My experience interning at Justice Desk Africa (JDA), an award winning non-profit in Cape Town, South Africa, has proven to be a profound personal journey – one I would be unlikely to experience back home in the United States. As a white, cis-gender male hailing from the American South – a demographic not typically seen on the frontlines of social justice work – I had apprehensions. How would I fit into this celebrated organization? The answer came swiftly and positively in my first week, as project managers and senior members at JDA showed genuine interest in my story, warmly welcoming my perspective and eagerly seeking ways for me to contribute to the important work the organization does.
In my role as an advocacy intern, I developed an intense appreciation for JDA and the broader field of human rights. My duties required researching various socio-economic challenges, such as gender-based violence, poverty, and educational disparities in South Africa, as well as tribalism and corruption issues in neighboring African countries. This exploration provided me with valuable insights into the complex struggles JDA aims to address. Moreover, a substantial portion of my role involved coordinating, planning, and conducting community training sessions – an experience that profoundly deepened my commitment to this work. Collaborating with people across the Western Cape, and even globally in countries like South Sudan, I had the privilege of informing individuals about their human rights and strategies to safeguard them.
This work led me to confront my own privilege. Despite hailing from a small town in the U.S., I entered South Africa with what I believed was a reasonable understanding of poverty and strategies to combat it. However, this perspective was challenged and expanded, as I began to recognize the limited lens through which I had been viewing these issues. My Americanized viewpoint was a stark indicator of the privilege that I was initially oblivious to. As this understanding began to unravel, I found my privilege being flipped on its head, shining a new light on these socio-economic challenges. This shift in perception wasn’t just eye-opening; it became a turning point in my journey, allowing me to approach human rights advocacy with a more nuanced, global perspective, and an elevated sensitivity to the diversity of lived experiences.
JDA redefined my understanding of advocacy and empowerment. In contrast to America, where legislative enforcement institutions are generally reliable, South Africa presented a different reality. Legislation often exists, but the institutional support required for effective implementation can be lacking. This necessitates a grassroots approach, prioritizing local change before addressing broader systemic issues. JDA instilled in me a fundamental truth: for impactful change to occur, we must begin locally, within our communities, and most crucially, with the younger generations. This grassroots strategy has now become integral to my approach towards advocacy.
The time I spent at JDA is invaluable. The organization stands as a beacon of genuine change in a world where virtue signaling often eclipses authentic concern for the issues at hand. JDA's community-based training and numerous impactful projects are testaments to the life-changing work they are engaged in. They embody the dedicated pursuit of justice, tirelessly striving to serve those who most need it.
As I conclude my journey at JDA, I am filled with gratitude and respect for this remarkable organization. While it's bittersweet to leave, I urge anyone passionate about social justice to immerse themselves in the incredible work JDA does. As I look to the future, I eagerly anticipate the groundbreaking strides this organization will undoubtedly continue to make.
My time at Justice Desk Africa has not merely been an internship; it has been a transformative experience that has fundamentally shifted my understanding of humanitarian work, and one that will continue to inspire my pursuit of advocacy, justice, and everyday activism.
Written by Drew Davis