Two Students Head to Egypt as UNA-NY Summer Scholars, Setting New Precedent

July 31, 2019 @ 3:37 pm

Both Sarah Rashid (left) and Caitlyn Passaretti (right) are in Cairo this summer with the United Nations Population Fund.  

In a precedent worth celebrating, two of our students, Caitlyn Passaretti and Sarah Rashid, both Class of 2020, have had the honor of being the first-ever MSW candidates to be selected for the United Nations Association of New York Summer (UNA-NY) Scholars Fellowship Program. Founded in 2015, the program provides an opportunity for graduate students to obtain direct knowledge and understanding of the UN and its affiliates through an internship overseas and a stipend to cover all travel and living expenses. Until now, participants have been candidates for master’s degrees in international affairs, public administration, or related fields.

Passaretti and Rashid were both assigned to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Both are now in Egypt working on youth programs.

But before they departed, we caught up with them briefly to ask about how they plan to apply the social work lens to their internships, and how they think this experience could enhance their social work careers.

Congratulations to you both on receiving this prestigious UN fellowship, and for being the first social work graduate students to be enlisted in the program. Can you tell us more about what you’ll be doing in Egypt?

PASSARETTI: As a Youth & HIV/AIDS programming intern in the Arab States Regional Office, I’ll be helping to organize the second Youth Forum for the Arab Region, to take place at the end of August. This conference brings together young people from the twenty Arab states to discuss pressing issues facing their region and develop products and programs that will bring improvements. In addition, I’ll be monitoring and evaluating programs focused on youth and HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence, and menstrual hygiene management.

RASHID: As an intern in the Youth, Peace & Security Program in the Egypt Country Office, I’ll be mapping out organizations and initiatives in Egypt that provide services to vulnerable youth—a category that includes young people who are refugees, members of minority groups, or from low-income families. I’ve been charged with learning the scope of existing programs, finding gaps, and proposing ideas for new program initiatives.

Is there anything you’ve done before that prepares you for this experience?

PASSARETTI: I’m a dual degree student between the School of Social Work and the School of International Affairs (SIPA) and have worked in small NGOs and local nonprofits. But I’m not exactly sure if this prepares me for working in a large, multilateral institution. In my past jobs, if I wanted to do something, it was on me to get it done. Working in a larger organization will have different methods and may require different skills.

RASHID: I ran a young women’s leadership program at South Asian Youth Action in Queens for four years, so I’m passionate about youth empowerment. Among my colleagues and supervisors were some School of Social Work alumni, who encouraged me to pursue an MSW. I already have some familiarity with Arab culture through travel and study. I’ve been to Cairo once before, in 2003, and found it a chaotic, vibrant city—not so different from New York. I also spent two summers in Amman, Jordan, studying Arabic.

What have you learned at the School of Social Work that will be useful for this experience?

PASSARETTI: I learned a lot about systems of oppression and identity formation from Professor Zuleka Henderson‘s PROP [power, race, oppression, and privilege] course, which should help me deal with any discomfort that arises during my time in Egypt—not to run from it but to embrace it. From Adjunct Assistant Professor Jaime Estades‘s advocacy course, I learned that you’re not really for a population, you’re with a population, so that their voice comes through. I’ll be making sure we’re actually working with what the community wants and that their hopes and wants are promoted over agency goals.

RASHID: In Mashura Akilova‘s Social Work with Refugees class, I worked in a team to perform an impact evaluation of a sports program for refugee girls in Jordan. We had the opportunity to travel to Jordan for a couple of weeks during spring break to conduct our research. That was a very concrete experience that definitely helped prepare me for this. In addition, I think the clinical skills that I’ve gained will be extremely helpful, even in terms of communicating and building relationships with colleagues. Working in a country office, relationship building may be a big part of what I do.

How will this opportunity inform your career plans?

PASSARETTI: Working at the regional office will give me a macro perspective on the work being done throughout the Arab region. As a dual degree student studying social work and policy, I am looking for ways to build a bridge from local, community-driven political work to systemic change. I am hoping that through my experience at the regional office I can learn how to better connect these separate processes in my future work experience either domestically or abroad.

RASHID: I’m very passionate about international development, but I’m equally passionate about domestic issues. I see myself spending a number of years doing international work, a number of years practicing social work in the United States, and maybe one day finding a way to bridge the two. Some of the best jobs don’t exist yet, so maybe I’ll create the path I want.

Finally, do you hope you’ll get a chance to explore Egypt itself?

PASSARETTI: I’ve been researching Egyptian culture and history and learning some Arabic phrases. I am looking forward to exploring everything Cairo and surrounding cities have to offer.

RASHID: I’m definitely planning to immerse myself in Egyptian language and culture. The Egyptian dialect is very distinct and has its own nuances, so there’s plenty more to learn!