12-15-2011By Alex Edwards
General Programs Intern
What better time to make my debut on Human Rights First intern blog than in my last week as a General Programs intern in Washington DC?
It’s hard to reflect on my tenure at Human Rights First without immediately thinking about those with whom I’ve worked. To say staff members and fellow interns have made my experience a delight would be an understatement. They have inspired me with their dedication, humored me with their wit, and amazed me with their intellect.
In the past months, I have attended events put on by universities, think tanks, and Congressional offices. At times encouraged, at others surprised, I have seen first-hand the diversity of groups working to rid the world of human rights abuses, as well as the complexity of matters yet to be resolved. And in spite of an acute awkwardness that continues to pervade my social life, I even managed to make a few connections.
My time spent inside the office has been equally rewarding. As a general program intern, I sit at the intersection of many program areas– most notably, Law and Security, Business and Human Rights, and Refugee Protection. From here, I explored various issues and discovered interests formerly unknown to me.
For example, in researching lawmakers’ voting records with regard to provisions on indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, I coupled my love for domestic politics with my interest in national security policy. Projects with the Refugee Protection Program struck a similar balance, as I was able to directly support refugees seeking asylum in the United States while learning about systemic gaps in refugee law and practice. Following daily developments in the struggle for global internet freedom and reporting back to the Business and Human Rights team offered me a distinct view into a critical, and relatively uncharted, field of human rights.
Through my work and the feedback I’ve received, both formally and casually, my desire to continue working on behalf of human rights has strengthened. Of course, it would be disingenuous to say that all the days have come easy. Many weeks, my pride in the United States’ stance on equal rights for all quickly turned to disappointment when examining its record. Yet interning at Human Rights First has shown me that it is precisely this schism that should serve as motivation. Though imperfect in practice, this country’s greatness stems from its ideals and our recognition that freedoms are truly universal. As citizens who are afforded such rights, it must be our collective duty to assure the same safeguards for humans across the world.
I presume many past and future interns will share similar, bittersweet feelings as their time with Human Rights First comes to a close. Entering the final month of the internship brings with it a sense of organizational attachment and familiarity, just as the specter of life after college looms large wherever I look. Yet whether or not I succeed in future academic and career-related endeavors, I know that my time at Human Rights First has given me the best opportunity to do so.
I leave Human Rights First with greater awareness and renewed commitment. I return to the University of Michigan better prepared to bridge the divide between scholarship and practice. And while the decisions I will soon face concerning my own career path are intimidating, these choices will be made, most fundamentally, on the beliefs and ideals I have cemented while at Human Rights First.