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Enabling Careers—For Me, For Them

July 7, 2017

By Vanna Song

young man is looking at camera

Vanna Song

I have not lived in a dorm setting since sixteen, which was eighteen years ago. You’re probably thinking by now “Wait a minute! What were you doing in a dorm at sixteen?” No, I wasn’t in college at the time. What I was doing was participating in a program run by the Washington State Department of Services for the Blind called YES (Youth Employment Services). That program gave jobs for the summer to youth who are blind or have low-vision. The program secured a sorority house at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington for the high school students to live in for the duration of the program. After the program concludes, the high school students leave and the sorority women get their house back. There were many jobs available to us. Jobs from doing clerical work to working as a cashier at a cafe. I had the cashier job. The program did a lot more than give youth who are blind or visually impaired opportunities to hold summer jobs. The program also taught skills like budgeting and daily living skills like cooking.

Living in that sorority house was interesting to say the least. The rooms were a lot bigger than the rooms here at the Potomac House. But our rooms didn’t have microwaves and bathrooms, unlike our rooms at the Potomac House. We just had beds and desks. The bathrooms had their own space down the hall. Downstairs on the first floor was where everyone hung out. That was where everything was — the kitchen, the living rooms, TV, you name it. Ok, it was a bit fun. After all, we were teenagers, away from our families and friends, working and just being teenagers.

What the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD) Youths in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship Program is doing is similar to what YES does. Both programs take place during the summer. Both programs secure housing for participants in university housing. YES serves youths who are blind or visually impaired. The USICD internship program serves people with all types of disabilities. Both programs aim to give people with disabilities work opportunities nonetheless. These programs allow folks to practice old skills and gain new ones.

I guess this is where the similarities end…or maybe not. After reflecting a bit more, I see these programs aren’t all that different from each other. Superficially, they may seem very different. YES deals with summer jobs for youths, while USICD deals with potential careers in the fields of foreign affairs and international development. YES deals with jobs at the local level. USICD gives folks opportunities to work with major international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Medical Corps, and World Learning. I do not want to work as a cashier ever again—however, I will always carry with me the skills, such as customer service skills and connections I gained from the YES program. One of my goals after all is to craft and implement policy that will open up opportunities for gainful employment for Cambodians in Cambodia. That includes providing the poorest youth and youth with disabilities with summer jobs. Thanks to the YES program and my internship at World Learning, I think I have an idea of the type of program I want to develop.

Living in a dorm setting again after so many years isn’t too bad. At least we have microwaves in our rooms and don’t have to go down the hall to use the bathroom or to shower. I’d like to cook, but since I won’t be here for very long, I didn’t bother bringing any cookware. I’ll save the cooking for when I move in to my apartment at the University of Washington for grad school. There, I can get back to cooking chicken adobo, fried rice, and so much more. There are plenty of restaurants including Khmer and Thai restaurants around here that serve edible food. I don’t mind eating out for the two months that I’ll be here in DC.

Vanna Song is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  he and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Vanna Song is completing his internship at World Learning  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or World Learning


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