What is Work?

This post was guest authored by Shelbe Van Winkle.

Shelbe - modzi photo

I’ve been sitting at my computer for hours, writing, erasing, and rewriting, trying to figure out how to best write this piece. My feet are bouncing to the Zambian music coming through my headphones, and my roommates/coworkers are laughing at my stationary dance moves. We’ve been brainstorming for days, trying to understand how to put everything we’ve seen, done, and learned into words. How can I possibly put everything that I’ve experienced on paper? Our experiences in Zambia don’t easily translate. We’ve gone back and forth on ideas about fundraising, mentoring, and supplemental academic help. Our discussions are constantly interrupted by kids knocking on the door, some young, asking to play, some older, asking for help in math, and some just coming to say hi. I’m wearing my favorite worn t-shirt, with a comfy pair of sweatpants, lounging in our indoor hammock with my computer in my lap. A song written by one of the students we’ve been working with starts to play from my iTunes. The music is upbeat and fun, calling for a spontaneous dance party. We’ve been “working” all day, but in my mind I haven’t worked a single minute.

I’ve known that I’ve had a passion for working in education since the summer after my senior year of high school, when I interned at a non-profit organization in Nicaragua. There, I observed a seven-year-old girl named Wendy struggle to play the card game “go fish,” because she couldn’t recognize the letters or numbers on the cards. I helped her the rest of my time in Nicaragua to learn the alphabet, spell her name, and ultimately kick butt at “go fish.” Little did Wendy know, she would shape my college career and help me discover what I want to do with my future. Education is something I’ve always had. Graduating high school with honors and going to university was assumed, rather than questioned or worried about. Wendy opened my eyes to a world where education isn’t always easily accessible. She helped me realize that there are kids just like me, and younger, that have to beg, work, and fight to go to school.

On a recent Dialogue of Civilizations, a Northeastern University field study program, I found myself in Zambia for the first time, learning about non-profits and NGOs that are helping facilitate access to the human right of education. Flash forward to current time, and I’m sitting in my hammock in Zambia, working for modzi, a non-profit started by a recent Northeastern grad that helps vulnerable youth in Zambia gain access to a quality education. We work everyday – morning, night, weekday, weekend, it doesn’t matter – but none of it feels like a job. They say “get a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Working at modzi has allowed me to understand the true meaning of this saying.

The job is just one part of a bigger picture; actions, events, and people are all major contributors to my love for this work. Everyday has been a learning experience for me, introducing new concepts that I hadn’t faced before. I’ve seen kids wake up at five o’clock in the morning to start the six kilometer trek to school, I’ve felt heartbreak when watching kids who just want to go to school struggle against corruption, and I’ve heard the purest form of laughter in the wee hours of the morning as our young neighbors play outside. I’ve read statistics and facts about different parts of the world, but experiencing them is much more humanizing. Each unique experience here has added to my love for the work even more. There is a reason I have chosen to be in this field, and everyday it becomes more clear.

Wendy and Nicaragua helped me realize what I want to do and whom I want to work with. But since then, I’ve been able to hone in on why I like working with kids. They carry a unique sense of innocence with them, and truly just want to be happy. Even the children who have experienced hardship and trauma are still looking for something to smile about. I’ve watched kids here in Zambia gather all their peers around, just to make them laugh, and met others who can’t wipe a smile off their face for more than two seconds. While their smiles and laughter draw me in, what impresses me the most is their dedication to friendship and family. Many youth in Zambia have lost loved ones, been orphaned by diseases, or for some other reason forced to fend for themselves. As a result, they have created their own family with their peers and mentors. In an impoverished area where one could easily only look out for himself, I’ve seen ties of brotherhood hold young boys together and help them succeed. These tough situations can make my work challenging – but laughing alongside these kids makes it all worthwhile.

I’ve come to learn that work doesn’t have to be laborious. It doesn’t have to be dull. It doesn’t have to be isolating. I’ve come to learn that work should be something you want to do. Work should be experience, learning, growth, and compassion for the relationships you create. modzi has taught me that a job holds much more than just work, and that it also contains real people, real stories, and powerful experiences. So as I sit here in my hammock, listening to Zambian music, exchanging words and laughter with the kids who come to visit, I am doing my job. A job that I love… and can’t ever see being “work.”

Shelbe Van Winkle is the Project and Partnership Co-op with modzi. Check out the modzi website to learn more about the modzi movement!  Also be sure to follow them on Instagram, Twitter (@wearemodzi), and Facebook!

Making it Count

This is the first reflection entry written by current student, Manuj Goyal. Manuj will be sharing his journey with us as he travel abroad in India as part of his own self-directed Global Co-op focusing on the development work for his company, Turing Robotics.

Nike challenges us all to “Make it Count!” and as I sit here 30,000 feet off the ground, I wonder how I have come here. How am I going to make this count?

Sitting wrapped in a thick brown checkered blanket in the early hours of the day, I explain to a friend a simple feeling which ends up turning my world on its head. A feeling of empowerment, a feeling of longing, a feeling of love, a whirlwind of melancholy and utter bliss. That morning I realized my purpose, my drive, my power all came from a perplexingly simple word, love. A love for you, a love for me, a love for all my brothers and sisters, and for this beautiful life and world we have been given.

Acting on this feeling, surrendering to the fate the universe had decided for me, I bought a plane ticket to go half way around the world. I explained my journey to others, trying to figure it out myself. Am I backpacking, am I doing service, am I researching, is this really a co-op? How am I making it count? How am I taking this six month opportunity and creating an experience of a lifetime and getting invaluable insight and learning while sharing my love and serving my people?

black-and-white-flight-man-personAs I travel to India to learn about my country, serve the people of the world which has sculpted my life so profoundly, and to build a nonprofit organization to reduce child labor in the most rural areas of the globe, follow my journey as I answer these questions. Join me in giving back, in celebrating diversity, in expanding our potential and our world. Join me in a journey of discovery, service, and learning. Let’s make it count.

Women Leaders Making a Difference

This post was authored by Anu Singh

GOTHow do you make a difference? It’s a question that betrays a sense of idealism, a preoccupation with contributing something worthwhile, something that touches others and improves their experience. It’s a question that becomes more pressing as time goes on and a part of your life comes to a close. What are you leaving behind, what did you do that was positive and helpful?

When I was approached by a close friend about putting on a conference bringing successful, women to campus to talk to students about professional life, I thought it would be a small affair. Something a bit low-key, especially since it was the first time that it was being held. Now it’s turned into two-day event with fifteen amazing speakers, two hundred expected attendees, and a large team of students all working to make it happen. The momentum that took the vision to reality was astounding and it couldn’t have been possible without the help of so many people in the Northeastern community.

Moving from college life to professional life is a change the majority of us have to make. This change evokes many questions, thoughts and feelings: the apprehension, the anticipation, the intimidating realization that you’ll have to learn a whole new set of rules, get used to a new normal. How do you balance your work life with your personal life? How do you network and get to know people if it’s not something that comes naturally to you?

These are questions many college students ask when they’re taking the first steps in their careers, and some of the questions we’ll tackle at our conference. You learn by doing, but the advice and wisdom of people who’ve done it all before – and succeeded – is invaluable. Therefore, the aim of all of our work is to bring a resource to students – especially women – who would benefit from the guidance of inspiring people. It will be a chance to hear valuable advice, practice networking and ask your own questions about transitioning from a college life to a professional one.

Please join us for the first inaugural Northeastern Women’s Leadership Conference on April 1st and 2nd. Tickets are on sale myNEU. For more information, please visit our website.

Anu Singh is a Class of 2016 Computer Science and Biology major and a founding executive board member of the NU Women’s Leadership Network.