This is the last week at my PKSOI internship. The Career Center has served as a tremendous resource for tips on professionalism and answering whatever questions I had. I want to thank the Career Grant for making it possible for me to have been able to participate in this internship this summer. If it weren’t for them, making ends meet would have been very difficult. The grant made it possible for me to not only participate in the internship but to be able to network with professionals, to go to D.C. and interview top individuals in the international development field, to see how a work environment operates. It has helped me in gaining a foothold in the professional world.
One thing I would like to blog about is the importance of mentorship. At PKSOI, each intern is assigned a mentor. These mentors are experts in their field. They are often extremely busy with work and travel around the world, attending conferences and lectures. Many interns at PKSOI had difficulty connecting with their mentor because of their busy schedules. I was lucky to have a great mentor. We would meet everyday at 9:30am. At this meeting, we would discuss the plan for the day. My mentor would look at my work and ensure that I was staying on track. She would also encourage me further my research by contacting professionals in foreign aid. She was always available to meet with. She also read my work and gave me advice on how to improve. Additionally, she took keen interest in developing relationships from beyond the professional office. She even invited us to her house for dinner! This type of mentorship shows that the professional is truly invested in the intern and interested in helping the intern develop. I am very thankful for having such a great mentor. She even provided me further contacts for the future and for potential internship. I hope that in future internships I will have as great as a mentor as she was.
The internship is coming to a close, as is summer. Yes, it was unpaid but it was rich in its experience. In any case, the Career Center grant definitely helped me out. If it wasn’t for the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to financially support myself in Carlisle this summer.
Looking around the army base, I think about how different it is from the neighborhood that I grew up in. Everything is so structured and well manicured. Everyone is so polite and friendly. It almost seems as if it’s a fake town! But then you realize that everyone here is a part of this organization, whether their fathers or mothers or husbands and wives. You realize that these people have all taken part in the same type of experiences; going on year-long tours and leaving their families behind, going through ranger school, going through the experiencing of not having their father or mother or husband or wife near them for a long period amount of time. This leads me to the conclusion that because of their shared experiences and understandings of these experiences, communities like this serve as a sort of a support network.
Located in Carlisle, in the hub port of transportation to major cities such as Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Carlisle, although it may not seem it as first, serves as the perfect place to have the US Army War College. It’s location within the state of Pennsylvania is near the great battle of Gettysburg. This area is rich in in the birth and colonial history of USA. The easy access to major cities allows professionals to venture out to said cities for symposiums or meetings or for professionals to converge at the US Army War College for a dialogue or appointments.
While Carlisle can be difficult to adapt to, it certainly is rich in history and the hub of not only transportation of goods but transportation of ideas as well. Interning at the US Army War College has given me a positive perspective on a facet, the Army, that I thought I would have never gained insight on.
At the US Army War college, there are many professionals and international officials. These professionals are all involved in the international arena. Some are civilians but most are military affiliated. Nonetheless, they all have extremely interesting stories about their experiences abroad. What is interesting is how I am able to relate to some of them through their experiences as well.
In fact, my mentor speaks and studies multiple language. English being her main proficiency, she delves into Arabic and French as well. What is funny is that she has the same language profile as I do. We often converse in French, talking about our project.
Additionally, she also has the same interests as I do; women empowerment, refugee work, and development. My mentor is a high ranking official in USAID. Throughout my internship, I’ve seen the amount of people who know her and respect her, both at the US Army War College and in Washington D.C. As the internship went by, I spoke to her about our common interests. I mentioned that in the fall I would be studying abroad in Jordan. In doing so, she proposed to introduce me to the mission director of USAID, an acquaintance of hers. Through her, I have the possibility of working another internship in Jordan in fall, doing exactly the kind of work that I want to do.
Another instance of networking is within interns. Here at PKSOI, there is an intern that is from the same area that I will studying abroad in the spring. In a casual conversation, this came up. Through him, I was able to learn more about the culture, language, and people that I will encounter in the spring.
Lesson of this story is that you always have more in common with people than you think. So talk to them!
“Risk can be defined as a probability of both enduring unintended consequences and experiencing its impacts from implemented agendas. Inherent to actions, plans, and programs, players in any domain do their best to avoid risk. In order to do this, they implement cost-benefit analyses which discern how to achieve maximum profit through minimal risk. The methods and assessments, in which data is collected from, for these cost-benefit analyses often include thorough political and economic mapping. However, these assessments fail to give heed to a vital building block of a nation: the complex intricacies of society. The lack of information on human terrain/environment, mainly culture, cultural history, and language, becomes a major source of failure for the international aid agencies. This dearth of specific intelligence leads to incomplete assessments, which are either unknowingly so or overlooked. As a result of proceeding on incomplete assessments, interventions, more often than not, result in failure.”
This excerpt is from the potential publishing work of my internship here at PKSOI. I’ve learned a lot during the two months I’ve been here. I’ve learned that nothing is as easy as it seems. When I was younger, I would look at the world’s issues and wonder why they couldn’t be easily solved, something as simple as basic needs for instance. I would wonder why and if these mammoth aid agencies were actually helping other people. Coming here, I’ve realized that they do … and sometimes they don’t. The issue lies in something that we have been taught to do since our socialization as little infants and toddlers. This issue is communication.
For me, it was difficult to understand and see why such an issue would occur as such an important level in our world today. I mentioned this in an earlier post, “US Army”, where the US Army, other US contingencies and NGOs experienced difficulties because of communicative problems. This concern is also evident when aid agencies attempt to aid foreign countries. Communicative issues lies within aid agencies, between aid agencies, and between the aid agency and the local players. Another area is in the assessments that the agencies make before going into countries. There is a lack of cultural information that is pertinent to the assessment. But this is often missed. This lack of communication is detrimental to the donor and recipient, but more so the recipient because it becomes bogged down with the aftermath.
Perhaps in order to solve the world’s problems, we need only work on our communication skills. After all, “Ignorance, which gives rise to wrong perceptions, is responsible for most of our pain.”
The week before July 4th, my fellow interns and I were sent to D.C. to interview experts in international development with hopes that they could bring provide new insights into our research. Due to the sequester, PKSOI can only provide us with day trips to Washington D.C. In other circumstances, we would be accommodated with a hotel room since our interviews are in consecutive days. But alas…
In any case, we arrived in D.C.. Our first meeting was with Alliance for Peacebuilding, an institution that encourages sustainable peace and security worldwide. Employees introduced themselves as peacebuilders. A noun that I was not accustomed to. I had not distinguished the difference between a developer and a peacebuilder, until employees introduced themselves as so. Interestingly enough, as the day went by this stuck with me during other interviews. Their point of view was very positive. When I asked them if the international development is actually providing aid and if there has been actual improvement, they answered yes. Perhaps from a standpoint of a peace builder it is so.
After Alliance for Peacebuilding, we continued to USAID. USAID is an organization that gears towards the development of a region, socially and economically. I saw these employees as developers not as peacebuilders. When asked whether the international aid has truly improved the world and if it is even possible, they answered with a bleak response. They told us that countries do not involve themselves with other countries for no reason. Everything is politically driven and linked. While I knew this, to hear it from such a high ranking official from USAID, made everything seem much more cynical.
That day reminded me how important and interesting perspectives can be. The peacebuilder, knowing the hard work ahead of her, keeps a positive outlook on things. The developer, knowing the hard work ahead of her, knows that complications will occur to hinder her progress. Even the nouns themselves, peacebuilder and developer, are separated into two categories of connotations. One is lighter and the other is darker, respectively.
Just a point I thought was interesting.
I sit at my desk staring at a picture collage of Somalia. A family crowds around a soldier, who seems to be asking them questions or directing them somewhere. Military personnel gather together to receive orders. Somalis work together to carry bags of rice. To me, this is a false pretense of what truly happened in Somalia. Today, Somalia is still broken. Rifts between clan leaders, warlords, and faction leaders make it difficult to reconcile and unite. The United States and the international community have utterly failed in Somalia.
The US Army is known for its pugnacious nature. It is extremely effective in infiltration and lethality. But once the dust settles and the bullets stop, the US Army stands bewildered and uncertain of their next step. This is often the case when the US Army deploys into places. I’ve been told at the US Army War College (AWC) that the US Army does not lack in its pugilistic techniques but rather in its remedial techniques. The remedial terms used at the AWC are Stabilization and Reconstruction. There are many manuals on Stabilization and Reconstruction. The issue lies in the subservience and application of these manuals in the field. The elites in the Army know this.
Strife exists between the US Army and other governmental organizations. Known as the Big Dog, because of its distinguished budget, the US Army thinks it is in charge. Yet, the Army has no expertise, no experience, and no finesse in Stabilization and Reconstruction. It is debated that such delicate procedures should be left at the hands of organizations with the like of USAID and such.
This problem is alike to the bully at the playground or the know-it-all in the group project. Progress will be halted if the bully is allowed to bully and if the know-it-all takes command and restricts everyone’s participation in the project.
It is disturbing to see that such basic communicative problems still occur at such an important level of the global community.
It’s been a few weeks since the internship has started. Most of my preconceived notions of International Development have proven true. It is much more complex than the picture that Peace Corps paints. International development’s advertising agencies appeal to the public through humanitarian channels. Printing and plastering posters of an underfed, impoverished 8 year old minority, ruefully staring at the camera subtly screaming “help me!” with her despairing eyes, flinging stereotypical flyers and brochures full of happy african school kids flocking around the volunteers that teach them. It’s all “Kumbaya, we’re all in this together!” But the truth is international development, like anything in this globalized world, is politically and economically driven. Active development agencies often gear policies in their own personal interests, not that of the recipient countries. These impoverished, recipient countries become motives for development agencies, targets for personal gain. If the political risk of going into a country is too great, the agency will remain afar, fearing persecution from their own government and other agencies.
As a result of our globalization, I feel that we have lost our humanitarian touch. Everything is produced with economic and political intent and thought. There is an endless production of goods, and endless political chatter.
My generation has been inculcated with mindless white noise. We are so ignorant, so narrow-minded, so prejudice. We are so materialistic, so thoughtless, so obedient, so complacent. We have lost the value of interpersonal interactions. We have lost the profound value of conversation. We have lost the value of morals. We don’t understand why, but we don’t ask why. We were never taught to question, but merely accept. We are kept suppressed, docile, and content with the most superficial of things. We are kept busy with the latest gadget out on the market. Because of these gadgets, because of today’s fast paced world, we are conditioned for instant achievement. There is no more gratification in hard work, or earning things. There is only instant-gratification, obtained in a click of a mouse, or a touch of your finger. We are brainwashed, spending hours inside under florescent lights, watching the latest reality shows. We sit there, subdued, drooling like entranced animals. Because of this, we do not use our imaginations anymore. We do not run outside, play and make up games. We stay inside, play video games, and eat junk food. We do not read. We watch TV, because it’s much easier and doesn’t require us to think. The great writings of Miguel de Cervantes, George Orwell, Khalil Gibran, Ernest Hemingway, and other great writers lie in a corner, collecting dust. We are in a global malaise that threatens to perpetuate through the future generations. Something must change. We need saving.
During the spring semester, I wondered what I would be doing this coming summer. While perusing the Internships page posted by the Dickinson College Career Center, I stumbled on a internship link titled Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI). Located at the U.S. Army War College, PKSOI serves the U.S. Military as the main producer of cutting-edge, contemporary doctrines, policies, analyses. These expositions and critiques are utilized to improve the capabilities and executions of international, multinational, military and civilian agencies. The main goal of PKSOI is to, as the title alludes to, act as a resource for Stability and Peace Operations in developing, and pre/during/post-conflict countries.
I accepted this internship and am assigned to Carol Horning, an employee of USAID stationed as the professor of International Development at the U.S. Army War College. As her intern, I was graciously offered the title of Research Assistant. With Carol and my fellow research assistant cohorts, our objective for the summer is produce a case study. The idea behind this case study is to address the perceptions of risk, in relation to time sensitivity, from a standpoint of conflict-affected populations. The standing hypothesis is that many key elements are ignored when developmental forces arrive. This disregard often leads to incomplete assessments, and ineffective and misguided development approaches.
As a result, this causes “development” to backfire and, in fact, be detrimental to the local population. The term development implies a continued, sustained, and constant growth, relative to time. The issue with development is that aid agencies often arrive in conflict countries with the intention of a quick fix. These quick fixes often eventuate into either harming consequences for the local population and community or further perpetuates their pain through fruitless operations. The long-term time commitment in development operations is often neglected. Without the time commitment, development of any area is futile and useless. This is often seen in emerging countries, where “developed” countries come in, build pipelines, schools, orphanages, hospitals and leave. These magnificent edifices often lie empty once they depart. This is because the emerging country simply does not have the resources to maintain and sustain the “aid” provided. In order to truly help the in-need country, aid must stay throughout an undefined amount of time. It must supply, sustain, and support the aid and the country it has provided. Catch-22. Thus, the foreigner coming into the conflict country feels good about herself because she helped build a school. But the truth is the recipient country has no personnel, no funds, no equipment or materials to sustain the school. The foreigner feels good about herself, but the recipient is left to wallow in it’s own suffering. Ultimately, without the long-term commitment, aid is useless.
The common perception of volunteering and aiding abroad must be changed. The way it currently functions is not beneficial. It only further perpetuates the suffering of the recipient. It places bandages onto gaping wounds. It attempts to sweep festering issues under the rug. The methodology of aid and international development must incorporate, not only the short term consequences, but long term consequences in its assessment and execution.
The goal of our research is to address these issues. We aim to see what exactly international development agencies are missing when aiding conflict countries, what exactly is not being taken into consideration, and why aid and development is not working.