A Postcard From: Dana Duncombe ’17

Name: Dana Duncombe

Year: 2017

Major: Sociology

Internship Placement: HIAS Pennsylvania

What’s happening? We’d love to hear how your internship is going!

I described my summer position to a passenger on the trolley today. “I am working at a refugee resettlement organization in Center City, primarily offering case management support and summer programming assistance.” In short, that is my job. I give orientations. I make phone calls. I file paperwork. Yet, and potentially surprisingly, the job never bores me. Why? First, there is no time to be bored. Second, I know the characters behind the papers. I was one of their first faces. I sat endlessly with them in welfare offices applying for benefits and pointing at SEPTA maps. (SEPTA is a very complicated system, a fact I only realized once I tried to explain it.) I listen to Burmese, Nepali, Swahili, Farsi, Arabic, clanging train cars, typing computers, a cacophony of phone “hold” songs, and the sweetness of freshly-learned English. I use my French and I improve my English. I relearn Philadelphia and I relearn the United States.

My summer job extends beyond my one sentence description. It brings me deep into South Philly and the Northeast so I can escort clients to new destinations. I advocate tirelessly for interpretation (federally funded offices are mandated to do such). I see interlocking social services and gaping holes within our system. I see fierce determination from my coworkers and from our clients. I see mutual learning between the two. “Nyoka” is the Swahili word for snake. I learned this while drawing images with one of our Congolese clients in the County Assistance Office.

My summer job is exhausting. I worry about social work as a sustainable career for myself, but more importantly, for the social work community. June saw the most arrivals in HIAS Pennsylvania’s history. Normally the fourth quarter sees the biggest blip. What will it be like this year? What will it be like next year? How can we better support social workers and all caregivers? Having an outlet to constructively impact the global refugee crisis has been essential. But, can we keep it up?

I leave each day brimming with empowered motivation. Some would say I work with a vulnerable population. I have been privy to some of our clients’ journeys and hardships. I ache. But, these folks project so much raw strength and positivity. They make me laugh. They humble me. They push me to think harder. They push me to work and live harder. I am proud and privileged to work with and alongside such inspiring humans. Being a social worker (and now I know it is the career I want to pursue) comes with a Mary Poppins suitcase: forever growing, but full of magic.

How did you hear about the internship?

Upon coming back from a study abroad experience in France, I wanted to directly engage with the global refugee initiative. I found HIAS PA after a bit of research, scheduled a call with the program director, and was hired! Interns keep the resettlement team functioning and I am so grateful to be part of it.

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