Patterson Deppen, RIJ Intern, 2016
Throughout my internship at Refugees International Japan (RIJ), I was exposed to the many different political and socioeconomic issues both countries and NPOs face when trying to help refugees. It is a crisis that is constantly evolving, one with no clear outcome or solution. I am truly grateful for this experience, it has given me a new perspective into the world around me, and has encouraged me to tackle my studies and career objectives with vigorous determination.
Throughout the past few months, I had the opportunity to oversee and participate in many different areas of RIJ; from overseeing the planning and development of a benefit concert, to working with other interns to help finalize the annual RIJ project reports. I was fortunate enough to begin my internship as RIJ and local international schools began the process of preparing for ‘‘The Light up the Life of a Refugee Child’’ benefit concert. I was responsible for acting as a liaison between RIJ and participating schools. This was a very rewarding experience because I was fortunate enough to see this event all the way through to the end. The concert ended up being a huge success, with RIJ raising more than 1 million yen that would go towards providing an education for 200 Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
This event would not have been possible if not for the driven staff and volunteers that support RIJ. The CEO, Jane Best, is the only full time employee. I was able to learn a lot from her about NPOs and refugees, as she is involved in nearly every aspect of RIJ, from fundraisers to project visits. When I first started my internship, I was primarily focused on projects that would provide short-term and immediate relief to refugees, such as ones that would donate food and clothing. Jane explained that while these projects are important, when keeping with RIJs mission statement to restore dignity, these projects do very little to make refugees independent and self-sufficient. This is something that stuck with me for the rest of my internship, because it challenged me to look more critically at refugee relief projects, and find ways to create for a more resonating impact within the refugee community. Jane makes annual visits to all of the projects RIJ is funding, taking pictures and later sharing the stories of refugees who benefited from the projects. This creates a personal connection between RIJ and the refugees they support, something that larger NPOs are not able to do. It is this type of personal connection I was then able to gain when reading the project visit reports that Jane had compiled throughout the years, this is something that kept me excited to come into the RIJ office every other day.
RIJ is primarily staffed by volunteers. Having only two professional employees, it is important for these volunteers to have a strong work ethic, as they are the ones who make up the backbone of the organization. Throughout my time here, I have noticed that RIJ volunteers are some of the most dedicated and passionate volunteers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Some were once refugees themselves, or come from families who were once forced to flee their home countries. I think it is through this personal connection with the refugee crisis, that the volunteers are able to stay so motivated and determined to help.
The passion and selflessness seen in the RIJ staff and volunteers has influenced me to continue researching and working for organizations that seek to provide enduring humanitarian aid. At the conclusion of my internship, I am happy that I will still be able to act as volunteer for next semester. This internship has provided me with many opportunities to continue developing the skills I have gained, including the invitation to attend an NPO leadership session held throughout the next couple of months. In the words of the late UN Secretary General, U Thant, “Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves. This, as the sages of many lands have taught us, is a golden rule in individual and group, as well as international, relations.”