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The Plot Thickens

Passion or Procrastination? THAT is the question.

So, my quest for professional re-invention stalled at career counseling. I went, I took notes, I did the online interviews, and then I went back home and stuffed it all in a cabinet, literally and metaphorically.

I guess I’m not ready. Maybe in the new year. Either way, I’ve certainly found ways to stay busy. Busy at the house. Busy with holidays, birthdays, and family holidays. Busy helping out at KIP. And increasingly busy with local Sudanese.

I joined the board of the Sudanese Refugee Education Fund (SREF) just over two years ago. By this summer, I was writing most of the graduation ceremony, editing resumes for local Lost Boys, and helping my friend Gabriel get his apartment ready for his wife and daughter. Then Agotich started preschool, and I took on a two-days a week babysitting and carpool gig.

Turns out, that was just a prelude. Because little Aciek (the son of another friend, who turned 3 in October) started preschool at KIP last week, and his dad is struggling to manage all the driving and his work schedule. I can’t help on Tuesdays, when I have Agotich, but I can help on Wednesdays, when I don’t. So starting tomorrow the baby car-seat gets swapped out for a booster on Wednesdays so I can drive Aciek either home or to family friend Nyawut’s house once a week. It’s not so much, really, but it does up my carpool duties to thrice a week.

And that’s the least of it. There’s been a change at the board of SREF, too. At the five year mark, the vast majority of past scholarship winners have graduated with bachelor degrees. Now the struggle is in finding work in their field, a challenge made the more so by cultural barriers and a weak jobs market. These guys don’t have anyone to edit their resumes, coach them in interviewing, or teach them the basics of networking. Many want to go back to school, and sadly are falling victim to recruiting tactics used at private, for-profit schools—the very same schools that famously exploit minority and low-income students, saddling them with huge amounts of debt for degrees that are over-priced at best and virtually worthless at worst.

What the Sudanese need now more than money is mentoring and professional development. They need a good jobs board and library of sample resumes and cover letters. They need to be matched with mentors working in their field. They need no-cost seminars that cover everything from informational interviewing to how to choose a business school.

At November’s SREF board meeting, I pitched this revised and expanded mission to the board. And perhaps because my vision was the fullest and I the most animated, I ended up the President and Chair-elect. Starting in January, I’m in the driver’s seat, ready or not.

It’s the “not” I worry about. My mom reminds me that I’ve got nine years experience in recruitment and budgeting under my belt, and much more than that in writing, speaking, and researching. So perhaps this isn’t quite the huge leap into the unknown that it feels. Then again, were I not at least a little terrified, I would worry that I was insufficiently challenged by or passionate about the cause.

I’ve got a basic (very basic) web design sketched out. I’ve lined up my first seminar speaker. I’m working on building up a bigger network. And I’ve got the backing of a team of passionate and talented people. We can do this. We have to do this.

[An unrelated aside. As I’ve entered the family sphere of several Sudanese refugees in the last few months, I’ve been afforded a fascinating and intimate look at a culture trying to balance tradition with Western modernity. Every conversation with one of the wives imparts me with fascinating tid-bits of information. All of which has left me thinking that, in some regards, I missed my calling. Had I studied anthropology (id est living people) instead of ancient history (id est, dead people), I’d have the raw material for a book. If they aren’t already, someone should be getting this stuff down before a luminal time in Dinka culture is forever lost.]

4 Responses to “The Plot Thickens”

  1. Amanda says:

    You’ll be great at this. You were great as an editor, you were great as a student. Have confidence in your abilities, they are many!

  2. blg says:

    Good luck.
    Leading a group of impassioned volunteers is no walk in the park.
    But you are smart, patient, analytical, committed and insightful. You will be the best thing that ever happened to the this team.

  3. christine says:

    Think of your impact on all these people! I admire you for making a difference. Much more rewarding than a “job.” And you are such a amazing writer… maybe you would consider writing about Dinka culture, so it doesn’t get lost or forgotten? Not that you need more to do…

  4. tlalbaugh says:

    Great, Jessica! And are we surprised at this development? Nope, not at all. Could see it coming from miles away. : ) : ) : )

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