One of the first recipients of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee social justice scholarships was Yamila Irizarry-Gerould, at the time a senior at Northampton High School. In the seven years since then, Yamila’s passion for social justice has taken her halfway across the world—to the Middle East.
On the journey that brought her to the Middle East, Yamila spent a year after high school with AmeriCorps, working with disenfranchised youth in public schools in Queens, New York City, before starting her studies at Tufts University. She quickly developed an interest in the Middle East and Arabic. “I was active in many on-campus activities related to the region and its many issues, and I spent the fall semester of my junior year abroad in Alexandria, Egypt,” explained Yamila. “I was also involved with a simulation that dealt with peace operations in conflict zones. I ended up being the director of this field exercise, which opened my eyes to the military world in a way that originally very much clashed with my values.”
Following her graduation from Tufts University, Yamila studied Arabic at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Cairo, Egypt—it was 2011, right after the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. “I was often in Tahrir Square bearing witness to the political and societal transformation and talking with Egyptians,” said Yamila. While she was in Egypt, she interned and then worked for an Egyptian development NGO that helped women and children in Egypt’s slums and rural areas.
For the past year and a half, Yamila has worked for Middlebury College’s study abroad programs, first in Alexandria, Egypt, and now in Amman, Jordan. She coordinates housing, extracurricular activities, volunteering, and trips for students participating in the programs. In this position, she helps expose US students to Middle Eastern culture and Arabic language, bridging two different worlds. “When I was involved in activism in high school, I thought social justice could only mean grassroots and leftist kind of work,” Yamila said. “I have come to realize that social justice can be realized through a lot of different channels, be it through government, person-to-person education, or training the next generation of just and active global citizens.”