Q. How do you relate to Northwest Health Foundation's mission and vision?
Hawi: When I was a kid, I used to tell my parents I wanted to open a hospital one day in my country (Ethiopia), so people would have access to healthcare whether they could afford it or not. I even made a poster with little drawings of what my hospital would look like. My parents kept the posters to push me in my dreams. Even though I don’t have that exact dream now, I still feel very passionate about working with others to improve the societies we live in. I thank my parents for teaching my siblings and I from a young age that what we have in this life, however big or small, is a blessing, and to appreciate it, as well as work hard to change the things we want to see. Those lessons — lessons they were taught from their parents, passed down from the generation before them, which were finally passed down to us — showed us the importance of learning from the past, the value of community and doing what we can to help each other grow and thrive. Northwest Health Foundation's promotion of health for everyone, including physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being, easily ties into my own values of advocacy, equity and opportunity for everyone in our communities near and far.
Elisa: I’ve always felt compelled to do everything in my power to improve the quality of life for the members of my community. Growing up, I wasn’t sure how my actions could directly influence the world around me, but through my high school years I have realized that my voice matters, and there are many different ways to get involved in social justice and advocacy. Northwest Health Foundation’s work to build connections between individuals and groups who seek to affect change resonates with me profoundly. I admire the fact that NWHF uses its platform to work with different regional communities and uplift local advocacy groups working for health equity. Many people (myself included) want to make a difference in the communities they call home, and NWHF not only understands this, but encourages the involvement and leadership of community members in their work towards health equity.
Q. What have you learned from your experience at Northwest Health Foundation?
Hawi: What I have learned from working with the staff at NWHF is looking at all the ways in which health can be promoted, as well as pushed to another level, as we learn new things. Life is not static, nor should health be or how we work with others to change, inspire, build and provides different avenues to support one another.
Elisa: My experience here — even though it’s not over yet — has given me so many opportunities to learn about social justice issues present in Portland and the world as a whole. It has also been amazing to work in a building that houses so many other nonprofit organizations. Even through just daily activities, I have been able to meet and speak with so many people from so many different walks of life, and learn about what their organizations are working towards. Interning here is also the first job I’ve ever had, so I’ve learned how a real office functions, and how to dress and act in a professional environment.
Q. If you could make one change in your community, what change would you make?
Hawi: If I could make one change in my community, I would make higher education more accessible for students from all walks of life. Education in any form is important, but due to the rapid increase of tuition, many are unable to pursue higher education, especially people of color who are tokenized for “diversity” purposes instead of seeing the systemic issues that have played a part in their lives in seeking education.
Elisa: If I could make one change in my community, I would make it possible for the students at my school to remain in the district, as opposed to being forced out due to the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. I transferred into my school from a different neighborhood, but I have witnessed too many of my friends from around Northeast have to leave their childhood homes and move to Troutdale, Fairview, or Gresham (a.k.a. “The Numbers”). It is enraging when the infrastructure of a neighborhood improves, yet the original members of the community are unable to reap the benefits, because it is no longer financially possible for them to lay claim to the place they call home.
Q. What are you going to do next, after this internship?
Hawi: After this internship, I will return to Willamette University to finish my last year of undergrad and see where life takes me next.
Elisa: After this internship, I will be going into my senior year of high school and dancing full-time when I am not in school. I will also be taking courses at Portland Community College in order to complete some of my prerequisites for my freshman year of college. I plan on majoring in English and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies at a four-year university, most likely somewhere warm and sunny.
Q. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what food would you choose?
Hawi: I don’t think I could only eat one food for the rest of my life. Life would get boring, at least food-wise.
Elisa: If I had to eat one type of food for the rest of my life, it would be Thai food for sure. But if I had to pick just one actual food item, I would probably go with rice, because it’s very versatile and gluten free!