Yesterday was my official last day at my internship. I turned in my final documents, said goodbye to my co-workers and closed that chapter of my experience. This has been a very insightful summer for me, I have learned about where I can foresee my future leading me, and what I need at an organization to feel fulfilled. I had a very interesting experience with ACIJ (the legal organization) when I was asked by the villas (slums) team to work with them on personal narrative, core values and how to work in a collective model. This request stemmed from a presentation I did for the whole organization about 2 weeks ago.
I spoke with the project coordinator briefly about their goals and we planned to meet the following day at her house with the team and on of the directors of ACIJ. Since starting school again, I hadn’t really done much work in communities (a few surveys in the villas in Argentina, a little work with Kellogg). Because this academic year was so quantitatively focused (from my non-quant perspective), I had many doubts about my skill set and where I can work in the world. I was not called upon often to work in communities and help organizations with visioning, strategic planning and using collective leadership. I had not been using these skills and was nervous to call upon them again.
Luciana had invited us to her house to meet and when we had all arrived, we agreed on a time commitment and went over our goals for our time together. In addition to those mentioned above, the team wanted to hear about community organizing because they are doing a lot more organizing in the communities. I had asked them ahead of time to prepare a 2-minute personal narrative, thinking about why they were called to do this work, when they could be working as lawyers in a private firm. They each told there story (going way over 2 minutes, as any Argentine would) and we worked on identifying which aspects of the narrative stuck with people or caused us to feel a connection with them. It was interesting with the Director because it was very easy for him to talk about the organization and choosing to found it because he had been given so many opportunities, but he resisted actually finding a personal grounding to his work. I pushed him to identify a person, or an experience that gave him this drive and eventually, a story came out that clearly demonstrated where his interest in social justice derived. The themes of all the personal narratives were movement, freedom and a search that occurred in all their different backgrounds. These themes caused us to begin a conversation about the interconnection between freedom and responsibility and fate vs. destiny. To sit and have these conversations, while drinking mate, was very meaningful for me because I felt like my ability to facilitate this space crossed cultural and geographic boundaries. As someone who is planning on working and living outside my own community (however I might define that), it was an important realization to have.
Next, we worked on identifying group values and interestingly enough, everyone on the team (except the director) chose happiness as a value they wanted to embody and promote in their work. To have 4 people choose the same value from a list of over 20 demonstrated how in line they all are with the goals of the group. On the other hand, we spoke with the director about the pressure this puts on the organization to provide said “happiness” to its employees. It was very interesting and inspiring to see how much they all care about their work and that their happiness is interconnected to the work they do. Additionally, it was inspirational to see how much they want to increase the happiness of others---now to figure out how to do that!
Leaving Luciana’s house that night, I was really grateful to the team for letting me be part of the process and also to feel like I had something to offer to the group. It has been a long time (or feels that way) since I felt like I had some concrete ways in which to help. I was also very grateful for having taken Marshall Ganz’ Organizing class in the spring, because it gave me the language to speak about the work. I used many of his terms and was able to articulate some “best practices” and how to connect your personal story to the work you choose to do. That day was a highlight of my time in Argentina and gave me the opportunity to connect my past work experience, my academic work at Kennedy and my present reality.