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To problematize is to view what is deemed a concrete or immutable element or structure as a challenge (or problem) that can be transformed. It is to look at a situation from not only a different perspective but also (in my opinion) a braver one; to stop hiding behind the “status quo” and shine a new light on the situation.

For our time in Boston, this means to dive more deeply to the roots of systems, be-it homelessness, cycles of poverty or “altourism.” From these discussions, we have learned one big lesson and that is that there are some serious gray areas in life that no one knows whether to darken to black or fade to white. In other words, it is hard to fix problems when you do not know what to fix and whether or not it really can be fixed.

The story of problematization is a little more optimistic in my work at FII. FII’s work revolves around ending the cyclical nature of poverty. While the media focuses on the “bad,” FII believes they should instead focus on all of the good that is happening in communities: in other words, all of the people who are trying their best to get out of poverty and stay out. The cyclical nature of poverty exists due to the unevenness of the economic safety net. The safety net only exists for those below the poverty line and for those miles away from it. Thus, families who try and succeed in getting out of poverty find themselves falling right back in after being cut off from the critical resources that helped them get this far. So what’s the point of even getting out?

Problematization helps us see that families can get out of poverty but they need capital and resources in order to stay out (that is where FII comes in). If we use problematization to look at other structures in our society instead of viewing them as unchangeable, we can come up with a lot of ways to change the “status quo.”

For our two months in Boston with Duke Engage, we have been discussing issues through problematization and attempting to figure out where the social issues we address fit in during our experience as whole, including outside of the workplace. For the summer, we are engaging in a type of service-learning.

Although the term service is up to discussion itself, most people would think of doing service as volunteering or helping another person out. While we are in a sense volunteering, the service we are doing in Boston is somewhat different. Working at our nonprofits this summer, we are doing unpaid work, and that work is whatever our organizations tell us to do or need help with. Aside from the service component, the learning aspect of this service-learning trip comes from many directions.

We are learning about Boston, our host community, about our nonprofits, and about ourselves while we are here this summer. In order to do the best possible service, it is important to learn about the community we are living in. We have been able to explore Boston and its history, but also learn about the challenges Boston has faced in the past like fires, a struggling public school system and many other issues that arise in any large city. On the other end, we are learning about our organizations and also from them while we work there each day. At the half way point, I realize I have learned so much about what a nonprofit is and the many ways in which they can be organized. I have also learned about office culture and how communication between employees can create a positive and efficient work environment. Most importantly, we all have learned that Boston is facing many complex and multi-faceted issues that do need to be addressed and hopefully with our second month here, our group can continue to dive into the issues and provide service, while learning as much as possible.