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A Skylight Internship

I came to New York City as a recent Graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation, I found myself with no real clear direction as to what my path would be. The only thing clear to me was my passion for social justice and human rights in the global community. Scouring through countless advertisements for job opportunities, two internships in New York City caught my attention. The first, with Skylight and the other with an international women’s rights organization that collaborates with the major international humanitarian NGOs and intergovernmental agencies.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the exact purpose or significance of the role of intern. At first, I felt as if my contributions were insignificant, invaluable, and disconnected from the greater missions of the organizations. Yet, I soon realized that internships are not only about what you can contribute. It is a reciprocal relationship that also depends on the environment and experiences the internship has to offer to the intern. These past three months living and interning in New York City have been truly remarkable.  In a city so new to me, I find it to be a mixture of extremes and contradictory sentiments. This city can seem hectic, individualistic, and lonely. Yet, through my explorations in the field of human rights advocacy I also discovered an overwhelming sense of solidarity and interconnectedness  

In the same vein, my internships reflect this theme of contradictions. Despite the fact that both organizations are dedicated to promoting human rights, their approaches and structure are wildly different. The Skylight team is small, intimate, and rather informal. I find the environment engaging, supportive, and constantly growing with new ideas. The space is fluid as it does not adhere to strict hierarchies that limit and subsequently create strict power dynamics. The outreach staff meetings are a prime example of this unique work environment. The structure of the meeting is more of a discussion that flows organically. While there may be key points to address, the  opinions and ideas of each member of the team are equally valued and validated. The staff members are not afraid to challenge and question different ideas, yet I always observed an underlying sense of respect. A respect for one another and a respect for the mission of the organization that transcends the Skylight office. This overwhelming sense of community and respect for humanity has resonated with me most in what I hope to incorporate into my own career path.

My other internship holds a more traditional structure and dynamic. The organization also holds periodic meetings. In contrast, the meetings are primarily for the executive board, that is made up of eight women. Each woman holds a different position including Chair, Co-Chair, Treasurer, Membership. ect. While interns and the office staff also attend these meetings, I was told that we are not actually “a part” of the meetings. Our sole purpose is to take the meeting notes. We are never asked to participate or to provide our opinions despite the fact what we are involved in most of the projects. As a whole,  the committee and the office staff are incredibly inspiring, dedicated, and knowledgeable, yet I feel the hierarchy doesn’t encourage growth. This saddens me, as I believe the work environment should reflect the values and missions of the organization.

These varying experiences in two distinct non-profits have shown me that even the field of human rights is contradictory and complicated, even if you truly believe in making this world a better place. Yet, my time in New York City has only enlivened my determination to advocate for human rights and make sense of these uncomfortable extremes that exist in our world.

Alison Dos Santos

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