at Firefly made me know how incredibly worthwhile this work is. So many people came up to the booth and told us that TWLOHA helped them get through an extremely dark time in their life. Some people hadn’t heard of us, but struggle themselves, or had lost a loved one to mental illness. Their thanks for doing the important work we do was so touching and meaningful. After witnessing this and hearing these stories, my main goal for the summer is to help as many people as possible, directly or indirectly, and to do everything in my power to make life better for people who struggle with mental illness.

Michael Solowey

Working for Environmental Justice at Fiege Films

This summer, I’m working at Fiege Films in Austin, Texas. It’s a small independent film company that I’m really glad to be a part of.

John Fiege, the founder of Fiege Films, is an environmentalist and documentary filmmaker. His past work includes the films Mississippi Chicken, an examination of undocumented workers in the poultry industry in Mississippi, and Above All Else, the story of a last-ditch attempt to stop the Keystone XL pipeline expansion in East Texas.

John has many shorter pieces too. This short film, Torrent on the Blanco, chronicles the devastating flooding that occurred in Wimberley, Texas in 2015:

The environment is a key focus at Fiege Films, and it’s especially important in the current moment, with environmental catastrophes like climate change feeling ever more acute, and a political administration unwilling to do anything to stop it. It’s paramount that people advocate for our habitat. 

Currently, I’m helping out with pre-production on In the Air, an experimental, feature-length film about environmental devastation on the Gulf Coast, told from the perspectives of local artists, such as poets and dancers.

We’re focusing particularly on a part of the country called “Cancer Alley,” a stretch of land along the Mississippi host to over 100 petrochemical complexes and a disproportionate amount of illness.

It’s a depressing situation, but also a great opportunity to speak out about this great injustice. I believe that environmental justice is social justice, and that by fighting for better air and water conditions for the residents of this region that have been traditionally mistreated, I’m helping to further the cause of social justice. When we protect our environment, we protect the people living there, too. That’s why telling this story is so important. 

Here’s an excerpt from the work sample for In the Air. It was shot in Baytown, Texas, and features a piece of poetry from Baytown native Ebony Stewart:

Right now, there’s a lot of work to be done for the film, and it’s pretty busy here in the office—but also really exciting. Coming off a successful Kickstarter in April, we’ve raised enough funds to start production, and for me that means researching locations, creating shooting schedules, and coordinating with artists, among many other tasks.

My hope for this time is that I can best facilitate the creative vision for the film, to help the story of a very marginalized and exploited part of the country get told. Making a film takes a ton of work, but in this case, with such dire subject matter, it’s self-evident how important it is. I’m very grateful to the WOW program for making it possible for me to work for social justice this summer. It’s awesome that I get to spend my time doing something so meaningful and important.

Social Justice through ‘Avodah’

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


(Source: avodah.net)

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

Sonia Pavel ’20

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

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

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

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

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

Aryela Vanetsky

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

 

My First Month at Open Source Wellness

Oftentimes I feel this sense of knowing that an opportunity is exactly right for me. In April, as I was looking for internship opportunities, I had that feeling when I found an internship listing at Open Source Wellness.

OSW is a nonprofit located in Oakland, California that aims to function as a behavioral pharmacy, to support patients when their doctors prescribe lifestyle changes to combat chronic health conditions. Patients are often told to make difficult changes in the way they eat, exercise, or manage their stress without any support from the health care system or their community. OSW helps patients make those changes by creating events where participants can practice healthy behaviors through a movement session, mindfulness/meditation session, and a healthy meal while connecting with people who are making similar changes. The picture below describes OSW’s four principles and the new cohort model.

Here’s a quick video introduction: Open Source Wellness in 60 Seconds. Also, their fantastic website.

After interning for a month, I know that initial feeling about OSW was correct. The first day that I went into the office, the co-founders, Ben and Liz, started our day of training with a game of hot seat. Then, they went straight into training us to do customer discovery in low-income neighborhoods to better understand the demographics of the target population. Finally, we (the other intern, Adam and I) attended their public event which left me feeling energized and on top of the world. Ben ended the night by saying, “at OSW you should never be comfortable, coasting is not an option here.” Now, I may have only had one other internship, but I don’t think is how most first days unfold.

Here is a picture of the interns (Adam and I started a month before the other two – Liza and Kelliann – who started on Tuesday!)

Now, I help run the Tuesday night event and for the past two weeks I have been leading the mindfulness/meditation session. Although it seemed daunting at first, I think leading people in an area that is relatively new to my life has pushed me to be more confident doing something out of my comfort zone.

Additionally, I help run two events at a low-income, re-entry housing community called Alameda Point Collaborative. On Thursdays, OSW hosts a “block party” where they blast music to draw people out of their houses and out onto the dance floor. This is followed by a five-minute meditation/mindfulness session and a vegan meal that is prepared by community members, using produce grown in the community garden. On Saturday, I help run a women’s circle that connects women who are struggling with similar issues to create social support to find solutions to those issues. The session includes light movement, mediation, and a salad.

This is the social injustice that Open Source Wellness is addressing. The organization is attempting to help people in low-income, formerly-incarcerated, and formerly-homeless communities find ways to address and prevent chronic health conditions by changing their behavior.

One of my major tasks over the past month has been to research and contact organizations, community centers, and individual health care providers in the Bay Area to create referral partnerships. Through this, I have made a few strong connections, yay! I also accompanied Ben to a meeting at a large health center to discuss a potential partnership. It was an extremely successful meeting and it showed me the importance and benefit of provider outreach. Ben would like me to eventually conduct these meetings on my own!

Being able to have those conversations and make strong connections on my own, and confidently giving people advice about their health and what they can do improve their health are my goals for this summer. Throughout the past month, I have started implementing those skills and am well on my way to accomplish those goals. These past few weeks have showed me that I truly need to keep pushing myself into uncomfortable spaces because great things really.

Lucy Miller-Suchet

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.

screenshot of the SA Tomorrow hearing
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.

interns with staff 3
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

The Fortune Society: A Summer Well Spent

My internship this summer with The Fortune Society is one that has really opened my eyes.  When people think of those involved in the criminal justice system, individuals with Master’s degrees or those fueled by intrinsic motivation typically don’t come to mind.  Why not? This is because unfortunately as a society we’re taught that these people are somehow less “human” than we are and that they don’t deserve the same place in our society. One of the many things that my internship with The Fortune Society has taught me that these people have often experienced trauma, are in need of support and resources and are good people who are still trying and still hoping.

 

Me and some of the other interns/volunteers at a rally we attended on behalf of The Fortune Society.
Fellow interns/volunteers and me at a rally we attended on behalf of The Fortune Society.

While this internship has not solidified exactly which social justice issue I want to fight for within the criminal justice system,  it has reassured me that this is the field in which I want to work.  As had been my goal, I also learned about the criminal justice system and how it affects and individuals and family systems. Having the chance to see the effects this type of work can have on people is truly a remarkable and humbling. One moment that immediately comes to mind was how thankful a group of veterans were after we held a focus group to help improve policies that create reentry barriers for them.  This moment was such a fulfilling one because I didn’t realize how much of a toll veterans can face coming out of the criminal justice system until I had a chance to sit and listen to folks and shaking their hands.

One thing I realized about myself this summer is how privileged I am, and how privilege operates.  The fact that I have a home,  access to food and the ability to pursue a higher education – and that I can afford basic luxuries such as having a phone and leasing a car – are now things that I have a renewed understanding of because I know that so many people do not and will never have these things.

The participants of Pro Bono Day, an event Fortune holds to educate attorneys on the programs they have and the advocacy work they do.
The participants of Pro Bono Day, an event Fortune holds to educate attorneys on the programs they have and the advocacy work they do.

If someone is getting an internship within the criminal justice system non-profit sector, I would advise keeping an open mind, because the stories you’ll hear about an individual will far surpass the rap sheet someone has to their name.  As the founder of The Fortune Society, David Rothenberg often says, “the crime is what people did, not who they are.”  If someone is fortunate enough (no pun intended) to secure an internship with The Fortune Society, I would recommend to voice your opinions and don’t just be a yes-man.  Your opinions will be appreciated!  If you want to learn more about my experience at Fortune or are interested in interning there, here is the link towards the Brandeis Internship Exchange, and this is my email.

One thing of which I am proud that I did this summer was helping to make a mere dent in reforming the criminal justice system.  Seeing and hearing first-hand how this unjust system can affect not only the individual but their family and even community, a whole other dimension of the justice system unveiled itself.  I think it’s a dimension that needs to be discovered through hearing someone’s story from their mouth, not reading it in a newspaper or even reading this blog.

Completion at Rosie’s Place

I can’t believe how fast my ten weeks at Rosie’s Place have flown by! I am so thankful for the opportunity I had interning there and for the amazing staff who helped and supported me through everything. All of my expectations about the internship have been exceeded and I am surprised how much I have personally grown because of the work I was doing.

All day at Rosie's Place with fellow interns
All day at Rosie’s Place with fellow interns.

At the start of my internship, my four internship goals were to gain a deeper understanding of poverty and oppression from the women who come to Rosie’s Place as well as the root cause of these conditions; to learn more about who are poor and homeless women in Boston and what circumstances brought them to Rosie’s Place; to develop a greater sense of responsibility and ability to work to bring about social chance and equality; and to better understand how a medium-sized non-profit operates. My two department goals were to learn how to communicate effectively with all the different people that I encounter and to learn to take more initiative as I get more comfortable with the front desk. I am happy to say I did meet my defined goals through my daily interactions with guests and attending direct service meetings, Social Justice Institute seminars, and weekly intern meetings.

This internship has really helped me understand and see what it is like working at a non-profit and in direct service. Before the internship, I did not know that advocacy was a potential career option, but I have also learned that direct service is not the only path in social justice work. The success of a non-profit like Rosie’s Place is how multiple different departments work together toward finding solutions to poverty and homelessness on a small and a large scale. This summer in the workplace, one of the biggest lessons I have learned is how to find my voice to be more assertive. I also learned more about my levels of comfort as an introvert working such an extroverted job and how to set boundaries for myself.

My advice to a student interested in an internship at Rosie’s Place is it is completely okay to feel overwhelmed at first but you will always be supported by a great staff. The front desk staff members were there whenever I had questions and always had my back. My advice for a student interested in this field is the importance of self-care, understanding that the work is difficult and may lead to burn out if you do not set boundaries or if you bring your work into your personal home life. Volunteering is a great way to start getting involved.

This summer I am most proud of the personal interactions and connections I was able to make with guests, staff, and interns at Rosie’s Place. I very much felt included in the community and was able to share my ideas and contribute to projects that will exist even after I have left. The act of being present every single day made a difference in helping and talking to the guests because we are not just providing services for poor and homeless, we really care about our guests and finding solutions to end poverty and homelessness.

Final Reflections: A Summer at United for a Fair Economy

My internship at United for a Fair Economy (UFE) provided me with so much more than I expected. I went into this internship with the goal of gaining a better understanding of how a nonprofit organization actually operates. Interning at UFE helped me gain a more comprehensive understanding about the processes involved in successfully and efficiently running an organization.

UFE gave me the opportunity to work in many departments which gave me a holistic understanding of a nonprofit. When a staff member went away for a couple months I took over all donation processing; I worked on data analysis and graphic design projects; I helped the Finance department prepare for an audit by reconciling all online donations; and I was given the chance to sit in on program meetings and phone calls.

Throughout this process, I met my goal of determining if nonprofit work is actually something I could see myself doing. Getting behind-the-scenes exposure to processes made me more excited about possibly pursuing this field of work. More specifically, I really enjoyed and felt that I excelled at working in the development/communications departments at UFE, and I am now brainstorming ways to continue doing this type of work in the future.

My workspace at UFE!

Beyond meeting the goal I set for myself this summer, my internship provided me with so many unexpected lessons. For example, I learned that there is a lot more to social justice work than one can learn about in a classroom or newspaper. The work these organizations do impacts real people, with real stories, making it complicated, frustrating, and also incredibly important.

One thing that I learned about myself during this internship is how much I enjoy work that I genuinely care about. I have always prided myself on my work ethic, but I realized when I am passionate about a topic it does not feel like work.

UFE taught me how important it is to stay grounded while doing this type of work. It is really easy to distance yourself from it and see it as a chore, but it is so important to always remember what you are working for and who you are serving. Whenever there was a grounding moment – whether it was a tragic event in the news or a heartbreaking story told by someone in one of our workshops – I felt my energy, and the energy among the staff at UFE, increase drastically, which was a really interesting and beneficial environment to be in.

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my internship was not feeling like I had the authority to speak my opinions and ideas. Because I was new to the organization and the nonprofit world in general, I felt inhibited telling someone who had been working at UFE for 20 years how they should implement a program or what the best process might be to solve a conflict within the organization.

Thankfully, in a small nonprofit like UFE all opinions and ideas were valued. In fact, they were welcomed. As someone who was learning the processes for the first time, I was able to notice small details and bring a set of fresh eyes to the organization. Thus, a piece of advice I would have for someone pursuing an internship at UFE or another similar organization is that your ideas and opinions are just as valuable as those of someone who has been at the organization for a long time. In fact, one of the things I am most proud of is how my confidence rose along with my level of comfort by the end of my internship.

On one of the last days of my internship, I was given the opportunity to facilitate UFE’s biweekly staff meeting which meant creating an agenda, leading the actual meeting, and having the confidence to assert my authority to keep the staff on track or to interject my opinions about how I believed they should handle certain situations. At the beginning of my internship, I would have never believed that I could successfully lead a meeting for staff members who I felt had so much authority over me, but with the guidance, acceptance, and trust that UFE provided me, I was able to do it and I am very proud of and grateful for the opportunity.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone at UFE for providing me with such an enriching and educational summer, especially my supervisor who always gave me projects that fit my needs and interests while also allowing me to be helpful to the organization. Please check out their Facebook page and blog (as well as the rest of their website) for more information!

 

Leading a staff meeting on one of the last days of my internship! It was so fun to be given this challenge and use what UFE has taught me to successfully facilitate this meeting.eeds and interests while also allowing me to be helpful to the organization. Please check out their Facebook page and blog (as well as the rest of their website) for more information!

Change through Roots

WOW (pun intended), a lot has happened since I last posted here! Members of the Roots team and volunteers built a new animal pen and bought a goat, built a temporary new kitchen which will hopefully one day become a guesthouse, and are in the process of building a bigger kitchen with an office space above it. We also held five interfaith break-fasts during Ramadan, a leadership training retreat for core activists, photography workshops for children, photography workshops for women, educational youth trips, history lectures, and many meetings and information sessions to spread the word about this exciting work and create communal paradigm shifts in how each side sees the other.

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Our newest member of the Roots team!

For my part, firstly, I finally got the cameras out of customs! I also have delved into the world of PR, developing the Friends of Roots Facebook Page and taking over the website as well. I have helped advertise events and send follow up emails to attendees. I am also responsible for recording donation information and sending thank-you emails to donors. It may not sound like a lot, but it is certainly filling up my time! The work is not glamorous, but I am very happy and feel quite fortunate to be able to help out an organization and people that I admire with the things they don’t have time for, so that they can take care of the rest of what needs to get done. Additionally, I am feeling more and more like part of the team and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas with the leadership.

In addition to my work at Roots, I have taken advantage of my time here by participating in an Encounter trip to Bethlehem, an emotional movie screening with Combatants for Peace, a prayer service with Women of the Wall, and few classes at the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and other events. I also hope to join part of the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s summer school next week.

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Pictures from the gay pride parade in Jerusalem

As a result of this internship, I am learning a lot about the ins and outs of establishing a young organization. I am also learning how to use public relations methodologies, how to run a website, and how to use Salesforce. I am learning about the use of art in resolving conflicts and brainstorming ideas – through the Roots photography classes and sessions on the leadership retreat. Most of all, I am learning that creating change is a process – sometimes a slow process – that can be effectuated through one person at a time.

These skills that I am developing will certainly be transferable back to Brandeis and my eventual career. The patience I am learning in effectuating change is crucial in maintaining hope for the vision of this social justice internship and cause. I know that we cannot fix the world in one day, but the more individuals we reach, the stronger our message will be in order to influence our communities, our leaders, and society at large.

-Rivka (Rebecca) Cohen ’17

A Humbling Experience: Seeing the World From A Different View

Just in my time with The Fortune Society thus far, my experiences have already far surpassed any and all expectations I held for my internship before it began. The people I work for and with are some of the most genuine and driven individuals I’ve ever encountered; their unremitting desire to help others, despite the constant uphill battle, is a truly remarkable trait that makes this organization one-of-a-kind. In my contact with clients and staff thus far, one thing has become abundantly clear: a lot of people take a lot of things for granted. The fact that people can drive, gain employment with no clear discrimination, or even obtain individual housing or food, is now something I consider to be privileges rather than rights. To contextualize this idea, about a month ago I took a client to the Human Resources Administration to receive his food stamps benefits but was told he did not qualify due to his citizenship status (despite being in the country legally and even showing the staff proof of his legal status).

Another humbling event, or rather sequence of events, was a New York State Assembly hearing I attended in which the president of Fortune, JoAnne Page, testified along with others concerning housing barriers encountered by those with criminal justice system involvement. Within a couple weeks of the hearing, I attended a rally outside New York Governor Cuomo’s office to protest his reneging on a promise to construct 20,000 new supportive housing units over the next fifteen years with 6,000 of those coming in the next five. This was an issue that was explicitly mentioned by every individual who testified in front of the Assembly members.More information on his original promise is available here.

Rally outside Gov. Cuomo's office in New York City surrounding suppotive housing issues.
Rally outside Gov. Cuomo’s office in New York City surrounding supportive housing issues.

This summer, disregarding the obvious differences from my academic work, has contrasted from my experience at Brandeis because I’m able to observe concepts I’ve learned as theoretical, abstract ideas as real issues that impact real people. One particular course I took this past semester has really affected the way I perceive my experience with Fortune so far. As a seminar-styled course, we explored the ideas of justice and punishment in various fashions, including through historical context, literature, and even from a philosophical point-of-view. I find that I’m able to apply the concepts I’ve learned from this course to further delve into the intricate issues regarding the criminal justice system.

This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.
This is from an initiative Fortune held to inform their clients of their voting rights.

I’ve gained many things from my internship so far, but one of the most applicable to my future, whatever it may hold, is learning how to advocate for those who can’t do so for themselves.  In attending numerous events that included a call for action, the speakers have often taken personal experiences and applied them to others’ issues and subsequently systemic issues.  I find this to be a particularly effective because it takes an issue and makes it real, and one you can’t ignore.  I’ve also learned how to organize events to conduct studies.  Currently, along with others in the policy department, I’m coordinating a focus group to explore the unique needs of veterans with criminal justice involvement.  You can find out more about this project here.

My experience with The Fortune Society, even though I still have a bit to go, is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience that I will be able to apply to my life in the years to come.  I’m excited to see what’s in store for me for the rest of the summer!

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

A summer about books and businesses

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This is Cinco Puntos Press from the outside. I love that it is a colorful place; it is what a publishing company that has come be known for their colorful picture books should look like, I think.

Minutes before the airplane landed, I knew I was not in Kansas anymore… I am just kidding with all of you. I happen to come from New York. But, I have come to a land that I never thought of coming: El Paso, Texas.

I bet a lot of people would instantly assume that I have come here to do some work with immigrants because I am coming to a place very close to the border between Mexico and US. I don’t know, I get the sense people would just think something completely opposite to what I have really come here to do. To answer your questions, I found an internship in Cinco Puntos Press, which is a publishing company that exists since 1985. Their main aim when the founders, Bobby Byrd and Lee Byrd, created Cinco Puntos was to publish stories that would represent different diverse groups of people in literature. What I have been able to discover, in the little time that I have been here, is that they publish literary work that focuses beyond the Chicano (Mexican-American) experience. I mean right now I am proofreading a book, called Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel, which is coming out in October. The story is about an Indian-American girl, specifically Gujarati, who deals with her parents’ divorce and a dreadful sexual abuse experience through hip-hop in the early 90s. The book takes place in Moloka’i, Hawaii, and what makes it interesting and compelling is this clash of cultures in this remote place we do not hear about too often. Mrs. Byrd told me that the great thing about publishing books, such as Rani Patel, is that the book is a vehicle to another world; a portal that yearns for other people to glance at a completely different world from ours.

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This Mrs. Byrd reviewing all the artwork that it is going to be part of one of their new picture books. Although, Cinco Puntos does not just publishes pictures books.

The book won the BEA (BookExpo America) Book Buzz Award in the YA (Young Adult) section and it is getting ready to come out this upcoming October. But first I am going through the text, proofreading it, before the press prints the all copies that will be distributed all over the country’s bookstores. In addition, as a way to promote the book, I have also been sending ARCs (Advance Readers Copy) to different critics and reviewers all over the nation, including at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others.

What I love about the working environment at Cinco Puntos is that it is quite calm and informal. The staff is incredibly amicable and they all want me to learn and glean as much as possible about the publishing industry through their internship. For instance, John Byrd (the vice-president and son of the founders), told me to read The Chicago Manual of Style. He said that every editor needs to know this manual by heart. The book sort of introduces you to a new world. It explains you the dos and don’ts of being an editor reviewing a writer’s work or a writer submitting work to an editor. If you are an editor reviewing a writer’s work, there are even several different marks that you need to learn when proofreading—always, of course, with a red pen, which John Byrd emphasized very well.

I think the world of work is different to my academic life, in the sense that it focuses on two aspects: quality but also making business. Selling a book is not easy, especially these days with a lot of self-publishing books, meaning way more competition. A book must sell, that is the primary concern that an editor questions when reviewing a manuscript. In my academic life, I do not worry so much about whether what I am reading is publishable or not. Or whether the work has been read by a lot of people or by very few. At school, we concern more about interpreting what we read and understanding it. However, this internship has allowed me to do both, hone my skills interpreting and close-reading texts, but in addition to learn more about the business wise aspect of it.

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These are Mrs. Byrd (to the left) and Mr. Byrd (to the right). Both are my supervisors this summer.

I am quite content working this summer at Cinco Puntos. My bosses are nurturing and caring. They care about me as a human being and my learning—they bring this human quality that is unforgettable, and that I bet it is hard to obtain if I were interning, perhaps, in New York. I mean, they even bothered to pick me up at the airport and have invited me twice to their house for dinner and it has only been a week.

The skills that I am learning here will obviously transfer to the way I will interpret texts in the future and it has also opened a door for me to conduct more research on the different efforts that have been made to diversify the book industry. Mrs. Byrd and Mr. Byrd have their own take on the subject and it is refreshing and nuanced. I think, whether I decide to work in the publishing industry in the future, my time at Cinco Puntos Press will definitely prepare me for me to plunge into it.

 

Best,

Santiago Montoya ’19

End of internship at VocaliD

Interning at VocaliD was definitely more than I expected it to be, and I was able to achieve my learning goals. The summer between my penultimate and final year was the perfect time for this opportunity, and I’ve come out of it with a greater sense of clarity when it comes to career paths I can pursue after graduation. A huge part of this was my career-specific goal of exposing myself to programming and its role in linguistics and speech science. For the past couple years at Brandeis I’ve considered more and more the option of pursuing further education in computational linguistics, and have become more interested in topics related to the field. The central role of speech science and text-to-speech technology in VocaliD’s work resonated with this interest, and has been all the convincing I need that this is a viable industry to attempt to enter in the coming years.

To another student looking for an internship at VocaliD, I would say this: be prepared for a fast-paced, interdisciplinary environment, and get ready to work with people of all calibers from all sorts of backgrounds. On more than one occasion there were company advisors in the office – often for advertising – and every one of them wanted to hear the opinion of the interns. Rather than sit back and simply absorb knowledge from experienced professionals, we were allowed to engage with them and be taken just as seriously.

This sort of open-mindedness could be an industry thing, or, more probably, due to the nature of small start-ups. There is a sense of urgency to everything that reinforces the “team” environment, requiring different, multi-faceted tasks from us on a daily basis. For this reason it felt very demanding, in a good way. The advice for somebody doing work for a tech start-up like this would be essentially the same, but phrased differently: the work you do is important, just as important as everyone else’s. This was by no means a “fetch coffee for the office” internship.

Emma, a fellow intern, and Sam, a previous recipient of a VocaliD voice, out for pizza in downtown Belmont.

Working for a company with a social mission was generally very rewarding. The effect we were having on people’s lives was so tangible, especially so when Samantha, a previous recipient of a VocaliD voice, came in to visit us at the office. Being able to see the difference in her regard for her old, generic voice and her new VocaliD voice put it in perspective how necessary the product is.

Maeve, a young girl with cerebral palsy, is receiving one of the voices we worked on this summer. Her story was featured heavily on our Indiegogo campaign.

And while my work this summer will go into voices that will be finished months from now, I am still proud to have participated in their creation. There are also customers awaiting their VocaliD voice currently (like Maeve, pictured above), and getting to see them receive it in the future is something I’m very excited for.

-David Stiefel ’16

Concluding at the New England Innocence Project

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        Suffolk University Law School             Our New Home is on the top floor!

After almost exactly seven months, Thursday, August 13rd concluded my tenure as intake intern and case assistant at the New England Innocence Project. The end of my internship signified a new chapter in not only my life, but in the history of the New England Innocence Project, as the organization moved into its new home at Suffolk University Law School. While leaving NEIP was difficult to say the least, I left having knowing that my experience with the organization was nothing short of life changing. I started as an intern back in January hoping to gain a greater appreciation of the law, while achieving a better understanding of what life is like working for a non-profit. What I received from NEIP was extensive knowledge of the legal profession, invaluable experience communicating with attorneys and clients, and a new direction for my future endeavors.

My lovely coworkers: Nick, Jamie, Angela, Catherine, and Eric.
My lovely coworkers: Nick, Jamie, Angela, Catherine, and Eric.

Entering my summer with NEIP, my goals were three pronged: 1) gain a more robust understanding of the criminal justice system; 2) acquire some of the required skills of an attorney; and 3) positively impact those who have witnessed the pain of wrongful convictions. By and large, I can honestly say that I have achieved my goals.

In an academic sense, I have learned a significant deal about the criminal justice system on the local, and national level primarily through the reading of trial transcripts, and working with trial and appellate attorneys on the state and federal level.

In a professional sense, while my goal of learning the necessary skills to be an effective attorney was lofty, I do believe I made progress towards that goal. Through NEIP, I learned how to more effective communicator by discussing legal matters with clients, co-workers, and attorneys on a daily basis. Additionally, I was given the chance to engage in legal writing, working on “Post-CRC” Memos that concisely summarize an applicant’s case in order for the organization to determine whether NEIP should choose to represent them. While I would’ve liked to receive further experience in legal writing, the nature of the NEIP organizational structure primarily delegated that task to the legal interns. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that as an intake intern, I received a unique opportunity to learn and grow from a legal environment that few others get the chance to be immersed in at such an early stage in my professional career.

Lastly, in a personal sense, I have provided support and consolation to those who have witnessed immense pain at the hands of wrongful convictions. I have worked with inmates and their families to guide them through our case process and ensure them that as an organization we are there for them. The gratitude that I have received from inmates –many of whom have wrongfully spent decades behind bars—has brought me satisfaction that has been thus far unparalleled in my life, and in turn, I am incredibly proud of the work I have done at NEIP.

As I turn towards the future, NEIP has undoubtedly solidified my interest in the law. While I entered this summer certain of a passion for legal advocacy, and a potential career in public interest law, NEIP has directed me towards an interest in criminal law, in particular, defending individuals without the means to appoint sufficient legal representation. Witnessing the plight of low-income individuals that often culminates in legal troubles has instilled within me a passion for aiding those of less fortunate means. While I may be uncertain as to where I may turn with the legal profession, I am now convinced that law is the proper path for me.

For any student looking to understand the dynamics of the criminal justice system, NEIP would make a great internship for you. At NEIP, interns get the opportunity to form connections with inmates, attorneys, and police departments, working in conjunction to remediate the inadequacies of the criminal justice system. At NEIP, real progress is not an abstract goal, but a tangible thing that can be measured. For those passionate about assisting the least fortunate members of our society, while ensuring that every individual is treated fairly under the law, NEIP would be an incredible organization to work for.

 

Daniel Jacobson ’16

Completing my Summer Internship at the Community Day Center of Waltham

My summer internship at the Community Day Center of Waltham has greatly helped me clarify my career interests. I knew that whatever job I did I would want to work with people, but at the same time recognized the many ways bigger-picture things get done through policy reform and research. I was willing to consider working in policy reform and research, if it was going to make a real difference.  However, after working at the Community Day Center of Waltham, I realized that working with people directly was something I want to do, whether it is in a position that provides therapy or social work.  I greatly enjoy direct service and would not want to give up. In an ideal world, I would like to be able to do some kind of work working with people while also conducting research or policy reform.

Me holding up the drawing one of my clients made for me.

Me holding up the drawing one of my clients made for me.

My work has also taught me a lot about myself. Because there is only one other staff member besides my supervisor and I, there were many opportunities for me to take leadership roles. As I became more comfortable with the population and they began to appreciate and respect me, I found myself taking increased initiative in the workplace. I was able to control the floor on my own, and found myself to be stronger and more confident with my capabilities to do my work now and in my future professional endeavors. I really stepped-up and surprised myself in with the initiative I took, which ended up creating a much more meaningful and enriching work experience.

For a student interested in an internship at my host organization as well as this industry/field, it is important to go into it with an open-mind and open-heart, wanting to help and having the drive to do what it takes to get the job done. Emotionally, working in this field can be both uplifting and draining, so it important to maintain a level-headed perspective on things, appreciate small successes.  Remind yourself that even your showing up to support this population is incredibly important, as you are supporting an incredibly marginalized population where in many cases, you are their only advocate and support system.

This summer I am most proud of the role I played in some big and many small successes guests achieved. My biggest accomplishment was one particular relationship I created with one of the guests. We mutually gained each other’s trust and worked together.  Because of the strong bond created, I went the extra-mile, driving him to apartment visits and interviews, calling his family and services as needed, filling out applications, and discussing his personal goings-on. By going the extra-mile and advocating for him, I was able to get him into an apartment. This was a big success that has set him up in a stable position, allowing for him to  focus on growth in other parts of his life.

Relevant articles:

Successes at the Community Day Center of Waltham

Addresses the Emotional Toll of Being a Social Worker

-Diana Langberg ’17

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

-Risa Dunbar ’17

United for a Fair Economy- Where has the time gone?

It’s hard to believe the summer is half over. I have learned so many valuable things so far at United for a Fair Economy (UFE). One of my goals this summer was to learn more about the behind-the-scenes at a small non-profit organization. Even in such a short time, I have gained an understanding of how UFE operates. I’ve learned what goes into a budget, how to frame a development plan, and what different types of communications are used.  I also attended a website building meeting to determine who visits our website, what they are looking for, and what content is essential for us.

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My beautiful walk to work in downtown Boston

One particular skill I am building is my writing. UFE talks about being “donor centric,” which means writing from the viewpoint of the donor. In broader terms, I am working to understand other perspectives. I have been able to apply the writing skills I learned in school in a new and creative way. I have to think carefully about the wording of everything I write, improving my writing for both academic work and future jobs.

The work I am most proud of at this point is a three-email appeal I helped write that was sent to donors. They were designed to get donors excited about the direction UFE is headed, and to let them know what their money does and why it is important that they support our work.

More abstractly, I’ve learned that non-profit work is complicated. From the development perspective, the organization never really knows how much money will be given, or how successful what we are doing is. For example, UFE sends multiple appeals each year. Sometimes, more money is donated than others. It is hard to know what about the appeal worked- the writing, content, design, timing, or something else. However, this money is necessary to fund the many worthwhile projects UFE hopes to take on, so I’ve learned that you just keep going and do the best you can.

In addition, working in the real world has been different from academic life because it isn’t planned. In my classes, the professor has a plan of what he or she will teach and provides a syllabus. As a student, I know what I am going to learn and when I will be tested. On the other hand, in my internship, I find out what I am doing each day based on what is happening. The future is unknown to everyone; there are plans and objectives, but any number of things could change them. Furthermore, at school, I am only accountable to myself and my own success. I do as well as I can in classes for myself. At a non-profit, I am doing all this work for and with others as well. I am accountable to the organization and the people the organization is helping.

This internship is helping me build skills for school and the future. I’m learning to ask questions, help with as much as I can, stay organized and motivated, and develop relationships. I look forward to the second half of the summer.

Internship at Lawyers For Children in NYC: Midpoint post

I just finished up my sixth week interning at Lawyers For Children in NYC! Where has the time gone? I knew this internship would be incredibly eye opening and enriching, but I never expected it to be this much so this quickly. I have learned so much in so little time that I am left eager to acquire even more knowledge in the time I have left in New York City.

Here is a recent article from the Wall Street Journal touching on few of the many issues with New York’s Foster Care system today:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-citys-foster-care-system-is-mismanaged-lawsuit-alleges-1436373462

First off, living in New York City is an adventure in itself. There’s always so much going on and so much to see. Traveling by subway is an adventure in itself; I never get bored of the slam poetry performances, magic tricks and soul singers! My workplace is situated in the heart of Chinatown and I am also just a short walk from Broadway (which is full of shops and restaurants) and Little Italy! I am living in midtown Manhattan right near Penn Station, which is also a very bustling area. My apartment is very close to the Hudson River Parkway, which is where I complete most of my morning runs! I’ve been able to explore Central Park and West Manhattan while on longer runs over the weekend, which has been a nice break after the long workweek!central park photo

(a picture I took in central park during an evening run)

   I’ve been incredibly busy at Lawyers For Children. Working everyday from 9:30-5 is quite an adjustment from the college where there are often long breaks throughout the day in between classes. Everyday is different as a forensic social work intern at LFC, which keeps things exciting. I have traveled to all five boroughs in New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island) visiting clients and participating in meetings. I’m so fortunate to have an internship that allows me to get to know the city I’m living in while at work!

As I mentioned, I’ve learned so much at Lawyers For Children already despite only having been there six weeks. Before beginning this internship, I knew that the foster care system does not always provide children with the love, support, and resources that they need and that as a result many children in foster care endure many more hardships than those living in loving families, but I never imagined the extent of those hardships could be as profound as what I’ve seen thus far. Through my work at Lawyers For Children, I’ve learned to view every situation with a fresh set of eyes because the context of these children’s histories can impact their lives in so many ways. It’s important not to make assumptions about a child based on their behavior or by who they are ‘on paper,’ (as they say) because there is always a reason they act and feel the way they do. Before assuming anything at all, it is important to listen.

This is also true in the classroom. When engaging in social, political, economic or any sort of debate, it is important to understand why the person feels a certain way instead of judging them for feeling differently on an issue than you. Sometimes understanding why can even change your point of view!

LFC logoAbove is LFC’s logo/slogan. Taken from lawyersforchildren.org

Here is a link to a few videos of LFC clients describing some of their experiences in foster care and how LFC has helped them.

http://www.lawyersforchildren.org/lfc-difference

This is also a very important skill to possess as a social worker or attorney. To develop a relationship with your client, you must understand where they are coming from and why they have certain goals instead of trying to impose your own ideas on them; otherwise it is nearly impossible to develop a constructive, successful relationship from which both parties can benefit! I’m hopeful that I will obtain many more skills as this internship progresses and I am eager to share those with you all at the end of the summer!

-Lydia

 

 

 

 

New England Innocence Project Midway Point

 

The best part of my commute every morning. Photo: Soul of America
The best part of my commute every morning.
Photo: Soul of America

While I’ve held steady employment since I was 14 years old, working at the New England Innocence Project this summer has been the first time in my life I have genuinely looked forward to work each and every day. As much as I love being on campus, I could certainly get used to commuting to Boston everyday, walking across the downtown area, and spending time in an office overlooking the Common. However, as much as I enjoy the scenery of downtown Boston, I enjoy NEIP not simply because of the location, but because it’s a place where I am proud of the work I do, and confident in my ability to contribute.

This week marked the arrival of the next intake intern, Freda, who will serve in my position throughout the fall and winter months after I have left NEIP. The task has been given to me to the train Freda and in doing so I now recognize how much there is to learn about the intake position. I’ll be responsible for familiarizing Freda with many of the nearly 4000 applicants that NEIP has been working with since its inception, spreading extensive knowledge about our past and present cases. In addition, I’ll need to show her how the organization functions, by instilling in her an understanding of the online databases, the system of physical files, and the interactions between directors, attorneys, volunteers, and interns. To be effective, I’ll have to transfer to her many of the skills that I have learned from NEIP over the last month, in becoming a better communicator, a more patient individual, and a more organized worker.

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One of my favorite co-workers, Bishop.

By speaking with attorneys on a daily basis, I have learned to communicate more effectively, sounding at times more like a seasoned attorney than an intake intern – to the point where I’ve been called “Attorney Jacobson” more than once. Through experience and repetition, I have become more confident and more helpful when speaking to inmates and applicants as I am better able to answer their questions, predict their responses, and provide guidance throughout our screening process. In becoming a better communicator, I expect it to pay dividends whether I am engaging in discussion in the classroom, or working behind the counter at Einsteins.

In learning the essence of patience, I have become more accommodating and more responsive in my exchanges with the family members of inmates. While I’ve often avoided conflict throughout my life, I no longer fear potentially argumentative interaction with applicants, and instead I look forward to trying to achieve conciliation through patient dialogue. While this newfound patience will undoubtedly benefit my personal life, it should also improve my ability to work with others in an academic setting.

By serving in a position that requires many hats, I have become more organized in my work. One minute, I might be performing drafting a Case Review Committee Memo for an applicant such as Clarence Spivey, the next I might be brainstorming ideas for how to improve our screening process, and the next I might be gathering statistics for a grant, such as the Bloodsworth. Without effective time management, and physical and mental organization, I would struggle to keep up. This should hopefully make me a better studier, and a more productive employee.

It saddens me to recognize that I’ll soon be done at NEIP, but I intend to make the most out of my last month here.

Daniel Jacobson, ’16

Marriage Equality and We’re Not Even Half Way There, Well I Am – Midpoint Check-In

As I approach the half way point of my internship at PFLAG National, I can’t believe how fast it has gone by. So much has happened since I began my internship in June: I’ve written 3 issues of our national policy newsletter Policy Mattersthree other amazing interns have joined me in the office with all of us working together to accomplish some serious LGBT advocacy; I’ve attended more events than I can count at places like the White House, various federal agencies, and a range of NGO’s; Pride Month ended; and oh yeah of course, MARRIAGE EQUALITY!!!

Hundreds of people gathered at the Supreme Court on June 26th waiting anxiously for the ultimately monumental decision handed down on marriage equality.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Supreme Court on June 26th waiting anxiously for the ultimately monumental decision handed down on marriage equality.

Having the opportunity to witness the historic SCOTUS Obergefell v. Hodges decision in action was incredible and to be honest, almost unbelievable. During the decision days, the entire office waited on the edge of our seats anxiously watching SCOTUSblog. When the decision came down on Friday June 26th at 10 in the morning, everyone in the office cheered and many of us interns went over to the Supreme Court to join hundreds of others in celebration. But although the marriage decision was a success, at PFLAG we also wanted to make clear that the fight for LGBT rights was in no way over.

“While we celebrate today’s victory, we are dedicated to continuing and redoubling our advocacy work to secure legislation that explicitly protects people who are LGBTQ from discrimination in the workplace, in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. Now is the time to expand federal law–law which already protects people from discrimination based on race, sex, age, ethnicity, disability, and religion–to include explicit protection from discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” – PFLAG Marriage Equality statement

Taking advantage of the White House while I was there for a Big Table discussion with Valerie Jarrett about the Obama Administration's LGBT priorities for the remainder of his term.
Taking advantage of the White House while there for a Big Table discussion with Valerie Jarrett about the Obama Administration’s LGBT priorities for the remainder of his term.

 

But in respect to things other than marriage equality, in this past month I have already surpassed all of my initial expectations and goals. By working on Policy Matters as well as various other policy-related PFLAG publications, I have not only learned so much about LGBT advocacy and policy, but also have become up to date on all LGBT current events. Similarly, by attending White House briefings, and working directly on LGBT federal legislation and advocacy, I have truly learned and received first-hand perspective on the political process and all of the research and preparatory work that goes into policy work behind-the-scenes. Finally, by attending countless events and having my supervisor Diego introduce me to more people than I can remember, I have had the opportunity to meet and form important connections with influential figures in the field of LGBTQ advocacy from across the country.

An exciting July 4th in our nation's capital while on our nation's Capitol.
An exciting July 4th in our nation’s capital while on our nation’s Capitol.

 

All of these skills, experiences, and connections will prove valuable in the future. I am doing all I can to take in and take advantage of every opportunity offered to me while here in DC and while working at PFLAG National. It has been such a beyond marvelous month so far, and I cannot wait to see what is in store for the month ahead.

– Aliya Bean ’16

 

Working at the Community Day Center of Waltham

I have officially completed my first week of my summer internship at the Community Day Center of Waltham. As the only day center in the metrowest area, the Community Day Center of Waltham provides a safe, warm environment for people who are homeless or otherwise needing of the resources provided by the center. Approximately 700 people are serviced each year, facing complex challenges such as physical and emotional abuse, domestic violence, physical disabilities, mental illnesses, poverty, homelessness, joblessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and legal issues. The day center offers these people a concrete support system, offering them services such as the Internet, phones, advocacy, referrals, healthcare, legal counsel, housing referrals, and job search assistance. By offering these services, the Day Center enables these individuals to become more independent and productive. Having worked with the Day Center sophomore year, I have become more comfortable working with this population and am learning much about their experiences and stories, allowing me to better understand the complexity of societal barriers and societal standings. My growing familiarity with this population allows my perspective on the Waltham community and in general, homeless communities, to expand. The development of this perspective will give me the greater knowledge needed to accurately assess and refer the people that live in this community.

Me editing and uploading the Day Center's intake form
image2 Editing and uploading intake forms

At the Day Center, I have a range of responsibilities. I am a part of the Day Center team, meaning I help out with day-to-day tasks like help serving food for lunch, cleanup at the end of the day, and other tasks to ensure each day at the Day Center runs smoothly. Primarily I will be working on a health survey that over the past year, I wrote and implemented with the help of some Brandeis volunteers. I just completed our 100th survey and will soon begin the process of compiling and distributing that information. I will be writing a piece about the process of creating and implementing the survey. This summer, I will be collaborating with the Executive Director of the Community Day Center of Waltham to create a media strategy to share the results of the survey, identify stakeholders, reach out to community groups to give presentations, and coordinate these presentations. Aside from the health survey, I will be working on improving the Day Center’s efficiency and data collection by uploading intake forms, guest satisfaction surveys and other forms online. Additionally, I will continue to help with case management and support for the guests.

My goals for learning this summer include case management training and administration to assess individuals at the center,  implementation and publication of the health survey, and continued learning about the societal barriers and struggles of this population. To achieve these, I will fully engage myself in the work I do, commit time and focus to fully understand the necessary protocols in order to properly assess and refer individuals, and create professional yet personal relationships. To learn about the societal barriers and struggles of this population, I will create an open-minded and comfortable, yet professional environment for people to feel safe approaching me to talk about personal issues, or to seek help. So far, I have successfully been able to create this safe space for many individuals. I have learned a lot over the past few weeks and I look forward to the coming month.

Community Day Center of Waltham

Here is an article detailing some of what we do at the Day Center

– Diana Langberg ’17

 

First Week at Lawyers For Children

Monday morning was almost as frantic (if not more) than my first day at Brandeis. I am not an experienced subway-rider, so figuring out which direction the train I was told to take actually goes in was a challenge; let’s just say it’s a good thing I left 45 minutes early! Luckily I arrived early to Lawyers For Children, where I will be spending the majority of my time throughout the next nine weeks. I’d always dreamed of living in New York City, but to be able to live in New York City and do work that I’m passionate about, I couldn’t have asked for more! Before coming to college I knew I was interested in psychology and wanted to pursue a career in which I am able to help people, but I had no idea which direction that goal would take me. A mixture of psychology, sociology, and legal studies courses I’ve taken at Brandeis lead me to aspire to go into law, but with a desire to advocate for those whose voices may not be as strongly heard.

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This is the corner of where my office is located. Photo belonging to kurokatta.org

 

Since I was little, I’ve loved solving mysteries; putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Law allows me to continue that passion. I have to gather my evidence, establish the rule, and present my case. Social work adds a both meaningful and challenging component to that hobby. I never envisioned myself in social work, until interning last summer at a nonprofit that helps low-income and impoverished adults obtain housing, jobs, resources for their family, whatever it may be based on a particular individual’s needs. Before that experience, I never realized how difficult of a challenge it was to navigate (internally) the various governmental institutions that are supposed to help those in need. Who knew it was actually extremely difficult to acquire the benefits that the government rightfully owes you? With this work came immense challenges, however the reward, when achieved, is immeasurable. That’s when I knew, law with an emphasis on public service was my true calling.

That discovery lead me to Lawyers For Children: a legal firm that provides free legal and social work services to children in foster care. Lawyers For Children is unique from other organizations in that an attorney as well as a social worker is assigned to every child, ensuring that each child get the best, most effective and integrative representation and advocacy possible. Attorneys and social workers are trained differently, and therefore have different insights and perspectives to offer on each case, and you know what they say, two heads are always better than one. LFC mostly handles cases of voluntary placement: instances where parents voluntarily place their children into the system, not where the child was removed from the home against their will. To get a better understanding of what that looks like, read this New York times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/01/nyregion/despondent-parents-see-foster-care-as-only-option.html

I am a social work intern at LFC and will shadow a social worker (as well as various LFC attorneys) to get a better understanding of how the two professions come together in the field of child advocacy. I will attend meetings between various agencies working with a specific child, make field visits to their respective placements, attend those children’s cases in court, assist in writing up the result of those meetings, field visits, and court cases, and assist with generating plans-of-action and connecting children with further resources to best help them achieve their goals. Lawyers For Children prides itself on its focus on really listening to the child, thereby providing them with a space where they feel safe and respected. LFC also aims to advocate and educate the public about the many difficulties several groups, such as LGBTQ youth in foster care face. This article by the Wall Street Journal highlights the added difficulties experienced by LGBTQ youth, specially in foster care: http://www.wsj.com/articles/counting-new-yorks-gay-and-transgender-youths-in-foster-care-1433550187

 

 

ny family court

New York County Family Court. Photo by Mark Fader

 

This summer, I hope to learn more about the interaction between law and social work and what sort of balance between the two produces the best results when working with underprivileged populations and to gain experience in a legal/social work setting that advocates for human rights and social justice. Finally, I hope to gain a better understanding of how the social issues that several minority groups face, like the foster-care population, effect youth in large cities like New York City.

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

Getting Acquainted with Streetlight Schools

“Good after…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hello from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia!

My internship, though through the Ethiopian Diabetes Association (EDA), largely takes places at Tikur Anbessa Hospital or Black Lion Hospital. The EDA and its members first provided me with an overview of my tasks both with the Association and at the hospital. The EDA strives to educate and empower individuals with diabetes to understand the illness and its management. The EDA office is found in the heart of Bole, a vibrant sub-city within Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian Diabetes Association  (EDA) building found in the heart of Bole, a sub-city within Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Diabetes Association (EDA) building found in the heart of Bole, a sub-city within Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Though a small community, the individuals within the association make every effort to meet the needs of their members on various levels. The EDA works in cooperation with the hospital, well-known individuals, health centers, doctors, and many others to achieve their goals.

At the end of summer 2012, I decided that I wanted to take my summer internship project on understanding the prevalence of diabetes in developing countries to the next level by doing a case study. I choose Ethiopia, my native country, to conduct my case study. Next, I contacted numerous Ethiopian professors both here in the US and in Ethiopia. I later discovered the EDA when researching additional contacts regarding prospective project. I sent a message to the EDA through their ‘Contact Us’ page and received a response from Misrak, the program manager, who assisted in creating this opportunity. As an intern, my responsibilities are two-fold. First, I observe both at the hospital and EDA office.

Observing and being able to hear first-hand from individuals with diabetes will allow me to understand the unspoken symptoms of this chronic illness. I will be able to hear from patients and their family members stories that are unwritten in medical records and the role that factors that are often unaccounted for such as cultural pressures and family. In addition to observing, I will also be collecting information on diabetics and their diet/nutrition. This information will allow me to focus my scope of interest. I have prepared a questionnaire for patients to complete at the Black Lion Hospital’s Diabetes Clinic.

Tikur Anbessa’s Diabetes Ceneter – This is where I will be spending most of my time talking to patients and distributing questionnaires.
Tikur Anbessa’s Diabetes Center – This is where I will be spending most of my time talking to patients and distributing questionnaires.

My first week was almost nothing that I expected. I had come ready to begin at the hospital and talk to patients. Instead, I found that I had to write a proposal and have it approved by the Department of Internal Medicine Head (the Diabetes Center is under this department) before being allowed to distribute any questionnaires. Additionally, I had to go back and forth to the Dean of Undergraduates office to obtain a letter stating that my internship had been approved and I could begin. These logistical matters took up a great deal of my first week so I wasn’t able to speak with any of the patients at the clinic just yet. On the bright side, the doctors and other people that I spoke with were extremely helpful and understanding.
In addition to learning about diabetes in Ethiopia, which is at the heart of the academic front of my internship, I expect to learn a lot more. Learning may take any form as long as we are willing to accept that there is still much that we can learn from those around us. Thus, I expect to learn from the doctors, nurses, EDA members, patients, and anyone else I may encounter throughout my time here in Ethiopia.

Reflecting on a Summer with the Research Alliance

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

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

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

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

 

My Last Week at Stepping Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midpoint Review and Rethink: Can We Change Their Lives?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,

Terry Chenyu Li”

Midpoint Reflection

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Injustice and Hope behind the Glamorous Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Terry Chenyu Li

Everyone Deserves a Share: United for a Fair Economy

HomeMy internship this summer is with United for a Fair Economy, which works to raise awareness about economic equality and to move people into action in their own states and communities to counter the policies that continually widen the wealth gap. The organization has projects through which it works towards its goals

Racial Wealth Divide: tackling the racially determined economic gap

Responsible Wealth: Encouraging the wealthy members of American society to fight for equality

Popular Economics Education: giving other organisations the tools to understand economic policy and implications

Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative: advocating for fair and progressive tax policy

Estate and Federal Taxes:  tax fairness at the federal level

– One if the ways the UFE raises awareness about the inequality. (Source: UFE/Info-graphics)

A week before I started working with the group, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand the organization’s mission and the projects that it engages in at a film screening at Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Inequality for All stars former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, as he and his trusted mini cooper work tirelessly to fight economic inequality in America. He explains inequality, how we perceive it and its realities. The film highlights one major point:

that the top 1% of the American population holds more than a third of the country’s wealth and that this share is growing.

 A combination of wit and simplified everyday language helped the group gathered in the auditorium on a warm Tuesday night to understand how increasing economic inequality can negatively affect their livelihood, their health, their rights and their freedom. Not all of us hold a bachelor’s degree in Economics (I can at least speak for the 9 year old in attendance who understood enough to join in the conversation afterwards).

My First Week

I am one of three development interns at UFE. Our role is to help with the fundraising side of the organization, a role that is instrumental in keeping the wheels of the UFE well-greased.

–          I attended a staff meeting the first day I arrived. The first few minutes were spent acknowledging each member’s hard work and achievements during the previous week. This was a sign that the UFE is an empowering and supportive work environment where everyone is recognized for their contribution.

–          I was given a chance to identify projects I would be individually interested in, something I appreciate as an opportunity to show my skills and learn new things. I expect to have this kind of freedom for the rest of the summer.

–          I met two other Brandeis students who are also interns at UFE for the first time, which is always a pleasant experience.

–          I started working on projects almost immediately. Everyday, I learned something new, both about the organization and fund-raising in general. My supervisors give me the background and motivations behind every project and how they affect donations and donor retention.

–          The people at UFE immediately struck me as passionate about their cause. They are a diverse group with different skills that are valuable to the group. It will be interesting observing and learning what those are.

In this environment where everything seems to be happening at once, I expect to make some great relationships, learn many new skills and have the chance to contribute to a great cause.

Thanks for reading,

Pokuaa Adu ’14

P.S. Please take a look at all the links highlighted all over this post to learn more about the UFE, the film and other interesting things I have seen in the past week.

Reflections on a summer with the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project

I had an amazing experience this summer interning with the Kenya Scholar Athlete Project. This summer was completely different from anything I have done before and I am extremely happy that I took a chance to try something new.

One of my primary goals for the summer was to improve my communication and language skills through my work as a teacher. I had no direct teaching experience before working with KenSAP so I had to learn on the job. Teaching students whose first language is not English made it particularly important to be clear during instruction. Many of the lessons I taught focused on grammar and writing which required me to improve my own understanding of the language. As a first language speaker it is easy to see a grammatical mistake and simply see that it is wrong and correct it. This is much more difficult to do when you have not had consistent access to English books. It was very important to explain the rules to the nuances of the language which was something that I have never really focused on. This experience undoubtedly improved my ability to communicate with others.

Living in a new place has augmented my interest in learning about cultures that are foreign to me. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this internship was getting to know my students extremely well over the summer. Outside of class we discussed cultural values and beliefs as we were particularly interested in each other’s lives. Having spent most of my life around people with fairly similar backgrounds it was great to hear about a culture that is entirely different from my own in some ways and extremely similar in others. Spending a summer abroad has increased my interest in travelling and potentially living somewhere new.

Teaching was much more enjoyable than I expected. Observing improvements from one assignment to the next was particularly gratifying. The students were very intelligent which made it easier for them to use the classes effectively. Seeing the improvement from the student’s essays at the beginning of the program to those at the end showed remarkable progress. From the first week to the last week the student’s improved their SAT scores by about 300 points on average. This data primarily shows how intelligent the student’s are, but it was also great personal feedback for me as a teacher.

 

This internship gave me a much more realistic outlook on the challenges that face an organization that seeks to improve social justice. I think I entered the summer with some reasonable expectations for the disparity between developed and emerging countries. This internship truly showed me how significant the difference is. The number of capable students who the program had to turn down showed me how many people never receive an opportunity. While I believe that KenSAP is an amazing program that provides an unbelievable chance for many deserving students, it was difficult to grasp how many people do not. This internship reinforced my conviction about supporting social justice because I developed an understanding of the number of capable people who just need a chance.

I think that entering this internship with an open mind and being patient allowed me to be successful in reaching my learning goals and enjoying the process. It was important to expect cultural differences to arise so they were not shocking when they actually occurred. I feel like I learned so much this summer and had an amazing time doing it.

-Alex Kramer ’13

The End to an Amazing Journey

M.A.S.O’s Banner

It is so crazy to think that I have finally completed my internship with Massachusetts Survivors Outreach. This will have to go down as one of the hardest summers of my life because of the high expectations and short turn around time to get all the work done. I met so many incredible people this summer who I will continue to connect with even though we are all leaving back to school. Within the span of three months, M.A.S.O has taken huge strides. We have become a non profit organization, fundraised over $5,000, and even secured an office space in Quincy. M.A.S.O has gone from a small organization into a huge Non-Profit organization that is recognized by other organizations such as Dove.

The Interns at the State House

This experience will help me throughout my Brandeis career because M.A.S.O has showed me first hand how hard work can trump over all other factors. Brandeis has taught me to question all things, even how straight forward the concept and this has made my experience with M.A.S.O much more fulfilling. Combining these two life long lessons, I feel, is an ideal that people strive to learn but never get the chance to learn first hand but I have.

After completing this internship however, there is so much more I want to look into and learn. I want to become more familiar with the court proceeding process in all kinds of courts. Since I spent all my time in family court and working with victims of domestic violence, my experience with with diverse kinds of victims and proceedings is limited. I want to know how criminal and juvenile court proceeding work as well.  I also want to try and complete my research that I started with M.A.S.O on the Economic Strain Within the Family Court System and maybe even write a thesis. All of the knowledge that I have soaked-up through out the summer makes me want to write it all down. I guess all of these Brandeis courses have drilled that kind of process in my head so where I actually want to write a long paper. HA HA!

The best advice that I would give a perspective intern is to be open to new ideas and get as many jobs you can handle during your internship. It will make the experience so much more fulfilling at the end of it all. I was hired as the pre-health intern but I did not only do research. I worked with the Business and Law students and helped them out as much as I could and from that experience, I was able to utilize not only my pre-health knowledge but also work on other areas that I could be interested in.

One of the main things that I have learned this summer is that action, even for a good cause, starts with one person. Just because you do not have the big following or the recognition that you expected, you must keep moving forward. I did not understand the concept of good organizations that help fight for great causes failing before it gets started. No matter how good your cause, you must keep fighting for it even when you think everything is going to be okay.

– Johnny Wilson ’13

Summer Protests

My mid-point was a time of a turbulent renewal of the social justice protest movement that began in the summer of 2011. At this time, marches calling for social change, specifically for a socially-conscious governmental budget, were organized and highly attended.  At Shatil and on the street, there was a feeling of anticipation for another summer of social action.  I personally felt excited for Israel and the potential for change, and also about being so involved in the social justice world at a time of change and action. Reading organization-wide conversations about the movement participating in Shatil conferences at the Knesset made me feel meaningfully involved. I felt more than just the high of marching in a protest, I had the feeling of being part of something greater, that had large impact on Israeli society.  Shatil’s work with a variety of organizations, truly enables it to have strength in numbers and make meaningful contributions on a range of issues.

Above: Photograph at the one year anniversary of the social justice protest movement in Tel Aviv

One of my learning goals this summer was to learn about the spectrum of civil society organizations and movements in Israel. Through the emails, and renewal of the social justice protest movement, I was able to learn about a range of civil society actors and organizations. Beyond this, I began a new assignment to write short examples of work Shatil has done with various organizations. Through this task I was able to talk both with Shatil consultants and leaders of organizations about the work Shatil and the various organizations do.

One of the skills that I am building right now is writing skills.  Many of my responsibilities include writing, either writing for the newsletter (check out this week’s newsletter here) and writing reports for donors. Because of this, my writing abilities have greatly improved. Another skill I have improved is communication. Many of my responsibilities, including writing for the newsletter, updating a volunteer database (check out the database here) and writing case study examples, forced me to call and talk with a range of people. This has helped improve both my language skills, as most of the conversations were in Hebrew, and my communication skills. A skill that I have gained is translation. There have been a few opportunities for me to translate documents from Hebrew into English, which I have enjoyed greatly. Through this I discovered my own gratification from doing translations. These skills are skills that I hope to bring with me to whatever my future job will be.

I am most proud of participating in a Facilitative Leadership seminar. The two-day seminar was taught entirely in Hebrew (although I was also given English materials), and I am very happy that I was able to follow, participate and learn from the seminar. The seminar included the seven practices of facilitative leadership, below.

Seven Practices of Facilitative Leadership

Tamar Schneck ’13

Finishing up at FVLC

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

It’s definitely a hard job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashley Lynette, ’13

 

Midpoint Check-In from UNITE FOR SIGHT in Ghana

The midpoint of my internship with Unite For Sight finds me just shy of four weeks in Ghana. Since beginning my internship twenty-six days ago, I have completed my rotation with Northwestern Eye Centre, completed my first rotation with Save the Nation’s Sight Clinic in Twifo Praso (Central Region), met the supervising ophthalmologist and medical director of Save the Nation’s Sight Clinic, and observed the STNSC staff perform life-changing cataract and pterygium surgeries. I am now starting my second rotation with Save the Nation’s Sight Clinic in Denu of the Volta Region.

Introducing the outreach team’s best friend: the Sight Mobile!

 

 

Professional & Pink…who knew Save the Nation’s Sight Clinic had such bold style?

 

I am happy to say that I am making great progress with my defined learning goals. My overarching learning goal was to engage my HSSP background and coursework through hands-on experiences in the field of public health. As a Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow, I have been blessed with the privilege of working with the most basic level of the local eye clinics: the outreach team. Everyday, I am on the ground with the team of optometrists, ophthalmic nurses, dispensing opticians, and local volunteers locating patients in need of quality eye care. I am constantly taking notes on what I see, reflecting on the ins and outs of the local health infrastructure, and developing strategies to improve the implementation and administration of our global health practices.

At this stage of my stay, I am most proud of my patience. I pride myself on being a very patient person, but I was still concerned with how challenging the language barrier would be, especially in a medical setting. English is the official language of Ghana, but it definitely isn’t the most widely spoken tongue amongst the populations I work with. Still, I realized my proficiency in Twi, the most prominent language amongst my regions, could only get better. So I practiced the phrases that I knew, learned several new ones, tried really hard to perfect the Ghanaian intonations, and leaned on my team too many times to count. A month in, I was able to conduct an entire visual acuity screening in Twi, an accomplishment that only bolstered my confidence going forward!

The academic skills I’m building are quite evident from my work within the internship. However, I feel that I am building life skills more than anything else. I’m starting from scratch and learning to immerse myself within an entirely different culture. I’m learning a new language, learning about new foods, learning new social cues and norms…I’m learning to be humbled. I’m building skills in teamwork, dream work, and the open mind. My skill set will be a testament to how amazingly beautiful the human spirit can be. I’m a cliché: living life to the fullest. And I am so honored to be performing justice work with an amazing group of health professionals for a nation that inspires me to want to be a better person each and every day.

 

To lean more about Dr. Baah, the founder and medical director of Save the Nation’s Sight Clinic, please select the link below:

http://www.uniteforsight.org/volunteer-abroad/ghana/villages-preparation/baah-history 

 

To learn more about the importance of sustainable development in eye care, please select the link below:

http://www.uniteforsight.org/what-we-do/sustainable-development 

Mid-way at Centro Presente

Hi All!!!

I can’t believe it’s been four weeks already since I started my internship at Centro Presente. Time has gone by so fast!!! In these four weeks, however, I have learned so much  and participated in so many activities that I feel I have exceeded my expectation for this internship.  During these four weeks, we have been working in many different events. One of these events was to inform people about the deferred action that President Obama gave to the Dreamers.  The rest of the events have been more concentrated to inform people about the Secure Communities Program implemented in Massachusetts since May 15, 2012.

Two weeks ago, we went to the State House to present the statewide commission to monitor the implementation of Secure Communities.  At this event, we had people from many different organizations in Massachusetts who support the creation of this commission. We had the presence of Somerville Representative Denise Provost, who told the stories of so many children who are being separated from their families because of secure communities and how there is need to stop the implementation of this program in our state. This past Friday, we went to Waltham where we talked to people about the effects of this program and how people can protect from it.

 

My days at Centro Presente have been different every day, something that I really enjoy.  Some days I spend time doing translations and planning events including creating the fliers, contacting people to reserve the place, and calling allies and members to invite them to the events. Other days, I spend time organizing the events that we have for the week.  Occasionally, I am in charge of the reception where I answer the phone and help the people who have appointments for the day.

Something that I feel very proud of is the time I have been teaching English to adults in Centro Presente.  Teaching is something that I thought I would never be able to do, however, when I was asked by the organizer of classes at Centro Presente to teach, I did not hesitate to say yes. This experience has taught me how hard a teacher’s job is since they have to spend so much time outside of teaching time to prepare classes. I think teachers deserve more value than what society gives them.

Reflecting on the goals that I set for this summer, I feel that I have been able to accomplish them thus far. Working with people and listening to their stories, I have been able to give them a different perspective. I think that because I have taken Psychology and Sociology courses, I am more able to listen to people and to find way to assist them in the best way that I find suitable.  Another goal that I have been able to accomplish is to acquire more work experience. Being a full-time intern at Centro Presente has been a way for me to learn what it is like to be in a work setting; experience that I did not have before so I am very thankful to the WOW committee for this opportunity.

I. Moreno, ’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