Looking Back: Around the World with AJWS

Sadly, my summer with American Jewish World Service has come to an end, but as I think back on my time with the organization, I cannot believe how much I have gained from this internship. Over the summer, I completed numerous large projects, including developing several lesson plans to teach and inspire American lay leaders to advocate for the developing world. One of the greatest lessons I learned at my internship is how to work collaboratively with people more experienced than I am. At first, I really struggled to speak up during meetings because I felt that what I had to say could not possibly be important. However, after much encouragement from my supervisor, I found my voice at team meetings. I realized that I was able to bring a new and unique opinion to the team, as I came in to meetings with a fresh pair of eyes. I gained self-confidence and made a better impression among my colleagues when I started speaking up. This is a skill I will bring back to Brandeis with me. This semester I am taking two classes with which I have no experience, and I know there will be people in those classes with more things to say than I have. Nonetheless, I will feel confident to speak up and share my opinions because I know that what I have to say is (usually) worthwhile.

This internship has opened up a lot of doors to new ideas for me. Now that I have completed the internship, I would like to learn more about the issues facing the developing world, and how they come about. I would also like to learn other ways people can get involved in helping out with these big issues without devoting their whole lives to solving them. I would strongly recommend interning at a nonprofit social justice organization, and especially AJWS. I would tell students planning to intern at a social justice nonprofit to be prepared for some feelings of helplessness – you will learn that there are so many issues that need fixing and there is no way that you can come in and fix them all. Just remember that you are there to help in whatever way you can – and that is enough! Also, be enthusiastic about any task you are given. Most organizations will need some very mundane things to be taken care of, like file-sorting or shredding or making copies. Hopefully this won’t be a big part of your internship, but it is important to take on these jobs with as much enthusiasm as the more interesting tasks. These are all important things that help the organization to run smoothly, and your taking them on means that more social justice can be achieved in the world. Also, your employers will notice if you have a positive attitude.

To students interning at AJWS specifically, I would recommend making time to get to know as many people in the organization as possible. I set up hour-long slots to meet with several of my colleagues, including department managers and vice presidents who were all more than happy to take time from their busy schedules to meet with me. I learned so much from these amazing individuals and forged strong relationships with some of them too.
AJWS has challenged by assumptions about social justice by showing me the importance of a human rights-based approach to development. Before the internship, I assumed that the biggest task facing the developing world was access to resources such as water, arable land and food. AJWS showed me that this kind of resource-based approach is not effective. In order to assist the developing world, we must focus on human rights, because no matter how many resources a country has, it is not helpful unless women and marginalized communities have access to those resources and are not being abused or persecuted. AJWS’s work to end violence against women, child marriage, and persecution of LGBTQ people has shown me what it really means to be a change-maker and reinforced my own passion to work for real change.

– Jessi Puterman ’15

Mid-way at AJWS

I can’t believe how the time has flown! It has been over five weeks since I started interning at American Jewish World Service and although it’s not so obvious from day to day, when I look back over the past five weeks I can see that I have grown a tremendous amount.

I came into this internship with a few specific goals for myself, and I believe I am well on my way to reaching them. One of my goals was to gain a new level of independence, and living and working in New York City has been the perfect circumstance for reaching this goal. I have never before had to take on so much responsibility for myself as now.  Even though I lack my standard support system of parents, professors and close friends here, or rather because I lack that system, I have managed to cope with the everyday trials and tribulations of life on my own. I feel confident now in my ability to look after myself.

Professionally,  my goal for my time here is to network. This was not easy for me at first, but I’ve gotten the hang of it. I’ve already met with two colleagues outside of my department here to learn about their jobs, and I have appointments scheduled to meet with two more. Informally, I have also spoken with many other AJWS employees about their jobs and their personal stories. I can see that not only am I forming strong connections here, but I am also gaining the skills to do the same elsewhere.

Finally, I set myself the goal to try grow academically during the summer by gaining new skills that can also benefit me at school. One skill that I have really picked up from AJWS that will be helpful is self-reflection. My team here seems to truly value taking time out just to think as a tool for productivity. I have practiced that here and found that my work has improved after some reflection time. This is a skill I will take back with me to Brandeis.

I am monitoring my growth with the help of my supervisor, John, as he has taken special interest in supporting my professional development. Every week, the two of us sit down and go over my goals and work on how to further them. With John’s help, my goals are constantly in my mind, and I have them printed out and pinned to my cubicle wall. This has been very helpful.

Right now, I am most proud of the relationships that I am building. It is my natural inclination to keep to myself, but I have made an effort to get to know my fellow interns and colleagues, and I have been truly rewarded for this effort. I am forging true friendships this summer, and that is wonderful! I am also becoming very good at organizing social activities among the interns. Relationship-building skills are key, and I intend to carry these skills over to Brandeis, both academically and in my involvement with the Mock Trial Association. Thanks to AJWS, I’ve come to see the importance of creating and maintaining strong relationships in every aspect of life.

– Jessi Puterman ’15

The American Jewish World Service: A week of immense learning

Last week, I started interning in the New York office of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). AJWS is a non-profit organization that, drawing on the Jewish commitment to justice, works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. One of the many things AJWS does is train key opinion leaders in the American Jewish community to advocate in support of U.S. policies that will improve the lives of people in the developing world. I was placed as an intern in the Experiential Education department, which, among other things, devises the curricula through which these leaders are trained. Right now, the team is most focused on a current fellowship of Rabbis which will be going on a ten-day trip to Kenya in August. In Kenya, the Rabbis will learn first-hand from grassroots activists in the area who are working to combat injustices against women, children, and the LGBT community. The trip is just a part of the program though – these Rabbis have spent six months with AJWS learning about advocacy and the issues Kenya faces. They will spend six more months continuing the learning process when they return, after which these Jewish leaders will be well-prepared to lead their communities to advocate for human rights.

I have several responsibilities as an intern, which include collecting art and poetry from Kenya to include in the curriculum; collating and organizing survey data; supporting recruitment for future programs; assisting in preparation of pre-departure emails and orientation calls; and assisting where necessary. AJWS has a meeting-heavy culture, so I have also been attending several meetings a day.

That's me holding the "I."
That’s me holding the “I.”

I found this internship through Brandeis’ B.Hired website. After sending in an application, I was interviewed twice and was then offered the internship. I was very excited, as I had previously been exposed to the work AJWS does, and I wanted to be a part of this movement for real change. Since starting my internship, I know I made the right choice. Everyone here has been remarkably friendly and welcoming. My general impression is that this is an open and comfortable environment filled with people who genuinely care about making a difference. In just one week, I have already learned so much about human rights issues around the world and best practices for dealing with these issues. I have been exposed to a new way of talking and thinking about such matters.

This summer, I expect to learn a great deal. I think I will develop the skills to better advocate for human rights and an end to poverty in the developing world. I also think I will learn how to thrive in an office environment, and how to network. I also hope to learn more about myself. As a rising senior, I expect that this internship will help me make decisions about my future after Brandeis.

– Jessi Puterman ’15