Impressions from Hawaii

May, 10 2014

"When another PFP fellow from Georgia and me arrived in Honolulu, we were welcomed by Barbara Bancel, Professional Fellows Representative in Hawaii and Oregon and my host family/mother, Melinda Wood, Grants Development Officer at the East West Center. On Friday, May 1st, we had a meeting with Mr. Dan Gluck, Senior Attorney at American Civil Liberties Union and we have discussed about the work they do, how they collaborate with the state legislators or representatives regarding civil rights` issues or with the judicial branch (i.e.: they have worked really close with Supreme Court Justice Steven H. Levinson to advocate for the same sex marriage`s act and pass the legislation). Also, we have been briefed about some aspect of lobbying activities vs advocacy within the legislative sphere - as I`ve been interested to get familiar with the main differences, as in Eastern Europe (especially in Moldova), lobbying is not regulated. After that, Mrs. Amy Monk, the host mother of the Georgian fellow, took me and Tamar, on a tour of the State Capitol (my internship placement), as she volunteers on Fridays for the State Governor, Mr. Neil Abercrombie.

Then, we had our first weekend in Honolulu and I tried to get adjusted to the time zone and pretty much caught up on my sleep, because I was really jet lagged. I did manage to get to the famous Waikiki beach on Sunday, though.

On May 5th, I had my first day in Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland`s office and it went great. We started off with attending a conference on early children`s healthcare and educational programs, as Mrs. Chun Oakland is the founder of kaiki (children`s) caucus within the Senate and it is an area of major interest for her. It was really interesting to find out about different programs developed and implemented in the state of Hawaii. After the conference, we had a short meeting and synchronized our schedules for the entire month and established basic outlines for my internship. We have also had the orientation training from 4.30 p.m. - 5.30 p.m. with Barbara Bancel at the International Hospitality Center.

On May 6th, 7th - internship with Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland, and I have been attending all the meetings she has had so far, that is, at least 3 meetings a day, some of them off site. Even if the legislative session has ended on May 1st and during the interim session, many senators and representatives are not that busy, because they work part time, Senator Chun Oakland is a full time senator and she has a full schedule all year round.

On May 7th, we has a lunch party with the legislative session staff - these are part time staff members working with the senator from January until beginning of May, only 3 are permanent staffers. I got to know how they work, how they share responsibilities, how they do research and how new bills are elaborated to improve the legislation. I even got a pre-birthday cake  and a nice gift card, me and other 3 staff members that have upcoming birthdays, which I use to experience US movie theaters.

So far, I can say that I am really grateful for being placed here. She is an amazing advocate for women`s issues, a real community leader and she works 24/7, while still being able to manage a household, her husband and 2 kids. She is truly inspiring for me and as I spend a lot of time with her even in the car, while driving to and from meetings, I think I`m learning even more than I would have if the legislative session was still on.

On May 8th, from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., I had a meeting with Ms. Kat Brady, Director of Community Alliance on Prisons and we learned a lot about the judiciary system and how it works here. We were especially interested in the juvenile justice system (educational and correctional programs) and similar programs for incarcerated women, which we could implement at home, as best practices. She will set up a meeting with the relevant people sometime next week and we will have some study visits/working meetings. She will also make it possible for us to attend a trial hearing in a Family Court or, if possible, at the Supreme Court. She also works closely with Mrs. Chun Oakland on women`s issues and I might do my volunteer hours in their community organization, in this regard.

Today, I attended a few events with Senator Chun Oakland, for instance, the May Day celebration at Nu`anuu Elementary School and got accustomed with the Hawaiian traditional culture and educational system for that age segment. We also, have had a meeting with Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, Executive Director of Pacific Gateway Center and we have talked about immigrants` issues and policies in Hawaii, human trafficking aspects that the state of Hawaii deals with regularly.

I have also been assigned some tasks in the office to do some research work for a new policy/bill and I would have to present my work as aggregate data and info graphics towards the end of my internship.

For the upcoming weekend, me and Tamar will try to enjoy the beach and on Sunday we have planned a sightseeing of the island of Oahu, a tour at the local Zoo and perhaps at the Polynesian Cultural Center - which was actually planned for May 24th, but since we both are going to attend the State Democratic Convention that weekend (it lasts 2 days), we might do this now.

Overall opinion so far - I have a great team to work with and I`m afraid I won`t have that much free time to enjoy Hawaii, but anyway, it is great. And also my host mother is a very intelligent person with whom I enjoy talking to, and I`m really glad that I live close to downtown, so it only takes me 25 minutes in the morning on the bus to get to work.

Next week I will schedule some meetings with a few senators, I`m really interested in US electoral campaign financing and the reforms they`ve made so far. Also, it is really interesting to follow the candidates` activity who run for Governor, State Senate and (potentially) for the Congress, as the primary elections are in August. I will do some door to door walk-ins with the senator in her district to see how she has been working for the past 24 years."


Olga Rujanschi,
PFP finalist (Spring 2014)

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