Hard to believe, but it’s been more than a week since I left home to attend the Community Solutions Program. A 30-hours plus of traveling, and I was in Washington D.C. for all of 4 days and then I was off again to my host community – San Francisco!
The three days of Orientation at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Centre was jam-packed with sessions on how we can make the most of our 4 months in the US. We were reminded of how exceptional we are to be chosen as the 7th cohorts of the Program from applications of over 2,600, making the acceptance rate to this program a mere 3.7%, even more competitive than an acceptance rate to Harvard!
The first day was mostly about introducing ourselves to the rest of the Fellows. It was not easy, with over 90 people in the room. I am impressed that the IREX staff have memorized each and every one of us by name.
At the end of the day, we found the people who will be our supporters during the Program, known as the Peer Accountability (PAL) Group. Three of us are located within a comfortable commuting distance, which will make it easier to meet up in weeks to come.
This, being my first time in the US… I had a bit of a culture shock:-
First and foremost had to do with food….
Excuse me, I’m Asian 😛 We have fried noodles or curry puffs or sugar-powdered doughnuts… and most definitely no sodas for tea break.
But everything else went quite smoothly.
We had several sessions on how to make the most of our time in the US, how to network, and we also had several invited speakers! Here are just some of the highlights.
Cheryl Kravitz shared some points on how to help domestic violence survivors during the theme area breakout groups on Day 2. Her motivation comes from a personal experience, which I can relate to. Her notes are useful, because I’ve never actually done similar things during my work at women’s non-profits.
During the technology roundtable on day 3, I chose to first sit with Mark Leta, Director of Business Analysis and Quality Assurance at Beaconfire RED, who showed us an app on collecting data about trash in oceans which was created for Oceans Conservancy. Trash in the ocean is a very big issue back home and I’ve joined several Project AWARE events, so I was very interested in this.
During the technology round table, I also joined Brittiany Broadwater’s table. She is the Director of Operations at Phone2Action and during her session, she showed us how to help people to engage with their local representatives / legislators with the use of a mobile app in order to lobby for issues. I was imagining how useful this tool would be back home as many people do not actually know who they’ve voted for and how to voice out their issues.
During the luncheon for the last day of orientation, we had a great motivational speaker by the name of Rahama Wright, who founded Shea Yeleen, a social enterprise that empowers shea butter cooperatives owned by women in rural villages in Ghana through providing them a living wage, skills training, and financial literacy. Through her power of story telling, she inspired us to “stop waiting, don’t stop and keep going”.
It was a busy 3 days at D.C., but a fruitful one full of new people to meet and new things to learn and explore. I am indeed grateful that they selected me to be part of this program.
Tomorrow will be my first day of work at my host organisation – Paid Leave for United States (PL+US). Wish me luck!