2011 PFIG Recipient Kate Jarosik
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs Major
2012 Graduation Year
Internship: International Action
Notes on the first week
A very small non-profit based in the Capitol Hill area of Washington DC, International Action’s mission is large – providing the people of earthquake ravaged Port au Prince (and the rest of Haiti) with sanitary water. In my first week I learned in-depth details of IA’s work in Haiti. Although certainly the recent crisis in Haiti has drawn more attention to relief and development issues in the small nation on the island of Hispaniola, Haiti’s history as a whole has been one of turmoil and challenges. The Haitian Rebellion of 1791, transferring power from the Spanish colonists to the Haitians and marking the foundation of the Haitian Republic, did not usher in development and modernization. International Action has been working in the country to provide clean water since 2006 in an attempt to alleviate some of the most threatening health issues in the country like cholera, dehydration, and diarrhea. Since the earthquake, however, almost the entire water system of Port au Prince was destroyed. In 2010 International Action dedicated itself to restoring the city’s clean water supply while at the same time embarking on new challenges like providing books to schools in the area.
Because of the tremendous challenge posed by the situation in Haiti, fundraising seems to be the main focus of the office headquarters in Washington. Additionally, as money is tight, most of the funding provided to IA is dedicated to programs run in Haiti. The focus on programs is as it should be, but it does mean that IA, and non-profits in general, have less money to spend on employee compensation and office improvements. In the case of International Action, there are actually more unpaid interns than there are paid employees! The other interns and I have been busy searching the entirety of the internet for sources of funding. Options include: corporate donations, individuals, family foundations, partnerships with other nonprofits, and more. This is a laborious and inconclusive process, as the internet is a very big place. So, while not immediately rewarding, there is the possibility for significant future reward if our research results in funding. But it has been difficult to keep that long term goal in mind and I have been craving more finite tasks.
I am hopeful that soon I will get to tackle some grant writing. My past internship experience at Liberty’s Promise, another nonprofit in Washington DC, allowed me to get small amounts of experience with this process and I find it to be strangely entertaining and challenging. While not seemingly exciting at first, grant writing is fascinating if a person is interested in the subject matter of their organization. It’s basically like being a tour guide of the organization and its mission. The main purpose of the Letter of Interest, and the subsequent Full Proposal, is to introduce a potential funder to the nonprofit and convince them that your organizations mission is pressing and worthy. As was the case with Liberty’s Promise, International Action’s mission is both of these things. Grant writing is also rewarding because it can potentially result in thousands of dollars worth of funding coming into the organization, which translates into people served and lives saved. To me, grant writing is high stakes and persuasive writing that I particularly enjoy. It’s also vital to success in the nonprofit world, and I hope that as the summer progresses I am able to get significant experience with this.
All things considered, my first week at my internship has been a good introduction into the organization and its goals. I’m getting a sense that most of my tasks will involve fundraising in some way, beginning with research and hopefully culminating with some good experience doing grant writing. I hope that in the next weeks and months of my internship will be both personally rewarding and helpful to the people of Haiti.
A little over halfway through my internship, and I am really starting to get a feel for what this organization, and the non-profit world, is like. As I had guessed, most of the work of the D.C. office is to conduct fundraising activities, and that’s really all that I’ve been doing. Most notably, we conducted a huge direct mailing campaign. International Action had 8 interns stuffing large envelopes and sending them to over 3,000 potential donors! This was incredibly time consuming, but gave me a chance to get to know the other interns better. There was also a great feeling of accomplishment when we were done.
I have not been given the opportunity to do much grant-writing yet, although I have been involved in editing a few grants. Most of my work seems to be in fundraising research – searching the internet for possible sources of funding. I am adding to a database of foundations that may be interested in donating money to our cause. As I add to this database, a co-worker, Zach, goes through and applies for the grants! Although I can’t see the direct results of our work, I hope to shoot them an email later in the year to see whether our funding inquiries were successful.
One project that I have really enjoyed, and from which I have been able to see the direct results of my work, has been more on the operations side than on the fundraising side. International Action has enough powder chlorine to disinfect all of the water of Haiti for an entire year. That being said, it will be incredibly difficult to distribute this chlorine throughout all of Haiti. This is where my job comes in. I have been given the task of contacting as many organizations in Haiti – religious, medical, orphanages, etc – to see if they are interested in coming to our warehouse located in Port-au-Prince to pick up some chlorine. I have been contacting specifically religious organizations to see if they’d be interested, and I already have gotten about 4 positive responses! With each of these organizations serving hundreds of people each, I can see how this work is incredibly rewarding.
Over the next few weeks I hope to have more results to report from the chlorine distribution. I also hope to get to know some of the other interns and employees better, as they all come from interesting backgrounds. Finally, I would like to talk to Youngmin, the Vice President, to get some more specific information about what’s happening on the ground in Haiti.
At the finish of my internship at International Action I would say overall it has been a very positive experience. Although I was occasionally disappointed that I didn't get to work on certain professional skills, such as grant-writing, I valued the chance to see the inside workings of a D.C. non-profit and make a difference.
It has been particularly nice to hear some of the direct results from our hard work on the operations side. My last journal entry described my attempts to contact non-profits throughout Haiti to distribute chlorine. The supply of chlorine that International Action had access to in its warehouse was enough to chlorinate the entire water supply of Haiti for a whole year. After painstaking efforts at identifying and contacting missions, nonprofits, orphanages, etc., it had been weeks and I hadn't heard any details of our success or failure. On the final day of the internship, Youngmin (the Vice President and a U.VA alumn!), told us that we were successful in distributing the chlorine to organizations that reach 1 million people! I cannot think of a more rewarding and beneficial way to have spent my summer.
By the end of the internship I truly felt that I had connected with the other interns and employees, and I was incredibly sad to go. Each of the 7 other interns came from a different background with unique personal experience to share. The interns enjoyed getting to know each other, and got together after work for various social activities. My favorite bonding event was actually during the work day when Youngmin had indicated it was her birthday. We went to her favorite Korean Barbeque restaurant in Annandale (apparently Annandale is the only area in Northern Virginia or D.C. with a high concentration of Korean restaurants), and then stopped in a Korean karaoke bar that opened at 3 pm just for us. It was so much fun to get to spend the day with the interns and employees in a social setting after we had spent 8 weeks interacting at a professional level.
At the completion of this internship I learned the value of discipline and self-motivation, as a lot of my work was unmonitored. In small nonprofits it seems supervisors rely on the immediacy of the mission to provide the impetus for hard work, and do not do much in the way of setting deadlines. Fortunately, the need for clean water in Haiti was enough to engender 10 weeks of hard work from the interns. I also learned how rough the D.C. commute can be, and that if I ever plan on working in the city again, I'd like to live there instead of Northern Virginia. a 1.5 to 2 hour commute each way is enough to make even the most enjoyable internship seem like a chore...
I would like to thank the Parent's Fund Internship Grant for the opportunity to participate in International Action's internship program. Without their support I would have been forced to take a less rewarding, but paid, summer job. The professional and character-building experiences have been unforgettable and will undoubtedly help in the future as I continue my exploits in the realm of internationally-based nonprofits.