The following post was written by Michael Hassin, a participant in the Global Justice Summer Internships. A student at the College of New Jersey studying economics, Hassin interned this summer with SimpleGifts Unitarian Centre for Social Action in London, England.
Working at SimpleGifts has been an intense, high-speed ride that’s as fun as it is eye-opening. Even just the location is incredible — I got to witness historic London, Bethnal Green, and Bricklane (in a guided tour led by Program Director Rob’s friend Paul, no less), discover London’s museums, wander its parks, explore its streets and pubs and music and comedy. The rich history that the city’s steeped in lends it a sort of gravity that’s tangible. London was an experience in and of itself, and the city left such an impression on me that I think I’ll be applying to work here when I graduate from university.
Work itself showed me what the inside of a charity actually looks like — and a very small, newly started-up one at that. I learned that the world is saved not in one fell swoop, but one e-mail at a time, whether it’s asking universities in the area for volunteers or asking the table tennis coach at a nearby school for help in setting up a league in for our weekly after-school club. Working (well, playing) with the kids during the club is a blast, and their parents are a source of fascinating immigration stories. One week I got the chance to act as translator and speak in Spanish with a woman from Barcelona who had recently moved to London with her Bangladeshi husband. I enjoyed the chance to practice my Spanish, and she was very glad to be able to speak her native language with someone else in London.
As a non-Unitarian, I also found myself in the midst of a community of unconditionally compassionate and accepting people. A forum on the topic of class in a Unitarian church one Saturday showed me how diverse and full of perspectives the Unitarian community is and allowed me to share my own thoughts. And through SimpleGifts, I also met, talked, and worked with some pretty extraordinary folks, including a project leaders from Quaker Social Action and from Praxis, a charity aimed at providing legal advice and other assistance to low-income immigrants — not to mention the members of the SimpleGifts steering committee. Everyone I met was committed to their cause with an inspiring amount of energy.
The experience that left me with the strongest impression was, I think, the day I spent volunteering at the Hackney Migrant Centre, which once a week provides free meals, English lessons, and advice about immigration, housing, employment, and benefits to migrants in need, and where Nic and I helped prepare and serve food. It was heartwarming to see so many people put so much effort into assisting the extraordinarily unfortunate, and it was also daunting to get a glimpse of just how much work there is to be done — not just getting people out of trouble, but fixing the system that lets them get into trouble in the first place. This is, of course, no simple task and requires lifelong patience and persistence that my time here has helped me continue to cultivate.