Not a Goodbye, but a TTYL to Journalists for Human Rights

There's been a lot on my mind and in my heart the past little while and I've been procrastinating in writing this post for as long as possible. It's been hard to find the words, but here I go anyway...

Tomorrow is my last day at Journalists for Human Rights. In three days, I'm flying out to the Philippines to start my new adventure. As you can imagine, the past few weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster as I've been preparing for this transition in my life. So you'll have to bear with me as I'm about to get overly nostalgic in the paragraphs to follow...

I started working at jhr as the social media intern when I was just nineteen years old. A young grasshopper with a mind still so ripe and impressionable. I can't tell you enough how much of an impact this single experience has made in my life. jhr and the incredible people that I've had the pleasure of working with for the past two years have played such a significant part in molding who I am today and who I want to be. To work with an organization that is so wholeheartedly dedicated to empowering the people who are all too often marginalized and ignored has been, pardon the cliche, an absolute privilege. In the yellow wood that is my life, the luck of having stumbled upon this path and my choice to take it...well, that has made all the difference. At home or abroad, jhr changes lives...and mine is no exception.

I basically grew up in that office. I started back in 2009 when social media was really just beginning to explode and I've learned so much since then...not just about social media but also about journalism, human rights, media development, working with NGOs, and a whole smorgasbord of other world and life lessons. I've been able to combine my interests in international development, human rights, and online technology in a way that I didn't even realize was possible back then. These were all separate fields to me, but I've since learned the possibility and beauty of putting them all together in a way that can catalyze change.

I am forever grateful to Ben Peterson for taking a chance on me first as an intern, then as a staff member to head up jhr's social media efforts and take on the enormous responsibility of acting as jhr's online voice. I've been given so much trust to run with my ideas and turn them into something meaningful. At a time when executive buy-in for adopting social media in organizations was a painful and frustrating endeavour, I was being given the freedom (and the budget!!) to organize tweet-ups and hold workshops on how to use social media to spread human rights awareness. Communications departments in businesses and non-profits alike were struggling to get executives to even wrap their heads around the idea of social media...and there I was in our boardroom, a third year university student throwing out outlandish words like "tweet-up" and "twestivals" and actually being taken seriously.

And that's the beauty of working at jhr. There is so much openness to new and fresh ideas, regardless of who is proposing them--full-time or part-time staff, interns or volunteers...everyone is genuinely treated like a valued member of the team. There is so much support and trust from everyone, you can't help but feel like a part of something bigger. And I know it's this not-so-secret weapon that'll continue to propel jhr's growth in the future.

family photo

So to my family there at jhr, I'm going to miss working side by side with all of you! You are truly some of the most dynamic, committed, and passionate people I've ever come across. How you all work so tirelessly day in and day out, often juggling a myriad of roles, is something that will continue to blow my mind. And it's something that I'll take with me in the future to push myself to do better in whatever setting I find myself in. I can't tell you enough how much of a positive influence you've all been for me...

Despite all the hard and serious work we do, we always manage to keep the energy alive in that office and it is honestly just a joy to work with each of you. I'm really going to miss sitting with all of you in the kitchen at lunch baking in the sun even on the coldest of days. I will miss the birthday cakes, the beers, and the brainstorms. I will miss the frequent debates of whether or not to grab a cookie from Le Gourmand (if you're ever in doubt in the future, just know that the answer is always yes). I will miss wheeling around the office to bother you with my questions. And I will miss the frequent mystery of who has the bathroom keys.

There are tons of changes coming up for both jhr and each individual there, and though all changes have their melancholy, I am beyond excited to see all the growth (always growth!) that lies ahead. You are all an inspiration and I am proud and humbled everyday to know that I've had the opportunity to work with each of you...

Peace, love, and social media,
@justineabigail ;)

Which Way?

It’s that time of the year again for course selections. And though it’s a critical event every year, it’s even more so this time around. Why? Because it’s the last time I’ll be doing it.

Yep…this coming year marks my last year of undergraduate studies. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years since I first stepped on to U of T soil...three years since my Frosh week at Trinity College where I first met one of my best friends… three years since I had my first class in Convocation Hall, that terrifying stadium-like “classroom”.

Naturally, much has happened since then.  And as I face the future…as I face this so-called “real world” that everyone talks about, a myriad of questions race through my mind with almost no end in sight. Where am I going after my undergrad? What am I doing? Should I apply to grad school? But to study what? Should I just dive into the workforce? Do I travel first? What should I do?

After high school, I was set on pursuing journalism. I had the privilege of having teachers who lit my way, who ignited my passions in writing, history, and politics. This continued on in university as I took more courses in international relations, development, and sociology that further defined and refined my interest. I got involved in student publications, contributing my writing and even taking on editorial positions. I knew exactly what I was going to do after my undergrad. 

But alas, life is not meant to be orderly. Somewhere in the middle, we break a leg, spill some orange juice, die, or, as is my current situation, discover something new about ourselves.

For me, it happened in September of last year. I got this kickass internship as a Social Media Coordinator at this equally kickass NGO (hello jhr!) and my world has been turned upside down since then. Suddenly I was caught in the middle of the fast-paced and always exciting world of technology. I was learning things I only vaguely knew about and at rapid speed too. Compounding this was this incredibly engaging and stimulating class that I took last year about technology and its effects on community (hello, Prof. Wellman!). I was and continue to be rapt by all these developments!

Suddenly my firm convictions of going into j-school after my undergrad at U of T aren't so firm anymore. Suddenly I find myself questioning where I want to go and what I want to do. I am torn. I feel like I'm being pulled in all sorts of directions. Should I focus on my writing? Or delve deeper into non-profit work? Should I continue to ride on this thrilling social media wave? What do I focus on? I'm dabbling in all these fields, loving it all, but still unsure of what exactly I want to specialize in.

At the same time, however, sometimes these feelings of confusion are overtaken by my excitement. I am ecstatic to know that I live in an age that does not limit me…that all these different industries are intersecting with one another like never before and there's no need to box oneself in anymore. I've learned this best at jhr, an organization that is an amalgamation of everything that I am passionate about: journalism, non-profit work, human rights, and social media. It is reassuring and immensely satisfying to know that there is a place, a space for all of this and that I'm right in the thick of it.

But still...there is that unshakeable feeling of uncertainty and every day I ask myself, which my way?