Oberlin Blogs

Non, but still profitable

July 14, 2012

Chinwe Okona ’13

To be [a doctor] or not to be [a doctor], that has been the question. And for some time now. As much as I'm still slightly aroused by the idea of a diploma with the phrase "Doctor of Medicine" hanging in my fictitious office, my heart has somehow led me a bit astray. What happens to an Oberlin student led astray? You end up interning for a 501(c)(3) organization in the Bay Area.

Oh, nonprofits.

I never really thought about working for a nonprofit (one of my best friends is vehemently against working for a nonprofit; we have hilarious conversations about it). I've never been against it, but also have never recognized it as my life calling/bellowed my passion for nonprofits from the highest mountain top. However, for the second time this year (and in my life, I think), I'm again working in the nonprofit sector. And for the second time in my life, I'm absolutely infatuated with my job.

I should probably stop being so secretive about what I'm doing now.

Let's revert our attention back to the end of the semester:
The end of junior year was steadily approaching and finals were forthcoming. I realized that my email correspondence with the organization I was supposed to interning for, come June, was no longer a correspondence. And there I was, jilted. So naturally I panicked. Then I combed idealist for internships per the recommendation of the Office of Career Services and applied for five different opportunities; two in New York, two in Washington D.C., and one in San Francisco. I figured since I had already spent so much time in 'Frisco, I might as well broaden my horizons. I submitted my applications three days before finals began.

Two days after finals were over, I had three phone interviews on deck: one from New York, one from Washington D.C., and one from San Francisco. At the end of my first interview, sitting on Wilder porch and still on the line, I was offered a job! After going through with my other two interviews, New York was out of the mix (I try and try again, but I really can't get down with NY) and I was faced with a decision--San Francisco or D.C.? Though both internships focused on really important work centering around people of color, I had never done any kind of international work and went with the first job I was offered...in San Francisco.

In addition to being a slightly different subject matter, the opportunity in SF was also more financially feasible; however, I had serious reservations. I have lots of memories in the area and it felt like it was time to move onward and upward. But I took the job anyway. Now I sit here trying to remember how I thought this could possibly be a mistake. The Bay Area is perfect; when you breathe in, your nose and throat tickle from all the magic in the air. Metaphorically.

The organization for which I am presently working is called Camfed, a quasi acronym for the Campaign for Female Education. Camfed's main objective is to fund educational opportunities for young women (as stated on our bathroom key) in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, and Ghana (so far). In Africa, as well as in other parts of the world, there is still the mentality that male children are more likely to succeed than female children; therefore, when faced with a decision to send one child to school over the other because of the cost, parents often choose to send their boys. Young women also find themselves robbed of their education and childhood when the AIDS epidemic claims the lives of their parents, leaving them orphans and, in many cases, trying to support their siblings. Often, this support ends up manifesting itself as girls becoming a prostitute or providing sexual favors to older men to put food on the table or afford the cost of school. There are myths that having sexual relations with virgins can cure AIDS and condom use is infrequent, which continues the transmission of HIV, as well as the cycle of poverty.

Thus far, I feel completely confident in saying the Camfed approach is flawless in methodology. Unlike many NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that enter community spaces and start dictating how folks should live, Camfed's actions are in response to the requests of the communities. The communities nominate girls who they believe are most in need of funding to attend school; and, instead of a board of Camfed executives presenting her with a check, the community notifies her and becomes responsible for helping her manage the funds.

That's the simple version of how it all works. The program has so many branches of awesome, that I can't even explain it all coherently because I just get hella excited. But yeah, Camfed takes care of supplies, uniforms, sanitary pads, housing (many girls live too far away to commute to school each day)--all from elementary school through college and/or professional school. There are also extensions of funding that are provided to support the younger siblings of many girls (male and female), as well as personal business ventures of newly-graduated young women.

My favorite part of the organization is most likely the Cama Network. Cama, in a nutshell, is proof that the Camfed model really works. After Camfed graduated its first group of girls from secondary school, the idea was born to form an alumni network to provide support among alumni, as well as for the younger generations of girls being supported by Camfed. These Cama members make up the majority of the communities that are responsible for facilitating correct usage of the funds and are not paid to do so--aka, these women provide support because they love their communities. IN ADDITION TO ALL THAT, there are some Cama members who do now work for Camfed. For example, Angeline Murimirwa was a Camfed girl herself...and now she's the executive director of Camfed, Zimbabwe.

So what do I do? Well, I guess my official title is the Development/Marketing Intern and I do a few things:

  • On the daily, I process every single donation that comes through the Camfed USA office, both via mail and the interwebz.

  • I keep a running log of all of the interactions we've had with donors; what they've sent us, what thank you letters/gifts we've sent them, etc. (I've learned how to use this CRAZY database called Salesforce. It's a beast. I feel very competent.)

  • I send a lot of thank you letters/gifts.

  • I write a lot of case studies to support clauses in grants.

  • And I'm in the process of creating a resource page for helping donors fundraise in some new/innovative/different ways.

I'm busy. But I love the office. There are eight women and three female interns (including myself), and everyone is really wonderful, down to earth, and super smart. I work most closely with my boss, Kate, and another intern named Lina (actually, I don't work with Lina at all, but we've just become super incredibly, incredibly close). Kate is awesome. She graduated in four years or something with a double Master's degree from UChicago, knows everything about the internet, is a radical feminist, and of course I just Googled her name and found out she has a blog about cheese. Cool, Kate.

Lina is pretty much the person I want to be in my professional life, but is also the greatest friend (it's almost like the queer dilemma--do I want to date this person or be them?). SHE'S BEEN EVERYWHERE. She taught in Namibia for two years, wwoofed in France, and who knows what else. Every story begins with, "when I was in South Africa...when I was in Rio de Janeiro...I almost took this job in India when..." It blows my mind. I kid you not, every conversation we have is fulfilling and eye opening in all the best ways. Also, she's starting a PhD program at Cambridge in the fall, so we're tentatively planning a trip for me to visit the UK.

The three of us are pretty tight knit; we have lunch on the regular and talk each other's ears off. In addition to my friend trifecta, there's a lineage of Camfed interns in the Bay Area and there are often little get-togethers on both sides of the bay. It's been a a happy summer, full of Happy Hours.

So pretty much I'm in intern heaven. I shouldn't be surprised if in one year, I'm working for a non-profit, right?

Postscript - There's an awesome documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman about Camfed, called Where the Water Meets the Sky and, also a book that every single person, regardless of gender, should read called Half the Sky.

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