Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Humanity in Action - testimonial

Having not posted in a while (and lacking the time to write something thoughtful on the direction a new U.S. foreign policy should take) I have decided to post a 'blast from the past.' I reference Humanity in Action (HIA) quite a lot, but you may wonder, what exactly is HIA? Well, the short answer is that HIA is a transatlantic network educating young adults on the issues surrounding democracy, minorities, and human rights. Building on humanism's core values of human dignity and moral responsibility, HIA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that believes "a true test of genuine democracy is how it treats its...minorities."

Last summer, a fellowship with HIA took me to DC, Copenhagen, and Berlin, and challenged me at every step along the way to question my beliefs and consider what I can contribute to this world. I am now a Senior Fellow with the HIA network, a privilege which puts me in the company of many of the most amazing scholars, activists, and social entrepreneurs I have ever met. This weekend, I'll have the pleasure of joining many of these Senior Fellows in Berlin for a reunion focusing on migration in Europe (as well as some socializing, of course).

The rest of the post is from a testimonial I wrote, reflecting on my experiences with HIA. And should anybody be interested, applications for the 2009 summer fellowships in Europe and New York are now available here.

Stepping off the D.C. streets and into the Historic I Synagogue for Humanity in Action’s first session, I prepared myself for the small talk of typical introductions. Minutes later, I was instead embroiled in a challenging discussion on pressing global problems.

Humanity in Action first entered my life as a blitz email with a subject line promising “Free travel to Europe.” At the time, I was in my final semester at college, and found myself in the depths of a foggy limbo characteristic of college seniors trying to figure out the next step. My goal was to make a difference, and I was open to anything, but as every college senior knows, the possibilities for those holding a Bachelor of Arts are sadly limited.

Friends involved with HIA strongly urged me to apply, and glowing testimonials encouraged me. Nevertheless, a nervous skepticism lingered: HIA seemed like a good fit for me, but I feared my academic interests were too economic, and that I might not be a good fit for HIA. Over the following months, a barrage of preparatory articles held my fascination. But the question lingered, could HIA really live up to those testimonials?

No meaningful confrontation of human rights issues can ever be rosy. HIA earns glowing testimonials because of its profound effects on lives. Reflecting on this fact, I am struck by the irony of the flippant “Free travel to Europe” subject line. Would-be sightseers be warned.

Back in the Synagogue making introductions over politics and philosophy, I quickly realized that the diverse group of fellows surrounding me included some of the most brilliant and dedicated people I have ever met. In every corner of the world, they pursue unique initiatives, the kind you read about but never think yourself capable of. That feeling has stuck – HIA continues to introduce me to incredible individuals and challenging opportunities.

HIA became the opportune next step, showing me that active advocacy can take more forms than imaginable. Beyond teaching me a great deal, HIA helped me put things in perspective. The transition from the foggy limbo could not be greater; I will never again be short on ideas to pursue, and I know there is a network of people behind me ready to support in any way they can. The specifics of one’s studies and experiences are not the critical factor in whether HIA is the right fit; it is one’s devotion to protecting human rights and promoting democracy, the very values HIA embodies.

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