Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Kimiko Ebata


MA-SID '15

AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumna sees same values at Heller

Kimiko Ebata appreciates spirit of collaboration and social justice

From the time she went door-to-door collecting money for UNICEF at Halloween, Kimiko Ebata embraced the concepts behind helping others in far-away places and dreamed of working for the United Nations. Ebata, a third-generation daughter of a Japanese-Canadian father and an American mother, was born in Toronto, Canada but later moved to Hingham, Massachusetts with her family. Early on, she was exposed to a global community as her family traveled both domestically and internationally. The diversity within her own family provided a unique lens through which to view the world.

Ebata’s passion for social justice began with her engagement with at-risk youth at a faith-based organization in Boston’s South End. Through years of work at the organization’s after-school and summer program, Ebata was struck by the many challenges these youths faced in their daily lives. Her work in the South End culminated in earning the AmeriCorps Massachusetts Promise Fellowship, where as an academic and volunteer coordinator, she empowered students from low-income backgrounds to realize their potential through their academic achievements, despite the many obstacles they faced. In her year as an AmeriCorps Volunteer, Ebata realized that in order to fully engage and give herself to the communities she was working in, she needed to better understand her own upbringing and roots. Searching to understand her own roots took her across the world to Japan, the place of her father’s ancestry. “That year gave me a better idea of where I came from, who I was and how I could give back.”

During this formative experience in Japan, she realized she wanted to work in a developing community in Africa. The Peace Corps provided the perfect opportunity to live and work in the developing world. She landed an assignment as an education volunteer in Lesotho, a country with a population of two million within South Africa. Lesotho is a unique place, where despite a violent historical past and overwhelming poverty, currently the Basotho people practice peace and coexist in harmony in contrast to neighboring nations.

In Lesotho, Ebata worked as an educator, where she taught English, development studies and HIV prevention at a secondary school. She worked hard to develop a library in her own school as well as in the local orphanage and jail. She says, “My service was an incredible life-changing adventure. It enriched my cross-cultural awareness and at the same time gave me a perspective about grassroots change. Above all, I learned the importance of sustainability.”

After two years in the Peace Corps, Ebata found herself longing for more technical skills, tools she felt she could only attain through graduate studies in international development. Her introduction to the Heller community came through a friendship with a Heller student from Kenya. It was this friend that gave her a window into the many opportunities at Heller, with its emphasis on academic rigor and practical experience.  

“Heller seemed like the perfect blend of a community full of students with international perspectives and a curriculum full of courses that would provide me with practical skills in my journey towards becoming a development practitioner. It was clear that Heller valued people with diverse experience. All the people I met with during my application process were open-minded and came to the program with rich experiences from which I could learn a great deal.”  

During her first year, Ebata constantly reflects on the uniqueness of her classmates. “It’s like a mini-UN because we are from all over the world and bring such an incredible richness of experience both to class and to our everyday conversations.”  

“AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps instilled a spirit in me, one of collaboration, open heartedness, relationship building and social justice. These values are reflected in my classes and everyday interactions at Heller.”

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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