Tuesday, August 5, 2014
During their two months in Miami, students worked with Unidad Miami Beach, a non-profit organization that provides services to the Miami-Dade area, a county with 46% foreign-born population. For the first month, our students assisted with the New Generation Leadership and Workforce Institute in Miami Beach as workshop facilitators and mentors to the high school youth. Two students continued working with Unidad in a variety of ways for the second month, while others began new internship placements with FANM, Inc; Americans for Immigrant Justice; and Catholic Charities Legal Services. What follows are some of their summer postings on the experience.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
- Canned chickpeas
- $14,000 funeral
- ESL and Computer Skills Class
- Lunch with the Prime Minister of Haiti
Check, check, check, and check.
Empowerment in the kitchen? Pass. Actually… this week I finally gave in and make my favorite comfort food. (I guess I miss Indian food ok?) I made channa masala, a spicy chickpea curry. It was a little dry and I initially forgot to add the chili powder, but overall it was a success -- that cleared my unsuspecting sinuses. Even with the hiccups it gave me a feeling I’d never had in such a high dose -- independence (two jobs, work hard, she a … bonus points if you can finish the line). How ironic that cooking make me feel that way, it’s just so domestic (read: basic) but it did. I’m not the quintessential college kid binging on cold pizza and ramen noodles, and that’s a good feeling. Quite the opposite of the mom-jean-wearing-kitchen-slave picture I had so feared...
Our first week at FANM we were told to research the recent shooting death of a teenage boy shot by another teenage boy on June 6th in Miami. One google search later, we had four possible, but unrelated incidents. Four. FOUR. FOUR TEENAGERS KILLED ON THE SAME DAY. And none of them were the actual shooting we were supposed to read about. The actual shooting occurred between brothers over clothing. Typical right? Wrong. Fighting over clothes is typical. Shooting over clothes is something else. Well that’s where my avoidance of feelings doubles as proactivity. We created a GoFundMe.com campaign platform (http://www.gofundme.com/b0k4ok) the initiation step in a radical chain reaction. First, we raised $1720. Then State of Florida victims of violent crime compensation provided $5000. Next the Trayvon Martin Foundation donated $1000. In case you got hung up on the math, that’s only $6280 left. With some help from Congresswoman Wilson of the 24th district of Florida, Reflexions Funeral Home agreed to put on the funeral for whatever money had been raised thus far. Only one small problem, GoFundMe takes 7% of the online donations. What? Thats 120.04 I don’t have. Cue termination step in the form of an anonymous $200 donation. Bam. My ice box may have melted somewhere along the way...
A straw hat and an infectious smile. And that laugh, that utterly joyous, harmonious, throaty laugh. Like a scent that can take you back eons, this gleaming personality catapulted me back to 2002, to my grandpa. The brilliant yet unassuming gentleman. The ever-hopeful storyteller. If I allow myself one unreasonable regret, it’s that he didn’t live long enough for me to chat, debate, be merry with him. But back to the straw hat. Brenda and I are novices at teaching, although we are fluent in English, we need to develop some more skills to teach it, so it takes a couple tries for us to get the point across. When we explained the difference between I and me and us and we, using examples, Joseph, the smiling straw hat, clapped aloud for us, thanking us. That hearty and heartfelt applause and shear joy without an inkling of mirth was more than refreshing, it was reinforcing. I don’t trust myself to put the feeling into words...
Results of email sending practice. If nothing else, this class has taught me how uncommon real sincerity is.
On Tuesday we were told to create a presentation about the campaign we’d been working on, the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. Right now, the US has a Cuban Family Reunification Program in place that allows Cuban nationals with approved family-based visa petitions to enter the US while their actual visas are still being processed. This means that they are legally allowed to reside in the US as parolees and bypass the waitlist to receive a visa. However, this is not the case for other Caribbean nations. In fact, the waitlist for immediate family members from Haiti is anywhere from 5 to 12 years. If you think about it, that is a huge chunk of childhood during which as many as 110,000 families are separated. So naturally, I opened up a PowerPoint and began typing away. Pretty soon, I had a short and sweet presentation to inform a lay audience.
On Wednesday, we were told that we would be presenting to Laurent Lamothe, the Prime Minister of Haiti, in lieu of Marleine, our supervisor, who would be unable to attend. After our Friday evening meeting was rescheduled to a Saturday luncheon, Brenda and I awoke promptly at the crack of dawn (which is 10 am, in case you were wondering) and made our way across Miami to the meeting. Most of the meeting was conducted in Creole, apart from our presentation. I had thought that we would be telling the Prime Minister things he already knew, but he questioned my reference to the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti. I never thought I would be defending my research to a foreign official; always remember to cite your sources kids! Perhaps the most touching part of this meeting was our supervisor Marleine’s absence. Rather than attend a meeting with the leader of her home country, she chose to attended Steven and Stanley’s funeral. Her selfless dedication to the community members that depend on her is admirable. She will remain the model for the leader I want to be for a long time…
May you have more coherent thoughts than mine,Ritika
Growing up with psychiatrists as parents gave me expose to the world of mental health and neuroscience, so I have always had it in the back of my mind that I would explore that field of study. Medicine has also been something I have wanted to pursue. And so, since coming to Duke, I have had an interest in majoring in Neuroscience and taking premed courses, and everything I have done at Duke has solidified my desire to pursue these courses of study (or at least have done nothing to deter it). I took the right classes, and they piqued my interest. I got involved in extracurriculars that either interested me or took up too much of my time (i.e. swimming on the Varsity Team) to give me time to explore other interests let alone breathe. This summer has been the first time since coming to college or even in my life in general in which I have immersed myself and dedicated my time to something that didn’t directly relate to my presumed interests or supposed career path.
However, these past few weeks, I have become immersed in a completely unsuspected world that I would never have experienced if I hadn’t applied to DukeEngage in Miami. As I mentioned in my last blog, working with Martin at CCLS led me to stumble into the art of grant writing —in particular the beast that is federal grant writing. This is something with which I never anticipated becoming familiar, and when I was assigned to this task, I was apprehensive.
While this work has been outside of my comfort zone, especially in the beginning, I have realized that I actually do like it. It requires a meticulous and careful eye to parse out the exact words to convey the required meaning and level of precision. It truly is an art—one at which Martin is incredibly skilled, and I feel lucky to have learned about it through his mentorship.
I hadn’t thought about this work as anything more than a service to help CCLS gain important funding—that is until the CEO of CCLS engaged me in a conversation about what I wanted to do as a career. This conversation started out under the pretense that Martin would have to retire eventually, and that CCLS might be interested in a young graduate to start at an entry level for his position. To this, I apologetically mentioned my desire to pursue medicine, but made sure to say that I was open to other career paths. And until that moment, I didn’t consider that I might be. For the first time, I thought what it would be like to pursue something other than the path I had been tentatively set on since coming to college. It made me remember the part of myself that I had been neglecting—the part that loves to write and to find the nuances in language. The part that loves to read and even considered majoring in Literature or English. I don’t know if I will change my major or career interests, but I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to explore and remember parts of me that I had forgotten to remember.
This summer has also made me feel incredibly lucky in another sense; it has given me the opportunity to live in the moment. Since coming to Duke, I have mostly worked toward goals. The Neuroscience classes I have taken were for the goal of obtaining a major in a field of interest and passion, the science classes were for the goal of preparing for med school, the endless hours of swim practice for the goal of a far off and unreachable competition, and so on. As I have told family and friends about the immigration work I have done for this second part of my summer, I have been told several times that I am lucky to be living and getting direct exposure to the problems our country is facing right now. I am currently doing research for a grant to help represent undocumented alien children—the same ones who faces haunt the news and journal articles. I have no other goal than to do the work of the day and do it well, to live in the moment; because the service I am immersed in is directly tied today, and that is so refreshing. Immersing myself in issues that do not immediately impact my life or my defined interests is a wonderfully new release.
I remember sitting outside our apartment in the first week of this program wondering if I made the right choice in doing this program. It seemed to diverge from everything else I had previously been involved in, and I was anxious that I would regret it. At the summer’s close, I know that Miami was the refreshing dive into real life and out of my own defined life path—a shock that I desperately needed.
I cannot believe that our Duke Engage is coming to an end. I am extremely proud to be part of the inaugural class of the Miami site.
There were several reasons why I wanted to be part of a domestic program. The first is the realistic component to the program. I can see myself living in Miami one day and I now know contacts that would make my transition to this city easier. Don't get me wrong, I see the benefits of going international for Duke Engage and I definitely respect and admire students who go off to different countries and even continents to do service work. And I would like to experience that one day in the near future. But, I saw the benefits of getting to know a city in the United States that would be easy for me to melt into post-college, which is one year away for me. Miami’s intriguing warmth and rich culture was something that I felt was right for this summer.
This leads to my second reason to why I wanted to be in Miami this summer. For me shows like "Caso Cerrado," "Sabado Gigante" and "El Gordo y La Flaca" were the first introductions to the diversity of Latin@s. In southern California, Mexicans and Central Americans are quite prevalent so my idea of Spanish and Latin Americans was somewhat limited. I am sure people in the Northeast or even in South Florida don't know what legit Mexican food is. (And no, I'm not talking about hardshell tacos/Taco Bell/TexMex stuff. Do not come at me with that stuff. Please come to my house for some enchiladas, mole pozole and tacos that are tasty enough with some simple onion, cilantro and chile. I digress because I could write an entire blog on how deprived I've been of my dear Mexican food.) So, when my mom and grandma would watch these afternoon and nightly shows, I didn't understand why people in some of the shows didn't pronounce the "S" at the end of words or pronounced their "r"'s like "l"s. So, I knew there was more to understand about so Miami represented something more to me because of my curiosity in my own understanding of my identity in relation to the greater Latin American world. Sure, I'm not Carribbean or South American but our histories of colonization and forced occupation sew us together. So, it is a natural interest, encouraged by academia of course, to learn about the commonalities and differences of Latinos.
In terms of our service work, I do wish we had been at one site the entire 8 weeks. But I am extremely grateful for Catholic Charities Legal Services for allowing me to see the humanity in law. We helped with preparing court cases with the lawyers (researching country conditions etc), calling families of minors to encourage them to come to info sessions, translated for clients, visited a detention center and attended a couple court cases. Interestingly enough, I found this more impactful than working with the high school institute. What I realized from working with the high school institute is that although I really and truly want myself to like teaching and working with high school students, it is not my passion. I cared about the students we had the pleasure of meeting but I wasn’t excited to go to work everyday. Maybe it was the way the institute was organized or maybe not. This is actually quite saddening for me to learn about myself. I would like to consider myself as someone who enjoys working with the youth but I found this work to be difficult and energy draining rather than invigorating. I know some of the other DEngagers loved the high school institute, which was great. Maybe one day, I’ll find that work enlivening. I feel at times, we [I] try to craft ourselves [myself] to be people that we want to be and have passions/characteristics that we want to have and even craft these personas for people in our lives and it is hard to accept when actual life says that this isn't reality.
What I loved was the work that CCLS does and their welcoming attitude towards interns. CCLS helps many members, children and adults, of the Florida Haitian and Latin American community gain authorization to be in the United States. Many of the lawyers themselves are immigrants or are children of immigrants and the passion for what they do is very clear. Growing up in a border-town allowed me to live in constant conversations of immigration. Being raised in a home with immigrant parents, including with one that could easily be a client of CCLS for her bravery to come into the United States without authorization was definitely humbling but normal. I say normal because most of my friends at school also had immigrant parents and were living as best as they could with what they had. I thought this immigrant story was normal until Duke and its students said it wasn't normal and instead something that was sad and even a little embarrassing. I have done some immigration activism in the past but to be at a organization that specialized in advancing the lives of thousands of people was inspiring to me It has also encouraged me to seriously look at immigration law as a career path. Working for CLS refreshed my academic spirits so I am grateful for that.
With that, I am ready to leave Duke Engage but as I have expressed before in my blogs, I am not ready to leave Miami. What I mean by that is I am looking forward to graduating from the Duke undergraduate world and ready to begin a new chapter in my life. And a couple chapters may take place in Miami. When I stand on my balcony to look at the beauty of the water, ride the city bus to work, or reflect on the neighborhoods that we have had a pleasure to get to know and the people of Miami that we've met, I can't help but to love this city. Besides my home city, I've never been in a city where so many brown people live---it's cool to be Latin@ here. In one of our first reflection sessions, we spoke about spaces where being brown is seen as desirable. And I said Duke University was not. And I stand by that. So, it's so refreshing, inspirational, calming and exciting to have experienced the gentle warm hug of the 305. I would say that most big cities are ethnically and culturally diverse but Miami....Miami, baby, encompasses so much of Latin America---from the Carribbean to North and South America. And that is what I'm so attracted to. I'm attracted to Latin America and its culture and my culture and of course, myself.
“I was a little worried when I saw she had delegated the task to an intern, but then I saw you go to Duke and I thought, ‘she knows what she’s doing.’”
Seven weeks have gone by, and almost everywhere we go Duke follows us. We are introduced as the “Duke Interns”, and “Where are you from?” is answered with “We all go to Duke but are from all over.” WE CAN’T ESCAPE IT.
When I was applying to college I wanted to go to a school people would know. I wanted to be able to say the name and have people go, “Oh (Enter College Name Here), nice.” Maybe it was my desire to have people know that I worked hard, maybe it was to please my mom, maybe it was my competitive side getting the best of me; who knows. All I know is that it landed me at Duke.
But now I wish people didn’t like the sound of my university so much.
Being a part of DukeEngage has been amazing, truly, but I just wish the Duke part wasn’t as prominent as it has been. Don’t get me wrong I love my school and generally love being associated with Duke but throughout this trip I have realized that sometimes people present me, build me, and think of me only as Duke.
Again it isn’t that I don’t enjoy being associated with Duke because through Duke I have met some amazing people this summer (shouts out to all our awesome speakers and my fellow DukeEngagers), but I don’t like that people assumptions people make about me just because I go to Duke (Don’t assume things because it makes an ass out of you and me.).
My ability to answer phones in a professional manner or fill out a spreadsheet that requires I call a few people for clarification was not bestowed upon me thanks to Duke (sorry to break it to you Duke). Yes, Duke has taught me many things but I also have quite a few skills that I wouldn’t credit to Duke (sorry not sorry).
I guess what I am trying to say is that last summer no one really cared that I went to Duke it didn’t really matter, it wasn’t who I was. But this summer Duke has replaced me as me. People look at me (us) and see Duke or DukeEngage. Duke sent us here, Duke got these internships, Duke this, Duke that. And I am torn because I am so thankful for this opportunity but at the same time my identity has been stolen.
This post is not meant to trash Duke or bash the program, but rather to draw attention to how much the name Duke has influenced my trip here and how it has, in some way, maybe taken a bit of the trip away from me.
Over and Out,
In nearing our last week I am reflecting on where it all began in Little Havana and the relationships we’ve forged, both with our work sites and with each other. Being at this stage, I wonder what I would tell myself at the beginning of this program. I accept surprises, but that does not necessarily mean I enjoy them. Given this, I would probably tell myself to expect to miss aspects of homes (West Virginia, Georgia, and Duke which I consider a home of sorts) more than I thought I would. I found myself comparing the little lizards that sometimes dart in front of us to the fearless squirrels that populate Duke’s campus and wanting to talk to my sisters more than I usually do.
I also would remind myself about that summertime sadness. The sadness and nostalgia that comes after I realize summer is almost over and that I’m about to return to school. This summertime sadness is mitigated by the great memories I have made and lessons I have learned. I have learned not only lessons about myself, but also about the functioning of NGO’s and the wide array that exist and issues they address. About myself I have learned that I am capable of a new level of self-discipline. Waking up early and going to work with no other motivation than the work itself is different than the motivation that drives my academic performance. Moreover, I learned the importance of enjoying one’s career. There is a sense of fulfillment that exists when you believe in the mission of your organization and enjoy what you do. My experience at Haitian Women of Miami these past several weeks is a testament to these self-discoveries.
Working with an immigrant population in the second half of DukeEngage has made the current debate surrounding immigration reform even more topical than it already was. I think we as a nation should really question what type of nation we want to be. Historically, we have not always immediately embraced immigrants (the Irish were denigrated as disease-ridden sub-humans when they first arrived for example) and I hope that our current treatment of refugees, immigrants, and those perceived as ‘different’ (Muslims, Arabs, brown peoples in general) is not another blight in our extensive history of social injustice.
In one of our last lectures, Ritika and I prepped our students for their upcoming English test, prepared a presentation about the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program which we gave to the Haitian Prime Minister, and drafted an op-ed about the humanitarian crisis on the border. I anticipate that saying goodbye to our students will be one of the more emotionally straining aspects of saying goodbye to Miami. We will also have to come to terms with not knowing the future of all the people we have worked with this summer. I would like to think that life treats them well going forward. Goodbye Miami.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
This week I was able to go through my first round of intakes with respect to interviewing the recently apprehended unaccompanied detainees. It was a humbling experience speaking in Spanish, for a change. As I had mentioned prior to my travels, over the years my use of the Spanish language has become broken to a degree, which only hindered communication to a small degree. Thus, as one can imagine, prior to my first interview I was anxious to engage with the individual with whom I would be conversing. Luckily, the interview went smoothly given that the detainee was seventeen years of age, which definitely assisted in conveying certain concepts that might not have been clear for a younger age of minors. In particular, the minor I interviewed was able to share some of his recent traumatic experience travelling to the north, which entailed robbers and multiple safe houses before arriving to the border.
I am excited to attend court hearings next week given that I will be able to gradually grasp a firmer understanding of how the unaccompanied minors are selected by Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ) as a case for their lawyers. I also have been able to glean insight into the world of law by virtue of the fact that the organization contains a diverse faculty of young lawyers. While, I am an undeclared in my major, this has helped me in contemplating the different facets of law that may be of interest to me, especially nonprofit law.
As my time at AIJ comes to a close, I hope I have been able to assist in helping the unaccompanied minors feel more secure in their arduous journey, which hopefully concludes with relief in the United States. However, the fact of the matter is that many of them will be sent back to their homelands. This is not to say that my work has been vain, but it does make me constantly reevaluate the national crisis in terms of whether enough options for relief are being provided for the minors to stay in the United States. I think that my time at AIJ served me in terms of knowledge more than it did for the organization’s goals. I simply wish that I could do more for such a noble effort.
At times, a great strength can also be a great weakness. I would say that in my time with Unidad my greatest strength has been my attention to detail, which has allowed me to fully benefit and grow from the work I have been doing.
However, recently, my desire for every small detail to be perfect caused me to notice an enormous mistake in all of the files from last year’s New Generation Leadership & Workforce Institute.
My insistence on fixing the huge problem and delving into documents that are more than a year old and precede this DukeEngage program drastically increased my workload, but made my last days at Unidad the most rewarding.
I was able to take away more lessons from my last few weeks because in to my normal work with the youth program and fixing the filing disaster, I was forced to wear a number of different hats because of vacations and staffing changes.
First, I got to practice my Spanish/Spanglish a lot as the receptionist in the morning that greets all of the visitors and takes all of the phone calls for the senior program, as well as the youth program. With participants in both programs swarming the Coral Rock House Tuesday to pick up checks and get help, I learned a lot about universal communication and the impact that something as simple as a smile can have.
Having to balance my receptionist responsibilities with my other duties put a lot of pressure on me to still remain poised and eager to assist people as the first face they saw when entering the facility and the first voice they heard when seeking assistance on the phone.
Despite the pressure, I definitely feel as though my ability to adapt to new situations and problem solve under pressure got much better, and learning how to be a good receptionist and functioning member of an office that can scan, copy, fax and communicate clearly is something I will always trace back to this summer.
One of the other responsibilities I have had to juggle is working with two new volunteers—an older gentleman and a high school student—who have started assisting me with my work.
Getting the opportunity to train two other eager volunteers about the work I have been doing has been great, especially since my time at Unidad is coming to a close; my hope is that the pair can continue the projects I have started if I’m unable to finish all of them by the time I leave.
Additionally, with the youth program career advisors out of the office at different times, I got to act as a student advisor when their students came into the office to follow up on the end of the New Generation Leadership & Workforce Institute, or check in about their new jobs.
It was an odd experience to be the one advising students to remain patient and diligent at their new job sites and assure them that their work would get better and more rewarding when just a few weeks ago, many of our advisors gave us the same advice after our initial surprise at how Unidad ran the New Generation Leadership Institute.
I was pleased to be able to step in and advise many of the students because I think they appreciated someone nearer to their age advising them on the matter rather than the career advisors, who the students likely could not imagine being able to see the situation from their perspective. Being more willing to voice a different perspective was definitely another positive benefit I gained from my work.
Another project I was happy to complete before I left was a marketing project for Unidad’s senior program—the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). In the program, seniors older than 55 are placed at local nonprofit organizations and paid to give back to their community, in addition to going through various training sessions and classes to gain employment skills.
Since I have not worked with the senior program much, it was nice to work with different staff members to learn about how the program currently attracts new participants and give my feedback about how I thought the program’s marketing could improve in the future.
I hadn’t really done any presentations that were meant to represent a professional organization, so it was a rewarding exercise to have to put together a presentation for an undefined audience on a subject that I was not that familiar with. Unidad will now be able to use the presentation for years to come to both gain new participants in the program and train other organizations on effective marketing techniques.
The presentation reminded me a lot about how my sense of professionalism has changed, and how something as simple as remaining even-keeled even when things went wrong with the Institute could have an impact on the students and fellow staff members.
Being part of a professional team that was going through a lot of changes made me much better at assessing a situation fully before reacting or taking action.
When one of our program co-directors came back for our last week after only seeing us in the first week of the program, she said that we all seemed like we had grown up a lot, and I definitely agree; because we all had to adapt so much, a heightened sense of maturity—professionally and personally—was required.
In addition to helping my personal growth, having to manage all of the projects I have been a part of and really integrating into all of the levels of Unidad’s programs these past few weeks has given me a holistic view of the organization that would not have been possible if I had left the organization; for this reason, I feel fortunate that I have had the privilege to stay at the Coral Rock House.
This experience has been vital for my development as a professional and well-rounded person, and I am excited to see what the higher-ups in Unidad have to say when Eric Mlyn—the head of DukeEngage—visits us Monday.
It is almost surreal that we will be leaving in a week, but I am hopeful after starting to mentor potential replacements that the future looks bright not only for Unidad’s youth and senior programs, but also for this DukeEngage program.
“You're gonna miss this
You're gonna want this back
You're gonna wish these days
Hadn't gone by so fast.
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you're gonna miss this.”
This country song, “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Trace Adkins comes to mind when I start to think about my time here in Miami. It has come and gone, but will truly have a special place in my heart. From hearing salsa music outside the law firm office one day while working with an attorney on a residency application for a domestic violence victim to having my daily cortadito to our weekly Publix runs, I cannot help to feel like I am actually half Cuban and that am a part of this city and culture. Being here in Miami has allowed me to really delve deep into its many different cultures and has made me even more proud of my own. At the beginning of our time here in Miami, our site coordinator, asked me if I feel Cuban yet. I can for sure say that I do now. I have figured out that I feel Cuban through the little things: the dialect, the food, Spanish everywhere you look, the slower pace of life, the music, the cigars, the elderly who remind me of Cuban grandparents, the perfume we got in a thank you good bag from Unidad, and the coffee.
The chill, laid–back beach attitude that is prone to some parts of Miami is quickly juxtaposed with just a quick trip over the bridge to the bustling downtown life and even more with at least an hour long bus ride to any of the little neighborhoods in Miami. It definitely has the best of both worlds, with a couple of extra things thrown in such as the amazing food I cannot get enough of and the constant Spanglish everywhere you turn. The mentality of “it’s cool to be Latino” is something that I find resonating everywhere, along with the liveliness and cultural diversity that abounds.
It makes me think though that at some times in our life, the rose-colored glasses are appropriate to see the world in and will match the outfit of the day, but at other times it is not at all. Immersing ourselves in all of the different areas of Miami, whether that be through the work that we do and/or the group outings we have, have allowed us to see all of Miami’s true colors. Can this be said especially for the immigrants, the ones whose cases I flip through, organize, and familiarize myself with on a daily basis, based on which project I have been tasked with that day? Some of the stories I have heard kill me, because they are so heartbreaking and real world problems.
Such was the case of a young Haitian girl, for whom Karina and I were preparing an asylum application. Her parents moved to the US after the earthquake and left her to live with family in the Dominican Republic, where she experienced great hardships. When her parents found out, they moved her to live with family back in Haiti, where she ended up working as a domestic servant or "restavek" in the family’s home. She had to do numerous chores, did not go to school, and was not allowed to eat until her chores were done. She became very ill and her hair started to fall out. Eventually, she escaped that terrible situation, and now faces possible removal. In an asylum application, one has to include country reports and conditions to show the adjudicator that what your client is reporting to you actually happens and that there are real problems and facts to back it up. We had to do a lot of research and find PDFs and articles to support the argument. We learned a lot along the way, which made it really difficult when we actually met the young girl in person. At sixteen she had been through so much already and was so proficient in English too. It was a really humbling experience knowing her background story and doing research to show that this horrible situation happens in Haiti frequently. This human connection is what draws me in to this type of work and to being of service. If she gets approved, which is probably likely according to the attorney, we played a small role in saving her life.
A similar instance happened when another attorney asked me to create a cover letter for a Violence Against Women (VAWA) Visa. This means that a person who was the victim of domestic violence or any other kind of abuse by a US citizen can apply for residency through a special kind of application. I was in charge of making sure all of the needed documents were accounted for and proved that the client was a victim of domestic abuse. Reviewing all of the police reports of multiple incidences of violence was really difficult and challenging. It is hard working with such a heart wrenching story and then interacting with the lady's daughters. It puts a lot of things into perspective and makes the lawyers more admirable in the way that they have to deal with such complex cases and be there for their clients.
Another highlight of my time at CLS was being in charge of making the calls for the LOPC (Legal Orientation Program for Custodians of Unaccompanied Minors) Charla. It is a group discussion given by one of the lawyers about the rights of unaccompanied minors, the options they have in getting their residency, and the process of it all. Each day this week we made around fifteen to twenty calls a day, all in Spanish, informing families and/or the minor's sponsor of the time, date, location, and other specifics about the charla. We would also text them the important information. This is a really cool opportunity because it places us right in the middle of the controversial issue surrounding unaccompanied minors that is happening right now. When we would call, some of the people would begin to tell me their whole life stories, essentially trying to convince me to take their case, but I'm not a lawyer so I can't, and/or they would tell me how they live really far away and cannot get off work. I then feel compelled to help them even more, but there is unfortunately only so much we as an organization can do.
Being here at Catholic Legal Services has taught me more about the inner workings of our legal system, and especially about immigration law, than I thought I would ever know. It is learning by doing essentially. I did not realize how much immigration law transfers over into and impacts so many other disciplines, such as in public health. If I decide to become a doctor and/or go into global health, knowing more about these issues will help to even better fully understand the person I am treating and what they are going through.
A very wise and special man once told me, and continues to tell me on a daily basis, that:
“If you do the right thing, you will never miss a thing.”
This is essentially something that I strive to live by everyday. After my eight weeks here, I can say that I was here to do service and that I did service in every sense of the word, whether that be making nametags for a conference, encouraging a high school student to apply to college, or possibly helping someone not get removed. Thank you to staff at Unidad for teaching me what it really means to be a part of the family style work atmosphere, those at Catholic Legal Services for giving me a crash course in immigration law and lifee, and to my fellow DukeEngagers for giving me someone to hang out with while here (shout out to my ladies of Apartment 1717)! ¡Hasta pronto Miami!