As a senior who has completed nearly all the prerequisites and requirements for my different majors/minors, I was sure that I wanted to apply for the Chicago Field Studies Program. I currently am studying Political Science, Middle East and North African Studies and Global Health Studies and coming into this year, I fully understood the unconventional job search I had ahead of me this year. When I begin searching for organizations to apply to, I knew I wanted to avoid government work and for-profit organizations if I could. The organization I am currently interning at was one of my top choices. It is a “service-based human rights organization committed to protecting and promoting the rights of extremely vulnerable populations through an inclusive approach to comprehensive health and social and economic justice.” Though at the time I did not completely understand what this meant, buzzwords like “comprehensive health and social and economic justice” caught my attention and immediately put this organization at the top of my list.
At my internship, I work closely with the Administrative Assistant and the Director of Program Development on different tasks mostly focused on grant work. I’ve searched for grants, edited different portions of grants, and organized logistics for grant completion. Though this may all sound tedious and dry, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the grant writing process and learning about the complexities of completing grants and navigating the red tape of government bureaucrats and donors’ requirements.
One part of the CFS seminar experience that I’ve found to be productive and beneficial was the interviews we were required to conduct with an employee from our organizations. One thing that stood out to me about my conversation with an employee was her observation that so many people regarded the field as controversial whereas she believed that “it [public health work] is such a happy thing…and the idea of public health as radical” was amusing. What she found discouraging was how challenging it is to make progress and how slow the process of making change is. It was very eye opening to learn about the ethical dilemmas non-profit organizations have to grapple with in terms of implementing programming abroad and ensuring the agency, voice, and individualism of the communities they serve abroad are not compromised.
One takeaway about working with a non-profit organization that I learned from speaking to her was the balancing act that must be played to keep an organization afloat. She explained that there has to be a balance between “organizational development and programs” for a non-profit to stay successful, however, she further explained that “balancing your activism and trying to be strategic and organized” is a constant struggle. Additionally, she explained that though she was cynical about public health when entering the field, she now understands the importance of the different players and actors whether they be donors and CEOs or program directors and country project facilitators. Her advice to students of public health was that we surround ourselves with good people and good things and go to academic and “nerdy” events because “you never know when that knowledge will come back up again and be valuable”. “That knowledge will come back up and those names and networks help”, she said. Overall my experience has been very enlightening and has allowed me to better understand the workings of non-profits in the field of public health and helped me understand how professionals in the field made their journey to where they are now.