Final Days at Fina House

The final days of my internship served as a period of enlightenment and reflection. I recounted the days when I began working at Fina House and my worries and insecurities. Would the staff members be helpful? Would the workload become too overwhelming? How can I contribute more to the projects at hand? I was pleased with the end result and at the amount of growth that the young women presented after participating in our workshops.


Typically, a workshop day would look something like this: We begin with “highs and lows,” going around in a circle and each person stating the highest (best) moment of their day and their lowest (worst) part.  Then we would go into an icebreaker.  The icebreaker would be some kind of team building or communication strengthening exercise. Afterward, we would transition into the workshop topic. Each person gets the chance to discuss and comment on the workshop material and their feelings and ideas about it. We would then wrap up the workshop with the “highs and lows” of the lesson.  This would help me analyze what worked, as well as what I needed to improve on.


One of my workshop days was replaced with a health workshop on sex and AIDS education. The doctor who hosted the workshop was new to Fina and I assisted him with facilitating dialogue and communication amongst the girls. It is not easy trying to take charge in a new environment but with the right atmosphere and a couple of icebreakers the girls were ready to contribute to the discussion.


The meeting I had with my supervisor was successful. She advised me on which girls in particular I should focus my attention on during workshops. She also suggested a few icebreakers that would make all of them feel more comfortable and willing to participate during discussions.


During one of the discussions about college, a couple of the girls wanted me to assist them in registering for classes in the local community college.  I was glad to see them take the initiative. Two other residents had completed their GED (General Education Development) programs and the staff decided to host a celebratory dinner for them. I assisted them with the planning for the event and setting up the dining hall.


This journey was well worth the effort. There were a few residents who were not willing to participate initially but as time progressed they found themselves speaking out and being a part of the team. I devised a portfolio of the workshops that I hosted with the materials that I used and presented it in a folder to my supervisor. I want Fina House to have a documented set of topics to cover for the next intern that they might have, or if any of the girls want to review some of the material. After the last check-in meeting with my supervisor I was reassured by her encouraging words that I would always be welcomed back to the Fina House for any potential internships or social justice projects I had in mind. This internship opened new doors for me in a rewarding field that I hope I can continue to pursue.

GED Celebration Dinner
GED Celebration Dinner

MID-POINT with FINA HOUSE: Mixed Emotions


After working in Fina House for most of the summer I am having mixed emotions with my progress. I began the internship focused on two separate projects. One was working alongside the Family Counselor of the Child Advocacy Program (CAP) and the other one was with the director of the Teen Parenting Program (TPP).

Our goal for the CAP was to create a type of physical activity program for the children who were victims of sexual assault to help manage their trauma. I contacted several different local organizations aimed at the creative arts, sports and academic support for young people. Arrangements have not been finalized for potential partnerships at this time. For the Child Advocacy Program my duties focused on office work as well as work on small projects with the family counselor for the kids.

The progress made with the Teen Parenting Program has me more excited. I have ventured away from only using the Preparing Adolescents for Young Adulthood (PAYA) material and have incorporated my own lessons into the workshop. I am using various materials that I find, such as, articles, videos online, and magazines, introducing topics that will spark interest and discussion amongst the girls. They all seem to enjoy the discussions and actively participate. It made me feel extremely happy and satisfied to have one of the girls admit she felt comfortable expressing herself about personal issues around me, that usually she never had the opportunity to do so. This taught me how important it is to establish the right atmosphere and a safe space so that all of the young women in the room felt that their opinions were valued and respected.

Next week I will begin weekly meetings with the director of TPP to discuss the content of the workshops and so that she may provide any materials or accommodations necessary for participants. I feel she has been open to discussing any problems/ideas thus far, and I am glad we will now have formal meetings.

Even though this internship is already halfway through I still believe that there is much to be done. I will continue working to explore possible partnerships for CAP. The staff at Fina is always welcoming of new ideas and I am always asking questions for any type of feedback or advice on how to improve the workshops.



Creating "Windows" for the play area with the CAP kids
Creating “Windows” for the play area with the CAP kids


Unite For Sight – Goodbye Patna!

The Sinha’s ancestral home

After acclimating to Eastern Standard time and catching up on some much needed sleep, I cannot believe that I am already back from Patna. The experience was surreal. Looking back at my pictures and explaining them to my family has allowed me to really reflect on the hectic days spent at the AB Eye Institute ( I am eager to go back to Brandeis with my deepened appreciation for nonprofit organizations, such as Unite For Sight, and work towards my fundraising goals for a club I co-founded named Brandeis FACE AIDS. I have seen how impactful donations to sustainable charities can be, and look forward to fundraising with that in mind. I also hope to see my passion for global health initiatives grow as I enter the healthcare field, and that I will be able to intertwine my professional life with the fulfillment I derive from charity work.

Upon returning to Brandeis, I will continue to work towards a career in optometry that will be strongly driven by the positive experience working with the senior optometrist. I hope to continue to seek out mentors who will teach me that professionalism and empathy are possible regardless of the environment you work in.

Me, Dr. Ajit Sinha, and Anchal on the last day in the clinic

If another student were to ask me about volunteering through Unite For Sight I would encourage them to look into the commitment seriously. The process to become a Global Impact Fellow is a rigorous one, with an extensive application process. Once accepted, I needed to collect 600 donated glasses, complete a preparatory course and take the corresponding exams. Once finally arriving in India, I learned everything I needed to know ‘on the job’, but it required a lot of patience and my own desire to learn and become a productive member of the AB Eye staff. Therefore, I would recommend to any prospective volunteers that they take initiative and ask questions. The more work you put into the clinic and your role there, the more you get to take back with you, in the form of memories and knowledge. The eye is a fascinating organ, and in my opinion, a vital one. Without sight, daily tasks become daunting. Working, cooking, traveling, and other daily activities are exponentially more challenging without vision- making my position as a Unite For Sight volunteer that much more rewarding when restoring patients sight. Funding free cataract surgeries and giving out donated glasses to those in need was an important part of my experience. It made me feel like I was giving to the community in the most profound way.

The work I accomplished with Unite For Sight has strengthened my perceptions of social justice and the ability of a small group of likeminded people to make a difference. At Brandeis, students are taught that they are capable of righting the wrongs of the world. Watching it in action in Patna by people who see a need and meet the demands was inspiring. My experience in Patna increased my awareness of poverty and the efficacy of good hearted charity organizations.


Work and Play: Month two in Chennai

Myself and some of the other interns on a day trip to the Dakshina Chitra Cultural center in Chennai
Myself and some of the other interns on a day trip to the Dakshina Chitra Cultural center in Chennai

So phew, I can safely say that since I hit the midpoint things have gotten very busy here at Transparent Chennai. Just as I hit week five, my team (Public Toilets and Sanitation) held a “Process Mapping and Work Plan” meeting. Over the course of two afternoons, we used various participatory activities to help us step back and look at the larger picture which was super helpful for me. Since I have almost no prior experience with this sort of work, the first month I spent here included a lot of quick learning, secondary research, and scrambling to get a hold on all of the work I was doing. A meeting like that right at my midpoint was great timing.

This also resulted in a discussion of how the rest of my internship would play out, and rather than simply assisting in the work on Public School Toilets, I would now be leading it. This means making sure the kinks get worked out of the survey tool (including running pilot surveys) organizing and leading mapping exercises, and preparing and holding some kind of community meeting before my internship ends (among other things.)

I’m feeling pretty on track with my goals for this summer. I am gaining research skills and learning a lot about data analysis, and, while I’m learning about urban planning from sort of an inverted perspective, I think that’s actually incredibly useful. I’m learning a lot about what not to do! As far as cultural immersion and my other personal goals go, I don’t think one can get more immersed than this:

Wearing my new 'salwar kurta' in front of my apartment in Chennai
Wearing my newsalwar kurta in front of my apartment in Chennai

I have been having a fabulous time adjusting to life in Chennai, figuring out what grocery stores to go to, how to have water delivered to my apartment before I run out, and – by far my favorite activity – bargaining with auto (rickshaw) drivers. This is a big deal here for everyone, even the locals, because drivers in Chennai NEVER turn their meters on, are super aggressive, and always try to jack up the price. Learning how to deal with them was pretty essential because taking an auto is my main mode of transport, and initially the whole process terrified me.

It was really difficult for me to push back when the drivers would start telling me how “very far” somewhere was and how I should pay thirty extra rupees and so on. I had no sense of whether a location was far or not! One of my friends (another intern at Transparent Chennai) taught me a few words in tamil to use with the drivers and by the fifth or sixth auto ride, something changed. Suddenly I was enjoying these interactions! If I’m not tired (hungry… in a hurry… etc…) it can be fun, and I’ve become proud of my ability to talk a driver down to a fair price. I’m really enjoying this newfound assertiveness and it’s definitely helping me feel more outgoing, although I think I could still work on being more assertive.

For example, one goal that I didn’t include in my initial projection for the summer was learning how to collaborate with other people. I’ve been doing a lot of this at Transparent Chennai, and sometimes it’s an honest struggle. Being a student can be such a solo operation, and at the end of the day, it usually comes down to making decisions that only impact me.  I’ve realized that this process is very different from most of the work I’m doing at Transparent Chennai. Through self-reflection, I’ve learned that making compromises is often difficult for me, particularly when I feel that I should better advocate for me ideas.  This is something that I hope to continue to work on throughout my internship experience.

A public toilet on the outskirts of Chennai
A public toilet on the outskirts of Chennai

I’m also simultaneously having to learn how to be a leader in a situation where I am very new to the world of work. I’ve been in leadership positions before, but the difference was that I had three years of experience under my belt. I felt confident in my decisions because I had prior evidence that I made them well, and I knew everything there was to know about the place where I was working at the time. At Transparent Chennai, I’m still figuring things out and while it’s more of a collaboration than anything, I still have to make decisions about what I should be doing and what work I should be asking other people to help me with. I feel that this is an ongoing learning process, and probably the most important thing I’m learning through my internship outside of the work itself. 

This is where I go to work every day!
This is where I go to work every day!
The main building at IFMR
The main building at IFMR

In my experience, you’re never really alone in India, and I’ve grown to appreciate that part of my living here.  Whether you are on the bus and someone’s two year old falls asleep on your arm or someone passes you their bus fare to pass to the conductor, there are always people interacting with you. Sometimes this can be really difficult for me, but it’s also something I’ve really come to love and inspires me.

Sophy Burns ’14 

Faith and Possibility at AJWS

     After spending the summer as the experiential education intern at AJWS, I leave with a greater sense of possibility. To see the interworking of an organization I believe is conducting the social change work with the highest intellect, humbleness, and dedication, enabled me to see what locally driven and internationally supported social change could look like in new ways. In accomplishing tasks cross departmentally, like working on the creation of a campaign activist toolkit, I got to see what it takes to make forward thinking and data driven change a reality. With these learnings is a sense of wonder; a sense of how our power can be used for good and ultimately transformed to give a greater voice to the poor and marginalized. These lessons give me the tools and mode of thinking to bring a deeper purpose and greater potential to contribute, provide insight, and most importantly listen on whatever experiences come next.

 AJWS's Open Access Educational Resources: On1Foot
AJWS’s Open Access Educational Resources: On1Foot

One of the most transformational aspects of working at AJWS that I wish to explore in this blog was the significance of AJWS being a faith-based organization, expanding my relationship to the role of faith and God in development. For many years, the difficult question has stuck with me: what role, if any, does religion plays in making the world a better place? Every day I read about religion as a source of conflict, violence, political repression, and the denial of equal rights. It can be easy to jump to cynicism. Yet, to engage in the work of international development and human rights throughout the world, a world that is predominantly religious, how can one ignore religion? In my studies at Brandeis and individual pursuits, I have come to understand that these holy texts ultimately provide foundations for peace, the recognition of full human dignity, and a greater existence. AJWS has further opened my eyes to see how faith – Judaism in this context – can play a practical and inspirational role in the work to promote the human rights of people around the world.

     Faith manifests in various forms throughout the work of the organization, each of which are exemplary. It works mobilize our own communities in the U.S., knit by religions bonds, to further drive change. It emerges in customs and events, such as the Global Justice Shabbat. And additionally through text and study, seen in the published materials highlighting the nexus of Judaism and the commitment to justice (one of which I wrote for Tisha B’Av), and in the delegations of Rabbis that go abroad to meet with the grassroots partners and study Jewish principles in an international context. To an unmatched degree, faith enables us to organize and deepen connections within our communities.

AJWS Supporters Lobbying in Washington

AJWS supporters lobby in Washington.

   For the international component of AJWS’s work, the role of faith remains less explicit. But I see it emerge in this context with perhaps an even higher degree of integrity and righteousness. It manifests in the grantmaking to organizations and individuals, who fight day in and out for their divine image to be seen. They fight to be truly recognized by politicians, corporations, and public as “good”; how the Hebrew God saw his creations throughout first six days of creation, before arriving at the seventh day of rest and peace. This continued quest for justice and a dignified existence, where AJWS supports people all over the world making headway to maintain sustainable livelihoods, have proper rights to the land, bring about true equality, and be heard, is nothing but a prayer of Shalom Aleichem.


AJWS grantee Inter-Ethnic Association for Development in the Peruvian Amazon (whose leaders are pictured here outside of Peru's Congress) won a major land rights victory this year when the government passed a law that guarantees indigenous people the right to prior and informed consent for any land-use projects on their territory. PHOTO  Evan Abramson
AJWS grantee Inter-Ethnic Association for Development in the Peruvian Amazon (whose leaders are pictured here outside of Peru’s Congress) won a major land rights victory this year when the government passed a law that guarantees indigenous people the right to prior and informed consent for any land-use projects on their territory. PHOTO Evan Abramson

And it’s a wrap – for now.


I can’t believe I’m flying back tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of life here. Lots of things have happened since my last post. Here’s a brief summary-

1. I had a terrible chest infection. I was down with a bad cough and fever for a good week and a half. I couldn’t really focus or work, but I did try taking lots of pictures of the clinic. I rested for a couple days in bed after realizing that walking around with a fever of 104 degrees wasn’t the best thing to do.

2. I received extra funding from Brandeis-India Initiative Fellowship to do a photo exhibition on ‘Children of Bhopal’ at Brandeis! This is something I am incredibly excited about. I am currently looking for a Photo Editor who can work with me on this (due credits will be given) so please let your editor friends know about this! I was really moved by Alex Masi’s photographs of Bhopal, and I plan to compile all the photographs and publish a photobook by the end of next year if I can secure funding.

3. Internet bailed out on us for a while at the clinic, and I found myself staying at the clinic some times and staying near Satyu’s house (to use his wifi) at other times.

4. I said goodbye to Rashi, Melanie and Jamie- three great volunteers at Sambhavna that I had really great conversations with. I also met Anastasia and Nina, two volunteers from the UK and had a nice time at the Indira Gandhi Museum of Mankind with them.

5. I flew to Jharkhand for a week. While I was there, I helped revamp Ekjut’s website. I created a demo site on wix and explained it to the web designer so that he could change the current look into the one I designed. Took some lovely photographs there as well.

6. I celebrated India’s Independence Day with the kids at Chingari. They staged wonderful plays!

7. I accompanied Vikas Tripathi, a campaigner with International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), in distributing pamphlets/petition to the survivors in the lead up to a massive rally on August 30th demanding their chief minister to follow his words. The petition demands that the Chief Minister put the money where his mouth is and ensure that victims of the disaster each receive at least Rs. 5 lakhs from the state government.

8. I’m finishing the video and changing the final pictures on the brochure.

I’m really excited to talk about my experience in person at Brandeis and finally have my site online- where all of you will be able to take a look at the photographs I took, the videos I made and other work that I did. For anyone who wishes to work at Sambhavna or Bhopal in the future, I’d suggest you keep to yourself when you have to, as your behavior can lead to multiple interpretations. Even as someone from Nepal, a place that has strong cultural ties with India, I faced situations where I thought I was being misunderstood and my actions being misinterpreted. Be clear, talk to people and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, I’ve always believed that ‘passion makes perfect’, so whatever area of expertise you choose to develop, give it your all – or find something else you’re willing to give it your all.
That’s all for now.
Signing off,

Bridging a cultural and a generational gap

Meeting Silvain Gilbert is quite the experience. He is in his 70’s, though as lively and fashionably dressed as he is one could easily mistake him to be in his late 50’s. From the very first moment, he is bursting with stories about his experiences surviving the Holocaust as a child in Belgium. In 1940, when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, he was two years old. Like so many others – His life changed overnight. A brave Belgian woman took him and his sister into her custody and raised them as Christians during the war in the village of Mont-Saint-Guibert. He survived through many dangers, including a period of time when German soldiers resided in their very same house. By the end of the war, “I saw the woman who adopted me as my real mother, and my parents became strangers,” he says sincerely. After the war Silvain went back to school and later made a successful career as a diamond trader until retiring.

With Silvain (left) and his wife Sabine
With Silvain (left) and his wife Sabine

Silvain represents an inspiring generation of people who survived the hell of War World Two and the Holocaust, and flourished from the ashes. Together with his wife, Sabine Wolf-Gilbert, who also took on the job of his agent and manager, he spends much of his time visiting schools and community centers and sharing his story and the story of the Holocaust with as many people as possible (click here for YouTube video of Silvain telling his story).

Mr. Gilbert is the only survivor of the Holocaust currently based in Hong Kong.

It is a sad fact of life that less and less Holocaust survivors remain to face, as living witnesses, the challenge of bridging the enormous generational gap between the world that allowed Holocaust and today’s seemingly safe world. Nonetheless, in most western countries, there is more than one survivor. In that sense, Silvain’s story epitomizes the amplified challenge of Holocaust education Asia: In addition to bridging a generational gap, Holocaust educators in Asia must also bridge a cultural gap.

In my meeting with Silvain, we discussed ways to make his lectures more effective in reaching Hong Kong Students. Together, we designed a coherent and concise presentation rich with photographs, graphics and captions, to help breach the generational barrier. But the cultural gap is still there – unlike Holocaust survivors sharing their stories in the Netherlands, the United States Israel, Silvain often faces crowds of students who know close to nothing about the war in Europe. And there is only one of him to face this challenge in Hong Kong, and not many more in the rest of Asia.

Finding creative and efficient ways to bridge those gaps was central to my my internship with the HKHTC. Most of the challenges that I had to deal with, derived from these gaps, and most of the skills I used and developed were used to try and bridge them. As I mentioned in my last post, one example for a useful skill was creativity. I consider the exhibition I described, an “Oasis of Survival and Hope”, which is currently being set up towards its opening in October, one of the greatest achievements of my internship. Working with Silvain is another example: I got to personally work with a Holocaust survivor who promotes Holocaust education, and find creative ways to make his lectures more effective. Working with Silvain, as well as working with many other local educators, was an invaluable opportunity to experience educational work, and use creativity and people skills.

Preparing for the exciting Holocaust memorial exhibition in Central Hong Kong
Preparing for the exciting Holocaust memorial exhibition in Central Hong Kong

No question about it, I am taking with me more than just a useful opportunity to practice and improve my skills. My internship was also an opportunity to live and work in Asia, experience getting adjusted to work in an unfamiliar environment, make new connections and sip in the local culture. As an East Asian Studies major, I have no doubt that all of the above will be useful. I also used the opportunity to travel into mainland China, explore and practice Mandarin which I have been studying at Brandeis for two years now.

I also hope to bring my extended knowledge of the field of Holocaust education back to Brandeis. Most specifically, I wish to open a chapter of Triangles of Truth, an partner organization of the HKHTC that brilliantly combines commemoration of the Holocaust to battle modern day genocides around the world, at Brandeis.

The city of Hong Kong. An unfamiliar environment as an important part of an incredible learning experience
The city of Hong Kong. An unfamiliar environment as an important part of an incredible learning experience

Considering Brandeis’ association with Jewish world, I believe it is but natural to try and create a long-term partnership between the university and the HKHTC and encourage more students to consider interning with the organization. To those considering it, I would like to say: if you are passionate about spreading awareness of the Holocaust and genocide prevention, and have the discipline and determination to help a new organization develop and grow – the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre needs you, and in return can be part of an unforgettable experience.

A local educator visiting the Hong Kong Holocaust and and Tolerance Resource Centre
A local educator visiting the Hong Kong Holocaust and and Tolerance Resource Centre

Halfway through AJWS

AJWS Logo     

 The Work

Halfway through my internship, my work in the Experiential Education department has progressed with increased clarity and productivity. Now with a stronger grasp on the organizational culture, language, and processes, I am making greater headway on various tasks. One project I am working on is a retrospective for the service programs, that are now coming to a close, in order to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of these programs, share learnings and reflections, and highlight the transition to the new educational and leadership program that AJWS is pioneering, the Global Justice Fellowship. Another element of my work has been conducting research, also in support of this program. I am conducting interviews with other international programs that similarly aim to deepen understanding and commitment to global justice. My research and supportive work behind the program has demonstrated that AJWS is innovating in the world of global justice solidarity work and organizing, with the combination of an immersive educational opportunity, activist training, and campaign mobilization in the U.S. Another function I am contributing to is a Campaign Toolkit, which will serve as a resource for activists in the forthcoming campaign of AJWS. I have additionally spent some time reaching out to alumni, updating the database, and plugging upcoming events.

One of the biggest highlights of being an intern, though not exactly task oriented, is the multitude of  sessions the interns have with various directors and executives of the organization. This opportunity gives us the chance to see how these dynamic individuals each uniquely contribute to the greater mission, managing their their various teams to address critical functions of the organization’s operations. Getting exposed to the ways in which each of these functions – from development and communications, to grant making and advocacy – fit into the theory of change, has opened my eyes to the far-reaching work that makes an organization effective at driving change.

Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.
Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.


Learnings in an International Non Governmental Organization

Efficiency, Coordination, and the Role of Process:

Some of my most significant leanings at AJWS have been about process; how an organization (or any group of people for that matter) with a serious mission, drive, and no time to waste, can work best to accomplish their goals. I have witnessed a number of tools that I will undoubtedly continue to use at any workplace or organizing situation in in the future. Foremost, I have seen the significance of role clarity. It happens informally, revealed naturally through conversation, and institutionally, in various forms of “responsibility assignment matrices.” And the results are noteworthy. It better assures a shared vision, creates accountability, prioritizes tasks, and helps utilize people’s skills most efficiently. For the type of work I aspire to accomplish in life, prioritizing both stakeholder participation and productivity, these lessons of process are invaluable.

Furthermore, I have encountered modes of facilitation and delivering information that additionally emphasize the role of process. While in the university setting I have learned to write with an affinity for words and delve into the depths of ideas, I see how these skills are not necessarily best for productive functioning in an organization. Conversely, using as few words as possible to articulate an idea, ask a question, and deliver an update is critical for dynamic and efficient collaboration. How important to recognize and develop this skill early on!

And perhaps most importantly, process and efficiency includes people feeling good! Google has received much attention for their remarkable incorporation of this value into the workplace – with play time, healthy food, haircuts, and childcare, all complimentary at the workplace. And while AJWS (like every other company and organization) is no Google, it does quite. In the office, we are fortunate to hear inspiring grantees come and share their stories, and it is not rare to find oneself celebrating a colleague or historical moment. I feel invigorated each morning walking into an office that radiates with positivity, passion, and work that matters deeply.

AJWS staff members celebrate the repeal of DOMA

– Samuel Porter


Midway Point at the AB Eye Institute

Before beginning my internship I sat down and listed what I had hoped to get out of it. I was told that my days would be packed with patients from previous volunteers and that I should make the most of the experience, because before I know it I’ll be back in the beautiful New Delhi airport on my way home. I had a few goals in mind; things that I would hope to accomplish before my time ran out.

First, I wanted to see the differences between the kinds of healthcare disparities found in the United States as opposed to those found in developing countries.  So far I have learned that the care given to patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds and races in the AB Eye Institute is the same across the board. The only exception of the type of cataracts surgeries they commonly perform on paying patients, which is the phacoemulsification surgery, as opposed to the small incision surgery performed on the free patients. When I asked for the reason for this difference I was told that the small incision surgery was cheaper, and therefore the clinic was able to afford to provide more cataracts surgeries for the seemingly never ending demand of free cataract surgeries.

Secondly, as someone interested in the optometric field I wanted to know what the ‘day-to-day’ entails. I have been learning to ‘diagnose’ certain conditions and have successfully labeled many of them in practice. It was really rewarding to turn to the Senior Optometrist and ask if the patient has a corneal ulcer, or mature cataracts and suggest a course of treatment and be rewarded with a proud smile.

Imitating the Big Buddha
On my day off I journeyed to the holy Buddhist city of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment.

Finally, having never been to India before, I was intent on learning more about Indian culture, and I am so far succeeding! As of today I have gone to a Hindu wedding reception and to the Buddhist holy city of Bodh Gaya.  Both experiences were incredibly enjoyable and simultaneously educational. I was taught interesting practices, such as touching the lower legs of elders as a sign of respect and the concept of a prayer wheel. Both experiences were a much welcome break from the busy clinic and helped me reach one of my learning goals.

Anchal, myself, and Afaque (from left to right) in the charity eye clinic in Patna City.

My proudest, and most looked forward to task at AB Eye Institute is the nightly trips to the charity clinics. The community leaders who invite us are always incredibly warm and gracious, and are constantly refilling our cups of chai. After a few overwhelming clinic visits, in which I was told to distribute glasses to the patients by pulling them out of a vast black garbage bag, I had an idea. In preparation for my trip to India, I was told to bring a bunch of Ziploc gallon bags, to hold wet clothing, or food for long trips. I brought those bags with me to the charity clinics, and began sorting the most common prescriptions into bags and labeling them. It was easy and not terribly time consuming. Once I had everything organized I was able to efficiently distribute the glasses, even allowing the patients to pick out their frames from a selection. This was not something that they would usually be able to do when offered donated frames. I believe that in making the small step of organizing the frames I was able to give patients a chance to choose what I view as a personal item, according to their own tastes. Before the ‘ziploc revolution’ a patient was given the first pair of glasses that matched the prescription written in their chart, regardless of color or style. Afterwards, a patient was able to regain control over their own appearance, and given the glasses they desperately needed but could not afford.

I am learning new things every day, and am enjoying how much more comfortable I am becoming with the set up in the clinic and the busy schedule! I am looking forward to seeing how my time with the AB Eye Institute helps me continue to grow in both academic and personal realms.

– Adi Fried

First Week at AB Eye Institute!

My first week volunteering with the AB Eye Institute has passed in the blink of an eye. I am currently in Patna, the capital city in the Indian state of Bihar, as a Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow. I, along with another volunteer, Anchal, are excited to be helping with the everyday tasks that are necessary for the eye clinic to run effectively. My position here is to meaningfully support and assist eye clinic staff by providing basic visual acuity screenings, distributing medication and eyeglasses prescribed by the local eye doctors, and assisting in managerial tasks.

I learned about Unite for Sight through an email I received from the HSSP Undergraduate Department Representatives who were publicizing a Unite for Sight event during ‘Deis Impact. The Unite For Sight website is very informative in regards to how the Global Impact Fellows contribute to the local communities in developing countries. After a comprehensive application process, I was accepted and then the real work began. Before arriving in India I needed to complete an intensive course on the cultural differences and basic anatomy so that I could best contribute to the clinic, and I feel that it has helped me tremendously. Most importantly, the Hindi phrases that I was taught in the course are now almost naturally coming to my head when asking a patient about their history, or to move their heads in a way that allows the Auto Refractor to get a better reading.

During this first week I have learned so much! Each day was packed with patients and learning opportunities. During our time in the Out Patient Department  Anchal and I also take patient histories (In Hindi!) and give visual acuity exams. I learned how to use the autorefractor, commonly referred to as ‘the autoref’ to provide a measurement of a person’s refractive error and prescription for glasses, the results of which I was taught to read in a brief optics lessons by Abhishek, the Senior Optometrist at AB Eye. On Friday, because it was a slow patient morning Abhishek also treated the staff to some chai, my new favorite beverage of choice regardless of the temperature outside, and tea biscuits. It was really fun getting to see the staff in a more relaxed setting as opposed to the usual stress which comes with having a constantly packed waiting room with patients eager for medical attention.

On surgical days, which are Mondays and Thursdays, I watched about twelve phacoemulsification and small incision cataract surgeries on a television screen in the Operating Room. After very long days in the hospital, we drive to different charity clinics set up in community centers in different neighborhoods in need. It was really encouraging to see people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to any eye care receive medications, glasses, and cataracts consultations, so it kept me motivated and battling jetlag!

I am looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring and excited to continue to learn new things about Indian culture and to help the patients in the hospital and the clinic.

– Adi Fried

Final Thoughts, Advice & Changes

As these past two months flew by, I was able to achieve many of the goals I had initially set for my internship. On the academic front, I was able to gain great insight and understanding about diabetes and diabetic education in Ethiopia. I was able to obtain both academic and social perspectives on the extent of this chronic illness.

Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic
Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic

Personally, I had set out to understand people as more than patients. I believe that through the many conversations with patients throughout my time at Tikur Anbessa, I was able to see the other factors that affected them beyond the disease. Additionally, I now realize that their current condition isn’t only a result of the diabetes.

Though I only have one year left at Brandies, this experience has allowed me to gain many different assets that will add to my Brandeis career. It will help me choose relevant courses, attend events, etc. that will help me grow in understanding the field of public health in various contexts. Among the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Addis is that everything – every initiative, action plan, program, service, agenda – should be relevant and familiarized to the respective context. Thus, I want to use the rest of my time at Brandeis and beyond to see how different things unravel in different cultures, among different people, and the like. I have increased my desire to draw comparisons and differences among different regions, whether international or local, to understand the greater relationship between cause and effect with respect to health/illness.

During my internship, there were many things that were unexpected – for the better and worse. One piece of advice that I would give to a student interested in an internship is: Be Flexible! Your internship may not necessarily be what you initially imagined – so, being able to be flexible and work with what is before you is essential. Even when initially searching for a internship site, your interest may not always line up exactly so it is important to be able to be flexible to try something that you had not thought of. It is vital that you do not completely forget your interests, just be as accommodating as possible. Continue reading “Final Thoughts, Advice & Changes”

Diabetes: Questionnaires, Seminars, Conversations….at Tikur Anbessa Hospital

Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.
Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.

I have made great progress in achieving the goals I had initially outlined for myself. I better understand the current state of diabetes in Ethiopia. This understanding comes, not only from estimates and health professionals, but from the patients themselves. While conversing with patients and distributing the prepared questionnaire, I have learned a great deal about diabetes as an illness and also the social constructs that have a great role in its management.

In comparison to what I knew before the beginning of my internship, I believe that I have made great progress. Moreover, I have obtained great insight into the field of public heath – what it entails, the extent of its need, and its importance in various fields. I have also, as I had outlined in my initial application, seen the important intersection of public health and education.


I am currently most proud of my progress with the questionnaire. Though my proposal took an unexpectedly long time to get approved by the head department, I already have over 100 completed questionnaires. With each filled questionnaire, there is a unique story.

At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.
At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.

It has been a privilege and honor to be able to sit down and hear these stories directly from the patients themselves. Additionally, having a large number of questionnaires will allow me to draw conclusions that are able to be generalized and therefore have a greater impact.

The other great thing I was able to participate in is the EDA’s monthly educational seminar. These seminars help diabetic patients learn about the disease, its complications, and how to manage this chronic illness. These seminars take place last Saturday of every month so I was able to attend the June session. In addition to learning about diabetes and how it affects the heart, I was able to distribute questionnaires to the association’s members. The seminar I attended was much greater than I expected – nearly 80 patients attended.

Skill building often takes place when and where we least expect it. There are certainly times where we are intentionally learning or practicing specific skills that we need in the future. However, I often find myself and am currently building skills that can be applied to various aspects of my future where I least expect it. While talking with the diabetic patients at the clinic or EDA members, I have observed my skills in social interactions become increasingly fine-tuned. I am also becoming more aware of the various factors that are associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes in Ethiopia that are not medically treatable. Understanding this will allow me to better understand the depth and increasing need for public health as it is the field, I believe, that brings together both medicine and the social needs of the patients. This understanding, without a doubt, will transfer to my future career plans and involvement elsewhere.

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.

Looking Back and Forward – Weizmann Institute Internship Midpoint Review

I checked my calendar yesterday, and was surprised to see that I am already halfway through my internship!  It seems like I just started, and I am still getting used to the lab and the team.  But now that I have paused to look back at what I’ve learned, I realize how much I have accomplished in the past month.  I am progressing on a research project that I designed with Dr. Fisher and Dr. Segal on a potential Alzheimer’s drug.  I have been using the confocal microscope independently to test the drug on cultured neurons, and to measure its interaction with other chemicals.  I am now beginning a new project, taking high-resolution 3D images of neurons to measure growth after protein transfection.

Flying over Israel in a two-seater plane with my supervisor!

Flying over Israel in a two-seater plane with my PI!

I have listed my original goals here so I can reflect on my progress so far:

1) To attend lectures and conferences hosted at the Weizmann Institute, which will encompass various scientific topics

In my second week here, I attended a lecture by Prof. David Wallach from the Department of Organic Chemistry.  I learned about the sustainability of today’s energy sources and the Weizmann Institute’s cutting-edge research on energy sources for the future.  The institute has a solar tower that contains a field of 64 mirrors, each approximately the size of a tennis court. Each mirror tracks the movement of the sun independently and reflects its light onto one target mirror to accumulate all the energy.  The downside of solar energy is that it cannot be stored, so Weizmann researchers are currently researching storable and sustainable energy options for the future.

The second lecture I attended was by Prof. Tony Futerman from the Department of Biological chemistry Department on “Sphingolipids in health and disease.”  The cell membrane is majorly made up of one kind of molecule, the phospholipid. Prof. Futterman has found that there are actually hundreds of thousands of different phopholipid structures within the membrane.  There are more variations of phospholipids than there are genes in our cells! Prof. Futterman is researching the significance of this variation and how mutations can affect or cause diseases such as Gaucher disease and Tay-Sachs disease.

2)    To gain insight into the connections between molecular studies and mainstream medical treatments

Within the Alzheimer’s disease research, I have worked directly with a drug that could be used in the future in clinical care.  Dr. Fisher and I have discussed the process of designing a drug, testing it in the laboratory, and bringing it into clinical trials.  I am hopeful that I have played a helpful role in the research of this drug, and that it will be successful in the long run.

3)    To improve my research skills and learn more about research on an international scale

The Segal lab currently has scientists from Israel, Russia, Armenia, and Germany, and is always welcoming new post-docs, masters students and summer interns from all over the world. I see the scientists around me working on their projects, and at our Sunday morning lab meetings (yes, in Israel we have to work on Sundays) I get to hear about their progress. This past Sunday morning I heard about one researcher’s work on seizure prevention. This is really science in the making, and it is so cool to be right here watching it happen.

I am most proud of my ability to adapt to the new research setting.  I was briefly taught how to use the confocal microscope, and was then left to use it on my own.  I was originally nervous working on my own – there’s a lot to remember to keep the (expensive!) microscope clean and functional.  Also, this was my first time working with a computer-based microscope, and so I had to master the complex computer system. But I’ve learned to be very careful, reviewing steps in my head before doing them, and so far so good!  This is definitely a skill that I will be able to take with me for the rest of my life. Learning to master skills quickly through attention to detail and patience is very important in medical training.  And with the constantly changing medical technologies, I will continue to practice this throughout my career.

– Shani Weiner

The importance of the invisible side

My experience working in Oxfam International this summer was truly invaluable. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to experience working in the humanitarian/non-profit world from within a large-scale international organization, which differed enormously from my previous experiences working with small local NGOs. Often, we only see the work humanitarian organizations do on the field, but fail to take into account the long, extensive and complex process that takes place behind the scenes to make a particular project possible.

Being given a research project to conduct entirely on my own, I was exposed to a large array of structural/organizational processes that are indispensable for a project to be implemented. Until then, I had only worked on the implementation stage of humanitarian work: being on the field, working directly with people. But for staff on the field to be able to do their work, a vast administrative structure must prepare everything beforehand. This is the work that is not visible from the outside: the hours behind a computer in an office, researching, drafting project proposals, competing for scarce grants, budgeting, stretching the most out of minimal available resources, taking care of finances, making ends meet, countless phone calls, meetings, preparation of all large-scale and small scale logistics, filling out forms, scheduling site-visits, improvising when unexpected things push you off the plan… an incredibly laborious, time-consuming and hard task that is fundamental for any organization to implement its work – and is not nearly given as much credit as it deserves.

I was able to appreciate this fundamental side of the humanitarian world, one that I had not been exposed to thus far. I would advise anyone that is interested in working in the humanitarian field to explore the administrative/logistical part of this world before they immerse themselves in it. That is, I think it is very important (as with any other industry or job) to find out how things really work inside in order to avoid being shocked/discouraged once you get there and find out that it is not what you thought it would be. We tend to romanticize humanitarian work, thinking it is all beautiful, fulfilling, and that you’ll be working directly with people every day. But reality is that the every-day life of this field requires as much administration and logistical preparation as any other industry.

For me, realizing this over the summer has helped me greatly with my career exploration – helping me clarify what it is I’d like to do after Brandeis, and where I would like my professional path to go. It has helped me see that the world of “social justice,” as noble, rewarding, indispensable and beautiful as it certainly is, has an enormous amount of aspects and necessary levels in order to make the “whole” possible – and contrary to general perception, working directly on the field is just a small part of it. The rest of the work is equally as necessary, and just because you’re not on the field does not mean your job is less meaningful.

I’ve learned so much from my experience interning with Oxfam International, and grown enormously as someone who is about to enter her professional life. The work they do is simply amazing, and having had a glimpse of their inner workings has further reinforced my desire and conviction to build my professional career in this field. Working with hurricane refugees, talking to their communities, and conducting an entire social research project in only 8 weeks was an intense, gratifying and incredibly educational experience.

Building where one of the refugee communities live
Building where one of the refugee communities live

Improvised refugee houses made out of zinc plates
Improvised refugee houses made out of zinc plates