By nature, humans struggle with change because it pushes us out of our comfort zones. Despite having two years of prior experience working for a tech company, a place where change occurred on a weekly basis, I often feel some level of discomfort when it comes to coping with unfamiliar territory. Due to COVID-19, this year the world has had to figure out a new way to adapt given that most of us can no longer attend classes, go to our offices, network, or hang out with our families and friends in person.
All of this has happened, but we have intelligent brains that have allowed us to find creative ways to continue to live our lives. As a result, the whole world has learned to interact innovatively with limited physical contact.
When I received the news in February that I would be a Peace Fellow for the summer of 2020, working with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union in Gulu, Uganda, I was excited. I felt like a little boy again, waiting impatiently to open a highly anticipated gift, because in my mind, going to Uganda would allow me to work with a marginalized community and eventually contribute to making a difference.
I was also excited because being in Africa would enable me to interact with people who were culturally different from me, and as someone who is passionate about international affairs, I believed that working in Uganda would teach me valuable lessons in cultural competency that I could not learn in a classroom.
However, when I got the news on March 2 that the university had cancelled my previously planned trip to Israel, as well as all future international travel, I was crestfallen. Although I had the opportunity to apply for other internships, I decided that I was not going to abandon this fellowship, for I remained optimistic that either the country would reopen or I would be able to work virtually. After several conversations with the Advocacy Project, we decided to move forward with the fellowship remotely.
Despite my experience with the world of technology, I am always apprehensive about online learning or working, not because I am old-school but because I just prefer the human interaction. Faced with the choice between doing the fellowship remotely and not doing it at all, I decided to embark on the virtual route on June 1, 2020, with the expectation that anything could happen.
As I wrap up this fellowship, I can confidently say that these past twelve weeks have been some of the most productive ones of my professional life. Though, at first, one might feel reluctant to step into the unknown by making a decision such as taking on a new and unfamiliar role during frightening and unprecedented times, such a task is not impossible. If you approach it with confidence, self-awareness, humility, willingness to learn, and an open mind, it is possible to make the best out of any experience.
Applying this mindset to my fellowship this summer, I was able to build solid relationships with both GDPU leadership and the Advocacy Project team while accomplishing the work that needed to be done. This remote fellowship, moreover, allowed me to participate in meetings and interact with the work of other AP fellows in a way that would not have been feasible had I spent the summer on the ground in Gulu.
Although the main project that I had originally hoped to be a part of, which was working with the WASH project to install accessible toilets in schools for students with disabilities, was not possible due to COVID-19, the two micro-enterprises that I helped to develop have the potential to be beneficial in the long term to GDPU’s fulfillment of its mission to provide dignity for people with limited mobility.
Outside of this experience, I do believe that, after COVID-19, the Advocacy Project should continue to recruit fellows to work on-site alongside GDPU and other organizations that fight for marginalized groups worldwide. Nevertheless, I believe that AP should also explore the possibility of remote fellowships year-round so that its partner organizations can benefit from the support of students like me during the school year. This approach would allow AP to assess its fellows and send the most dedicated and prepared students to spend their summers working in partner organizations’ local communities.
I hope that my blog, as a testament to what I have learned during my fellowship, will serve to encourage those who fear that this pandemic has narrowed their future opportunities, especially considering how our country’s government has handled this crisis. As Americans, we always prevail through adversity, and thus we should remain optimistic no matter the circumstances.
Posted By Wilson Charles
Posted Aug 21st, 2020