2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Liyon Afework

Liyon Afework

Internship Location: Embassy of Ethiopia, Washington D.C. 

Journal Entry 1:

Hello, my name is Liyon Afework and this summer I interned with the Ethiopian Embassy. My title is as one of the only 10 Diaspora interns in the Embassy’s history. Throughout my first couple of weeks, we worked to gather information about the study abroad programs at various universities throughout the U.S. The first thing that I was assigned to do is reach out to any contacts that I had various universities in the states, whether they be Ivy League schools, or here at UVA. I learned about whether or not they had an Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association at their campus and if so how many people were participating on a regular basis. In collaboration with the other interns, we created an Excel sheet that mapped out the network of the Habesha community in these various schools.

We got the opportunity to connect with these other students and learn about some of the events that they hosted throughout the year. We shared our experiences of hosting an event titled “A Taste of the East” which was a big cultural showcase that sold out Alumni Hall on grounds and raised $7,000 for mental health institutions in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Having the opportunity to build upon each other’s ideas was a very valuable component of this internship as I have even more ideas that we can implement here at UVA.

Journal Entry 2:

We networked with the faculty of these various schools to learn about who were the main points of contact that could assist us in implementing these education programs to Ethiopia. I networked extensively and assisted in the creation of an Excel document where we recorded the contacts and the responses received for dozens of schools. I leveraged whatever network and resources I had to be able to speak with people in the offices of the study abroad programs and proposed the idea of creating a study abroad experience to Ethiopia.

This entire process taught me how to approach leaders within organizations in a proper manner. It also taught me the importance of having patience and persistence when looking to establish a program as there were times that I had to follow up repeatedly in a polite manner to get our initiatives on the radar of some of the study abroad faculty. This process of reaching out to people through cold calls and emails was something that continued throughout the summer and while it was disheartening at times to not get responses in a timely manner, it reminded us of just how important it was for us to be the ones to actively pursue this.

Journal Entry 3:

There was one unique assignment that a couple of the interns and I took on with the aim of assisting a specific Ethiopian individual who was in a predicament. This one high school student in Georgia had be imprisoned due to verbally responding to bullying that occurred to him throughout the year. He was imprisoned immediately and was not properly treated. We delegated a couple of the interns to reach out to the parents of this kid and find out more in depth information about the conditions of his case and any way that we could help. The Ethiopian Embassy was limited in the things that we could do to step in and assist, but we let the family know that we would be here as a support system whenever they needed us. A few interns managed to contact members of congress and went and spoke with one of the legislative assistants and while there was no immediate resolution, we had them acknowledge the issue.

While this was a very difficult situation to learn about and see pan out, it taught me the importance of investing in your community and developing bridges where none seem to be present. More than anything, I am proud of the people that I got to work with and the positive impact we left throughout the summer, it is an experience that I will always look back on and treasure.