When I was first searching for an internship, the name Amish Heritage Foundation (AHF) caught my eye. Living in a rural area, I had always seen the Amish, but never interacted with them. They were almost hidden in plain sight: always there in the background, but never a group I had given much thought to beyond finding their rejection of modern comforts baffling.
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So, I decided to read more. With the word heritage in the organization name, I assumed that AHF’s focus would be historical or archival, but my assumption couldn’t have been more incorrect. I was caught off guard when I read the mission statement:
“The Amish Heritage Foundation is a history-making nonprofit committed to 1) empowering Amish women and children through education so they can choose their futures, and . . .
. . . 2) raising awareness about the crises hidden in Amish society.”
What’s so wrong about the Amish? I thought to myself. Aren’t they just harmless farmers?
Again, I couldn’t have been more incorrect.
Over the next few weeks, I began to learn how misinformed I had always been about the Amish as a cultural and religious group. All my prior beliefs had been complete stereotypes, based solely on lies I had seen from popular media. I never knew that the Amish spoke their own unique language, or that Amish children (and, by extension, all children) don’t even have the right to a full education.
This was the fact that shocked me the most. Before interning with AHF, I had never even heard of the US Supreme Court Case Wisconsin v. Yoder. To learn that I never had a legal right to a full education made me both sad and angry. How could any court willingly take away a child’s right to an education, their own future?
I listened to the complete oral argument and read the written decision of Wisconsin v. Yoder. I dissected the failures of the state in the case, learned about the hidden crises of the Amish, and studied the narrative that had been created in the media that painted the Amish in such a perfect light.
I learned about the crises of abuse, child labor, and educational neglect within the Amish Church.
I learned how the Amish were more than just a religion, and also had a rich cultural history.
I asked myself questions about my own beliefs, how I came to believe them, and how now I had the potential to understand the truth.
A few weeks ago, I had been ignorant and accepting of whatever narrative I had heard in popular media. Even beyond Amish issues, my time at AHF has taught me to be skeptical and not take something at face value when it appears too good to be true. I learned to listen to firsthand narratives over those who claim expertise without honoring those they claim to be experts in. I knew that with my new understanding, I had to use my position within AHF to do good. But I was overwhelmed.
Now, I see more clearly why the AHF mission is so difficult, yet so crucial. How do you begin to solve a problem that so few even know exists? How do you challenge “expertise” when the experts are relying on mass ignorance to push their own narrative?
I know now that even though my cultural awareness is still limited, I have the power to educate others through my words. The first step to empower Amish women and children is to inform as many people as we can of the unique issues that they face.
If you’re reading this, you’re taking the first step. Together, a brighter future for Amish women and children, a future in which everyone has a right to a full education, is possible.
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