I’ve arrived in Kenya and am soaking in the new atmosphere, whilst adjusting to the new climate. The US leg of was fast-paced with little to no down-time. I enjoyed myself though – so many experiences packed into a short space of time!
But first things first…
I expected that I would be able to say nice farewells to friends and family Auckland airport. My hopes were dashed as instead my last few moments were spent frantically off-loading almost 10kg worth of stuff to my parents. That was kinda sad. I’m thankful that at least everything went smoothly after that point!
Welcome to Washington, DC or is it Virginia?
In DC, I was fortunate to be housed by a staff member of IJM. Well actually she lives in Northern Virginia. The geography of the capital territory confuses me a little. The IJM head office is also in Northern Virginia, but it’s only 15 minutes on the Metro line from Downtown DC. So, it’s near enough.
I was excited to see snowflakes falling during the week. Below is a shot from Melanie’s (my host) dining room looking outside at the after-effects of a blizzard the night before.
Melanie also hosted another trainee from Arizona. She is an experienced lawyer and is heading to Rwanda as a legal fellow. We all got on very well and had many deep late night discussions. Below is a photo of us at Head Office.
Have you tried drinking from a fire hydrant lately?
Intense is probably an understatement to describe training week!
Our first day was spent with the CEO and Founder of IJM – Gary Haugen. He shared the vision of the organisation and helped us understand its foundational values. His passion for the work is authentic and inspiring. I spent most of the day smiling inside, thinking “I’m so happy to be here… I can’t believe I’m here”.
Throughout the rest of the week we were introduced to all the heads of departments and other key staff. It struck me how everyone had such a passion for their speciality (E.g. communications, information systems; admin and human resources) combined with a deep resonance with the overall mission of IJM.
On the first night, we were treated to a talent show put on by the staff called The Jammys (aka The Justice Grammys). There was everything from a barber shop quartet, opera, Spice Girls and a bizarre reinterpretation of Fresh Prince. The performances were interwoven with the key objectives of IJM to help it stick in our minds – Victim Relief, Victim Aftercare, Perpetrator Accountability and Structural Transformation.
We also had a pizza and movie night one evening, where we were shown “A Dry White Season”. This movie was set during the height of the Apartheid era in South Africa (around the 1970s) and followed the story of one family. It was a sombre reminder of things that go on in our world and the personal cost involved in overturning oppressive systems.
Our final day was packed right up until the end, but closed with a reflective commissioning service for all the new trainees. This was a very special moment. It was a chance to pause and remember why we were all there. It was a call to humility, as ultimately the mission of IJM is not about us. I was also very fortunate to have my friend come down from New York as support! Very cool indeed.
Here’s a photo of Troy, a fellow intern and I with Gary Haugen.
I cannot forget to mention my comrades in training. There were about 45 of us in total. Having been out of the corporate scene for a couple of years, it was nice to be in a big office environment again. Wearing a suit did feel a bit odd, though. Nevertheless this situation had a refreshing twist. Rather than an air of subtle competition (even if people are nice to you) there was an air of genuine camaraderie. Over the course of the training week I rubbed shoulders with experienced lawyers, HR specialists, teachers, and new grads and students of various disciplines. Most of them Type A – ambitious, astute, impatient and intelligent (bossy, some of you might like to add?).
Yet, this was tempered with a strong sense that such ambition is not purely for personal comfort and acclaim. In fact, we have all sacrificed to be here and none of us take this opportunity lightly. Some have quit their jobs or paused their careers, others have given up a year in the middle of their study. Still others have forgone high salaries, even though their qualifications and experience would demand it. There was a general attitude that it is far better to give than to receive. It was exciting to hear everyone’s stories about how they came to IJM and their dreams for the future.
Training week was a good preparation for the journey ahead and amazing experience. I must admit though, that I was feeling pretty peaceful about going to Kenya until our security training session. We were lectured on personal safety, given pepper spray and taught some hand to hand combat moves (ok that’s an exaggeration – we just learned how to escape someone grabbing us). It was after that session that I started to think seriously (i.e. freak out just a touch) about the associated risks of my deployment.
Oh well, life is full of risks, so we all go with faith that God will protect us as we keep our whits about us.