Civic Happenings
from the UMass Civic Initiative
 February, 2016

Hiking in Pakistan during Pakistani Reunion 2015
What's Happening with The Civic Initiative?

Welcome back to the UMass Civic Initiative Newsletter! We are in the midst of planning an exciting trip to Pakistan this April where we hope to see a lot of our Pakistani alumni. In addition, planning for the summer programs is in full swing!  If you or anyone you know are interested in hosting summer program participants from Pakistan or Iraq for a dinner and are in the Western Massachusetts area please email Academic Director, Samantha Camera ( ) for more information. We are also looking for Civic Ambassadors for the Summer of 2016. These are college aged students who attend sessions at UMass during the summer alongside the Program Participants. For more information about becoming a Civic Ambassador please click here. These are great ways to get involved with the world!

Civic Participant Showcase
Zinah Akram Mohammed  
Program Title and Year: IYLEP 2011
Zinah Mohammed with Yezidi Refugee now living in Erbil 

What have you been up to since the program?
I graduated law school as one of the top three students in Ishik University, Erbil, Iraq, and started working in an international NGO with the rise of the Syrian refugee crisis. My position had me auditing in an office, rather than allowing me to be more out in camps interacting with refugees like I wanted to. So I shifted my career into a whole different level, which was banking. I spent almost a year and a half in Lebanon through an on-the-job training program where I settled to take charge of the legal department in the bank, an experience that was truly enjoyable, on both a personal and a professional level.

After returning to Erbil from Beirut in late 2015 there was an enormous crisis regarding Internally Displaced Perons (IDPs) who flee their homes from ISIS to have a safer life in Erbil.

Some managed to live in camps while some live out in the streets, either in tents or unfinished buildings. My old passion for helping refugees reappeared. I initiated a fundraising campaign through Facebook collecting money, clothes, blankets, food and toys. I started my own informal charity team (Shine Together). We are now able to help hundreds of people.

I am volunteering as a team leader of fundraising campaigns in the Hugh O'Brian Youth foundation in Iraq, gathering teenagers to be a part of campaigns helping IDPs and refugees. Recently I joined the global shapers community (Erbil hub), where a team of youth with remarkable skills volunteer to start community service projects.

What was the most influential experience you had while in the US with the Civic Initiative?
The whole experience was very influential for my personal growth. I was always curious to learn more about other cultures, especially the American culture. And at the end of the road aren't we all the same? That's what I concluded and it had a great impact over my perspective and also it helped me to learn how to adapt in any environment within its diverse customs and traditions.

If given the opportunity to spend one day back in Amherst, what would you choose to do?
I would introduce my culture more to the people I meet there.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a person chosen to participate in this program?
Don't waste a second! It is a remarkable learning experience. Explore the cities you go to, talk to strangers, tell people your story, interact in every part of the program and share memories with teams of other countries participating in the same program as you are. Try to enjoy getting out of the box. You are an ambassador of your country.

What is next on your To Do List?
Getting a master's degree and starting a formal charity foundation.

Eric White 
Where Are They Now? 
Eric White 

Program Titles and Years worked:  
Civic Fellow 2010-2012 (all programs); Civic Summer Staff 2011; APD summer 2012

What have you been up to since Civic?
Immediately after finishing the program I moved back home to Boston, where I was hired to be a Field Organizer for the Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts' Senate campaign. It was an exhausting and exhilarating campaign with 12 hour days filled with organizing canvasses, phone banks, and stand outs.  It was great to be a member of another dynamic team and this was also where I was lucky enough to meet my current boss, Boston City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley.  I met Councilor Pressley at a rainy parade in Roslindale in 2012. After the Elizabeth Warren campaign, Councilor Pressley hired me part time to work constituent services for the neighborhoods of Roslindale, West Roxbury, Hyde Park and South Boston. After a year I was hired full time and given a couple policy areas to focus on, namely liquor license reform in the City of Boston.  In 2014, our office was able to secure 75 new liquor licenses from the State House, designated for historically disenfranchised neighborhoods of Boston. In 2015, I was promoted to my current role, Policy Director. It is my responsibility to coordinate all legislative matters in the Councilor's office while maintaining my role of providing constituent services for my neighborhoods. In addition to the work of municipal government, I have been active in political campaigns at the city, state and federal level.

What is your favorite Civic Memory
There are so many, but when I think of my time with the Civic Initiative it always goes back to the 4 th of July.  It was the one day every program was together, and it was a chance to be a part of some of the most interesting and engaging conversations or to have a quick pick up soccer match with students my age from Pakistan or Iraq.  And it always ended with laying out blankets and sharing this American holiday with new friends from around the world.

What do you miss most about working with the Civic Initiative?
I miss the team I worked with through all three years I was at the Civic Initiative. They became so much more than co-workers in that time. We spent day and night together during the summer.  It was great to be able to share our stress and our struggles with each other and to learn and laugh together.

What advice would you give a first time Civic Fellow on their first day?
Disclaimer: I have still not mastered this skill. But, my advice is to keep a journal of your experiences at Civic.  I wish I did, there are just so many memories and they feel so unforgettable in the moment. But I have never interacted with more engaging co-workers or participants since, and there is something to learn from every person you meet through this program.  And jump in with both feet.

What is next on your To Do List ?
After saving up a bit, I am finally taking a vacation across the pond to London and Paris. So I will be reading my Frommer's Easy Guide to London 2016 and Frommer's Easy Guide to Paris 2016 before we leave and converting some money into Pounds and Euros. After that, I hope to start preparing to apply to graduate school in Boston to continue to learn and grow so I can better serve my community and my city. 

Do You Remember? 
Getting out of Amherst: Visiting Boston
2014 SUSI Pakistani Student Group touring Boston
2014 SUSI Pakistani Student group photo with Senator Stan Rosenberg on balcony of Massachusetts State House 

Mike Hannahan 

Becky Howland 
Program Manager 

Democracy education at home and abroad.   

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