Reflections: Interning for a Non-Profit

I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my summer than as an intern for The Pangea Network. The experiences I had and lessons I learned shaped who I am an individual and what I hope to do with my future after graduating college. I became so much more than an intern, but truly a part of the “network,” a member of the family.

Interning with a non-profit is tough, but also extremely rewarding. Unlike many of my friends interning with corporations, I was not confined to one specific task for the entirety of the summer. Instead, I got to be a part of everything that goes on in the office: meetings, e-mails and phone calls, presentations, trips, programs, fundraising.

Apart from basic office work and social media, I completed 3 main projects. First, I transcribed a series of interviews between our director, Nicole Minor, and many of the women from our cooperatives across Kenya. This was a fun challenge for me and helped me become very familiar with the work we do overseas. Listening to these women’s stories constantly made me laugh or brought me to tears! Secondly, I organized a small fundraiser. Sprout Salons generously donated a large sum of salon services, so we placed jars around town and sold tickets for a raffle! I enjoyed going out and sharing our purpose and vision with the community. Lastly (and what I enjoyed the most), I helped organize our first ever Young Women’s Leadership Challenge at Rice University. I was in charge of all of the preliminary communications with our participants! I helped create promotional materials, gather supplies for the camp, coordinate logistics, and I even got to teach some of the lessons during our camp! Also, I was able to get our lunches donated from local restaurants. This experience was the perfect way to end my time with Pangea. By that point, I truly felt a part of the mission and empowered to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.

The Pangea Network is such a unique non-profit. During my time with them, I learned about the best ways to approach education, poverty eradication, empowerment, community building, sustainability, promotion of human rights, and fundraising. Pangea truly treats the people they work with – from students and women in Kenya to teenagers in Houston – as partners on the journey to transform lives, not as victims to save or clients to help. I am so thankful for everyone in the network. I know that I will maintain connections with these amazing people for the rest of my life and that they will continue to be a resource and inspiration to me as I begin my own journey after college. 

DR Day 5 – Driving Away

Today I said goodbye to the community that I have spent time with for the last 5 summers. This is the first time I couldn’t confidently tell them “I’ll see you next year!” I know I will return, but I’m not sure when. I said goodbye to Ashley, my sponsor girl, to each of the girls in my dance class, to Milagros, one of the most incredible women I have ever met, to my friends, to my family. 

Driving away, crying without shame, I thanked God for the amazing opportunities I’ve had to learn from, grow with, and love on these people. Of all of the amazing things God has blessed me with in my 20 years of life, sweet moments with the children in Cotui are the most precious to me. 

Our team has been reading from 1 John 4 this week. My pastor Mark reminded us that we don’t come here to the Dominican Republic because we are just so awesome and are good enough to sacrifice one week out of the year to travel to another country and bestow blessings upon less fortunate people. That’s not it at all. Because we know God, we know love. Because we know God’s love, we are able to show it to other people. In fact, we are obligated to show it to other people. If we didn’t know God, we wouldn’t know love. That sounds harsh, but it’s simply true. The love we show to others is simply an outpouring of the love God has shown to us.

Today was one of the best days I’ve ever had.  But I’m too sad and too tired to write about everything right now. I need to process everything first. My heart is full. 

DR Days 2 & 3 – Nothing Better

I have experienced a hot and humid Dominican Republic before, but never one this wet! Thankfully, God has kept away the rain in the mornings during Vacation Bible School, sent it down hard during lunch when can be covered and enjoy a restful lunch, and allowed us to still get everything done in the afternoons with work on the construction site, the teen girls  Bible study, the door to door evangelism, and my dance classes! I was so nervous that the rainy skies would keep the girls away, but yesterday and today we had a full class of almost 40 excited dancers! When I was little, my mom told me that it rains because the trees are thirsty. They must be really, really thirsty this week. But a little rain can’t keep us down! 

I don’t even know where to begin in describing my time here so far… The only thing I can say is that when I’m in Cotui, I fully understand Matthew 19:14 when Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” I see heaven on earth when I look at their silly smiles. I know God as Perfect Father when I hold their sticky hands. I feel the indescribable compassion of Jesus, just for a moment, when I give them hug after hug after hug. 

Dance classes have been amazing so far. I chose to use the song “I Am Free” because it has a strong beat and a really great energy. Today the girls and I talked about what it means to be free in Christ. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we are free to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. According to the girls, we are also free to go to school, to play, to run around, to dance, to have friends, to do the dishes and mop the floors, to learn new things, to have friends, and to learn about God. They definitely taught me something about freedom. With this in mind, we danced with total abandonment and pure joy. There is nothing better than jumping around and shaking our hips and lifting our hands and twirling around, all together in a cramped and sweaty room with rain leaking in and music playing loudly and English mixing with Spanish, but nobody cares because nothing matters except dancing! I can’t think of anything better than that. 

DR Day 1 – Reunited!

What a beautiful feeling, this exhaustion. Today was so good, and my God is so good. 

I slept comfortably enough last night and woke up feeling expectant. Breakfast was at the usual spot, De Moya. It was so wonderful to be welcomed back by the restaurant owners. Nothing has changed. My favorite waitress was still there, just like every year, and we exchanged knowing smiles. She doesn’t speak a word of English, and I speak all of 7 words of Spanish. Yet, she is my friend. 

A group meeting and introductions followed breakfast. Mark, my incredible youth pastor who has been leading trips to the Dominican Republic for over 10 years, gave us some opening words of exhortation. He reminded us that what matters more than anything else this week is building relationships, whether with the children in Cotui, with someone on our team, or with one of our translators. Yes, we come here to host a Vacation Bible School, to teach dance classes, and to continue construction on our school, but if we don’t connect with people, those efforts are fruitless. We are ambassadors of Christ, here to share grace and love. We are not here to impart our American lifestyle, ideology, or way of doing church on an “unknowing” people. Instead, we return year after year to build relationships, earn trust and confidence, and speak truth. That’s when our presence makes an impact. That’s when a community is transformed. We show respect, 

This year, our church is joined by two other churches, one from Michigan and one from Oklahoma, the pastors of which are good friends with Mark. The dynamic is definitely different with new friends, but the energy is fresh! I am thankful for that. 

After some necessary reminders to drink water constantly and be mindful of the sewage systems, we were finally on our way out to Cotui! Our team crammed into our trusty pink bus and off we went – through the city, out into the gorgeous countryside, past the usual landmarks, and an hour later we had arrived. I don’t know how to describe the way I felt when we finally got there. It was like Christmas, eating chocolate for the first time after abstaining for any length of time, and a surprise birthday party with all your favorite people, all at once, multiplied by 100. I was so happy to see my friends.

First, we went out to see how the construction site was coming along! My first trip, 5 years ago, we had just cleared the large plot of land and were building the surrounding wall. I laid bricks, mixed cement, and built the supporting columns. Today, there are fully functioning classrooms, 2 bathrooms with multiple toilets and sinks, a fully stocked and tiled kitchen, and what will soon be a roof. I could not help but crying when I saw it. 

After a quick lunch of sandwiches, we broke up into groups to walk through the village and invite families to our church service! This is probably my favorite part of the entire trip. By the time we are done, each of us has a child in each hand and one riding piggy back. I love it. 

And then I saw my sweet Ashley! I met Ashley 5 years ago, my first time here, when she was only 7 years old. I instantly took a liking to her (mostly because I could pronounce her name more easily than the other Dominican names), and I have been sponsoring her ever since. Her pictures, drawings, and letters cover my walls back at home. She is always on my mind. I look forward to seeing her all year long. Now, she is 12 years old and practically a young woman. She ran towards me today, then became shy and hesitated until I saw her, and we hugged for at least 3 entire minutes! She has grown up so much this year. Ashley is currently finishing 8th grade and preparing for the entrance exams into high school. She has top grades and will finish high school at age 16. She wants to become a pediatrician when she grows up. She is so special to me.

Church was lovely. We sang both Dominican and American worship songs and praised God together as one. God used that time to prepare our hearts for the exciting week ahead. Now, it’s time to go to bed so my body can be just as prepared!

More tomorrow. 

 

We Made It!

Hello everyone! We made it safely to the Dominican Republic last night after a fairly smooth, uneventful day of travel. As I’ve said before, after flying 17 hours from South Africa to Atlanta, I can handle anything. These 2 hour flights are no problem! Play a couple games of Sudoku, take a quick nap, and before you know it, we’re landing! 

Customs were painless, as well… I think when someone sees a group of 30 people all wearing the same shirt, they just don’t want to deal with us. Although we appear incredibly tourist-y in our matching shirts, lanyards, and name tags, they’re incredibly effective.

More later! We are about to start our day – breakfast, team meeting, and then we head into Cotui to hold church with the community. I am beyond excited! Prayers for good weather would be much appreciated. 

Preparing for the Dominican Republic

Only 9 days until we head down to the DR! Wow! It really snuck up on me this year… Perhaps it was the chaos that characterized my last month of school, perhaps the rush of jumping into my summer internship only 2 days after finals ended, or perhaps the fact that I’m so used to this trip that the time needed for “mental preparation” diminishes each year… By now, I know exactly what to expect. This will be my 5th year packing the same suitcase with the same t-shirts, taking the same flight and enduring the same layover, staying at the same hotel, eating at the same restaurant, riding on the same bus… well, you get the point.

But what’s really amazing about this routine, this would-be monotony, is that I get to see the same beautiful faces, hug the same sweet girls, laugh with the same brothers and sisters and mothers and teachers and grandpas. There is nothing monotonous about that.

So although I already know exactly what to pack and exactly what to expect, I must prevent my prayers from becoming routine, like everything else. This year, I am praying for God to rejuvenate this community that I have come to love. I am praying that He brings fresh life and extraordinary freedom – freedom from financial burden, from sickness and disease, from broken relationships, from grief and sorrow. I am praying that God’s truth is made clear and available. I am praying that through games and dance classes, through meals and music, the joy of the Lord will be real and present.

I am praying for our team as well, that we speak only words of encouragement, that we grow in friendship and trust, that we are strengthened by each other to glorify God in everything.

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I’m also preparing for the dance workshop with the girls! Last year, our final performance was to the annoyingly popular, yet oddly endearing song “You Don’t Know Your Beautiful” by One Direction. The girls absolutely loved it. It fit in well with our theme of self-worth and seeing ourselves as the beautiful girls that God created us to be. We reminded ourselves that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).

This year, however, I’m struggling to find the perfect song! I’ve tossed around a few ideas, from Harlem Shake to Bruno Mars, Katy Perry to Black Eyed Peas. We need a fun, upbeat song that can easily be counted in 8’s, but has a positive, appropriate message. I’m open to secular or Christian songs. I thought about “I Am Free” by the Newsboys (“I am free to run, I am free to dance, I am free to live for You, I am free”), but I’m still not sure… I would love to talk to the girls about the freedom we have in Christ because of what He did on the cross. Still contemplating, though… Any suggestions?!

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Last year’s dance workshop, preparing for our first day of class!

A Year Later, Another Adventure

While I had every intention of continuing to blog after my return from Africa in June of 2012, good intentions do not imply committed action. A year later, my sophomore year of college behind me, another adventure awaits me.

This summer, I am interning for The Pangea Network, a small non-profit located in The Woodlands, Texas — my hometown. Pangea is committed to empowering and improving the lives of women living in extreme poverty. They work in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as here in the U.S. Check them out on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram to see what kinds of cool projects we are working on!

I will also be returning to the Dominican Republic in just a few weeks! This will be my 5th mission trip there, so I feel confident in saying that this place is like home to me, and the people are like my family. I will be traveling with a team of students from Faith Bible Church. This will be my 2nd year to lead a 5-day dance workshop for all of the girls in Cotui, the village where we work, and I am beyond excited!

I have learned so much about the world and the nature of poverty this past year at SMU. Economic development, African history, cultural anthropology, French, and human rights courses have expanded my mind and enriched my base of knowledge. Hopefully this summer, I will grow not only in my knowledge, but in my experience with these issues as well. Keep following as I struggle to make sense of the vast disparity of wealth that exists in this world, where I fit into it all, and how to make a meaningful difference.

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www.thepangeanetwork.org

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My dance class in the Dominican Republic last year!