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Currently, I am working at an NGO entitled “Sonke Gender Justice” that has a mission solely focused on the amelioration of the South African community. Centered on gender equality, extinguishing of gender-based violence, H.I.V. testing awareness, and advocating of safe sex, I have learned more about all of these important issues in my first week here than in my prior years of education. From hours of training to visiting schoolgirls and teaching them (but actually learning from them) about gender equality, I have been able to immerse myself in South Africa’s community in a way that I did not expect at all.

Before receiving news that I had been placed at Sonke Gender Justice, I so wanted to work for the Women’s Legal Centre, which is an NGO law firm run by women for the betterment of the lives of South Africa’s women, especially black women. As an aspiring lawyer, I thought this was the only option for me as I truly wanted to use this opportunity to learn more about law, but more selfishly to confirm that my dreams of becoming a lawyer was the perfect career path for me. Obviously, I was bummed not to receive this placement and like every other melodramatic milinellial, I truly believed it was the end of the world. But it wasn’t. Imagine that!

My first week at Sonke was amazing because it shattered everything I was expecting to get out of this experience, but in a good way. It presented me with the opportunity to not have everything go out as planned, but I was still able to enjoy, learn, and interact with the people who are the heart and soul of South Africa. Not only did I learn more about what it is to be South African, I learned more about what it means to be Maryam in the process. Things didn’t go as planned, I didn’t get to work for some shiny law firm, but it was and still is okay. My time at Sonke has shown me that expectations and reality are usually never the same, but it is how one deals with that disharmony is what marks who she is as a person. And from my time here in South Africa and specifically at Sonke, I found ways to work for Sonke but also found ways to chat with Sonke employees who have a background in law and other lawyers as well. In these random and insightful discussions, I’ve rekindled the fire for law within myself that I thought I had to put on hold for this summer because I wasn’t working at some law firm. I’ve also learned so much within these candid discussions that I may not have been able to at another placement. In addition, I’ve also learned that I am interested in things that aren’t just law-oriented. Such as gender justice and teaching young girls and boys of the detrimental impact of gender norms.

It is what you do with what you are given that makes all the difference. Now I’m not saying I’m some phoenix rising from the ashes. But I am saying that I think I’m on my way to that.