This past summer, Josh Mittler (CMC ’15) interned for ThinkImpact. Sponsored by the Center for Human Rights Leadership, he traveled to Rwanda to learn about a variety of issues that the local populations faced on a daily basis. ThinkImpact’s summer program is a great experience for students to create progress and innovation within many rural areas in East and South Africa. I had the opportunity to sit down with Josh to learn all about his internship!
TS: What is the importance of ThinkImpact?
JM: ThinkImpact is an organization that tackles social challenges through creating market-based solutions. Instead of employing “traditional” forms of aid and development, ThinkImpact uses asset-based community development, targeting the unseen potential within people instead of focusing on the obstacles they face. I specifically collaborated with a team of community members to tackle the prevalence of animal starvation, through innovating a business of producing and retailing cow feed.
TS: What were your daily responsibilities at your job?
JM: Throughout the summer, I was both living with a homestay family in the village as well as collaborating with a design team of community members to establish an innovative project. I usually woke up with the sunrise and spent most of my mornings at home. Thankfully, my homestay family welcomed me as part of the household, and that included helping with home activities such as washing dishes, doing laundry, cleaning floors, etc. I would spend the rest of my day working on the design team and project. I had daily meetings with my design team to discuss such topics as the principles of business, accounting, and entrepreneurship, as well as deciding on the course and direction for our project. I would also occasionally go into the nearest “town”, which usually had electricity and Internet access, to do research. I would always be home before sunset, and without any lighting at night, not much happened around the house after darkness except for dinner.
TS: What lessons did you learn this summer, especially with regard to international human rights issues?
JM: Honestly, I think many of us need to reassess the perspective on which we use to view such issues as human rights, development, and poverty. I went into the summer with an attitude of “I’m here because I can help you”. Sure, I am in full support of human compassion and sympathy. Though individuals and organizations that hold this view don’t intentionally mean harm, it can foster an unhealthy relationship of reliance and a separation of people into “the able” versus “the disabled”. I love one of ThinkImpact’s slogans; “In Africa, nobody is poor”. The experience of empowering men and women to support and develop themselves has made me think twice about what how I consider social challenges. Instead of concentrating on how we as outsiders can serve as a relief, we need to focus our efforts on empowering individuals to change their own circumstances.
TS: Any other experiences or stories from your internship that you would like to share?
JM: I think some of the funniest moments I have include running through our neighbors’ backyards with my homestay brother in the middle of multiple nights trying to tie up our cow that was always running away. Also, though he did not speech any amount of English, my brother and I would often sit and listen to American Top 40 hits on the radio. He had heard them so many times he was at the point where we could both sing along. Finally, I remember when my homestay family put on a birthday celebration for my 21st, and we were all in the living room dancing the night away.
–Talia Segal, ’15