One thing that I become very accustomed to doing throughout this DukeEngage experience is to say “Yes” to every question asked of me. What I mean by this is that this summer has been about adapting, so when asked if I can help in a certain way, my response is always affirmative. I have seen that if I questioned things too much or respond negatively, I would have missed some very unique opportunities.
Saying “Yes” has been particularly relevant in my new placement at Catholic Charities Legal Services (CCLS). I saw this even before I started work there. The Thursday before I started at CCLS, I was handed a phone to ask Brother Mike, the attorney in charge of our placement at CCLS, some questions about the organization. If I hadn’t then expressed my willingness to take on the daunting task of becoming familiar with Creole in order to work with Haitian immigrants, I might not have ended up working at CCLS. The magnitude of this commitment made me incredibly nervous even before I got to the organization. I tried my best to teach myself some Creole in three days, and while the language is easier than I had expected, I knew there was no way I would become proficient in that span of time.
Once we arrived at CCLS, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I would approach it with the attitude that whatever CCLS or Brother Mike needed help with, I would offer to do it. Thankfully, no one asked me to translate Creole; however, Brother Mike did ask us three Duke students who were placed at CCLS, specifically Hailey, if we (she) could come up with a community outreach program in three weeks with no funding. We all said “Yes” without even knowing where to start. After Brother Mike left us with this assignment, I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude and uncertainty of the task ahead. But we had no choice—we had to figure it out. We came up with a plan and a proposal, which was accepted, but unfortunately, the nonprofit world has a slightly slower turn around than three weeks, so the event most likely will not happen. Still, it was very cool to see us Duke students, specifically Hailey, agree to take on an almost impossible task with no complaints and just optimism.
The next question that I said “yes” to was: “So you can translate French?” by Brother Mike. I studied French for most of my life and was fluent at one point, so I said “yes”, I could help him out and translate whatever documents he needed. To which he responded “Oh no, you will be interviewing a Haitian immigrant seeking asylum.” I immediately broke out in a cold sweat of nervousness because I was afraid my French was too rusty to do that, but I had already committed. And so, as I followed Brother Mike to his office, I desperately hoped I could remember how to speak French. My task was to help one of Brother Mike’s clients, a Haitian immigrant, fill out his court forms, which included testimonies about why he was seeking political asylum and how he came to the United States. After a very cursory explanation that I was to fill out this electronic form for him, Brother Mike left me alone with this man who could only speak Creole and French. As I had feared, I was initially very rusty with my French, and I struggled to even remember the sounds of the alphabet when the client spelled names out for me—in my flustered state of worry, I even forgot how to say “first name” in French. But miraculously, after I calmed down and let my memory take over, my French started to flow back, and I was able to translate his testimony and most of the other information onto the form. This was one of the more rewarding and fulfilling things I have done while on DukeEngage, and it was even more exciting to be able to go to court with Brother Mike and this man several days later to watch the man I translated for have his Master Court Hearing. I feel lucky to have this experience, and I wouldn’t have had it if I had expressed my doubts and uncertainties about translating French for Brother Mike.
Finally my current work position came as a result of saying “yes” to the question, “So you major in Neuroscience? And medical things?” Saying “yes” to this inquiry ended up partnering me with a man named Martin, who is in charge of grant writing at CCLS. Martin currently has trouble reading because he recently had eye surgery, so I was tasked with the duty of helping him with his work. You may be wondering what this has to do with Neuroscience, and I did too, but he chose me to help him because one of the grants he is working on requires research on the mental health needs of undocumented alien children and how the services CCLS provides can improve this. I have been helping do research to bolster this part of the grant proposal (another task that when given to me which filled me with anxiety of my potential inability to tackle such a large request). But I had committed, and so now I am in the process of doing this work. However, I have had to put this research on the back burner for a little while because my primary task is helping Martin (who cannot read or write currently) complete other grant proposals. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was thrown into this task at a time when about five different proposals are due in the upcoming weeks. This past Friday was a particularly stressful yet rewarding day because three of those proposals were due. I started helping Martin in the middle of writing these proposals, but I still worked on this project with him for over a week, and it was exciting to finally complete it. This has also been an opportunity for which I feel very grateful; working with Martin has given me intimate exposure to grant writing and the funding that supports nonprofits, which is an experience I never thought I would have.
Saying “yes” to all questioned asked of me has thrown me into uncharted waters this summer, but I’m so thankful that I did not express the doubts that boiled beneath the surface of that “yes”. When each of these tasks was assigned to me, I immediately felt my heart drop and my self-doubt in my abilities overtake me. However, I had no choice but to squelch these doubts and dive headfirst into the task given to me. My ability to do this has given me self-confidence that I didn’t know I could possess, and I am incredibly grateful for this.