Putting Social Justice into Action

2014 Sorensen Fellow Elad Mehl with Makabi Warszawa team

2014 Sorensen Fellow Elad Mehl with the Makabi Warszawa team. (Photo: Hanna Olszewska)


Sorensen Fellows Reflect on a Summer of Connections and Reconnections

August 15, 2014

The 17th cohort of Sorensen FellowsIbrahima Diaboula ’16, Shimon Mazor ’16, Elad Mehl ’16, Ngobitak Ndiwane ’16, Sneha Walia ’15 and Shane Weitzman ’16 – recently returned from summer internships as near to Brandeis as Washington D.C. and as far afield as Ghana, Guinea, India, Kenya and Poland.

Whether they were reconnecting with a community of origin or encountering an entirely new nation and culture, they strove to be of service, and to reflect deeply on the experience.

Ibrahima Diaboula was born and raised in Conakry, Guinea. For his internship he returned to his native Guinea, hoping to improve ethnic relations, which have been dramatically unstable since 2009, by bringing children from different ethnic groups together. He brought to this work his perspective as someone whose background is half Mandinka and half Fulani, the two largest and the most competitive groups in Guinea.

Shimon Mazor served for his internship as the Program Manager for Kenya Social Ventures (KSV), assisting small enterprises in rural Kenya and the slums of Nairobi and developing effective and influential programs for these organizations.

“I was able to interact and cooperate with different entrepreneurs, small enterprises, NGO’s, educational institutions, and other Kenyan individuals to better understand the various issues and challenges of each organization,” says Shimon.

“In particular, I helped build internship programs for small enterprises, identifying their specific needs and creating programs in which interns can accommodate the institution in the best possible way. The meaningful programs I had a chance to work on range from a feeding program at a small grassroots school in Kibera, market outreach and development for rural farmers, and capacity building for empowerment groups in the slums. People here strive to succeed with acute entrepreneurial mindsets, and this approach to poverty alleviation is what I take back to Brandeis with me."

While in Warsaw to intern with the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Elad Mehl (pictured with soccer ball) joined Makabi Warszawa, a newly resurrected Jewish soccer and athletics organization that had been destroyed by the Nazis – and he got to play (and win!) a match against a similarly resurrected Jewish team from Krakow on a historic field in the same area of Krakow where his grandfather did his Bar Mitzvah and suffered in the ghetto.

“We won 5-3 and it was one of the sweetest moments I ever experienced, but in truth both teams won,” says Elad. “Both teams were able to create life and bring people closer to the community.”

Ngobitak Ndiwane interned at Atorkor Development Foundation in Atorkor, Ghana. I have been working at the basic school teaching elementary and high school age students about a wide range of public health topics such as, nutrition, safe water, oral health, sex education, and more; worked at the medical clinic in the village; and conducted a community health assessment, going door to door and asking the villagers about their families' health history and screening for high blood pressure, in order to obtain up to date health information that the clinic can use to follow up with families and do home visits.

“The knowledge I have obtained from teaching at the basic school is indispensable,” says Ngobitak. “Just by simply speaking with students and listening to what they had to say, I was able to learn so much. By teaching subjects ranging from oral health to sex education, I was not only able to educate students, but by their inquiries, responses, and unwavering curiosity, I was also able to learn more about the students' culture and about the village of Atorkor.”

Sneha Walia’s experiences at the United States Department of Education in Washington D.C., included many unexpected moments: she shook First Lady Michelle Obama’s hand at a National Summer Learning Day event that Sneha and fellow interns helped out with; she “had the absolute honor of meeting Charles Person, one of the original 13 Freedom Riders” on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and a photo of Sneha participating in a panel discussing college affordability was featured on the Department of Education’s website.

Says Sneha, “All of my interactions with Department of Education staff have shown me how much these adults believe in the students that they work to help. I saw that most clearly during our “Let's Read, Let's Move" events, an event series that brings Secretary Duncan and high profile speakers together to read to groups of elementary school students and then allows YMCA volunteers to lead them in games. Every speaker or organizer absolutely lights up when working directly with the students on those Wednesday mornings, and their hope and passion for the future of those children is palpable.”

While in Hubli, India, interning with the Deshpande Foundation Shane Weitzman wrote, “Because most of my time this summer has been spent teaching English lessons, I’m grappling with the complexities of using English as a tool to increase opportunities. By spreading English, I, in some ways, am perpetuating a system that is not only grossly unfair, but also largely responsible for huge wealth and accessibility gaps on a global scale. I can’t solve this problem this summer, but I would like to share something that, to me, is of critical importance: India is not a state filled with victimhood. It is a thriving, beautiful place—with considerable social and economic challenges, in no small part due to a lengthy and substantial history of colonial invasion.”

“The other day,” Shane wrote, “while on a densely crowded public bus, one of my students turned to me and said, ‘I have one humble request, sir. Do not forget me.’ I hope that I, as an individual, never forget the people that I have met this summer. But more importantly, we – as concerned citizens interested in collective liberation – must not forget stories such as these.”

Read more about the Sorensen Fellowship, including details of how to apply.