Intern Reflections Archive

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Maureen Book – NETWORK

Maureen with Ana and Senator Ben NelsonWorking in D.C., the nation’s capital, was probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. Life in D.C. is fast-paced and people are tremendously driven and always well-informed—everyone seems to know everything about everything. There was always something happening and the ripple effects of politics was spectacular to watch. My internship also taught me a great deal, not only about the issues I was working on, but about American politics in general. With constant debate and discussion, I was able to clearly understand what my own personal values and concerns are. And I was always sure to meet people who thought the same as me – as well as many people who didn’t.
Experiencing D.C. was definitely empowering, and in a strange way, a little reassuring. After an entire year as a member of the Cortina community, learning about incredible social injustices in our society, I was understandably frustrated and angered that no one was doing anything. Though this is definitely somewhat true, it certainly doesn’t mean that no one is talking about it. I met so many people and groups in D.C. that knew way more than me about lots of issues and who were definitely concerned and making their voices heard in D.C. politics. This was definitely reassuring to me. D.C. politics also made me realize how empowered and important we are as citizens of this nation – no member of Congress will make a decision on something without listening to his or her constituency. Our members of Congress really do want us to write and call to tell them what we think – which gives us a tremendous amount of power. Working in D.C. further cemented my commitment to social justice and has made me eager to learn as much about the world as I can. I can’t write enough about how wonderful my D.C. experience was and I am so grateful to the CCSJ for giving me the opportunity!

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Will Rutt – Interfaith Worker Justice

I arrived at the worker center not really knowing what I was going to do and what the worker center was all about. As the summer progressed I started to hear the workers’ stories first hand and connect with worker, and immigrant struggles in Arizona. Pressure quickly began to rise as the court cases piled up and the date of the implementation of SB1070 neared. One week I had the opportunity to be a part of three different protests. I was able to help organize and coordinate both of the protests that our worker center organized. Going to both of those, seeing the national support, and seeing the success of the actions was inspiring. It was so great to see some of the hard work that I did this summer really become concrete. We made steps toward a more just workplace for workers in Arizona. The third protest was that against SB1070. This was an intense day filled with lots of emotion. Watching so many people stand up for what they believe in by getting arrested was inspirational to me. It gave me hope for this fight for worker and immigrant rights.
This experience is one that I will not forget. I got a first hand look at the plight of workers, and our undocumented brothers and sisters in Arizona. I was introduced to the crazy world of organizing that I hope to be a part of in the future. My eyes were further opened to the importance for every person that does have a voice to stand up and fight for people who do not have a voice. I was right in the middle of history in this fight against SB1070 and for immigration reform. Most of all I learned from the workers and the importance of the dignity of every human being no matter their status, skin color, age, or religious affiliation. I will continue to learn and grow from this experience at AIAWJ as I reflect and look back on my time here. I would like to thank Nic, Cristina, Maria and Trina for all that you have done for me, I will miss working at the center. Thank you to Father George for being my spiritual advisor throughout the summer. Thank you to Creighton Center for Service and Justice, IWJ Nationals and all the people that supported me this summer.

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Ben Anderson

Ben Anderson wrote the letter below detailing his summer working with Interfaith Worker Justice, a 10-week, paid internship program that assists students in building a solid foundation in the principles of their faith tradition, teaches skills in organizing, advocacy and social analysis, and provides hands-on experience in working to improve the lives of workers.

I was doing my first cold-call to try to schedule a one-on-one.  The pastor had pushed me off to the minister of domestic ministry, who then told me he was leaving for Africa on a three month sabbatical.  All my sensibilities told me that was the end of the discussion with the church.   The main pastor had already told me he didn’t deal with these issues and it would not have entered my mind to call him and ask again.  It seemed rude and not ‘nice,’ which was what I wanted to be.  But Matt had a different idea.  He told me to call the pastor and put the pressure on him.  Nothing in me wanted to make the call but I had no choice and picked up the phone.  After being told no two more times I did give up and learned that this internship was going to be like nothing I had ever done before.
I did not have a grasp of what organizing was and was jumping into it blind.  Like this phone call indicated I had no idea that this internship was going to require so much personal growth.  By being thrown out into the organizing world and asked to complete some amazingly large expectations I was forced to look inside and find the energy to challenge myself to develop new skills.
A one-on-one is a meeting with someone where I ask probing questions about their past to build a relationship and identify their self-interest.  After about forty-five minutes of questioning I then move into finding how their self-interest can fit into them doing something for a campaign.  Taking the time to meet with someone and trying to understand what moves them is a wonderful thing.  I discovered the power of relationships and how through those relationships grass-roots change can take place.
I enter the Jesuit novitiate on August 18th and bring with me a rich and full experience from the summer.  Having been planted and watered I have found so many gifts and talents have grown and flourished.  I don’t know what my career in the Jesuits will be, but I do know that I have tremendous freedom in the order to choose my own path.

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Rachael Hoffman – Interfaith Worker Justice

My summer as a Workers’ Rights Advocate, or in Spanish- una promotora de derechos laborales, at the Chicago Workers’ Center was a whirlwind of excitement, and important lessons.  I handled twelve workers’ cases; interpreting for them when they didn’t understand the attorney’s English, guiding them through the legal process of filing a claim, and assuring them that we would do everything we could to help them with their case. I marched with hotel workers, big-box living wage supporters, immigrants, day laborers, and fellow advocates. I celebrated in the successes of workers and sympathized in the heartbreaks of those cases in which the employer acted unjustly but didn’t break the law. I was inspired by the perseverance and steadfast nature of the workers, and the opportunity to witness and be part of our staff- a small group of 20-some year olds who are effectively changing the lives of hundreds of workers. Although I learned a great deal about labor laws, I grew the most in the strengthening of my belief in the dignity of each worker and in my commitment to help those who are being treated unjustly.

If you’re interested in learning about grass roots organizing and labor injustices- consider IWJ’s Summer Internship. If you want to develop your skills on how to affect change in a powerful way- consider IWJ’s Summer Internship. If you want to live out your faith in a way that impacts those around you- consider IWJ’s Summer Internship. While participating in IWJ’s Summer Internship program, I gained deep insights into the pains and injustices that exist in the lives of low-wage workers. I also learned that I could do something about this, and organizing was the tool that created lasting change. Consider spending your summer deepening your faith and growing your skills as an agent for change.
- Rachael Hoffman, former IWJ participant.

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Matt Deboer

We are staying with 3 sisters (Daughters of Charity) and they all have different roles within their community. These are three of the most amazing women I have ever met, their English is amazing, and they all have hilarious senses of humor. Many of the children here are orphans, and often times they live alone or with older or younger siblings. The compound we are staying on remains open for them from 6am to 6pm, and many of them don’t leave between those hours because this is the only home they have. Many of them live in the streets and get their only food at school. The sisters are doing all they can, but they can only do so much. Many of them are born HIV + or have AIDS and only live to be young adults, if that. I think the hardest visual thing to take in has been the victims of polio. I have seen several children with polio trying to get around, using their arms as legs, with sandals as shoes for their hands, and their legs dragging behind them. It brought me to tears hearing a local woman talk about how severe a problem it is. I met a young boy, Johannes (John), who wants to be a lawyer and help people in Bahir Dar. This is not a rare dream. The children here have very tangible and logical dreams — lawyer, doctor, teacher, officer, etc. We finished up classes on Thursday, 12 July, and that day was definitely the most difficult day of the trip. At morning assembly we were presented with gifts from our students, and althoguh they were simple (a scarf and animal carving), they were beautiful and truly from the heart. At the end of the day, I decided that there was nothing “new” that I could teach them, so I decided to use a little of my improvisational abilities (which I used most of the time anyway) and let them be the teachers for a while. We wrote a bunch of English words on the chalkboard and I let them write them out in Amharic figures and English letters for me, so I could leave learning a bit of their language. They LOVED this activity, and we all benefitted from it. I gave them all hugs/handshakes/awards on their way out (English certificates), and they thanked me with smiles, hugs, kisses on the cheek, and a few notes/drawings.

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Al Robey

Al Robey Hat PartyI spent five weeks with five other incredible volunteers, four amazing Daughters of Charity, one compassionate Vincentian priest, hundreds of wonderfully enthusiastic and loving students, and a beautiful, hospitable city. I taught in a very, VERY small classroom in a brand new school located in Tulema Tulema is a “leprosy village” in Jimma. Prior to the establishment of Tulema, people who had leprosy and their families were living in the Catholic cemetery, as they were designated “the living dead.” Though there are only four or five active cases of leprosy in Tulema, and the disease is completely contained, the children and grandchildren of those who have and had leprosy are still ostracized.
I would regularly see my students selling tissues and chewing gum or shining shoes on the streets outside of class time.  Despite their concerted efforts, many, if not all, of the families are struggling to meet their basic needs.  On top of all this, HIV/AIDS is devestating this community, as it is in so many communities in Africa and around the world.
After class, we had a coffee ceremony held by a few of Krissy’s 5th graders. They pooled their money to purchase the bunna (coffee), dabo (bread), and a small amount of candy, popcorn, and animal cracker-like cookies. After a few minutes, Awel (one of my second grade students) who was leaning on me throughout the ceremony, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Alicia, what is this?”  I looked over at him to see that he was holding a small heart-shaped cookie.  A big smile spread across my face.

Al Robey hugging AwelAt the end of every class, I would call up each student to the door, give him/her a sticker and a hug and a kiss, and ask her/him a “What is this?”  “This is a ________.”  I also had a large number of heart stickers, so we learned the word for “heart” and that people drew them to say “I love you” (in Amharic it is Wah – de – shar – lo)
Awel paricularly enjoyed our one-on-one time at the door, and he LOVED the hearts.  Each time I gave him one, he pulled down the collar of his shirt to reveal a large heart shape scar on the upper part of his chest, indicating for me to place the heart sticker in the middle of his scar.   As I did so, I would ask, “What is this?”  In his sweet voice, he’d reply, “This is a heart.”  Then, I would say “I love you” and give him a big hug and kiss on the cheek, sending him out the door.
So, when Awel asked me “What is this?” as he held out his cookie to me, I thought of all those moments over the last five weeks.  Fighting back tears, I said, “This is a heart.”   Then, Awel very quietly said, “I love you,” and he placed his cookie, the only cookie he had received, in my mouth and rested his hand on my shoulder.
As I think about this brief, special moment with Awel today, I am reminded of the anxiety I felt before I left the states for Jimma. Just as Awel and I literally and figuratively exchanged hearts, I know a part of me will stay in Jimma and a part of Jimma will stay with me.

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