Last spring I had the opportunity to spend a semester participating in the Washington Community Scholars’ Center. This program gives students the chance to do an internship in Washington D.C., take classes at an area university, and live in community with other students in the program. As a Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies major, I did an internship with a non-profit organization called D.C. Jobs with Justice. This organization works with labor unions and community groups to protect the rights of working people. I learned an incredible amount of information about labor unions and lobbying in our nation’s capital, but my favorite part of this internship was working with immigrant day-laborers.
Several mornings a week, I went to the parking lot of the local Home Depot where anywhere from 25 to 200 men wait for jobs. While they waited for contractors to show up requesting extra help, myself and several volunteers taught impromptu English classes. During these classes we taught basic conversational phrases and vocabulary – familiarizing the workers with the names of tools and construction skills. The classes taught workers basic phrases while helping them understand and express their rights at work in English. Many of them deal with employers paying them less than what they promised or not paying them at all. In this context, they are less likely to be cheated if they can speak and understand some English. I really enjoyed the time that I spent getting to know many of these workers and answering their questions about the English language and U.S.-American culture. I learned a lot about the benefits of labor unions and the struggles of workers in the U.S.–especially recent immigrants. I’m glad I had this chance to explore the city and my future career interests.