By Gillian Olortegui, Generations For Peace Inc. Research and Outreach Intern
April 2021 marks a little over a year since our world made up of scheduled activities for the future and predictable timelines was replaced with widespread cancellations. Everything we were looking forward to, both long and short term, was abruptly cancelled, and the future was unknown. I was ready to enter my junior year of college and had just begun pursuing opportunities that pertained to my major, International Relations. I was set to study abroad in the UK at the University of Exeter in Summer 2020, and then study Portuguese at in São Paulo, Brazil for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 through a Boren Scholarship, and these activities abroad were among the first to be cancelled. As a result, disappointments and uncertainties manifested into an overwhelming sense of stagnation during what was supposed to be the peak of my undergraduate career.
Then came The Washington Center – a virtual, professional development opportunity that would show me the light out of academic idleness. After sending my internship application to various organizations, Generations For Peace Inc. (GFP) found its way into my inbox, requesting an interview with me. I was overjoyed because the prospects of interning with this organization checked off key interests that I had wanted to explore, including non-profit work, peacebuilding, and youth development. I spoke with Lindsay McClain Opiyo, the Development and Partnerships Director and GFP US Representative, for the interview, and our backgrounds and interests meshed well. After accepting an offer to serve as a Research and Outreach Intern in the fundraising department, I was ready to dive into the inner-workings of non-profit work and learn everything there was to it. I was so thankful to have found a way to gain valuable career experience amid the pandemic.
My interest in peacebuilding truly began in May 2019 when I participated in a Peacework program with the Quechua community in Pisac, Peru. The two Peacework field managers who facilitated our meaningful discussions and activities throughout the trip had degrees and career backgrounds in Peace and Conflict Studies, accompanied by a long list of humanitarian work experience. I became really interested in their curated life paths and found their past experiences really unique and profound. One specifically had an affinity for the Enneagram Personality test, which provides insight into one’s tendencies and motivations, and one afternoon we all sat down to take the test online. My results were Type 9, also known as “The Peacemaker,” and this result made perfect sense to me – my life’s calling felt like it was being spelled out right in front of me. After this experience, I felt myself gravitating towards ways that allowed me to further explore this side of myself.
A virtual internship meant that tasks and duties looked very different. Instead of conference room meetings, we would have Zoom and Microsoft Teams video calls. Instead of reporting to an office in Washington, DC, I report to my laptop in Tampa, FL. Despite these differences, communication between GFP staff and new or potential partners prospered in a digital setting. I was involved in email threads and Zoom meetings with partners reporting from Chicago, while the rest of us worked in Tampa, Nashville, the UK, and elsewhere. Although communication is quicker than ever, the pandemic still presents unique challenges in the non-profit world, and I have seen this first-hand with grant funding. While researching several foundations in the Chicago metropolitan area, I have found that many have shifted priorities to COVID-19 assistance programs or aid. This meant that GFP could no longer request funding from various foundations that were otherwise compatible donors because our programs are not directly related to pandemic relief efforts.
For the 2020-2021 school year, I served as Co-President for the University of South Florida (USF) Rotaract Club, which are clubs a part of Rotary International designed for college students and young/emerging professionals. One of Rotary International’s key causes is “Promoting Peace,” and I found it natural to connect my time in GFP with my time in Rotaract. This year, USF Rotaract has donated $300 towards GFP’s new program to begin June 2021 in Chicago, “Youth INTERACTS.” We want to support the work of preventing violence from the roots, and we empathize with this cause because of the parallels between Chicago’s community tensions and our own diverse hometown. At the end of the day, Chicago is only a short plane ride away and in an ever-globalizing world, no place is so distant that we can’t help. On 23 April, I was the featured guest speaker at a Rotary Club of New Tampa meeting, and I shared my experience interning with GFP, and specifically about the Youth INTERACTS program. I was excited to share with Rotarians that Rotary and GFP have a history with each other, and that they can further support a cause and idea that resonates with them. That morning, multiple Rotarians donated to create a total amount of $425, meaning that Tampa’s Rotary clubs have supported GFP in Chicago to the tune of $725. This goes to show that philanthropy can transcend geographic boundaries, and I’m grateful to say that I played a role in making this happen.
As my time with GFP and The Washington Center comes to an end in May 2021, I can’t help but reflect on how much I have developed experience in a real work environment in such a short amount of time. Not only in fundraising and observing program development, but in self-accountability, time management, and effective communication. From department meetings on Zoom and researching donors and organizations, to engaging with Rotary locally and learning about my own strengths and weaknesses along the way, I have valued every last bit of these past three months. GFP’s mission will continually resonate within me as I finish my undergraduate career and venture off into the next chapter of my life, taking my time with GFP with me wherever I may go from here.