In Stefan’s politics class this year, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the election. We noticed that there was no website or news outlet that had a comprehensive comparison of both Clinton and Trump’s stances on the same issues. Stefan broke us into pairs and assigned us each a topic to research. Tessa Defranco and I focused on immigration policy. We created a side by side comparison of what each candidate has posted on their website or on social media regarding immigration. We hoped the website would serve as a both a reference guide for both the candidates’ views on pressing issues, as well as a source of unbiased information.
Over the summer, I did a month long internship at The Committee to Protect Journalists. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are ideals surprisingly unique to certain countries. All over the world, journalists and artists are prevented from speaking or writing freely, and they are often thrown in jail if they do so. This is typically the case in countries with oppressive governments where it is illegal to criticize governments or rulers. One of the best known examples of this limited freedom is in the case of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who was imprisoned for his bold art work. The Chinese government finally gave Ai Weiwei his passport back this July. Another well known case is that of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist who has been held captive by the Iranian government for 447 days.
The Committee to Protect Journalists works to free imprisoned journalists, promote freedom of the press, and advocate human rights by working with the governments that forbid such freedoms. The issue of freedom of the press is an increasingly pressing one, as more journalists are being imprisoned than ever and as “ authorities seek to silence and retaliate against critical voices covering sensitive topics such as corruption or human rights abuses”. At CPJ, I not only had the opportunity to learn about an issue that is incredibly important to me, but I also got to meet a group of passionate people and watch them work to conquer a problem that they care about.
Over Spring Break, a group of us traveled to Nepal for a ten day service learning trip. After twenty hours of flying, we landed in Kathmandu. We stayed at Hotel Himalaya Yoga in Kathmandu for two nights before flying to Dhangadi. In Dhangadi, we prepared for life with our host families by learning simple Tharu and Nepali phrases, getting to know our translators and BuildOn team, and reviewing cultural customs. We took a bus to Domalia, the village where we would be living and working on the school. The entire village greeted us with an elaborate, thoughtful welcome ceremony filled with beautiful dances, costumes, and music. Despite our limited language skills, Jada and I were quickly able to communicate and connected with our host family.
The most rewarding part of the trip was seeing how excited and proud the entire village was to have a new school. Men and women spent all day working on construction, while the children watched from the windows of the existing school. The BuildOn school will not only give more kids in Domalia a better opportunity to learn, but will make them happy and excited to go to school.
Early this summer, Johanna Zwirner, Sahana Mehta, and I, along with other kids from schools all around the city, embarked on a week long fellows program and research project at The Robin Hood Foundation. Robin Hood is an incredible organization that uses 100% of its generous donations to fund charities and non-profits in order to end poverty across New York City.
Our first day at Robin Hood, we met the other kids and some of the staff, and were introduced to the project we would be doing. The energy at Robin Hood was instantly recognizable. Everyone working there was so clearly passionate about the foundation and the issues it addresses. It was wonderful to be surrounded by such inspired and motivated people. After meeting the staff, we were organized into 4 groups and we were each assigned an organization. We would be meeting and interviewing the social change makers responsible for these organizations (all ones that Robin Hood financially supports). The groups did in-depth research on the organization and prepared questions for our interviews. The first group met with Charles King, the founder of Housing Works. He spoke about what Housing Works does, how he started it, and why AIDS was such an important issue to him. The second person we met was Dr. Charles Marmar, who runs the NYU clinic for veterans. The clinic helps veterans and their families get back to normal, which can be incredibly challenging due to high rates of post-war PTSD and depression. On the third day we met Nisha Agarwal, who works on immigration reform for New York City. After watching a short film about immigration reform in the US, prior to meeting with Nisha Agarwal, the entire group of fellows became really interested and curious about the issue, which made it fascinating for everyone. On the fourth day, my group interview Dr. Michael Carrera who runs the Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, a part of Children’s Aid Society. Dr. Carrera is the most wonderful speaker I have ever heard. He was so articulate, clear, and engaged while we were interviewing him. His energy and passion for what he does was more than obvious and inspiring. Dr. Carrera keeps at-risk teens busy (as he puts it) in order to prevent adolescent pregnancies. He calls it “pregnancy prevention from the waist up” – meaning, although there is an available sex-ed class for the kids to take, the objective is more to keep teens busy and engaged in school and learning, so they do not have sex out of boredom.
Thursday night, we worked late putting together a presentation about our interview. We made a short film with parts of our conversation with Dr. Carrera as a voice over. Friday, every group presented their presentation to parents, Robin Hood investors, and the staff.
I had an amazing experience at Robin Hood. I learned about issues and organizations I am interested in, met incredible people who work so hard to make social change, and had a great time doing it.
Lunch after our final interview (Johanna left, Sahana right)
YPI Service Learning Reflection
For our YPI project, Lucy, Lucas, David, and I worked with the organization Sanctuary For Families, which provides relief and services to victims of domestic and gender based violence. I was originally nervous to pick domestic violence because I, and the others in my group, felt no particular connection to the subject. However, on our visit to Sanctuary’s offices, I completely changed my mind and instantly became glad we had chosen it. Emily, the woman we met with, explained to us all the types, versions, and forms of domestic violence. She taught us about the cycle of violence and all the effects. At that point, everyone in my group found a reason to care and push for Sanctuary. For me, the most compelling things were hearing about sex trafficking and the negative impacts violence has on children and their education. Through more research outside of class, I started to understand the severity and horror of domestic violence – the way it ended relationships and careers, broke up families, traumatized children, displaced people, and had the potential to permanently destroy someone’s life. About a week before our second in class presentation, my group became more inspired and driven, because we realized how much it would mean to us to help even just one person in a situation like that. I feel really proud of the way we worked together, especially towards the time of the presentation. We all worked so hard on the powerpoint and really studied the material. On this project we all collaborated well, and no one was controlling or felt the need to motivate the group. It makes an incredible difference to work on a project with people who truly care about it.
The day of the presentation, we were concerned we were not prepared enough, even though we had practiced the whole week before. However, after we saw the first round of presentations, I realized we were ready and it didn’t need to be perfect and memorized, because we all knew the material and were able to speak about our topic from the heart. Once we stood up in the meetinghouse, I got extremely nervous. We wanted to do Sanctuary for Families justice with our presentation, and I think that pressure intimidated all of us. Although I feel our delivery was not as good as it could have been, or as it was when we practiced, we said what we felt was important and did our best. I am so proud to have represented an organization as amazing as Sanctuary for Families, but I’m that sad we were not able to help them financially. Yet, it’s reassuring to know that there are other ways I can stay involved. I’ve stayed in contact with Emily, from Sanctuary for Families, and I am planning to volunteer for them next year.
In December a group of Friends students went to The United Nations for a human rights conference. There were students from all over New York, France, Canada, and Mexico. The first day we arrived, we spent all day in a big conference room making presentations on a human rights issue we felt passionate about. Sahana Mehta, Altana Elings Haynie, and I made a presentation on girls’ education.
Girls education is a huge issue all over the world. Many countries don’t allow girls to be educated because they have to perform domestic chores. Others pull girls out of school after 5th or 6th grade to get married. I think it’s a really important issue because it is the source of so many other problems besides lack of education and gender equality. In many places, its the reason for early marriage, human trafficking, women not working, child mortality (because a 13 year old girls are not strong enough to give birth), female objectification, and much more.
We created a proposal for a way to help girls get educated in The Middle East. We wanted to create a program like Teach for America or Teach for India, where teachers would be sent to countries to teach in girls’ schools. The teachers would be paid by The UN, that way, parents don’t have to worry about spending all their money by sending their daughter to school. We also wanted to have this organization associated with school groups, like Amnesty International. The partner schools would raise money to donate, send supplies and textbooks, and make educational YouTube videos to be shown in the classrooms to teach the students about other cultures.
Meeting so many new people and working hard for three days straight was a lot to take in, but I think the pressure and new environment helped us thrive.