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Thoughts from a "Sorensen Summer"

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Abie Troen '14 (right) with a colleague from KENASVIT, shooting footage in Nairobi for a documentary about the street vendors of Kenya.

August 9, 2013

The 2013 Sorensen Fellows spent eight weeks “in the field” this summer, interning with organizations working on political advocacy, ethnic tolerance, education, healthcare, and social and economic development. They return to Brandeis in the fall to process their experiences in the seminar “Internship in Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies.”

As these reflections and anecdotes reveal, their experiences have been in turns confusing, thought-provoking, inspiring, challenging, impactful and more.

Damiana Andonova ’15, from Chicago, Illinois, is an aspiring obstetrician majoring in Health: Science, Society and Policy. She traveled to Bulgaria for an obstetrics internship in Blagoevgrad.

“Shocking, difficult to experience and process, inspiring, powerful, provocative, and frustrating are all words to begin to describe my experience at [the hospital],” writes Andonova. “Assisting and observing deliveries, cystectomies, and Cesarean sections has been academically challenging and stimulating whilst at the same time raising serious questions about differences in practice, in culture, and in acceptable bed side manner. … It has been difficult to witness discrimination against the Roma community. … I keep thinking what it must be like for a Roma woman to let a doctor she distrusts welcome her child into the world. And, I keep on thinking about Joseph Campbell's words about the mother and baby transforming as heroes through childbirth. I wonder how much more courageous of a hero you'd have to be, to be a Roma mother in Europe.”

Hailey Magee ’15, from Stillwater, New Jersey, is double majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies and Politics and minoring in Social Justice and Social Policy. She interned in New York City with NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

Magee writes “The best part of my NARAL experience is being constantly inundated with firsthand knowledge about the political landscape of New York City – and the nation. When the Women’s Equality Act failed in the New York State Legislature, I knew which Senators were to blame and which Assembly members had furiously advocated for its passage to no avail. Over time, I have learned the gory truth of 'coalition politics,' and have come to understand that even groups with nearly identical missions have widely varying ways of handling politically divisive issues.

"My experience has taught me a great deal about the simultaneous power and utter hopelessness of activism. As strongly as I support the objectives of the pro-choice movement, I know there is an equally powerful cohort of anti-choice activists bolstering the 'other side.' Often, the side that wins the controversy du jour is that which expends the most funds, garners the most publicity, and wields the most leverage against their pocket politicians. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the apparent triviality of it all – we’re fighting for women’s reproductive autonomy, for goodness’ sake, not running a campaign – but at the end of the day, I understand that this is how our political system works, and NARAL is doing a phenomenal job.”

Nelly Schläfereit ’15, originally from Germany, has lived in Geneva, Switzerland for most of her life. She is majoring in Anthropology and International and Global Studies. For her internship, Nelly returned to Senegal, where she spent a semester interning at a shelter for women and children before she began at Brandeis. She interned with Pour Une Enfance, a humanitarian organization that works with young street children and child beggars attending Koranic schools.

Schläfereit shares a “slice of life” from her daily routine at Pour Une Enfance:

“Every morning I arrive at the center, usually with the other interns and volunteers at around 8 am. We bring the bag with the 15 baguettes for the daily breakfasts that we offer to the talibés children every morning. Some of them are already waiting in front of the center greeting us happily every morning. After having been here for about 6 weeks almost all of the children that come to the center regularly know my name and always seem happy to see me. We then start preparing breakfast. We cut every baguette into 5 pieces and spread some butter or chocolate spread onto it. We also prepare either some hot milk or a local beverage called Café Touba every morning. During the distribution, it gets a little more rowdy. Because there is a limited amount of bread, every talibé tries to get his share first. Breakfast is a meal that these children would not normally be able to take if it wasn't for our center.”

Abie Troen ’14, from Jerusalem, Israel, is majoring in Film Studies. He interned with KENASVIT, the Kenya National Alliance of Street Vendors and Informal Traders, creating a documentary database of film, photos, interviews and clips of their projects on the ground.

He describes his work: “You can find me in Kenya doing one of three things – the three stages of my work:

  • Talking, listening and learning about the work, passions, hopes and significant problems street vendors deal with: This could be meeting "Abush" in the marketplace in Nakuru, on the street corner near the garbage bin with Grace in Nairobi, or during a lunch break eating goat meat (Nyama Choma) at a small working class bar with Wilson. At this stage I only take photos and write. A lot.
  • Filming: This could be either following "live scenes", for instance the Manyani Youth Group Football Club, teenage hawkers who pick through garbage so they can sell it and support their football team. Or conducting interviews, sitting in offices of government officials or in the market place and trying to learn first hand, on camera – what is, can and should be done to promote the rights of street vendors.
  • Editing: Sitting first by myself, and then later on – consulting real time with members of the NGO – who watch themselves – and help tell their story – through their eyes."

Writes Troen, “It’s the most challenging difficult and wonderful project I have ever taken part in.”

Hannah Young ’15, from Branford, Connecticut, is majoring in Anthropology and International and Global Studies with a minor in African and Afro-American Studies. She interned at UYWEFA: the Education Centre of Uganda Youth and Women’s Effort Fighting AIDS, which works to provide equal education opportunities to orphans and vulnerable children who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Young relates a revealing anecdote: “After seven weeks, I finally know the name of almost every child in our neighborhood. This makes their greetings every morning so rewarding; we have gotten to know each other, and I have become more than just an American walking down the street in our community. The most gratifying, though, is when Baby Sarah, a four-year-old student in the nursery section of our Education Centre, runs up to me in the morning, saying ‘Teacher Hannah! Teacher Hannah!’ wearing one of the biggest smiles that I've ever seen, sticking out her little tongue. But, I haven't seen Baby Sarah in days. Her mother can't afford to pay school fees for she and all of her siblings, so now, none of them come to school. Finding the money for school fees is a huge challenge for families in our community. What is my most rewarding experience at UYWEFA has also become the most troubling for me.”

Read more about the 2013 Sorensen Fellows.