This is the first in a series of blog posts by Ronnell Perry, an Amizade intern and second year graduate student at Heinz College of Public Policy and Management.

RonnellIt took a while for me to understand what Amizade does. On my very first day in the office, my boss, Brandon asked me if I knew what Amizade was “about.” I said “Yea” and rattled off some points I thought encompassed Amizade’s mission and goals. Afterwards, he turned to me and said, “I think you should spend some time reviewing our website from top to bottom. Become familiar with our approach and programming.” So I did. Even reading the website and clicking through pages was not exactly effective for me.

Pretty soon, I started to scope out what tasks and projects I could work on that would help the organization meet its objectives. One of my first assignments was to reach out to community service providers in the area. A part of this process involved facilitating meetings with some of these organizations. I became quite comfortable with sitting back and letting my co-workers lead the meetings. I would simply listen. And this is how I grew my understanding of Amizade. By listening to others speak about it.

After meetings, we usually regroup and consider how a particular partnership might be mutually beneficial for Amizade and the other organization, and most importantly: whether the partnership would fit with Amizade’s Fair Trade Learning approach: sustainability of programming, fairness to and inclusion of host community members, and more.

When people ask for me to tell them about Amizade, I still stutter and stumble sometimes. It’s because I know of no precedent with which to compare the organization. I sometimes say things like, “Its like study-abroad, but…” or “We send people to volunteer in communities around the world, but…”, etc. That (very important) caveat centers around Amizade’s intent to empower communities and ensure that they benefit from a partnership. I have witnessed Amizade staff decide against previously coveted opportunities to work with local organizations and community leaders because the partner does not share that same vision.

As with any job, I find myself doing things and learning in the process. Seeking new relationships with local organizations, researching and writing documents are parts of my job here. But, listening has been the most essential part of that job.

I had the opportunity to incorporate Amizade’s approach at creating connections between diverse communities while helping to coordinate a visit to Pittsburgh by youth from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Check my next post to read more about the process of coordinating that program and the great youth I worked with!

Interested in becoming an Amizade Intern? Check out current Internship Opportunities at Amizade here.