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Alumni Update: Joshua Litwin ‘07, Human Rights Minor

BY Johanna Debari


I am currently a Program Manager for the Africa team at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, D.C. I cover both the Mali and Côte d’Ivoire portfolios for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). OTI is a unique office with a mission to address the most critical crises at the most critical times. In support of U.S. foreign policy objectives, OTI helps local partners advance peace and democracy through fast, flexible, short-term assistance.

My position is particularly meaningful as I served in the Peace Corps in Mali from 2009 to 2011. In 2012 armed groups took over the north and the President Touré was overthrown in a coup d’etat. Now at OTI, I have come full circle and am proud to say we helped forge solutions to the crises and put Mali back on a more inclusive and stable path. Our program supported the Algiers peace process between the Malian government and Tuareg rebels, helped return a sense of normalcy to northern cities after the jihadist occupation, and piloted new approaches to counter violent extremism.

My journey to Timbuktu and the nation’s capital would never have started without the UConn Human Rights program. The curriculum expanded my horizons and equipped me with a strong understanding of human rights theory and actors, and provided me with opportunities to turn these ideas into action. At the time, the human rights track was only offered as an undergraduate minor and I heard about it as I entered my junior year. I originally planned to do a more traditional European study abroad trip that year, but a UConn alum told me about the Cape Town semester. How could I pass up four months in the country of Nelson Mandela studying one of the most storied human rights struggles? With only a few semesters remaining, I sat down with Professor Hiskes, who I knew from my Political Science classes, to plot my courses through graduation.

In South Africa I was able to experience living in a developing country for the first time and learned first-hand from local professors, activists, and government officials. The highlight of my experience was interning with the Western Cape Independent Electoral Commission. There I participated in all facets of municipal elections and traveled to outlying townships. When I returned in the spring, I continued my human rights immersion and interned with Lawyers Without Borders, joined the Human Rights Institute newsletter board, and volunteered at the UNESCO Inter-generational Youth Conference. I was lucky UConn was already home to a premier human rights institution and had strong existing connections with international non-profit organizations.

After graduation, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life and continued my public service journey with Americorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), Peace Corps, and now USAID. I look back fondly on my days at UConn and owe thanks to my classmates and professors who helped set me on this path.

If you are interested in contacting me about my experiences, please email joshua.litwin@gmail.com. If you want to learn more about USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives or to apply to one of our open positions, visit our job board here.