No one is born with more of a right to be healthy and thrive than anyone else
Editor’s note: Bridget Rittman-Tune recently completed her spring internship with the Coalition on Human Needs. Bridget, who is studying Women’s Studies and Geographic Information Systems at the University of Maryland where she graduates this May, shares with us her thoughts and experiences as a CHN intern.
Every day when I came home from kindergarten I would stare at my “homework” with a one-sentence instruction on something like what colors to draw with. I would just stare and cry at that paper because I had no idea what it said, and so I didn’t know what to do. With a hunch that something might be wrong with my eyesight my mom asked my elementary school to perform a second eye test, since I had already passed the first one from the beginning of school. The teachers told my mom that my vision was fine and instead that I was just a slow learner. Turns out I wasn’t a slow learner, my vision was in fact impaired; I had no depth perception. The only reason they even assumed I was just a slow learner was because after my teacher would read a book to me I would memorize it and read it back to her.
Over the next couple years my mom took me to see a vision therapist who was able to teach my eyes depth perception and had me wear bifocals for a year to help. I repeated kindergarten and proceeded to be placed in the ‘special’ reading group in first grade, but after that I excelled at reading from there on. I had two things that so many people don’t have. The first was that I had an advocate; my mom was my health advocate and the only person who saw that there was something else going on. I was lucky because my mom was able to work from home and so she was able to be around to see the problem and address it. So many parents get barely any time around their kids because they have to work so much just to try and have basic necessities met. The second reason was that my family had medical insurance and enough money to pay for me to see an eye specialist every week for over a year, along with getting glasses during that time.
I would not be graduating college if I hadn’t had a mom with the ability to advocate for my health and parents with the resources and time to do something about it. However, this isn’t the story for most kids and that is holding our country back. No one is born with more of a right to be healthy and thrive than anyone else. Through my internship at the Coalition on Human Needs, I’ve been able to start being an advocate for those with little to no voice in policies that cause them harm, and because of the society we live in more people are born with at least one system working against them versus for them.
Children, low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities are just a few of the groups who have little or no voice in the societal and federal structures and laws that directly impact their ability to live. Policy work can be slow and frustrating, but is also incredibly important. I knew this in theory before my internship, but actually experiencing it and being a part of the fight against unjust and unequal institutions and laws gave me a new perspective.
I have always wanted to be a human rights advocate and be a part of the fight for equity and giving voice to the most marginalized groups. And my time at CHN showed me how a lot of the behind the scenes policy making and changing is forged. I love to work directly with those who I want to serve, but now I’m equally as passionate about how I can help research, protest, and work on the policies affecting the most underserved populations in our country.
I have been blessed to get an internship where I was never asked to get coffee or make copies; instead I got to do relevant projects like crafting social media posts to educate people and combat harmful laws and regulations, which ranged from inadequate aid for Puerto Rico to consumers being left with no protections against predatory lenders. I actually got to attend events and rallies where people were teaching about or doing the groundwork for policy change that CHN works on. CHN makes marginalized and vulnerable people’s voices be heard. If you ever get the opportunity to work with CHN or support their work, it will always be worth your time and effort.