Expecting the Unexpected

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.” – Frederick Buechner

At some point during each of the six audit projects assignments during the span of my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International’s Internal Audit department, there has been a moment, if not moments, which have taken my breath away. These moments take on many forms – joy, heartbreak, discomfort – as I learned about the context in which Habitat is working. They are those moments that, while I can anticipate them coming, I can never quite be mentally and emotionally prepared. After this past year of service, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

As an Internal Audit department, our role distills to asking the right questions and observing the operations of each Habitat entity either domestically or internationally. Often, this involves analyzing financial statements, probing staff for longer answers, and most importantly, developing trusting and confidential relationships with each staff member. In addition to providing information on the Habitat entity’s operations, each individual provides critical insight as to the culture and socioeconomic situation of the communities and families Habitat serves. Anecdotes of her or his personal life pepper conversations, preparing me mentally for the homeowner visits.

The excursion to visit partner families in Madagascar is one that, five months later, I continue to have the same reaction. As the team piled out of the Habitat truck and proceeded to follow the GPS coordinates to the reported location, we set off on foot to traverse ragged dirt pathways. We zigzagged between half-finished houses, outdoor latrines, and buckets of standing drinking water as well as passing by families, children, and the occasional barnyard animals in the scorching 90°F heat of the January summer. I was reminded of the world’s deep need for more solutions for whom the fundamentals of daily life are missing – food, water, and shelter. Peering around a corner, I knew we had reached our final destination as I saw a home that was complete with a roof overhead and panes in the windows. That was the model Habitat home – a decent place to live.

During our conversations with the homeowners, who spoke only French and Malagasy, we learned that the mother and father felt that the Habitat home had provided a stable and dry structure in which to raise their three elementary-aged children. In addition to the primary goal of stable housing, the homeowners had been welcomed into the Habitat network of their rural community which provides additional non-quantifiable opportunities for support and friendship. The community formed in that village has brought deep joy to the partners and kids alike, and owning a decent and simple home has brought peace to the parents.

Each individual home I have visited this past year across the world – ranging from Madagascar to Malaysia – has provided joy, but only temporarily. It reaffirms the necessity of organizations such as Habitat to be working in locations of extreme need and poverty in order to empower partner families and provide sustainable support to these communities. But each project further stirs my intellectual and personal discomfort not only in the moment but months later as well. As my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International draws to a close, I know that I will carry these moments forward which will prevent my own real peace and joy until the world’s deep needs have been met.

Early signs that I am in the right profession

By Eli Kahn ’13

It’s hard to imagine that I’m into my sixth week working at the Foundation For The Carolinas.  This opportunity through the Davidson Impact Fellows program has truly been an amazing experience, and one that I will cherish.  Before I started my fellowship at the Foundation, I would often struggle with answering the question, “So what does FFTC do?”  I knew they were a community foundation which I was able to rattle off a basic definition of when prompted, but what I didn’t know is how much more than just a community foundation this place is.

Every day I walk into the office, I am not only amazed at the efforts and abilities of the staff here, but more importantly by the humility of each individual doing such amazing work.  Through my time growing up, and as a Bonner Scholar at Davidson, I became captivated by the non-profit sector but always struggled personally with how I could enter the sector and hopefully make a difference.  By the time I graduated in May, I knew that I wanted to work in the non-profit sector, but knew that my calling wasn’t teaching or “getting my hands dirty” so to speak by doing the amazing work that so many non-profits do on a daily basis, but instead working in a capacity to allow non-profits to continue and expand their work to touch more communities in need.

Even though most of my time at the Foundation thus far has been spent behind a desk or in meetings in the comfort of a conference room, I have not lost the sense that what I am doing is making a difference, and will positively impact the community.  I have had the humbling opportunities to interact and work with individuals who are tackling some of the largest issues facing our society.  To know that what the Foundation does by connecting donors and financial support to causes and organizations that are capable of tackling these problems, and that what I have been doing at the Foundation will help enable others to make a positive impact on our communities is more than enough for me, and something that I can be proud of when I leave the office every day.

With many of the largest social issues in society, say homelessness for example, there is generally a level of pessimism that the issue is too big to tackle.  I have found that in the philanthropic world of a foundation, this pessimism is outweighed by a sense of optimism – that each small initiative we take on, or grant issued, is a step in the right direction.

If I were to be asked now, “So what does FFTC do?” Or even, “what do you do at FFTC?” I am still not sure that I would be able to deliver a complete and concise answer, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing.  The opportunities thus far to involve myself in a variety of initiatives and projects tackling a variety of issues have truly been amazing .  To know that the Foundation, and the philanthropic world in general, has the resources available to make a positive impact on society  has made these first few weeks a great experience, and one that will continue to get better throughout my fellowship.

Thank you Davidson and DIF for launching me into the “real world” with such an amazing opportunity!