After only two months at RIJ, it is incredible how much I have learned about humanitarianism, the function and structure of non-profit organizations, and the importance of sustainable change. With the freedom to pursue areas that interested me, I was able to explore many avenues of research surrounding refugee assistance. After educating myself on the projects that RIJ has funded in the past, I chose aspects of ones that peaked my interest and launched into research on micro-businesses and cash transfers as means for enterprise establishment and refugee integration into local economies. After learning about RIJ’s extensive commitment to education and skills training, I took a deeper look into the refugee education crisis and how RIJ has addressed this issue with its funding choices. This research allowed me to get a better grasp on the role played by non-profit organizations like RIJ, discover some incredible projects funded by RIJ that are utilizing innovative methods to overcome obstacles faced by refugees, and create material that will further disseminate this knowledge to others. Not only was this internship an opportunity to explore a wide breadth of topics and assignments, it was a chance to really learn for the sake of helping others.
Throughout this internship, a key question that I kept asking myself was “what can I do?”. Is it enough to just donate and allow organizations like RIJ to do their work? Does one have to dedicate their own life to serving others in order to make a significant difference? After two months at RIJ, I think there must be a middle ground. Writing a check may not feel the same as putting your hands in the dirt at the building site of a school in Cambodia, but we must recognize that it is more important for local communities to have local people find local solutions to local problems than for others to. I am now (more than ever) a firm believer in the sustainable solutions espoused by RIJ’s projects. When discussing the Karen State baby kit project, Jane mentioned that although there is some merit to building baby kits with Western materials and shipping them to the Thai-Burma border, it is actually much more beneficial to source the goods locally and, as a result, employ more people in the process of creating the baby kits on the ground. By providing the funds to supply women with baby kits, RIJ has stimulated an economy, created jobs and enabled refugees and IDPs to build a better future for themselves. This “ripple-effect” idea of sustainability and positive change is a point that really stuck with me throughout this internship.
With experience working in advertising, another area of this internship that I found interesting was the marketing techniques used to encourage donations. The main question when looking at how to advertise the work that RIJ does is: “How do you get people to care?”. We’ve all seen the heart-wrenching pictures of the children in Africa, fly-ridden and emaciated, asking for our help. Studies have shown, however, that these are not the most effective donation-producing tools. The methods employed by RIJ—showing the potential behind those faces, detailing the success stories of refugees who are empowered by RIJ-funded projects, and highlighting the resourcefulness and innovation of refugees—are more influential in the eye of the average donor, while also preserve the dignity of the refugees in question. In advertising RIJ’s work, I translated a few of the success stories I wrote about RIJ beneficiaries from English into Japanese, and doing so taught me about the intricacies of language when discussing pertinent issues and how best to convey RIJ’s mission to a wider Japanese audience. This was an important lesson for me because it made me think about the rhetoric we use when speaking about people in crises, and how this cause really does transcend boundaries, regions, and languages.
This internship would not have been the same without the wonderful staff and volunteers at RIJ. It was inspiring to be around so many committed people cooperating for the same, worthy cause. Jane was always willing to listen to an idea, steer a project that needed direction, and give her honest opinion. From day one of this internship, I was full-steam ahead and given the license to pursue what I wanted, a rare occasion in the world of undergraduate internships. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work for RIJ this summer, and am thankful for the lessons doing so has taught me. Overall one of the biggest takeaways for me was the realization of how vital it is to be informed in order to do good in the world. Working to empower the 65 forcibly displaced people around the world requires knowledge of the refugee crisis and an assertiveness to dispel myths promulgated by media sources and misinformed individuals about refugees. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have educated myself on something that matters as much as the refugee crisis, and I hope to spend my future career advocating on behalf of people affected by crises worldwide.