Monday, June 24, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #5

Training in Dialogue and Meditation

Despite it being the summer solstice and the longest day of the year, the sun has still completely disappeared from the Ghanaian sky by 7:00 pm, giving way to the harsh fluorescent lights of the streetlamps and the crackling fires by the street vendors hoping to sell some fufu and chicken or "tilapia" fish. And of course, to headlights of the ceaseless taxis that zip by, honking their horns at every potential customer (which is everyone outside that has a pulse).

This week at work has provided a very interesting twist, as I was invited to attend a workshop organized by WANEP and hosted at a hotel in downtown Accra. The guests: a delegation of representatives from various interfaith, government and civil society organizations in Ethiopia, organized by the Ghana and Ethiopia branches of UNDP. The purpose: to present WANEP's very own methodology in dialogue and mediation skills to these delegates so that they can in turn use them in various conflict scenarios in their own country.
At the workshop's conclusion
At the workshop's conclusion
The whole event spanned Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and was MC'ed by WANEP's executive director, Emmanuel Bombande. The Ethiopians shared their own experiences of conflict from a country that has more than 200 ethnic groups, as their spokesperson said. Another delegate was an Ethiopian Orthodox priest who headed an cooperative promoting more dialogue between Ethiopia's different religions.

It was the first opportunity to see not only the skills I've been working on since I arrived at WANEP but also that I've been learning during my first year at GSPIA, and it was great to have those "Aha!" moments over the span of that workshop.  I was assigned to take notes during the meetings and to prepare a summary of the proceedings and the major themes that were discussed, so hopefully I can kick my paper-writing skills back into gear after some significant downtime...and as of post time, I am almost halfway through. As a result, I have taken my foot off the PMC pedal a little this week, but we are still keeping a wary eye on the various elections that MAY take place in the next couple months. Looks like the Guinea ones, which I had already helped write a policy brief on, are yet again on hold after some opposition supporters got roughed up. I now realize how much of a world of difference there is on a political level between Ghana and next door neighbors like Togo and Cote d'Ivoire...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kimberly Bennett's Blog - Post #2

Busy Bee

Well, whoops. I sure didn’t blog every week, like I said I would. I meant to, but I’ve been so busy!

Let me just get right into it. I love my internship. It’s super fun, I’m working with some wonderful people, and I feel ok with the whole 9-5 office job setting. As I said in my last post, I am working for Community Justice Project (CJP). CJP is a non-profit legal aid clinic–part of the PA Legal Aid Network. I got my job through the Peggy Browning Fund. Basically, I knew about the Peggy Browning Fund because I applied to the same job last year. Once I knew the anticipated date that they would open up the fellowship applications, I made sure to keep checking the website around that date. Eventually, the fellowship applications opened up, and I applied right away. I was lucky enough to not have to go to an interview, as I had just talked with the attorney there recently because I was applying to another fellowship to work with CJP. It was a smooth process. I am very fortunate.
When I apply to fellowships, scholarships, and jobs, I use a fairly streamlined process. I keep a folder in my Dropbox full of past applications and essays. I keep all my financial information, grade information, resume (I have two different ones), and other relevant information in one folder. That way, when I apply for something, I can pretty much just tweak what I’ve already done. I keep two different resumes for different types of applications. One resume is for public interest jobs, and one resume is for more “corporate” type jobs. Obviously I try to put what my audience wants to see in an application. And it really helps to have a few professors and previous employers that are willing to write good letters of recommendation. That is key. I don’t think I’ve have any of the opportunities I’ve been given if it weren’t for the kindness of those people.

So, that’s how I got the job. I guess I can talk a little about the professional aspect of it and what I do all day long. It is a fairly laid-back office, so I’m lucky that I don’t have to wear a suit everyday or anything like that. There are three full-time attorneys at CJP, plus one attorney who rents office space there. I work specifically with one attorney. She is so nice. Every morning I get there around 8. She does not get there until 10, so I usually have an assignment I am working on still from the day before. We are working on a number of cases for the summer. So, usually my assignments are about one of those cases. I do a lot of research…the attorney will ask me if I can find something out about a law or even to interview the client to get more information. It’s really a lot of “hands on” experience, so I am very lucky for a student. I really enjoy reading depositions. It is like reading a story. And it’s very exciting because you have so much secret information about something!

I have learned a lot about immigration and employment law issues. CJP has a lot of clients that are immigrants, and luckily with my Spanish, my boss has allowed me to interview many of the clients or sit in on meetings with them.

Well, I don’t have much more to say about that job because I can’t really discuss in detail any of the cases I am working on. For my job at the Center for Latin American Studies, I was able to travel to DC last month for a conference on Latin American studies. It was really fun, and I saw some great panels. My favorite two panels were: one about freedom of the press in Latin America and one about narcotraffickers and women. Both were really cool, and the panelists were very interesting.

Today, the official blog of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUSblog) cited to an article of mine! Over the summer, I volunteered to write two articles a week for, so it’s pretty awesome that I got my name out there on such a known website! I am thrilled!

Well, I must run off to class now. I am taking one GSPIA course over the summer. It is kind of a pain to be taking a class over the summer, but I highly recommend getting as many credits out of the way as you can as soon as you can. At least it frees up some of the time over the school year to take classes that actually interest you, rather than just taking classes you need.

Until next time.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #4

Friday Night in Accra

It's only 3:30, yet in only 3 hours the sun will have completely set on another day and another week here in Accra. The biggest change I have yet to get used to is the pitch-dark night at 6:30, in the middle of June! A mosque is located nearby the office, so I can hear the muezzin's call to Friday prayers.

Last weekend I did manage to get to the beach, but a sudden torrential downpour put on hold my plans for a swim and instead led me to haggle with a street vendor who happened to be walking by selling umbrellas. I did manage to see some of the city's major landmarks, such as the Independence Arch and Black Star Square, as well as the outside of the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum. Hopefully this weekend's weather will allow for more time outside!

If anything like this week keeps up this blog might turn into a food review!
Independence Arch
Independence Arch
Banku and Okro with beef and fish, goat stew and vegetables, fufu with green soup, abom with yam, tuo zaafi and pig with hot pepper and fish gravy are just some of the items offered on the buffet men for the staff. I will confess: I haven't the faintest idea as to what some of these are actually comprised of, but I (perhaps surprisingly) haven't had too many side effects of the radical change in cuisine, so why not!

 Meanwhile the week's work was comprised of more compilation of the security threats going around West Africa, but I also worked on a briefing WANEP will release on the upcoming legislative elections in Guinea (which, FYI are still meeting sticking points between the government and opposition parties, despite years of delays). The TV in our office has been near-constantly switched to state-broadcaster Ghana TV televising the hearings of the 2012 election petition, which is challenging the results of the presidential election last December in front of the Supreme Court. C-SPAN doesn't have anything on these guys!

I think I've mapped out the neighborhood of my apartment pretty well, so I might try and go for a run as the sun sets and the air becomes a little cooler...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #3

WANEP Crash Course

Ever since I first arrived at the WANEP offices on Monday, everyone has been great in making me feel welcome and part of the team! Their hospitality was already on display before even meeting them, as they helped find my eventual apartment. What struck me at first was the amount of French spoken, as many are from French-speaking countries like Togo, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea-Conakry. Their unofficial policy is to even out the number of employees from different ECOWAS countries, so I won't find a huge block from one country or another. They were quite happy to have another Francophone on board!

So as for the actual work, I was mostly assigned to their Peace Monitoring Center, where I scoured African and international news websites, looking for security threats and disasters, and uploading these events into a special database, which they use for their Early Warning System

WANEP at night
WANEP at night
Really interesting work!

I was lucky enough to attend a quarterly meeting this Friday, which is a large organizational gathering and a thorough review is made by each department, so I was able to learn a lot more about WANEP's structure and organization. But, possibly the best part was the lunch provided to each attendee, which we picked from a menu. I had a mouth-watering yam with palaver sauce, similar to pepper but much less spicy, great stuff!

It's Friday night now, so that means tomorrow I get my first breather since landing! Maybe I'll head down and see the Accra coastline and beaches for the first time...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #2

Crazy First Week!!

Whew, well what a whirlwind week its been! Where to begin??? I FINALLY have found a room with a stable internet connection, so at last time to blog a bit, even though it'll be by darkness because of yet another power cut... I had a good flight on Royal Air Morocco from Geneva to Accra, where I even managed to get some sleep in...which was a good thing, given that I arrived at the ungodly hour of 05:30 (the plane left Casablanca at 11:40 pm). Despite the early hour I was fueled, almost caffeine-like, by the now undeniable fact that yes, after 3 solid months of preparations since the opportunity first was discussed, I was at last in Ghana!

I was greeted at the airport by Narcisse, the brother of of my direct supervisor at WANEP, Edwige. After a few words of welcome I learned he was not Ghanaian but Togolese, so we quickly switched to French. Apparently, short-term accommodation for expats in Accra is a scarce resource and is allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis, as the apartment I originally was moving into was given to someone who had simply gotten into town before me.
On the Accra tarmac
On the Accra tarmac
Uh oh... Thankfully, the people at WANEP had gotten my a room at hostel run by an order of Catholic nuns where I could stay for a couple days while finding another place. As a result, my wake-up alarm was the call to morning prayers, quite lovely really! Meanwhile, Narcisse has been giving showing me around town, introducing me to his friends, and even inviting me to two family dinners, of djoloff rice and chicken, prepared by Edwige. I was/am amazed by their hospitality!

I finally moved into an apartment 10 minutes walking from the office, so not too bad! It was then I made the lovely discovery that most of Accra was going through a massive water outage, with no foreseeable end in sight, as Narcisse explained to me, later by my colleagues. In other words, running water? Umm...nope. Looks like I'll be getting an unexpected workout for my arms from pumping water for my daily needs!

Curt Thomas, Blog Post #1

New York City Living:

New York City is no Pittsburgh.  There are no Pittsburgh Penguins here, it is hard to even find a place to watch.  Shadyside and the Southside are a long ways away and there is no Hemingway’s to stop by after class.  It takes about an hour to meet friends from my place in Brooklyn instead of the 5-10 minutes it would take in Pittsburgh.  What is $5 in Pittsburgh is $15 in New York.  Regardless, I guess NYC has its perks too.  Countless of things to do on any given night, you just have to work hard to find the free stuff and deals.  Exploring the city is great and being only about 30 minutes away from the beach is quite an upgrade over Pittsburgh.  More on adventures soon but I’ll start off with an overview of what I am doing this summer.

To the surprise of even myself, I am fortunate to be completing my internship this summer with the United Nations.  I’m still not sure exactly how to describe my position so I will give the organizational run-down of where I am, so take a deep breathe.  I work in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, within the Division of Sustainable Development, in the Policy Analysis Branch as an Environmental Affairs and Sustainable Development intern.  It speaks to the makeup of the organization as a whole and I am quite interested to learn more about the inner-workings of the UN as I continue this summer.  The UN definitely receives its fair share of criticism but everyone I have met so far is pragmatically idealistic and a great person. 

So far my experience has been excellent and I am only convinced it will get better.  My focus throughout will be providing support on the General Assembly Open Working Groups on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in any way possible.  These SDGs are going to be the model of post-2015 framework for development that follows the Millennium Development Goals, which have been the basis of international development since 2000.  Starting off, things were a little slow as I read through lots of background documents and reports on the issues and topics my department heads.  That was very insightful and necessary in order to contribute on a higher level as the internship progresses.  This week I am responsible for preparing a number of documents for the third Open Working Group session and providing summaries that will be part of the larger report on the SDGs in the coming year.  There will be a total of eight Open Working Group sessions.

My apologies if none of this really makes too much sense.  I will get into further and more concise details later on, but this has been a busy whirlwind for myself as well. 

For more info on what I am working on, go to:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sebastien Gasquet's Blog - Post #1

All Systems GO!

Today is the big day! I'll be flying from Geneva to Accra, and since the airline is Royal Air Maroc, I'll have a 5-hour layover in Casablanca and a stop in Lome, Togo, before finally getting into Ghana at the lovely hour of 5:00 AM on Saturday! I'm still playing catch-up time-wise from the Pittsburgh-Geneva jump, but thankfully there's only a 2-hour difference between Switzerland and Ghana.

So what will I be doing in Ghana for 2 months? Interning at the West African Network for Peace building! I first heard about them while working for the Ford Institute for Human Security at GSPIA, as they are working together in a partnership under the auspices of a USAID contract. WANEP was founded in 1998 and has been working since then to promote new conflict resolution strategies to help resolve crises in the West African region. They are headquartered in Accra, but have a presence through all countries belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The Essentials
From our preliminary discussions via Skype and email, I discovered I'll be mostly working under their Peace Monitoring Center (PMC), doing data collection and analysis on conflict issues, as well as helping out with their programs' logistics, writing out proposals and program reports. I'll even be working on television alerts about HS in the region! And to top it off, I'll be doing some side research for the Ford Institute on program analysis and evaluation.

Time for a last few additions to the one checked bag and backpack I'll be taking along: anti-malarial pills, passport with visa, yellow card with stamps accrediting I've had my shots (not the birthday kind!) and I'll be good to go! My next post will be from Accra!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Justin Moore - Blog Post #2

Washington, D.C .

I’ve finally arrived in Washington, D.C. for the summer.  As corny as it sounds, it feels like a dream come true for someone who has studied political science throughout their academic career.  The city is busy all the time and feels alive; people are walking every where, the constant sound of vehicles, the heat.  Everything.  It is both exciting and intimidating to be here surrounded by so many important people and locations, but it feels like every step I have ever taken was leading me here.

Granted, this is only for the summer.  I am currently interning for the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the first day was great.  The building is right off of the National Mall very close to the Washington Monument, so I definitely feel like I’m right in the thick of Washington, D.C.’s federal community.  While I’m sure I’ll be done a few different things with the EPA, my main task is to conduct research on corporate environmental sustainability initiatives, in particular the way in which sub-tier suppliers provide parts used in manufacturing.  However, as this is only my first week in D.C., things won’t be picking up in the office until next week.

In the meantime, I’m spending much of my time taking in the city.  It seems like there is an endless amount of things to do and see! I’m sure they will provide my roommates (both graduate students at GSPIA interning in D.C. this summer as well) and I with tons of things to experience.  This summer is going to be one busy, wild ride.

Where do GSPIAns Go?

Want to know where the GSPIA Class of 2012 is working? Check out this report!

 You can also take a look at this year's internship sites here!