Lauren Presler (2010)

International Orthodox Christian Charities - Jerusalem

"In early spring the news came that I would be spending my summer in Jerusalem as an intern for International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), an international humanitarian organization. I had applied for an IOCC internship with the hope of going to Beirut, but instead was awarded the Jerusalem internship. I was skeptical at first, but Jerusalem turned out to be the perfect fit for me.

I packed my bags and flew to Baltimore for a day of orientation at IOCC headquarters, then back on a plane the next day for my flight to Tel Aviv. From the moment I landed on May 20, 2011, I was excited about what lay ahead of me. The desert landscape and palm trees were a dramatic change from my hometown of Cleveland, and I basked in the glow of the sun as I took it all in. I said to myself, "I'm finally in the Middle East!" I was excited, but had no idea how much I was going to come to love it here.

After being here for only three short months, I am still perplexed about the political affiliations here. In fact, aside from advising you that there two major ethic groups and three major religions fighting for control of the same land, you may need to research the situation on your own for more information and clarity. Three months is just not enough time to fully grasp the depth of the situation here. Also, aside from my pedestrian grasp of the issue, I am unable to identify myself with any one side. This is also due to a general lack of understanding. In all situations though, I have a humanitarian perspective and therefore want equality for all people.

Most of my work in IOCC's Jerusalem office includes managing a database of affiliated organizations, collecting information about IOCC's activities, interviewing the beneficiaries it serves, and sharing these details in various reports and articles for IOCC publications. From these activities I learned both how an international NGO operates as well as how the IOCC projects help the beneficiaries rebuild their lives. Seeing first hand the impact of such projects is a very touching and enlightening experience.

My favorite duty has been taking field visits to IOCC project sites in the West Bank. Going to see IOCC's projects in Gaza is not possible due to visa and security issues. The project sites that I am able to visit are funded in collaboration with Finn Church Aid. IOCC provides assistance to vulnerable families by helping them to establish and maintain home gardens and bee keeping activities as a way for them to provide some of their own food and also earn extra income from produce and honey sales.

During my time here, I have experienced the inner workings of an international humanitarian aid agency. I observed my colleagues working together as a team, putting in long hours collecting all the needed facts and figures that go into developing a project. From there, I observed them carefully explaining, in writing, the endless details required in drafting a project proposal. When IOCC was awarded the project, there was a collective sigh of relief and expressions of gratitude that their work would continue. The wonderful and capable IOCC staff members in both Jerusalem and Baltimore contributed much to my very educational and pleasant experience.

Aside from being part of such interesting work, there is a never-ending supply here of things to do and see! I feel so lucky to have been able to see so many important historical, religious and cultural sights inside and outside of Jerusalem. In all of my trips, visits and activities, one thing stood out to me: the people that I met along the way. I learned that the friends you make along your way are the most important, and they are the part of the trips that you keep for the rest of your life. It is not the sights, food, or souvenirs that hold the most value and that you get attached to. I appreciated most the wonderful people that I met and grew to care so much about. I learned what is really important in life, and that is people. People, on the most basic and individual human being level, are what matter most. I learned that through loving people you can make the most difference. Learning about people means you learn to love them, and through that you can change society's perceptions. Through changing society's perceptions you can change situations and this changes the world."

0