Staff Member Spotlight: Joseph Russ

Title
Global School Recruitment Officer

Photos

Joseph grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of Southern California, studying religion and doing interfaith organizing and activism (and ballroom dance in his free time). Two years ago, he moved to El Salvador to work for Cristosal's Global School of Human Rights, and he's been here ever since. When he's not working on human rights education, he goes salsa dancing on the weekend, takes theology classes at the Universidad Centroamérica and hangs out with his cat Lily at home.

What is your favorite travel memory?

While in Belize, I went on a tour of a cave that had been the site of ancient Mayan human sacrifices, Actun Tunichil Muknal, or "Cave of the Crystal Maiden." After hiking to the mouth of the cave, we had to swim through the flooded entrance, scramble through the twisting tunnels and scale the wall climbing up to the main chamber. It felt like something straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Finally, at the end of a long, tight passage, we came across "the Crystal Maiden" herself: a skeleton that had been preserved by sparkling mineral deposits coating the bones. The shadowy illumination of our flashlights reflected off the scintillating minerals in an eerily beautiful way.

Throughout the trip, our guide shared with us the fascinating yet sparse information we know about the ancient culture that would ritually kill not only people, but any object (ceramics bowls, statues, etc.). Seeing the physical location and learning the little known about this mysterious place was enthralling.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Working with Cristosal's Global School of Human Rights has inspired me to be a better advocate for change. I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing people who are on the front lines of the struggle for human rights, from researchers and lawyers to activists and community leaders. Not only have I listened to the inspiring stories of people who have lived some difficult realities, but I've had conversations with experts addressing the root causes and lasting impacts of violence.

Never have I been more committed to, aware of, or equipped to confront injustice before. It's my dream to share that commitment, understanding and skill-set with everyone who participates in the Global School.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

One of our participants was a law student studying immigration law and joined us on our Making the Case for Asylum Seminar to learn to better advocate on behalf of clients seeking asylum. She later wrote back, telling us about her first hearing with a Salvadoran client and what a success it was.

Not only did her experience with the Global School help prepare her for the hearing, but she was able to work with people she met on the trip to strengthen her case, getting an expert affidavit from another one of our participants. Seeing the ways people work together after the seminars and hearing examples of concrete actions and success stories is truly beautiful.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Human Rights and Resistance.

It focuses on what any and all of us can do when we work together as a community. To organize, we don't need a degree or a title. Anyone can get informed and get involved.

Especially at a time when our most basic human rights are under attack, developing skills to get organized and make a difference are essential! Understanding what we're fighting for and why, as well as sharing best practices for organizing, is vital to making the world a better place.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

The two biggest things that make us unique are: 1. our intercultural approach to human rights education and 2. the fact that we base all of our content on our original work and research.

There are lots of organizations that do human rights education throughout the world, but El Salvador is a unique setting, as it has faced some of the most grievous human rights violations in the world throughout its history. This gives rise to tragic stories of violence and suffering, but also inspiring stories of hope and resistance. By joining an intercultural group not just from El Salvador, but from around the world, you can learn from new perspectives and share from your own experience, creating a unique learning environment unlike anything else.

Secondly, when we share information and experience with our participants, it’s because we have first hand experience doing this work. Cristosal–along with several organizations in El Salvador–is constantly studying violence and displacement and developing new strategies for responding to this violence. By participating in the Global School, participants get to learn about the cutting edge of human rights work from the same people who are innovating in this work every day.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Clear goals. If we know what you want, we can construct a plan to get there. Because success looks different to everyone, it might require different things. For our program to be successful, we want to reach and inspire more people to take more actions to promote and defend human rights. We need to innovate constantly to improve our seminars and reach new potential participants and organizations. We know what it takes because we've clearly established our objectives. It may take some experimentation and flexibility, but we have a clear direction we're going in.