Considering Different Audiences and Visual Design

So I've been spending the past few weeks at CHOICE working on compiling all the information I can find on the different projects and programs they do in the different countries and writing up a short, one- to two-page summary on each. It's been a very good way for me to get to know the company. Originally, these summaries were just going to be used for in-office purposes, like as a reference for grant writing. However, in discussing it, we decided they could also be used for potential donors to see what CHOICE does.

Since the summaries were now going to be used for two different audiences, it was clear that they needed to be reformatted visually. After all, I was originally writing them believing that the intended audience would take the time to read every word and examine all the charts and figures. If these summaries were laid out on a table or included in a binder with, say, 50 of them, it seems unlikely that a potential donor would spend much longer than a few seconds looking at it. This meant that we needed a much quicker way to convey the information.

In discussing it with Kevin, the grant writer at CHOICE, we decided to include an eye-catching visual of some sort. The first one I did was for dry latrine systems in Mexico, so I found a diagram for one, translated it from Spanish to English, and included it on the first page. For other ones, I found a photograph since the CHOICE server has plenty of those on file.

My original summary for dry latrines with the new version, including an eye-catching visual and more descriptive title.

My original summary for dry latrines with the new version, including an eye-catching visual and more descriptive title.

Kevin really wanted me to change the titles for the documents as well, which were previously very straightforward (e.g., "Dry Latrines - Mexico"). We decided to first increase the font size so they stand out more and also rewrite them so that they were essentially a 10- or 15-word summary of the entire project. So "Dry Latrines - Mexico" was changed to "Dry Latrines in Mexico: An Environmentally Friendly, Sustainable Solution to Disposal of Human Waste." We figured this way, even if someone only spent a few seconds looking at it, they'd quickly be able to tell what the project was all about and ideally, it would grab their attention enough to read more or (even better) provide a sizable donation.

A few of the other summaries I created.

A few of the other summaries I created.

So I've included a few photos I took of the work here. Hopefully you can see that it's an improvement. We're all very happy with the work.


I get a little jealous looking at pictures on the other blogs of interns off in exotic places. After all, I'm interning in a strip mall in West Jordan. Surely, there is no reason for me to take a picture of anything.

On the other hand, I spent the last 5 years living in the Middle East, so strip malls and Mexican restaurants actually are pretty exotic. So here are a couple of photos I took this past week.

Outside the CHOICE Humanitarian office.

Outside the CHOICE Humanitarian office.

The office is decorated with lots of items from the countries CHOICE works in.

The office is decorated with lots of items from the countries CHOICE works in.

There's a Rancherito's restaurant near the office, and I've grabbed lunch from there a few times. Here's a pork carnitas torta (Mexican sandwich) that I got. It was very good.

There's a Rancherito's restaurant near the office, and I've grabbed lunch from there a few times. Here's a pork carnitas torta (Mexican sandwich) that I got. It was very good.

Why can't we have nice things?

For the past two weeks I've been synthesizing lots of documents relating to the projects CHOICE does in different countries and writing one-page summaries about them. It's not the most glamorous task, for sure, but one that needs to be done (As a side note, taking a large amount of information and synthesizing into a 1-2 page document is a fairly common task in public policy and directly tested during the application process for the foreign service, so I'm always glad to have some extra practice). It has left me with very little to blog about though since I'm sure no one wants to read about my staring in front of a computer and doing research.

So what I will talk about is some of the projects being done by CHOICE in other countries, specifically Bolivia. For some of these technologies being used, I have to wonder why we don't use them here in the states. For example, CHOICE has been helping villagers in Bolivia construct solar cookers. I've been reading about them online, and they sound affordable and efficient. I'm not saying I would want to cook every meal in them, but I could see using them especially in the summer as an alternative to heating up the house by using the stove.

Bolivian woman with a solar stove

CHOICE is also aiding in constructing schools in Bolivia that have greenhouses attached them. This provides food for the students and also the opportunity to learn how to grow food. Greenhouses can yield 5 to 10 times as many crops than normal, open agricultural systems. They can also yield crops year round. I know community gardens have become popular as of late, so why not community greenhouses?

This makes me think of two things. I've known plenty of people who have gone to live in some very poor countries. Sometimes when they come back they say things like how seeing such extreme poverty has made them grateful for everything they have. I've always felt this is a horrible lesson to take from such an experience. After all, I would hate it if after entertaining guests, they talked about how grateful it made them for everything they own.

I've generally taken the opposite lesson to be true. I see these simple, efficient technologies and feel like our wealth has led us to be inefficient and wasteful. This relates to my second thought, which comes from a quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need.

Technologies like solar cookers and greenhouses are clean, efficient, and after a modest investment, absolutely free. But I suppose that is one of the disadvantages to the world's poorest being systematically silenced -- we lose the opportunity to learn from them.

On Translating

One of my duties while interning at CHOICE will be to translate documents from Spanish to English. Even before finishing up Spring Semester, Keith (the company's field communications specialist, whom I'll be working with) sent me an email asking if I wouldn't mind translating a document for them. I said let me finish my U.S. Foreign Policy final paper first, and I would get on it. Once the semester was over, I took a few days off to recuperate, then got to work on it.

The document was a report written by the in-country director in Guatemala about CHOICE's activities since last January. It was written in Spanish and needed to be translated to English to be given to a local donor. Now, I should say that my Spanish at one point was very good, but is admittedly now a little rusty. I spent the past 5 years living in Qatar and really didn't have anyone to use it with. In fact, the last time I really spoke to someone in Spanish at length was when I visiting Germany and met a Bulgarian gentleman who had been living in Spain. It was weird.

A little rust aside, I knew enough about translating to know that simply knowing a language does not mean you know how to translate it. They are two very different skills. You have to take something that is a polished, grammatically correct document in one language and turn it into a polished, grammatically correct document in another. As such, it requires linguistic skills and knowing the nuances of both languages as well as writing skills. As I started the process, I would read a sentence that I understood perfectly well in Spanish, but I couldn't come up with exactly how we would say it in English. Here's a simple example. The document talked about la primera jornada de desparacitacion. Primera means first (similar to the English word "primary"), and you can probably make out the word "parasite" in desparacitacion (which means removing parasites, or deworming), but I was stuck on what to do with jornada. Literally, it means "day" or "period of time," but this didn't really help me. We wouldn't say "the first period of time of deworming" in English. I had to consult a bit with my wife, who has a medical background, to ask how we would express this idea in English. We ultimately settled on the word "round," so my final translation for the sentence was "the first round of deworming treatment."

I won't lie. I even occasionally used Google Translate for sentences that I understood perfectly well just to see how someone else might translate it in case it sounded better than what I had in mind. After much longer than I thought it would take, I had finished the document and felt pretty good about it. Keith later told me that the local donor who received it thought it was excellent, which made me feel like my hard work had been worth it. As I mentioned before, I will likely be translating a lot of documents for CHOICE over the summer, so hopefully I'll get better and better at it as the weeks go by. 



On Wednesday, the two other new interns and I came in for an orientation where we got to know each a bit, talked a little bit about the company, and discussed what our tasks will be over the summer. We watched two videos about the company, the first being the "Chalkboard video," which nicely introduces the company's philosophy:

This was followed with this video, which discusses the company's methods:

The company CEO, Leah Barker, came and talked with us for a bit, and I found a lot of what she had to say very interesting. She said that one problem with people in extreme poverty is that no one listens to them. She gave an example of a group of very well-meaning individuals who went into rural Bolivia and provided the people with the nicest portable toilets available, run on electrical pumps, and then left. What they didn't realize is that these people in Bolivia used rocks to clean themselves, not toilet paper, and the toilet pumps eventually broke because the people kept throwing rocks into them. Now the portable toilets stand there, but all locked up. The well-intentioned people who paid for them have yet to come back.

She contrasted this with CHOICE, who when they go into a new area they first determine whether the people there are ready, willing, and motivated to pull themselves out of poverty. CHOICE doesn't give handouts; if the people aren't ready to help themselves, they can't work together. Then they make a point of actually listening to the people. She gave an example of one village where when they asked what the village needed most, the people said they needed to build a church. Now, CHOICE is not a religious organization. They could have easily said, no, we don't do that sort of thing, and what you really need is access to clean water, but they trusted the people and helped them build their church. As it turns out, it was exactly what they needed. The town had four families from four brothers who no longer got along; as such, the town was dysfunctional. The church provided a place for them to come together and make amends, helping the town to move forward.

This issue of trusting the poor came up in another comment she made. At CHOICE, all the in-country directors are local. She said in other NGOs, very often most of the staff will be local, but that the person on top would generally be White. She attributed this to a lack of trust; at the end of the day, these organizations simply didn't trust a local with management.

I believe these concepts of actually listening to and trusting the poor have wide-reaching applications. Just consider, politically, how discussions of helping the poor, welfare, and the minimum wage are framed here in the United States. Are their voices heard? Is trust a fundamental element? Or is it a case of the country's wealthy elite and middle class deciding that they know what is best and what is right?

This even got me thinking beyond poverty to other relationships in life, especially where one individual is clearly subordinate to another. Do parents trust and actually listen to their children? Do teachers trust and listen to their students? One of the points they really emphasized to us at the Hinckley Institute is that these internships may not lead directly to a job (especially for those who are not Political Science majors), but that we all should be better citizens as a result of these internships. What would our country be like if we all actually listened to each other and trusted each other? I'll leave you with that thought.

Why I Chose CHOICE

In quickly reviewing a list of the other Hinckley intern blogs here, I see so many being written from such far away, exotic places: Jordan, Kenya, Brazil, and China, to name a few. So where do I get the nerve to blog about my experiences interning in West Jordan, Utah?!? Why didn't I choose to intern abroad?

I was initially very interested in doing a global internship, to be completely honest, but ultimately decided not to based on the fact that I've spent 7 of the past 10 years working abroad (2 years teaching in high schools in Nyíregyháza and then Gödöllő, Hungary and 5 years teaching at a university in Qatar). I hope to work in foreign policy upon completing my Master's in Public Policy in 2015, and quite frankly, I felt like spending one summer abroad wasn't going to look any more significant than the 7 years of experience I already have. So I started looking for local opportunities instead.

So if I've got 7 years of work experience, why bother interning at all? I spent those 7 years as a teacher, which to be honest has given me a very specific skill set that isn't as applicable to the kind of job I would hope to be able to do in the future, namely with the foreign service. The State Department makes this fairly easy to figure out by producing a list of 13 dimensions they require of their employees. I figure, even if I totally change my mind about working for State, this dimensions are still a really good template for the kinds of skills I would need to get a really good job. Some of these attributes, such as oral communication and cultural adaptability, I already have down pretty well, but take a simple characteristic like leadership. Certainly, as a teacher I demonstrated leadership by instructing my students, helping them set and achieve goals, and keeping them on task, but the relationship between a teacher and a student and two colleagues of equal standing is clearly not the same. So my specific goal in taking on an internship was to gain some different work experiences.

Which ultimately brought me to CHOICE Humanitarian, the company I'll be interning for. From the moment I met with Keith Ellis to interview, I felt really good about the place. Keith immediately brought up how does it would be to have another Hungarian in the office since he is also Hungarian-American, like me. In fact, it seemed like we spent a good portion of the interview just discussing our roots. 

We talked about the company too, of course, and I am really excited to be involved with them. If you didn't click on the convenient hyperlink I put in the previous paragraph and read all about them, then (1) shame on you, go back and read it and (2) they essentially work in helping villages in five less developed countries (namely, Nepal, Kenya, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Mexico) build themselves from the bottom up. Everything they did sounded really exciting and was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.

Also, most importantly, it sounded like they'd have a wide variety of tasks they'd like me to, which would help me develop some of the skills I hoped to do, so that's what I'll hopefully be writing about here.