EQV Fraternity 1954 - 1968
Follow up Interviews with the 2007 EQV Fellows
Dear Fellow EQVers,
I thought you might like to see where your EQV Intern Scholarship donations are going, and just what theyíre accomplishing. So I set about interviewing each past fellow (?fella?). So far Iíve met with four of the five 2007 EQV Interns.
Iím certainly impressed. This seems like an awful lot of social Ďleverageí for a relatively small amount of cash.
A piece of not-so-trivia: WE (EQV) fund about a 1/3 of the summer intern scholarships!
Enjoy the profiles of Emily Malkin and Rosina Belcourt below. I hope to meet with the remaining 2007 and 2006 interns; illustrated profiles will be headed your way. Look what we can accomplish!
Paul Littell '67
My EQV internship allowed me to spend nine weeks in Washington, D.C., working for Tostan, a development NGO based in Senegal that promotes sustainable economic community development in Africa. Started in the 1970s with the goal of empowering people through human rights, Tostan has worked in over 2600 villages in 6 countries, and is still growing.
I found their approach to development amazing. There are hundreds, thousands of NGOs. Many donít do anything effective. The standard model of development used by other NGOs Iíve dealt with is that building a school or digging a well will fix things. But that kind of building and training is not sustainable. The amount of money that goes into Africa with no results is unbelievable. Itís really frustrating.
I learned last summer at Tosdan that what makes a good NGO is a philosophy that places choices in the hands of the local people. When decisions dictated by someone far away are imposed on local peoples, theyíre really not understood. The key to development at Tosdan is this: donít tell people what development should mean. Teach language and communication skills to people so they can decide what development could mean for them. Then let them figure out what they need themselves.
Results of this approach: sanitation and health were both named as priorities. Village women brought up the topic of female genital mutilation as a big problem for them. And this provided an impetus for people to start talking.
Organized opposition to female genital mutilation spread really fast. Now about 2600 villages have declared an end to the practice. To date, Tosdan is the only NGO in the world that can show they have actually reduced the rate of female genital cutting.
This topic became a wedge to talk about other issues, such as vaccinations and improving attendance at school. Dialog skills between men and women were improved, and this helped reduce a high rate of domestic abuse. As one locally perceived need led naturally to the next, women started to address basic nutrition, basic literacy skills, microfinance and new agricultural skills.
After Tosdanís 30 month commitment to get local programs up and running, village residents have taken the initiative to elect Community Management Committees to continue the programs. This has grown to a network of Community Management Committees working together to develop events and programs. The results have included many measurable improvements, such as vaccination rates and school attendance. There has also been a marked change in the way people see themselves and see the future for their children.
My own day-to-day work in Washington D.C. supported this effort. It included writing, editing, organizing the Tosdan website, performing an internet audit, writing a grant proposal about microfinance, and supporting their anniversary meeting. I did press releases, got reporters there, designed a monthly newsletter template, and edited most of the newsletter articles.
I had been on the ground doing fieldwork [in South Africa] before but didnít realize how much work was involved in the background, how important media, fundraising, and communications is. I never really understood the complexities of NGO marketing and management before, and this internship allowed me to get a very hands-on perspective of the challenges facing smaller NGOs.
I learned a lot about how to negotiate the differences in various parts of an organization, to make it move forward as a functioning whole. Tosdan has people working in African villages, volunteers in Dakar responsible for grant reports, and us in D.C. doing fundraising, publicity, etc. Making sure everyoneís on the same page is really important all the time. When you add radically different cultures to the usual bureaucratic battles, thereís a real leadership challenge in making all the parts work together. Thatís what Iíd like to do someday.
Tostan really depends on the efforts and hard work of unpaid interns, and, in exchange, values the insight and intelligence of the interns. I felt like my opinions and ideas were taken very seriously by the staff members. Perhaps the most significant part of the internship was the opportunity to make a real difference in an organization.
These internships are so important for someone trying to start a career in the not-for-profit sector. They give real world experience that you cannot even come close to in the classroom. But they also let interns meet people and start to network in their field. The relationships I built with the founders and board of directors, as well as with several individuals, will be invaluable. And I could not have done it without the EQV grant, absolutely not.
Last summer I helped to coordinate a health care reform campaign for the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. The GBIO is a broad based community organizing institution encompassing about fifty churches synagogues and community groups. Theyíve been working on the Health Care Reform Bill in Massachusetts for about 2 years -- first partnering with a healthcare lobby to get the law passed, then refining how it will work, and now working on outreach and enrollment for the various programs under the new law.
The new mandate required every resident of Massachusetts to have health insurance, with a subsidy for those who qualify by their income bracket (under 300% of the federal poverty level). However, a resident only qualifies if he or she is not offered insurance by an employer. If insurance is offered but is too expensive, you donít qualify for the subsidized plan, and could face a financial penalty.
In short, not everyone qualified for the plan, but everyone was eligible for a penalty. To combat this situation, GBIO devised Affordability Workshops: they invited some 20 families in each participating organization to fill out detailed family budget forms. With this data distilled into ĎAffordability Chartsí, the state allowed exemptions from the penalty. The affordability charts became more flexible based on the GBIO research, research the legislature had been unable to do.
This all took place in the spring, before I started. My own summer work began with the outreach and enrollment function. I conducted Neighborhood Walks in many parts of Boston with materials and handouts that I created.
I had never gone door to door and I wasnít sure how people would respond. But after a short while I got really comfortable with it. By talking to people, and listening their story, I learned about new law, and the best way to talk about it -- Where does this person fit in, what aspects affect them?
We were educating people about opportunities for those who could benefit from new state plan, but also new responsibilities.
At the same time, it was research for us. We had to figure out how the law was going to work in practice, and to try out various ways to explain it to people. Input from these walks refined the outreach message.
Then we designed training workshops for 2 or 3 leaders from each coalition institution, so they could teach others about the new law and how it might affect them. They in turn will train 20 more outreach and enrollment people, and so on.
We also had to keep in back of our minds how to deal with a looming budget crisis. So, at the same time we assembled a database of people who qualified for the subsidized plan. When the crisis comes, weíll have a group of people who have benefited from the new law. Many had a good story that we can use to present our story to the public.
I also helped to recruit non-member organizations in the healthcare campaign. I called and e-mailed churches and clergy in key legislative districts to hold enrollment sessions at their churches, to extend our outreach to their members.
Healthcare reform may have happened without our efforts, but there would have been more glitches. I had read and understood the law but didnít appreciate what it actually meant to real people until I got out and talked to those people.
I was fortunate to step into an excellent program with a lot of established momentum, and I believe I was able to help refine a little of that energy. I learned a lot about the organizing method used by the Industrial Areas Foundation (the national organization of which GBIO is an affiliate). Itís extremely powerful and really works to create change.
During our simple door to door walks we were actually doing four things at once: 1] spreading the word, 2] learning how to refine the message, so we can train others to spread the word more efficiently over a greater number of people, 3] building a database of Ďsuccess storiesí, knowing they will be needed in the future when state budgets get tight, and 4] continuing to build the strength and reputation of GBIO, so that weíll be even more ready for the next issue, no matter what that may be.
Thatís what I learned. I still need to learn more about how the organization works as a whole, how they come up with their strategies, how key decisions are made, and how they can turn campaigns from local problems into statewide, winnable issues.
Last summer confirmed for me that I want to do this kind of social change work through broad based organizing. And it would have been a lot harder without the EQV grant. The lead organizer did not want to hire me for the summer without some form of outside income.
What I learned about how to build organizational strength and assert your interests in the world is something that I will use throughout my life. Because GBIO is part of a national network, Iím already starting to network, inquiring about what Iím going to do after I graduate.
Last summer I worked at two opposite ends of society in my native Ethiopia, and I began to envision ways to close a gap between them.
In the mornings I volunteered for Artists for Charity at an AIDS orphanage in Addis Ababa. I created a summer education program for children, ranging from ages 8 to 15. Eighteen was the maximum number of children this orphanage could take while still giving them the right amount of attention. It targeted a specific population that, because of their age, is not likely to be adopted by families. They have little funding, so they rely on the help of as many volunteers as possible.
Curriculum planning took the first three weeks. Then teaching was largely taken over by student volunteers from my old high school. On weekends we played sports activities. The most important thing, even beyond teaching these children, was to spend time with them. Holding them, even looking at them, was such a big thing for them. Very simple things meant so much.
I also worked with the organizers to raise funds for several activities for the children. I wrote proposals to donors in Addis Ababa. For now they have funding to continue their education through the eighth grade. I donít know whatís going to happen to them after that. No one wants to adopt these kids. In all our cultures we tend to shun whatever doesnít conform. But at least this orphanage provides a positive environment that helps these children to be open minded.
I went back over winter break and worked to raise money and get supplies for another orphanage I had heard about during the summer. Itís all word-of-mouth. You target people with money and take them to see kids who have been living in the gutter and have just been taken in by others in the community. Itís really emotional but eventually people bring out the checkbooks. One wonderful lady I met this way purchased 22 beds and 22 mattresses for this same childrenís center -- for kids who had been sleeping on the ground. There are always centers like these that have limited access to necessary services and there is always a large need for them. Itís very easy to get involved.
Having known about six orphanages from my high school volunteer experience, I found this to be a good model of one that works. I believe whatís needed in the future is a center that orphanages within a specific region can depend on to help them function well. It would provide administrative services, financial consulting and career training to those working in the orphanages. This is an original idea, and it needs to be refined, but I believe it has great potential. It needs to catch peopleís attention, but it has to have a specific purpose. Iím not sure exactly how to frame it yet. The next time I go back, I have to see what is really needed.
In the afternoons I volunteered with an organization that was attempting to set up the first commodity exchange in Ethiopia. I worked with Dr. Eleni Gabre-Medhin, the CEO of the exchange Ė and I found my role model! She is a symbol of progress in a society where the female voice is rarely heard. Dr. Eleni had difficulty raising money for her original idea -- to have a commodities exchange owned and operated by private industry, see how it runs for a year, then sell shares. But she kept pressing ahead. Unfortunately, the government stepped in and made the exchange a government entity. Now, at any point they could take over the operation and manipulate prices.
Open communications is one of the fundamental things thatís lacking in our country. Thereís just no information available, except to the educated elite in the capital. And, unfortunately, people donít know the value of good information. It was very difficult to get people even to understand what a commodity exchange is. We organized a four week training session for bankers, farmers, and specialists in beets, maize, coffee, peas, sesame -- our basic commodities. It didnít go well. ďWhatís the point?Ē they asked, ďI can go to my friend who will give it to me cheap.Ē
I learned that change takes a lot of patience. Even research is very limited. Two out of three Ethiopian economists live abroad, so the country lacks expertise. Itís often foreigners who are the experts on a given industry rather than native Ethiopians.
Physical infrastructure is not being laid down. Internet access is limited to the larger cities and is provided only by the government. The Commodities Exchangeís objective for next year is to get a satellite to broadcast prices and convey information beyond the city. Iím not sure it will happen on time but the possibility is exciting.
I was very honored to work with Dr. Eleni. What I learned from her is this: If youíre really passionate about something, you can convince people, and it will happen. She accomplished so much and she was a female. A single young female whoís very passionate is always going to be very powerful.
Throughout my Wesleyan years, and as an economics major, my career focus was more on finance and banking. Our economics department is very academic and theoretical. It pushes you more to the western and the corporate world. Thereís very little from the [my] real world -- for example, issues around development. Itís great for critical thinking, but now I need to go more into targeted issues.
Iím looking forward to my next trip home to help narrow my focus. I want to get a masters degree, and Iím sure that in the near future Iíll be doing economic consulting in a non-profit relating to third world countries.
Last summer I came in as an intern and ended up doing everything -- because there is no infrastructure and there are very few specialists. It made me appreciate how important it is to understand economics and to have good training. More importantly, I gained a level of maturity that allows me to assess what is needed with a greater degree of objectivity.
The EQV grant helped to cover many expenses, especially my student contribution toward Wesleyan financial aid. As a result, Iíve met a lot of people who will help in the future. Many are very happy to help me network. Others I will target shamelessly for fund raising.
P.S. from my meeting with the EQV guys at Homecoming: Itís great that most of you are associated with some sort of public service. When you think of a white male fraternity thatís not what you usually associate it with. Actually it was one of my most welcoming moments at Wesleyan. Itís a story worth telling.
Last summer I spent the first two weeks of June volunteering in the Urubamba Valley of Peru as a member of the Wesleyan Without Borders (our own two year old group that focuses on bridging connections between students and third world countries). Our program was sponsored by ProPeru, a non-profit in Urubamba, that creates volunteer projects focused around community needs.
I helped build bathrooms for a small school in Chuso, and gave related health care presentations there and in a neighboring community. We put on skits for the children at both sites about sanitation methods Ė basics like hand-washing, tooth brushing, and water sanitation methods, which we saw were crucial to the prevention of parasite infections. We learned that 98% of each student population had parasites, which had led to malnourishment in some. We also met with the parents of each community about health and sanitation, and talked to women about safe sex practices.
Beginning the summer under the umbrella of a non profit definitely helped with my transition through culture shock, yet, most importantly, it allowed me to see how much more help and involvement was needed, not just in these communities, but throughout the Valley in general. I felt the need and responsibility to do more.
After the Pro-Peru program ended, I stayed to serve as a translator for the Kausay WAsi Clinic in Qoya, an organization that provides health services to communities throughout the Urubamba Valley, and who coordinates and sponsors medical ďcampaignsĒ with groups of American MDs. I worked, first, with eye specialists from Washington, D.C., who flew in cases of prescription glasses and sunglasses and did eye exams, then constructive eye surgeons from Tennessee, and third, detached retinas specialists from Seattle.
Clearly I was needed there, as none of the doctors spoke Spanish. The clinic was overwhelmed and under-staffed. Together with two other translators, we served over a thousand patients during one of the campaigns. Waves of people from all over the country came for the free eye consultations because they couldn't afford them otherwise, and so it appeared to me that I didn't need to travel throughout the country to interact with the various regions of Peru.
Some of the older generation Peruvians spoke only Quechua (the ancient indigenous language), so the native staff members would translate to Spanish, then we would translate to English. I knew that if I slowed the communication down, I slowed the doctorsí progress down and limited the number of people that they can see. So I went to internet sites at night to cram on Spanish medical vocabulary.
These people felt very vulnerable in the hands of complete strangers, however, I was able to talk to them and make them feel more at ease. They gave me a great deal of trust, but they in turn gained so much in those brief initial interactions.
My memory is full of images like that of a young girl who at age six, came in with severely crossed eyes, and left later with improved vision, smiling and bubbly. And of a teenage boy who came in with one eye shut, due to a splinter that had been stuck there since age three. Now, after 10 years, the doctors removed it in a half hour procedure. Both eyes are wide open, and the boy is grinning.
This is the first time I have been able to travel so far away, alone, and with my own agenda. I had no idea that I could affect so much change, and empower so many people, by just translating, or by sharing my own thoughts and ideas.
It was something I didnít know I had within me. Iím someone who tries to stick to a plan. I write up an outline and follow it through. This was opposite. I learned a lot about myself, to be in a foreign culture and to be translating for them -- Am I saying the right things, doing the right things to help them, to give them what they need? It was overwhelming at first. I didnít even know if my Spanish was good enough.
My last effort of the summer was a clothing drive in Talca. I collected clothing from one community. Other students did the same in the rest of the country. Then I organized the clothes by size and made the community more comfortable about our visit with music, songs, dancing. (Thatís me in the dark blue scarf.)
These various experiences have much in common. I saw the lack of resources that these people face on a daily basis. And I saw how we can, as a country, support those in need when we have so much. I was a voice for these people for two months. I was an integral part of trying to figure out what they need and then letting them know the resources available, so they could receive the help they need. And that was like living a dream, because thatís why I do want to go into law and focus on social justice issues.
Now Iím back here, on familiar ground. I see that thereís no excuse to sit back and wait for somebody elseís solutions to problems to come to me. I know where I need to go to get answers, I have resources, I can research and put together solutions. Iíve seen myself doing this in a foreign atmosphere and learned that I can put together solutions. That gives me the confidence to be more assertive, more pro-active back here at home and wherever I may find myself.
And yes, I signed up with Wesleyan Without Borders late in the second semester last year. So funding made the difference. I could not have done it without the EQV grant.