Jonny Zients : All Rounder

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Being an All Rounder, Jonny has walked away with a variety of improved skills and a much deeper understanding of migration in the context of the African continent. Read more about his experience below.

“This is not my first time in South Africa. My mom is from Joburg, and lots of my extended family lives in Cape Town. I have been lucky to come here pretty routinely since I was young, so I have some familiarity with Cape Town. Six weeks in, I definitely feel like I want to live here more permanently at some point in my life. In Cape Town, I feel that I interact with people I don’t know much more frequently. There is a humor and friendliness that I much prefer to the kind of cold, stick-to-oneself attitude that I have gotten used to in DC.

My brother was an all rounder volunteer earlier this year and spoke so highly about his time at Scalabrini. I actually visited him while he was working and was immediately struck by Scalabrini’s breadth of services.  I also was intrigued by the unique opportunity to work with clients in a variety of settings. My previous non-profit volunteer/internship experiences have either been office settings that feel very removed from the beneficiaries of the organization or solely direct service like cooking meals in a food kitchen. Scalabrini feels so tuned into the day-to-day challenges and realities of the individuals and communities that they serve, while providing a sophisticated range of services. I initially noticed, and continue to appreciate, how Scalabrini never turns people away. There is always another service to refer people to, which I think speaks to Scalabrini’s holistic approach.

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“I was then able to craft my own experience by seeing what projects made sense to support.”

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The first ten days or so, it was a bit challenging to find my niche as an all-arounder, but I really appreciated that experience. Ultimately, I think it stretched me and allowed me to get to know each team more organically and what they are doing. I was then able to craft my own experience by seeing what projects made sense to support. Coming in each day and not knowing exactly what I am doing has kept me engaged and required a sense of initiative that I think constantly reminds me why I am here and what I feel passionate about. Being an all-arounder has been really cool: covering reception and moving from program to program has sharpened a variety of skills and given me a nuanced understanding of the full scope of Scalabrini’s mission.

Since joining the Scalabrini Centre, I have sharpened my administrative abilities, practicing making phone calls and entering data as well as learning how to use tools like Salesforce. I have also improved my researching techniques as I got more comfortable with navigating academic papers and UN databases when compiling my country report for SIHMA. Through digital literacy, I learned how to teach. Lastly, I have learned so much about migration — through research, interacting with clients, and speaking with Scalabrini team members, I have deepened my knowledge of the cultural context around inter-African migration and the barriers that asylum seekers and refugees face upon arrival in South Africa.

I start university in September, but have lots of things I want to do before then! I think my experience at Scalabrini has definitely given me a clearer idea of the work environments I will seek out and what I want to do for the rest of my gap year and life. “