Staff Spotlight: Nick Johnson, Staff Associate October 8, 2014 by Carolina For Kibera
Before Nick got an internship with Carolina for Kibera during his senior year at UNC in 2013, he knew relatively little about Kibera, Kenya, or even the continent of Africa. As a Global Studies major, Nick’s academic and travel experiences focused on Spanish-speaking countries. Once he learned more about Kibera, however, he noticed similarities between movements for social change in Kibera and those he had learned about and worked with previously. With a new personal interest in CFK’s work, Nick decided to reach out and see how he could help. Leann, CFK’s Executive Director, was impressed with his writing skills and decided that he would be a good fit for an internship in communications.
Nick’s first duties as an intern were to draft stories about CFK’s impact in Kibera for the blog, and to work with staff to launch a new, quarterly newsletter. At first, Nick found transitioning from academic and creative writing, with which he was more familiar, to documentary writing and storytelling quite difficult. “Finding a voice that is respectful, entertaining, and contextual—all in 500 words or less—was incredibly challenging for me,” he said.
His efforts paid off. As the school year came to a close and graduation loomed, CFK offered Nick a full-time position as a Staff Associate. This new role brought with it challenging expectations and tasks, such as managing CFK’s entire donor database, coordinating CFK’s annual fellowship for UNC students, and standard administrative tasks. And the hardest part? “Surprisingly, managing interns,” he admits. “Active management requires a lot of time and effort, which I didn’t understand until being on the other end of that relationship.”
Nick spends most of his time managing the blog, newsletters, and other CFK publications. In order to do this effectively, CFK staff recommended that he travel to Kibera to meet the Kenya staff and get a sense of what Kibera is like. When asked about his first impressions of Kibera, Nick replied, “Loud, dusty, and crowded.” He continued, “After noticing and understanding that these were facts of life there, it quickly went from feeling overwhelming to feeling normal.” After getting the chance to meet some members of the community, Nick grappled with another observation. “What really shocked and humbled me was that despite how poor and disenfranchised people were, they still had time to be kind and welcoming to me. People I just met treated me as if we were already friends.”
The nature of Nick’s work is reliant on the trust of CFK staff in Kenya. His role is to amplify the voices of people from the community rather than speak for them or in place of them. He hopes to publish stories that spark empathy and make people want to share them. “If I can communicate people’s struggles in a way that changes the reader’s perspective or makes them think differently about something, I’m doing my job.” He, like the rest of the staff as CFK, believes stories should come full circle so that they benefit the person whose story is being told. “I wish people understood that Kibera is not helpless, not hopeless. It’s just stuck. It’s a complicated place. I hope my little contribution will help un-stick it, ever so slightly.”