It’s almost two weeks that I have worked as an intern at Viet-AID, and i am very excited to have been able to learn so many things and to engage in various activities at the agency. Since Viet-AID is the only agency that caters to the specific needs of Vietnamese Americans and Vietnamese immigrants, despite its small size, the agency handles various issues and helps many Vietnamese immigrants to pursue a comfortable life in America.

My first week was very eventful: I was very busy juggling between meetings and getting used to work. Since the agency only has 7 people including me, I get to be involved in almost everything and there are always things for me to help around with, so I feel very useful.

On Tuesday, other Boston interns and I attended the first seminar of Green Business by Kirsten Business Library on “How to Start A Green Busines”. I was amazed how much people are interested in “greening” their business or starting a new business with the intention of being ecologically friendly. Also, part of the Obama’s stimulus plan is dedicated to green business, and this policy offers many incentives for  people to jump on the “green business” wagon.

On Wednesday, my supervisors took me to a Business Strategy Group Meeting at the Boston Federal Reserve Bank. It’s always my dream to work at the Fed; thus, I couldn’t contain my excitement when getting through the security, manipulating my way around the humongous building, and pumping into random business-looking people. It amazed me even more at the Business Strategy Group meeting. Here, the differences between a small town like Lexington and a big major city like Boston are visible. We discussed a lot about resources in Prof. Beckley’s Poverty 102 class and how the lack of adequate resources is one of the causes that sustain the cycle of poverty. Even though we were only discussing about different agencies/resources available for low-income business owners in Boston, there are so many of them. There are the ACCION USA, Associated Industries of Mass. Boston Development Authority, Workforce Training Fund Program, Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, etc. According to the speakers of the meeting, there are many monetary grants from the government and the different techinical assistance (TA) resources for the small-business owners, and all they have to do is to go and approach them. Nonetheless, the audiences of this meetings were mostly non-profits (such as Viet-AID) and small-business TA agencies, and there were clearly some clashes among the two groups. Mike told me that even though the resources are there, these different groups don’t work together and it can be very frustrating. ***More on this will be follow up***

To my surprise, the most memorable event that happened to me the past two weeks was in front of Dunkin Donuts. It was the second time that I was out interviewing workers in the floor finishing industry for the Occupational Health and Safety Projects. Since all of the floor suppliers that are owed by Vietnamese owners refused to let us come in and interview their workers, we had to either go far away to floor supplies store owed by American (like one in Waltham that I first went to the first week) or to go to popular fast-food places such as Dunkin Donuts to hopefully interview the floor finishers.

It’s quite ironic since my parents worked so hard during their years in the US to keep me away from the exact environment that I volunteer to do internship in: being away the manual Vietnamese immigrant workers. According to my parents and there are many reasons to support their believes, the manual workers immigrated from Vietnam came from low-income class with little education; thus, being mixed up with them is not a conducive environment. And there I was, standing in front of Dunkin Donuts filled with smoke and getting hit by random Vietnamese guys, while trying to get them to take my survey. A guy walked by me and said “I’m not in the floor industry, but why are you standing here? Do you need a job because I can really help you”.

It was very interesting watching the workers interact that morning. Most of them were working on construction or marble floors, which are not the target that I want to reach, but they were very willing to talk to me (either because of the $25 gift card or to satisfy their own curiosity). All of the guys who were waiting in front of Dunkin Donuts were there to be called on for work because they were not contracted to work to a particular company. Usually these people have very limited skills, some don’t even have licenses; thus, they tend not to be hired by legitimate companies that would provide them with insurances and health care plans. They mostly get work from their unofficial network of friends: when a friend gets a work gig, he would call on his close friends to work with him and they split the money. Nobody would need to care about their safety and health, and they don’t need to care about paying taxes or get proper training. Many of the workers who took my survey indicated that they do understand the effects of their unsafe and unhealthy working practice to some extent, but it’s already lucky that they can get to work in these hard times. “I have to put food on the table, there is no time to care about my health”.

So they smoked and worked their strength away.

Fields Corner, Dorchester, Mass. June 17th, 2009.

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