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In Their Own Words: Marcella Houghton ’12.5

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Marcella Houghton ’12.5 interned with the State College Area Food Bank in State College, PA.

What did you do?

Twice a week I assisted Bill Zimmer, the home gardener growing crops for the State College Food Bank, and worked at the Food Bank on alternating days. In addition to harvesting and maintaining the crops he was already growing, I assumed responsibility for planting and harvesting a bed of green beans. When the State College community garden got in touch with Bill with an interest in donating to the SCFB, I contacted and met with the garden intern to set up a system for community gardeners to donate their extra harvest. By the middle of the summer the garden had a cooler set up behind a shade cloth, where gardeners could donate and where I would pick up donations weekly.

At the food bank, I served as an all-purpose volunteer. Every distribution day I joined the morning crew with set-up, shelving, and receiving and sorting donations. I joined the new set of volunteers that came in on afternoons, and helped distribute food to clients. I drove the food bank van on errands and on donation pick-up runs. I also set up a recycling system for torn, dirty, or otherwise un-re-usable plastic bags. After broaching the idea with volunteers and the directors, I found and labeled a bin for the bags. Curbside recycling doesn’t include plastic bags in State College, but since the food bank regularly visits grocery stores, whoever’s driving the van can deliver the bags to the recycling receptacles outside of each store.

What did you learn?

Working at the food bank corrected some assumptions I had unknowingly harbored. I’d previously thought food banks relied almost exclusively on individual donations or food drives. But the SCFB receives the bulk of its items from federal and state programs, the South Central Food Bank in a nearby city, tax-deductible donations from grocery stores, and purchases of new groceries on the food bank budget. I was surprised to learn that clients of the SCFB are eligible for groceries only 8 times per year. No chance of surviving off Food Bank groceries alone, contrary to my previous notions.

What are your plans for the future?

My perception of food assistance programs shifted after this experience, hopefully giving me a better sense for how they operate. Working for the food bank widened my eyes to the complexity of social service programs like the SCFB. I also observed among volunteers and people I spoke with a concern that clients might be able to “cheat the system” and get more food than allotted. I’m inclined to think of this anxiety as a misunderstanding; however, whether people “cheat” often or not I believe that programs should strive to treat clients with compassion rather than suspicion, and I realized just how important it is to cultivate that attitude among volunteers in a program like this one.

This summer I discovered an interest in managing volunteers, when I realized I was often in the position of delegating tasks to new recruits. Volunteering every other day gave me a crash course in many of the daily tasks, and it was rewarding to connect a task-less volunteer with a task and attempt to streamline the day’s to-do list. I found it refreshing to interact with many small teams on a regular schedule (the Monday morning crew, the Monday afternoon crew, etc.) and get to know the rhythms of each group of core volunteers. I could see myself in the position of a volunteer organizer in a similar program.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.

In Their Own Words: Mia Benjamin ’13

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Mia Benjamin ’13 interned with Pathways for Mutual Respect and the International Institute of Connecticut in Singapore, Malaysia and Connecticut.         

What did you do?

I worked to promote Pathways for Mutual Respect’s interfaith dialogue initiative in Singapore and Malaysia and assisted in a Yale Fellow’s dissertation research on sociology of religion. The other intern and I also put together and facilitated a Life Story Group which brought together Muslims and Christians to share their personal experiences with the goal of breaking down stereotypes and boundaries. For IIConn, I translated Arabic legal documents and served as a personal interpreter and American language and culture tutor to an Iraqi refugee family. While the main purpose of my internship was still to translate legal documents, I did a lot of other tasks for the Institute’s refugee department. I translated about one or two legal documents a week, including divorce certificate, marital contracts, passports, criminal records, and academic transcripts from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. My other primary duty was providing support for a family of Iraqi refugees. In addition to tutoring the wife and children on English and American culture, I served as the personal interpreter for the wife on her doctor and dentist visits.

What did you learn?

From my trip to Southeast Asia, I learned first-hand about the complex religious, ethnic and political tensions in Malaysia and Singapore. I was also exposed to international leadership roles. I gained experience in maintaining careful control over the public image and identity of an organization and the subtleties of inter-business relationships. In the other parts of the internship I learned how to facilitate interfaith discussion groups and manage controversial topics. I also gained experience doing literature reviews of certain topics. The most benefit I gained was learning a great deal about interfaith work, Islam, and running a small non-profit.

What are your plans for the future?

This internship really helped me explore what an academic career that is heavily involved in activism might be like. It increased my desire to work internationally with Muslims and well as pursue graduate studies in the field, because I saw how important international experience and graduate degrees could be having a very real influence on policies and leadership. This helped encourage my belief in the necessity of interfaith dialogue initiatives, especially ones that carefully take into account the complexity of religious and social tensions in the region. One way that I would like to continue this would be to combine community service and interfaith endeavors on the Middlebury campus. For instance, I hope to organize a Habitat for Humanity build day with leaders from the different religious groups on campus.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.

Ch-ch-check it out! Fit Kids J-Term Internship

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Love health and fitness? Still not sure of your J-Term plans? Midd Alum Ashley Riley ’98 is offering an exciting internship opportunity for J-Term in Menlo Park, CA. The Fit Kids Foundation was founded in January 2011, with a mission to promote healthy, active lives for children in underserved communities. Fit Kids provides opportunities for participation in organized fitness classes, working to inspire a love of sports and physical activity to develop healthy lifestyle habits and build participants’ self-confidence.

There is a huge demand for Fit Kids programs, and there are incredible opportunities to make an impact on children around the country. And that’s where YOU come in. Fit Kids is looking for a Development and Strategic Planning Intern to help with research, strategic planning and identifying key partners and experts.

Want to help Fit Kids expand their programs across the country? Head to MOJO and apply today!

In Their Own Words: Esme Lutz ’12.5

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Esme Lutz ’12.5 interned with the Rehwa Society in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, India.

What did you do?

My project focuses on the Rehwa Society, an Indian nonprofit organization established in 1978 dually to promote a regional craft and provide employment specifically for women. Before traveling to India, I conducted research using many of Middlebury’s online resources in order to deepen my understanding of Indian culture and gender relations. I planned to compile a photographic documentary—using images combined with text to illustrate Rehwa’s story to a viewer—and thus spent my time in India observing the weaving process, interviewing key figures associated with the organization, photographing a variety of individuals and objects, as well as traveling to a few different workshops to compare and contrast the methods utilized there. Now near returning back to school, I am in the midst of collating the materials I collected in the way I described in my proposal (with a few small additions): composing an article to publish in a campus magazine, working with curators to exhibit the images I took at Middlebury, sharing the pictures with Rehwa to be used in a promotional “look book,” submitting written material to Rehwa to include in a future application to UNESCO to become a living heritage site, and displaying the photographs publicly via the web.

What did you learn?

My experience was not easy: I was living alone, in a small town in a rural area, unable to speak a difficult-to-just-pick-up language in a country with drastically different from the one in which I had spent most of my life. While at times being in Maheshwar was incredibly enchanting and filled me with an effusive sense of love for the world around me, at other it was exhausting, lonely, and incredibly frustrating. This being said, besides  the factual knowledge I gained, the benefits of interacting with people whose lives are very different from my own, of encountering norms and problems unfamiliar in my home environment, and of pushing myself into a situation in which I initially felt very uncomfortable, are undeniable.

What are your plans for the future?

As my studies wind to a close (in February) and I think increasingly about my next motions, my experience in India will definitely register strongly in my mind when considering characteristics I desire in a career. It was incredible to encounter people with different circumstance and background, to push myself further into situations that were momentarily uncomfortable, and to have an expanse of time to think critically about a single subject. My interests have definitely taken a more international focus, and I hope to, in part, address the fundamental challenges I observed firsthand while in Maheshwar.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.

In Their Own Words: Ellery Berk ’14

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

“In Their Own Words” is an ongoing series featuring the experiences of Middlebury students at their summer internships. This summer Ellery Berk ’14 interned with Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda.   

What did you do?

For the month of June, I interned with Gardens for Health International as a communications intern, conducting interviews, collecting media and writing blogs. Gardens for Health  is an agricultural NGO that partners with Rwandan health centers to equip families facing malnutrition with the knowledge and resources for greater self-sufficiency.

What did you learn?

Through Gardens for Health, I learned anew the values of self-sufficiency and community, and I have great expectations for our partnership moving forward. I learned that it is very important to be flexible.

What are your plans for the future?

My interest in development and global health remains strong; however, I realize that my place in the field likely does not lie in a small grassroots organization. While in Rwanda, I found that the most effective work Gardens for Health did was completed by Rwandans themselves. Expat staffers provided programmatic and technical support for Rwandan staff members, but little else. From this experience, I’ve learned that if I want to continue in the global health and development field, I should probably work with larger organizations, like Oxfam or the UN, and I should get an MPP and MBA.

Think this experience sounded pretty cool? Check out opportunities like this and more on MOJO.