Sorensen Fellows to discuss wide range of experiences
Lessons: Don't talk football in Northern Ireland, clean your plate in SwazilandThe 2012 undergraduate Sorensen Fellows spent eight weeks this summer in internships that spanned the globe, grappling with political conflict, religious tolerance, the arts and coexistence, the legacy of genocide, and environmental and economic development.
The fellowship is a unique opportunity for Brandeis sophomores and juniors to integrate coursework with summer internships in the United States and overseas. Open to students in any major. Fellows receive a stipend to cover travel and living expenses for their summer internships — $4,000 for internships abroad, $3,500 for domestic internships.This year’s fellows returned to Brandeis in the fall to process their experiences in the seminar “Internship in Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies” (PAX 89). Using the portraiture method, they explored their experiences in writing.
Hear this year’s Sorensen Fellows discuss their experiences Thursday. Dec. 13, noon to 1:30 in Alumni Lounge, Usdan Campus Center.
In class and in thoughtful, moving essays they confronted personal histories and longstanding political and ethnic divisions – and struggled to make sense of it all with each other’s help. Some highlights:
- “If you ever get into a conversation with someone while out in Northern Ireland,” Rachael Koehler ’13 was advised by a Catholic colleague, “there are certain things you cannot talk about: religion, football, and nationality.”
- “You are lucky to even have your own plate” Mangaliso Mohammed ’13, back in his hometown in Swaziland, recalls his grandmother saying, “I am preparing you to be a person of substance in the future.”
- “Without the services of Opportunity Tanzania, I would not have been able to improve my current business and pay for my children’s school fees,” a client of the microfinance organization that Karia Sekumbo ’14 interned with tells him. “I hope to purchase a house.”
- Robyn Spector ’13 photographed Rwanda’s celebration of 50 years of freedom from colonial rule on July 1, the anniversary of the day she lost her father two years earlier. “When I applied to intern in Rwanda for the summer, to examine media ethics in a nation post-genocide, I was myself at a point, trying to discover the road to recovery,” she writes. “For the past 18 years, Rwanda has faced this exact challenge.”
- “My parents’ generation wanted to keep us away from the streets – away from the rubber bullets and tear gas,” Tareq, a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the Deheisha camp in the West Bank tells Andrea Verdeja ’14. “They wanted to spare their children from living the same life they did, of being either jailed or killed.”
Join Rachael, Mangaliso, Karia, Robyn and Andrea on Thursday Dec. 13, noon to 1:30 in Alumni Lounge, Usdan Campus Center, for more on these experiences. More info and optional RSVP. Their work will also be published in an anthology, "Tracing Roots: Uncovering Realities Beneath the Surface."
Following are excerpts from the upcoming anthology:
Rachael Koehler ’13 interned with Beyond Skin in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which works to promote racial and religious coexistence through multicultural arts and media.
“If you ever get into a conversation with someone while out in Northern Ireland there are certain things you cannot talk about: religion, football, and nationality.” Liam, my Irish Catholic colleague says with a serious face. “You don’t live here. You don’t have an opinion. Try not to make eye contact. If someone looks at you or comes toward you, quickly get away.”
Liam’s eyes burn with intensity. His warning hits me like a gust of cool wind. I defensively zip up my jacket. My expectations of peaceful Irish culture are drowned in the rain puddles surrounding me.
More importantly, he adds, don’t talk about the Troubles.
I zip up my jacket a little tighter.
Mangaliso Mohammed ’13 interned with the Municipal Council of Mbabane, Swaziland, on work focused on finding suitable renewable, energy sources for low-income households to alleviate poverty as well as reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in the urban informal areas.
My grandmother was no stranger to tough love. She was raised under the fierce hand of her aunt where she had to fight adversities to earn her education. Just like me, she grew up in Msunduza but at a time when it was much less developed. The streets were all gravel roads and much of Msunduza was covered in forests that were used for firewood.
Her family lived in a stick and mud house with a thatched roof. Without electricity, she woke up at the crack of dawn to make fire to boil water and cook breakfast. She expended so much energy each morning, gathering wood, making a fire, preparing breakfast for the whole family only to share a plate of sugarless soft sorghum porridge with four her other cousins.
Her male cousins were her constant source of distress. Scooping large amounts of the porridge, they would wipe out the plate in a few seconds. She would be lucky if she managed to get three or four spoon out of the meal. Most of all, she also endured the power of the broom sweeping her aunts backyard each morning to come back from school to more heaps of rubbish delivered by the unsympathetic wind waiting for her.
The harsh living conditions developed her thick skin and were responsible for her success in school, she would tell me while ordering me to finish every bit of food on my plate.
“You are lucky to even have your own plate” she would attest. “I am preparing you to be a person of substance in the future,” she would say. She learned to transform her frustrations to a form of resilience and would pass it on to me to resist the traps of Msunduza.
Karia Sekumbo ’14 interned with Opportunity International, a microfinance organization in Tanzania.
“Without the services of Opportunity Tanzania, I would not have been able to improve my current business and pay for my children’s school fees. I hope to purchase a house.” With a stammer after every sentence, George Nzali, a client at Opportunity Tanzania responded to the questions I posed to him during the interview. Loan Officer Jones Kato and I sit at a rusty wooden bench near George’s small business. George sells secondhand baby clothes for a living. Through the services of Opportunity Tanzania (OTL), a microfinance organization, George has been able to increase his stock of clothes, diversify his business, and improve his income.
We are at one of the garages of the Ilala Market District in Dar-es-Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania. Surrounding Loan Officer Kato and I are a heap of goods from other merchants. The air is filled with a putrid smell of fresh produce and meat products that have been covered for a long period of time. There is frantic shouting heard across every corner as each merchant tries to gather their bearings.
Walking through the narrow footpaths of this informal market requires steady, cautious steps in order to avoid the newly formed deep, muddy potholes. The rainfall has been replaced by a waft of humid air that makes sweating inevitable. Despite the rain causing an interruption, I return to my interview with George. I am eager to know how microfinance has changed George’s life.
Robyn Spector ’13 interned as a photographer and reporter at The New Times, the central English-language newspaper in Kigali, Rwanda.
The sea of yellow, blue, and green flags, present through my camera’s viewfinder, emphasizes the progress of Rwanda’s reunified populace. Bright white smiles on the dark African faces seem to reflect an overall optimism in the country. But the slice of time, captured in each zoomed-in photograph, allows me to notice the concealed gashes and mutilated limbs of people throughout the crowd. The camouflaged soldiers, guns erect, positioned at every seating section, spur doubt about the country’s stability in my mind. I press my thigh against the metal railing of the media pit, and the seemingly secure structure, wrapped in fabrics and curled ribbons, starts to rattle.
As an American journalism student, my perception of the media, in general, lies in its ability to hold society accountable for its past and to provide context for its present. Entering my internship at The New Times, Rwanda’s first English and largest daily newspaper, I hoped to gain a deep understanding of the country’s accomplishments and challenges since 1994.
The Independence Day festivities, which filled the pages of the newspaper the next day, add to the growing stack of experiences I compile on my desk at The New Times. What I learned is that in order to grasp the reality of Rwanda, I needed to look at the media through which I was seeing it.
Andrea Verdeja ’14 interned with the Al-Feniq Center (Phoenix Center), a self-sustained community center created and led by Palestinian refugees inside Deheisha Refugee Camp in the West Bank, to serve their community and advocate for their social and political rights.
“Life under Occupation, especially inside the camp is really hard, Andrea,” says Tareq, looking at me straight in the eyes. “And in the face of constant repression, one can react in three ways: you can either become psychologically traumatized for life, you can join an armed struggle or an extremist group, or you can choose to devote your life to improve the conditions of your camp.”
He pauses and smiles. I let his words sink.
“We’ve chosen the third option,” he says, referring to both his personal life and to Al-Feniq, the community advocacy center where I volunteered this summer. Short and fit, with a neatly groomed beard and black rectangular glasses that give him an intellectual aura, Tareq is a twenty-four-year-old Palestinian refugee living in Deheisha camp. We are sitting on a bench overlooking Al-Feniq’s playground, the only recreational space available for its 13,000 inhabitants who live in its restrained allocated area of 0.3 square kilometers.
“It is the reason why Al-Feniq was created,” he continues. “My parents’ generation wanted to keep us away from the streets – away from the rubber bullets and tear gas. They wanted to spare their children from living the same life they did, of being either jailed or killed.”
“Has it worked?” I ask.
“Look around. What do you see?”