International Development Internship Program
The International Development Internship Program is a 20 credit academic program designed for undergraduate students. The Program is open to Seattle University students who will have at least junior standing in fall quarter of the year they will participate in the Program. Download the Brochure.
- The two seminar courses of INIP 400 (3 credits) and INIP 402 (2 credits) can be counted as CORE interdisciplinary courses.
- The modern languages department offers capable and highly motivated French speaking IDIP participants an
option to pursue a major in French with departmental honors. See the undergraduate bulletin of information for further details.
- For students enrolled in the International Studies Program, 5 credits of the Internship during the winter quarter can be used as an approved elective, and one quarter of the winter quarter internship can be used to satisfy a student's study abroad requirement.
The Program consists of three phases, all of which must be attended to receive credit for participating in the program:
Phase one | INIP 400 (3 credits)
INIP 400 is a preparatory seminar that takes place during the fall quarter. This course provides an introduction to the concepts of international development, social justice, globalization, international economics, social analysis and the political and economic characteristics of developing countries. Each student undertakes a specific study of the country in which he/she will be an intern.
Phase two | INIP 401 (15 credits)
INIP 401 begins in the winter quarter and consists of an internship for ten weeks with a NGO in a developing country. Internships are available in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. The internship is designed to provide a student with an immersion experience of working in the actual environment of international development. Students are expected to apply the knowledge and skills acquired in their prior courses to this internship.
Phase three | INIP 402 (2 credits)
INIP 402 is a seminar that occurs in the spring with a focus on a student's international internship experience. Seminar topics consist of re-entry issues, telling one's story, NGO project presentations and social justice advocacy.
IDIP Students 2011 - 2012
International Economic Development
Lara was born to a Brazilian mother and a Chilean father. She lives in Costa Rica and is currently finishing her senior year with an International Economic Development major at SU. Growing up in a catholic household family with a global perspective induced Lara to learn Portuguese and French. Nevertheless, she has maintained grass root relationships with her fellow Costa Rican citizens. In High School, she was involved in community service projects dealing with poverty alleviation, global education, global health and sustainability. She also worked with underprivileged and disabled children. Her involvement in CISV –peace and global friendship building– enabled her to understand how important cultural awareness and respect can lead to the betterment of this world. After graduation, Lara plans to attend Graduate school in Social Policy and Development.
Reflection # 1 (Country- Argentina)
It feels surreal to have already been here for two and a half weeks. My adaptation to this city has neither been painful nor has taken long, and speaking Spanish has been a definite advantage. In addition, living in a house with five other international roommates has eased the process of adjustment. So far, my experience in Buenos Aires has been filled with many discoveries, such as the strong cultural and architectural European influence, its people’s carefree outlook on life, and the hospitality of the Argentines. On a daily basis I am experiencing the bus drivers’ unusual “driving skills”, delicious “parrillas” (read parrishas) and empanadas, sizzling weather and meeting the kindest people I have ever met –who usually assume I am from Colombia, since there is a dominant colony of Colombians working in BA-.
As part of the cultural immersion, I am also working with a great NGO called Mujeres2000. Mujeres is a grassroots organization led by young volunteers, who strive for social, cultural and economic development of impoverished rural neighborhoods. Mujeres’ main objective is to provide financing to women in specific neighborhoods in the northern area of Great Buenos Aires who do not have access to formal financing sources. It provides four services: i) offers loans and technical assistance for women pursuing to become entrepreneurs; ii) provides loans for construction or house renovations; iii) provides educational scholarships; iv) delivers workshops and courses on finance and business. Currently, Mujeres serves a total of 160 beneficiaries through its programs, which are funded by several international organizations such as Citi Foundation, Prudential, IBM, CEDPA, and The World Bank.
My work with Mujeres is focused on the area of micro financing and it requires me to perform both field and office work. Three times a week, I take a bus for an hour –it is very common for Argentines to commute for hours– and head out into the neighborhoods with another co-worker. We meet with the Solidarity Groups (groups of five women that meet once a week and provide support and advice through the 39 weeks of loan repayment) and collect payments. Currently, given the time of the year, women are struggling to make ends meet. If an entrepreneur has not been paying, then we have to find her, visit her home, and talk to her to understand her situation and help her move forward. For example, one of the women got her money stolen the day she went to cash out the check. In order to help her, the volunteers gathered clothes for her to sell and slowly have enough capital to restart her business.
When I’m working at the office, I spend about 45 minutes on the bus to get to the busy area of city, known as Congreso. I spent most of the first week reading documents that have been published by the organization and trying to understand the institutional underpinnings of this NGO’s work. I am also writing grant reports and grant proposals. In addition, I am analyzing surveys with key information about housing conditions, savings strategies, and the level of education of the NGO clientele. This analysis will become the basis to prepare a report that will provide an informative profile of the participants’ living conditions and the NGO achievements and challenges.
While working in the rural neighborhoods, I have had several experiences that have impacted me on different levels. Many women participating with Mujeres have particular life stories, but the case of Sonia has been on my mind since I met her. Sonia Paredes lives in a trailer home. She lost her oldest daughter a couple of months ago and has not been able to withstand living in her own house. She is unemployed and forced to payoff a loan she took out as a favor for her friend who disappeared with the money. She receives about $70 per month from her retirement fund. Her life has been struck with financial difficulty and emotional stress. As part of the process to grant her a loan, we had to visit her home to ask her about her living situation. She welcomed us to her humble home and proceeded to offer us some mate –traditional South American infusion made of dried leaves of yerba mate (a sort of tea)–. As I asked her the questions, I began to observe her carefully and I could feel her loneliness and desolation. She began opening up about how her life has molded her into being a strong woman. While she was opening her heart to us, she showed us a picture of her oldest daughter. At this point, she couldn’t hide her sorrow. Both my co-worker and I consoled her and told her that the opportunity we were giving her would provide her the strength she needs to move forward with optimism. She found comfort in our trust and gave us a genuine smile that changed the ambiance. Although Sonia has been through so many difficult times, she still remains with her head held high. This experience made me realize that we live unconscious of our comfortable life, and meeting these kinds of people, reminds us of how blessed our life is and how thankful we should be.
Sometimes I wonder if I got the best or worse placement. To be honest, after much thought, I have decided that it is neither. The key issue is to dedicate ones time, abilities, skills and knowledge to do what one is passionate about it. This is more important than the place you apply it. Buenos Aires has been, so far, a great experience to me and in return, I am helping the city’s most vulnerable people. This act alone provides me with an immense sense of fulfillment, both professionally and personally. The experience that made me feel certain about my decision to change a major to Economic Development was when I was witnessing a women group’s last training session. This group in particular was going to receive its loan checks after the class. I was surrounded by women struggling to survive financially on a daily basis, and seeing their motivation, optimism, willingness to change their lives, and their appreciation for the program was sufficient evidence to prove to me that in spite of the bureaucracy, micro-finance does work. Thus, social and economic development towards more equitable societies is indeed possible.
Reflection # 2
Having gone through a food poisoning experience has kept me away from those women I have formed relationships with, from my co-workers, from a report that I should finish writing before I leave, and from delicious and succulent food –the one that got me sick in the first place. Having dealt with a minor setback has proven to be nothing but just that: a minor setback. Yet, this experience has made me thankful for the people that surround me, and the excellent health services provided by the nearby hospital.
Even though I was bed ridden for a week, I am excited to head back to work. Currently, I am working on a report that aims to examine the general state of the conditions, resources, human development capacities and social integration of the Mujeres’ clientele that inhabit the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, i.e. Troncos and Pacheco. The main objective of the report is to provide Mujeres with an overlook of the general conditions in which these women live prior to receiving a loan. As a last step in the process before the women receive their loans, volunteers need to visit these women’s homes and research their access to services like water and electricity. For now, the report aims to provide practical information to donors and for general uses within the organization. Eventually, Mujeres intends to repeat the study to quantitatively measure the ways their lives have changed since receiving a loan. It is important to keep in mind that this will be hard, since only some changes can be attributed to the loan itself. The decisions the women take, how their family relationship changed, if any saving strategies were adopted, and if their children now attend school, are factors that are influenced by the fact that these women have now gained a new source of income, higher purchasing power, and thus a true participation in the household’s decision-making processes. Yet, the actual measurement of these gains will be difficult to attain.
In order to contextualize the success of Mujeres’ work, it is essential to understand the national public social policies that apply to the population that Mujeres works with. After the social, economic and financial crisis of the early 2000’s, ex-president Nestor Kirchner took the initiative to formulate social programs that would improve the standard of living of the poorest stratum of the Argentine society. One of the most important policies implemented is the “Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados,” (Plan for Unemployed Members of a Household) a policy that remunerates unemployed parents with children under 18. Initially, the efforts reached two million people. As a continuation, current President and Nestor Kirchner’s wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, implemented a universal child benefit plan called “Asignación Universal por Hijo” as a way to fight poverty and with the goal to reach approximately five million children and youths. Since its creation, the program has been lauded for having boosted school attendance rates and reduced poverty among families. These policies and two other ones aided Argentina’s GDP to grow, creating employment through improvements in local demand, while maintaining low levels of inflation.
Mujeres has been a first hand witness of the benefits of these policies. For some families, their subsistence comes from retirement funds, disability compensation, or compensation per child. Working with Mujeres has proven the effectiveness of social policy. Even though there is still some skepticism about microfinance in the developing world, I have seen the administrative implications, the changes, and the results.
Humanities and International Studies
Heather Hanson is a senior Humanities and International Studies major and French minor. She is interested in women's rights and agricultural justice, and hopes to expand her interests in development while working closely with a community during her experience abroad. In her spare time she enjoys reading, singing and making jam.
Relection #1 (Country- Malawi)
"Malawi is not the Warm Heart of Africa. It used to be, but not anymore," my coworker Peter says sadly. Peter was born in Zambia and moved to Malawi with his parents when he was a child. He lives just outside of Lilongwe with his wife and 10-year-old daughter, and works as the manager of finances for Jesuit Refugee Service Malawi. It's Friday evening and we're celebrating another coworker's birthday at Harry's Bar in Area Four of Lilongwe. It seems that even in the most laid-back of circumstances, conversation inevitably lands on the sad state of Malawi's economy. Tourist companies still proudly push the Warm Heart of Africa slogan - citing the welcoming nature of the small, landlocked country's inhabitants. Since I arrived, I've also heard this welcoming quality described as "passive" and even "lazy," undoubtedly in frustration to the lack of uproar against the current administration's refusal to address the country's real needs (President Mutharika has overseen the building of a Chinese-donated five star hotel, a new parliament building, and a port on Lake Malawi that has been sitting unused since its completion in 2010).
Malawi's fuel crisis reached unmanageable heights over the summer, and since then has continued to worsen. Fuel is approximately $6.50 per gallon (and I've heard of folks spending up to $10 on the black market). Whenever a gas station receives a shipment of fuel it seems that every car in Lilongwe hears about it and throws itself in the mess to get some. The streets become parking lots. Some government agencies get priority, but buses, garbage trucks and (!) ambulances are left to wait in the queues with the rest of the city. Peter's lamentation about the state of his country was in reference to the fallout from the fuel crisis: Malawians have been forced to adapt their routines to when and where there will be the next shipment of petrol.
My work at Jesuit Refugee Service is largely separate from the situation in Malawi. With a few exceptions, all 14,000 of the refugees in Malawi live in Dzaleka refugee camp. JRS is in charge of Dzaleka's primary and secondary schools, vocational training, tertiary education and psychosocial support programs. Originally my work with them was going to be much more involved in the camp's women's centre - a recent development which provides women with income generating opportunities and conversation and counseling groups. I was going to be working on a community gardening project, which gives 20 former sex workers the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables to sell in the camp's market. After my arrival, however, it became very clear that JRS' need was less in the community gardening project than it was in funding. I suggested that I could help with funding proposals and was immediately met with an "Ohmygosh that would be wonderful" from my supervisor. Less glamorous sounding than working in the community garden, but more needed. I have been driven to find a balance between being helpful to JRS and having a relationship-building experience with Malawi's refugees - not a difficult decision, it turns out.
Though drafting funding proposals has been my major task so far, I have been able to be helpful in other ways as well. I'm still working in the women's centre in camp - organizing an English conversation group with a volunteer from Canada, I helped with paying the salaries of JRS' 100-odd refugee employees, I've helped out refugees in an online liberal studies program with writing papers, and I put together all of the contracts for the 2012 JRS employees. Though I've gotten to know several Malawians through my work at JRS, it still feels very removed from Malawi itself. I am staying in a large volunteer house with my own room and bathroom - a far cry from the way most Malawians live (nearly 90% are country-dwelling farmers). I ride the minibus to work and shop in the market, after which I return home to curl up on the couch with a book until bedtime. In yet another conversation about the dire state of Malawi's economy yesterday evening, someone brought up the recent revolutions in Libya and Egypt. "Who knows?" she said, "Maybe the fever will spread south." Who knows. If conditions in Malawi don't improve, the Warm Heart of Africa may need to take on a new meaning.
There is no word for goodbye in the native language of Malawi. Instead, people say tionana, which translates to we will see each other again. As I prepare to leave, I am struck again and again with how final the goodbyes feel. As much as I miss home, I wish that returning to it did not come with the finality of leaving my routine and my friends here. It has been an experience dense with realizations about privilege, about the world, and about myself. I have had the opportunity to examine the ways in which I look at poverty: my knee-jerk reaction to suffering is to give. I see the world split into haves, have-nots, and have-nothings. I see my "surplus" reflected in their "lack," and I feel that I must do something to create a balance. I know, now, how much this way of viewing the world misses the point, and misses the real beauty of service. Because giving to create a balance is really giving for myself - to ease my guilt at having been born lucky, while so many others were born into suffering.
My presence here is not valuable because of my privileged position. It's valuable because I was able to know the people with whom I worked, to understand them, and to form relationships with them. On my last day in Dzaleka refugee camp, a Congolese man I've gotten to know invited me into his home and offered me a Coke. A Coke is worth about two days worth of food in camp, and as I sat, drinking it and talking with my friend, I felt as though I had been given the biggest gift he could give. It will be one of my favorite memories I take home with me. I expected Malawi to contain the answers to my questions about service, about NGOs and about cross-cultural communication. The few answers I've gotten shrink in comparison to the new and vastly more complicated questions with which I am returning home. I have begun a potentially life-long journey with my questions. Though I may not see her green, rolling hills, her kind people or her thundering rainstorms again, my time here has given me growth that only Malawi could give. It has become part of me, and it is not a goodbye. Tionana, Malawi. We will see each other again.
Humanities and Economics
David Swanson is a Junior pursuing a double degree in Humanities and Economics with a Specialization in International Economic Development, as well as a minor in Non-Profit Leadership. He is also the president of the Seattle University Global Water Brigade, which went on a service trip this past summer to Honduras in order to work on a water system, providing an indigenous community with access to clean water. This year, he is working with club leaders to expand such service trip opportunities for SU students into new areas of development. Outside of Seattle U, David works with the Washington Access Fund, a local Community Development Financial Institution that serves individuals with disabilities, and has gained much experience there in fundraising, grant writing, and program development.
David’s international experience, along with Honduras, includes volunteer work in Tijuana, Mexico with Esperanza International and Kolkata, India with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Through his non-profit/NGO experience, he has developed a passion for international work as well as a commitment to development projects around the world. David hopes to pursue a career in International Development, working on microfinance/microenterprise or basic needs development in underdeveloped areas of the world.
Reflection #1 (Country- Ghana)
I had a very difficult time sleeping my first night in Ghana. In part, it was due to the fact that I was 8 hours ahead of my usual schedule, had slept too much on the plane, and therefore felt wide-awake. However, what seemed to account more for my spontaneous insomnia was the thought running through my head that, “I cannot believe that I am actually here in Ghana!” I could hardly contain my excitement and wanted it to be daytime so I could get out and experience this amazing country and its culture. A recent experience I had in a third world country was in Kolkata, India. Despite the fact that I was told then that I had seen the worlds poorest of the poor, I had no idea what to expect in traveling to another developing country I’ve heard very little about. To my surprise, Ghana turned out to be a thriving, though still developing, country with a powerful culture and some of the nicest people I have ever met.
My internship here is with Lumana Micro-credit, a non-profit organization based in Seattle that works to provide loans, savings, and other financial services to entrepreneurs in small under-resourced communities of Ghana. A rapidly expanding organization, Lumana has two offices through which they manage the loans and savings of over 350 borrowers and provide business courses prior to loan distribution. Although my prior research has seemed to show many microfinance organizations to be rather ineffective, with high interest rates and no additional programs to assist the borrowers, I have found Lumana’s model to be very efficient and positively managed. They have an impressive drive to expand their services and operations so as to make a broader impact in the various communities of Ghana.
The specific projects I will be working on are a part of this expansionary drive of Lumana. One of them is to aid in the implementation of a pilot investment project. In this program, Lumana will connect social investors in the US with some of their present clients who are looking to greatly expand their businesses. I am working with one client in particular, who is looking to expand his tomato processing business, by helping him organize his financials and his clients in order to be prepared for the investment and upcoming expansion. The other project I am working on is through a partnership between Lumana and Blossom Farms to set up an organic, sustainably run farm here in Anloga. I will secure land and work with Blossom Farms to design it in a sustainable manner, and determine its finance structure, so as to be ready for the upcoming season. These are both very exciting projects that I am looking forward to learning a great deal from in my time here.
Ghana has not only proven to provide me with such an amazing internship opportunity, it has also proven to be made up of some of the most beautiful beachfronts, nicest people, and exciting experiences. So far, we have gone swimming twice in the Gulf of Guinea and had a staff retreat on a breath-taking white beach front under the shade of palm trees. We have traveled to various small towns on the coast to visit inspiring business owners, see a slave fort built in 1784 by the Danes, and soak up such a unique culture. Everyone here is so willing to help you learn their language and will always smile, wave, and call out a welcoming “Good Day” as you walk down the street. I feel truly blessed to be here.
I have often struggled with the idea of traveling abroad to work on development projects. It almost seems wasteful to spend such large amounts of money to travel someplace and offer assistance when that money could be put to better use. However, what I have grown to understand is that when traveling abroad, we are not just there to help, but we are there to learn. I look forward to learning so much from the people of Ghana and have only just begun to understand how they live, how they treat others so well, and even some of their language. Although the work is, and definitely will continue to be, very exciting here, I can already tell that I will learn more than I ever thought I would by simply spending time with the lovely people of Ghana.
I am just now halfway through my time here in Ghana and I could not be enjoying myself more. Even though work has definitely picked up, and I am finding myself busier by the week, I love every minute of it and am becoming so much more accustomed to life here in the village of Anloga. I have even started to accept the increasingly more frequent power and water outages as a part of daily life. Either way, it is amazing to think that I have less than five weeks left here; I really do not want any of it to end but am definitely looking forward to what is yet to come. Like I said above, the work has definitely increased and sometimes it feels as though there simply isn’t enough time in a day. As the project lead, here in Ghana, for Lumana’s pilot investment project, I am working simultaneously with a client of ours, Sena Ahiabor, to prepare him for investment money that will greatly expand his business, and with our implementation partner company, Blossom Farms, to start up an aquaponics farm in Atokor. With Sena, I am organizing all of his financials and preparing a balance sheet and financial statement for the past two years that can be sent to potential investors in the US. I also am working on a project proposal that will outline his intended machinery and inventory purchases with the investment money, as well as a market analysis and company overview for his tomato processing business Tip Top Foods. I travel out to Sena’s house, which his business is located next to, multiple times a week and really enjoy getting to learn from him and also learn so much, through my work, of financial statements and the necessary information for investment acquisition.
The other work I am doing is with Blossom Farms. My involvement with this project is to be the primary connection with Blossom Farms and head up all work on Lumana’s side of things here in Ghana. In my time here, I will be able to help find and secure land for the aquaponics system, aid in establishing our official partnership with Blossom Farms, and hopefully put in a good amount of work on the actually construction of the system. An aquaponics farm is a sustainable farming method in which crops grow with their roots in troughs of water, rather than soil, which is pumped to the troughs from a fish pond. The compost and nutrients from the fish acts as fertilizer for the plants, and then the nutrients from the crops are pumped back to the fish pond to feed the fish. This closed system is very efficient as the only water lost in the process is through evaporation. So far, we have established the partnership with Blossom Farms, and have a general understanding of our roles, as well as found the land that we are going to use for the project.
I am beginning to understand better how Ghanaians function and how they go about business. Work is definitely important but they have a very relaxed attitude about it all. They enjoy the work that they do here and don’t allow themselves to become stressed out. In fact, if there is no work to do at any specific moment, they will relax, walk next door to meet with their friends, or take a nap. As well, there never seems to be too much rush to get things done. Just this past week, I have been working in setting up our lease on the land for the farm. This involved setting up meetings with the land surveyor and with the land owner. My meeting with the surveyor turned out to be preliminary and we had to wait for a time the landowner could come out with us to do the survey. As well, when we actually intended to have that meeting, the landowner was too tired to make it out to the land so I had to cancel with the surveyor and meet up with the owner at her house instead. At this meeting, relaxed as could be, we ended up discussing her family and saw a bunch of pictures from her Uncles funeral. She is such a lovely lady but not much was decided upon in terms of the land. Therefore, we are going to be meeting, bright and early, this coming Monday to actually go out to the land and discuss the agreement further. I am learning to be very patient here and to simply enjoy the process of things, which makes me enjoy Ghana so much more.
It has been rather hard to establish a normal routine here but I am beginning to enjoy a constantly changing day-to-day schedule, which I often have not even figured out until the day begins. Other than the days when I have very early morning meetings, I usually wake up around 8 and spend the first hour or two of my day reading. This is a rather nice way to start out the day, if I do say so myself. Some days I just work on my computer organizing financial statements and line item documents but most days I am traveling around to different meetings, working at Sena’s place, or visiting the farmland. As well, every four days is the market day in Anloga in which I often walk around and do the house shopping for food and supplies. It is a very exciting and crowded market that I have grown to really enjoy. I find time to go running everyday around 5 PM and am getting more and more used to the high temperatures and humidity. Nights are usually spent cooking, hanging out, and watching movies with everyone in the house.
All in all, I am really enjoying my time here in Ghana. There is so much that I am learning, not only about investment and financial statements but also about the culture here. The language is becoming easier to use in basic interaction and the food has really grown on me. Though I only have five weeks left, I look forward to the coming weeks with great excitement.
Spanish and International Studies
I grew up in a small town on the Colombia River called White Salmon. After graduating in 2008, I decided to attend Seattle University to expose myself to a new environment and pursue opportunities unavailable to me in White Salmon. At Seattle University I discovered that my passion for the Spanish language and for traveling could become a focus for my studies. Last year I studied abroad in Puebla, Mexico through the Latin America Study Abroad Program. Since returning I have continued Spanish classes and begun my second degree in International Studies. Beginning last Winter I have been working at El Centro de la Raza in the Development Office to organize cultural events, fundraisers and outreach to volunteers to support over 30 different programs and services offered to low-income families in Seattle. After I graduate I would like to spend more time in Latin America to travel and pursue a career in development work. I will be graduating in 2012 with a Spanish and International studies degree.
Among my interests I am passionate about the outdoors. I grew up in the Colombia River Gorge surrounded by outdoor recreation opportunities and incredibly outgoing parents. I love being outdoors and participating in a variety of outdoor activities including, hiking, kayaking, swimming, snowboarding, biking, climbing and sailing. Over the last three years I have participated in numerous trips hosted by the Outdoor and Recreation Club and organized outdoor trips with my friends. Although I truly love the city, the transition from living in rural White Salmon to living in Seattle has been an easier transition as a result of my continued involvement in outdoor recreation. In addition to my outdoor interests, I am passionate about art—both as an observer and a creator. I love making jewelry, visiting art museums and exploring new mediums of expression.
During my studies at Seattle University I have grown both intellectually and personally as a result of new perspectives and experiences that were previously unknown to me. Through my participation in the International Development Internship program I hope to continue learning and growing by exposing myself to new places, people and situations.
Reflection #1 (Country- Argentina)
After about three weeks here in Buenos Aires I am starting to get into a routine with my work and daily life. Adjusting to the busy city life has been a lot easier than I thought it would be and even though I’m living in a city of over 13 million, the facility of public transportation has helped to make the city feel approachable and welcoming. The city is amazing and full of a vibrant energy, especially at night. Argentineans are accustomed to dining later in the evening, usually around 10 or 11 pm, and on weekends it is not uncommon for people to stay out until 4, 5 or even 6 am before catching a public bus home. At first it was difficult to adjust to later dinners—by 6 or 7 pm I was starving—but it has come to feel quite normal now. Sometimes I don’t get home from work until 8 or 9 pm, so eating dinner later has become a comfortable routine. It has been so hot and humid though that I haven’t felt like cooking much and I try to stick to foods that do not require the use of the stove.
Although I have experience living abroad in Spanish speaking countries from my study abroad in Mexico, the Argentinean way of speaking has taken some getting used to. In Argentina, instead of using “tu” to informally address someone as “you,” they use the verb form “vos.” Because of the influence of European culture and heritage, the influence of Castilian Spanish is more evident in the pronunciation and formality of the language. The accent is so fluid and beautiful that sometimes I have to be careful to pay attention clearly otherwise I get distracted by the accent and don’t catch what someone is saying. I’ve even found myself started to pick up the porteño—someone from Buenos Aires—accent in the pronunciation of “y” and “ll” with a stronger “schu” sound. The Argentine vocabulary is also a bit different than I’m used to and is mixed with a lot of regional slang, so I’ve been learning lots of new words.
For my internship I am working for Fundación Ciudadanos del Mundo, an NGO based here in Buenos Aires, which works with immigrants and refugees to offer them support in the application process for legal residency and assistance with integration into Argentinean society. Although Argentineans seem to take pride in their heritage as immigrants, the majority of the population is decedent of European ancestors, from places like Italy, France, Spain, Germany, England as well as others from Russia and Poland. Immigration law has historically been very open to the immigration of people from these regions but has rejected the integration of regional migrants from bordering Latin American countries and even less exceptive of Asian and African migrants. Between the years 1976 to 1983 Argentina was ruled by a repressive military dictatorship, which instituted very xenophobic and restrictive policies towards regional migration. Since then however, Argentinean immigration policy has improved. In 2010, Law 25,871 was passed that replaced previous immigration policy on deportations and immigration restrictions and allowed for 460 thousand immigrants already within the country to receive naturalization. Although the law upholds immigrants’ rights to hospital care and education, immigrants without proper residency papers are vulnerable and often find it extremely difficult to find work. The application process for residency papers is difficult and confusing, especially for a migrants who do not speak Spanish. At Fundación Ciudadanos del Mundo, they offer assistance to immigrants by accompanying them through the application process, by offering interpretation help at the Office of Immigration and assistance with the paperwork. Several times per week I have been going with my boss to the Office of Migration to meet with migrants who are pursuing their residency paperwork.
After becoming more familiar with the policy on immigration since 2010 I was heartened to see that the law offers better protection of migrants than the United States, especially in terms of deportations. However, the abuse of the law is just as prevalent and many migrants are taken advantage of. Though there are thousands of Bolivian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan and Dominican migrants in Argentina, this reality is not visible on the busy streets of most of the city. However if you walk deeper into the immigrant barrios of the city you begin to see the concentration of immigrant populations, especially in an area called Plaza Once. The founder of Ciudadanos del Mundo explained to me that he was inspired to start the Fundación because of the depressing reality of undocumented immigrants in Argentinean society. Walking though Plaza Once, you see the evidence of drugs, prostitution, homelessness, and vendors struggling to sell cheap trinkets. These people are trapped by the insecurity of their status as undocumented immigrants. The goal of Ciudadanos del Mundo is to offer relief from the oppressive cycle of exploitation that immigrants face.
Working at Ciudadanos del Mundo so far has been great and I feel so lucky to be surrounded by inspiring coworkers who are passionate about their work. Because it is summer right now most of the other volunteers are on vacation. In February more people will return and things will be a bit busier. I’m never quite sure what to expect when I go to work, as some days I accompany my boss Manuel on his visits to the Office of Immigration or visit Plaza Once to check up on the women who work the streets and other days I sit for hours in the sweltering office working on the translation of their newsletter or grant proposals for U.S. philanthropic agencies. I have really enjoyed how I have been included all aspects of the work at Ciudadanos del Mundo. Whenever Manuel has work to do outside of the office he lets me accompany him to truly understand the situation of the people the organization represents and assists. I am learning so much and I hope that I will be able to leave this experience having felt like I have left a positive impact, however slight, to the ongoing work of Ciudadanos del Mundo.
During my free time after work and on the weekends I have been exploring as much of the city as I can. Buenos Aires is truly amazing and I have enjoyed just walking around soaking it all in. So far I have been Tango dancing, learned the ritual of mate drinking and eaten the best steak of my life. The city offers no end of entertainment and activities and there is so much more I still want to see and do. I’m looking forward to more explorations and adventures over the course of my internship as I continue my stay here in Buenos Aires. Time is going so fast that I can hardly keep track of the days. During my forty-five minute commute to work each day I have had a lot of time to reflect on the progress in my internship and my accomplishments over the last six weeks. Some of the more frustrating moments of my internship have been related to the lack of structure and organization. I am accustomed to the value of punctuality and structure that I encounter in much of my life in the U.S.—with school, my job and the general social respect for being punctual. At my internship here however it is not uncommon for my boss to arrive 1-2 hours after he says he is going to arrive for our weekly trips to the Office of Migration. Or on several occasions he simply calls to say that he isn't going to make it in to the office that day. I would not generalize to say that this is evidence of a lack of respect for time in Argentinean culture as a whole, but in general I have found that the pace of life here is much more relaxed and less concerned with a structured work-schedule. Apart from this however, I am still really enjoying the work I have been working on and the opportunities to learn about immigration policy.
The more opportunities I have outside of the office talking with immigrants from countries all over the world makes me realize the importance of the more tedious work in the office working on grant proposals in order to fund the services the Fundación provides. Many immigrants, desperate for help with the residency paperwork, often pay ridiculous amounts of money to interpreters or to legal aids to assist them. All the services provided by the Fundación are completely free and offered to anyone, regardless of their situation. I recently completed and emailed in two different grant inquiries for funding from U.S. philanthropic organizations and I have several more I’m working on. I hope that my work in appealing for funding will succeed and enable the Fundación to expand their programs and services. They are a very young organization—founded only four years ago—so they still have a lot of growth to do in terms of programs they would like to offer and the improvement of their current services.
In comparison to some of the other IDIP students, my experience here in Buenos Aires has probably been way less dramatic in terms of culture shock or change in lifestyle. The things that I have had to adjust to are more related to the pace and structure of time and living is such a big city. Buenos Aires is an enormous modern city full of a vibrant energy fueled by 14 million or so residents. My apartment is sandwiched between a bookstore and small clothing boutique and right across the street is an Italian restaurant, two banks and a Hyundai car dealership. There are several grocery stores very near my house and I have a kitchen in my apartment, so even my eating habits haven’t changed drastically and in the interests of saving on money for food I eat a lot of meals at home. I have become pretty close with my roommate—an Argentine girl who rents out a room in her apartment to international students—and we have been cooking a lot together. It has been fun sharing different recipes for things I assumed to be pretty simple such as French toast or scrambled eggs with vegetables. Sharing stories and cultural observations during meals together has been a comforting and fun way to learn about Argentinean culture and history.
From talking with my roommate, co-workers and other Argentineans that I’ve met, I am beginning to gather an understanding of the economic situation of Argentina over the past few decades. Argentina has experienced several periods of extreme economic crisis, most recently in 2001, when the Argentine economy crashed and the peso became practically worthless. I recently watched a documentary about the economic history of Argentina and was surprised to learn about the economic restructuring that occurred during the presidency of Carlos Menem. During his presidency, from 1989 to 1999, he privatized a large portion of Argentine industries and state enterprises. Although these measures had some initial stabilizing affects to the economy, over time they caused a lot of damage and allowed for the concentration of wealth in private companies while the majority of citizens suffered. The day after I watched this documentary I mentioned to one of my co-workers how I had found it fascinating to look at the historical context leading up to the 2001 crisis in terms of Menem’s presidency. He quickly informed me that people do not use Menem’s name directly because of the terrible economic policy he inflicted upon the Argentine citizens, rather people refer to him as simply “Carlos” or some variation of “the president that shall not be named.” Later that day I asked my roommate about it and she said that there are a lot of people who still refuse to use his name, but it varies across society. She explained how in younger generations his name is often used to describe frivolous or extravagant locations, for example a tacky bar or restaurant would be described as very “Menemista.” The legacy of his frivolous behavior and lavish lifestyle at the expense of the Argentine citizens is still evident.
The reality of economic instability is subtle in daily life, but I am becoming more observant of its continued affect on society and the consciousness of the people. Although there is no official state-sponsored recycling collection, men with huge carts walk up and down the streets daily to rummage through the trash and pull out all the cardboard and bottles. President Cristina Kirschner recently announced that citizens are no longer able convert their savings from pesos to dollars in an attempt to reduce capital flight and encourage more internal spending and investment. Yet the inflation of the peso continues to rise and fluctuate. Today my roommate told me to start being more conservative with my use of electricity because electricity prices just went up 600% due to a cut in government subsidies. The instability of prices and the fluctuating value of the peso hardly inspires much confidence in the citizens to trust their money to savings accounts and government banks.
Overall I am having an amazing experience here in Buenos Aires and I am learning a lot. I am doing my best to put aside my frustrations regarding time and punctuality and try to create structure for myself in my daily work. Regardless of these difficulties, I am learning so much about the functions of immigration law, both regionally here in Argentina and globally. I have met some amazing people and had the opportunity to listen to their unique stories about how they ended up here in Argentina. I hope that the next five weeks of my internship will continue to be memorable and inspiring.
It’s hard to believe that my time here in Argentina is coming to a close. My last week at Fundación Ciudadanos del Mundo was mostly about tying up loose ends. On Monday I visited the US Embassy again to use their database of grant organizations to make sure I hadn't missed any the first time. After working on grant applications for the past 10 weeks I have come to realize how difficult it is for small NGOs to grow and expand their impact. Grant applications usually include questions about the success of previous or current programs in order to gauge the capacity of your organization to manage the funds responsibly. Similarly, they often ask about what other sources of other funding you receive. Its hard to sound convincing if your NGO is in the process of beginning programs and doesn't have a long history of previous funding.
On Wednesday I went on my final visit to the Office of Immigration. First however, we passed by the Bus terminal to represent a Senegalese man named Bamba who works in vending merchandise such as sunglasses, jewelry and watches along the coast of the Rio de la Plata. On his trip back to Buenos Aires all of his merchandise "went missing" from the cargo area of the bus he was traveling on. The bus company upheld that it was not their responsibility and had no way of recovering or compensating him for his suitcase of merchandise. The suitcase was everything this man had, and the only means of making money to support himself. The approximate value of all the merchandise in his suitcase was about $2400 pesos (~$550), without accounting for what he could get from selling it. After a year in Buenos Aires, the thought of starting over is devastating. We left the bus terminal without much consolation that the bus company really had any intention of following up with the case. While waiting at the Office of Immigration I spoke with Bamba about how he ended up in Argentina. He said he arrived with the intention to make enough money so he could go back to Senegal and make a better life for himself. He spoke Spanish very well and said he like it in Buenos Aires, but his intent was, and still is, to return to Senegal. Its cases like these that inspire me to work in the area of immigration rights, to challenge the system of discrimination that seems to keep immigrants from succeeding in their new society. Although I feel like I have learned so much about Argentine society I have also come to realize that my understanding of Buenos Aires culture is not representative of Argentine culture as a whole. The urban development and economic activity of Buenos Aires certainly makes Argentina outwardly appear like a modern world power with relative social equality. Because of this outward appearance of strength, elegance and development many international NGOs often overlook Argentina as an urgent case for international development aid. On the few trips I took outside of the city it is evident that there is a much larger array of economic, social and developed situations across the country. Even within the city, there are slum neighborhoods and immigrant barrios that go unnoticed if you simply look at Buenos Aires from one angle. Much of our conversations in class revolve around community development and international development projects that focus on small rural communities. But in a city of 14 million people one’s approach to community development is very different. It has been a rewarding experience to approach international development while living immersed in such a vibrant modern city.
In retrospect I think this has been an amazing experience and I am grateful that I was able to work alongside people who are so passionate about giving immigrants an opportunity to succeed in Argentine society. Although I had a lot of frustrations with the structure of my work and the difficulty I experienced in gathering information for my grant applications, I think I have gained valuable experience in the field of international development and in relation to immigration policy both in Argentina and internationally. I know that this will be valuable in my future as I continue to discover my direction in the field of international development and follow my passion for immigration rights.
Economics and Public Affairs
I’m a native of Phoenix, Arizona, and I’m here in Seattle studying Economics and Public Affairs. I attended Brophy College Preparatory, the only Jesuit high school in Phoenix, and Brophy is what made Seattle University appealing to me. From there, the Jesuit focus on social justice is what originally got me interested in non-profit work. I don’t have the specifics of what I would like to do within that interest, but I’m hoping to discover that with time and further discernment.
I’m really interested in exploring how people can creatively come up with ways to provide people with services. Muhammad Yunus is one of my inspirations, with both his microcredit experience and his social business ideas. Putting plans together (and seeing them through) gives me both energy and excitement. I’m looking forward to gaining some more hands-on experience with an NGO this Winter Quarter, in whichever country fate decides to place me.
Reflection # 1 (Country- India)
I don't feel white here—I feel like a foreigner. The difference is that I'm not marked by my privilege here, and no power dimensions are assumed because of my skin color. I think it's interesting that no one knows which country we're from... no one guesses America (or any other country). I don't think we're hated for being here. We're stared at, but not in a glaring way, but a curiosity. If any assumptions are made, it's asking whether we're students here. Yes, I suppose we are! Cultural students.
We've been here in West Bengal, India for more than three weeks now. It's been a cultural immersion, to say the least. Erika and I are living with local Indians, working in an NGO staffed solely by Indians, and traveled with Indians. We've eaten Indian food for nearly every meal, traveled by bus and rickshaw and train, stayed in rural villages with Indian families. I find this significant to write about because it is not necessarily the case with traveling abroad; all too often, travelers can be stuck in a tourist-bubble, seeing surface-level life but never really being immersed. Here has been full immersion, and it has been fantastic.
I've been working with Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS), which focuses on building the capacity of other local NGOs. This means, among other things, offering trainings to organizations and a lot of pilot programs. As the director of CKS told us, the organization focuses on innovation and new ideas that other NGOs don't have the time or funds to try.
My scope of work has been evolving since I arrived. My main, written task is to assist in setting up a tele-medicine program, which basically involves bringing out a laptop with 3G internet connection to rural places, setting up Skype-appointments with doctors. The problem I've encountered is that it's hard to make progress on this project independently—the actual progress requires traveling and spoken Bengali, which I cannot complete on my own. After a few days of feeling generally unhelpful, I decided to offer my assorted skills in internet marketing for the CKS website.
This led to a conversation about improving the website, which turns me to my current work from day-to-day. I am developing a website-based application where NGOs and other authorized entities will be able to post disaster-emergency descriptions in one centralized location. Currently, organizations go out to areas after a natural disaster and fill out a form by hand, but there is no efficient way to share the information with others. With this website, organizations will be able to fill out the form online, via laptop or mobile internet, submit them instantly, and share them with anyone who looks. That way knowledge of the responses will be spread further; organizations or the government can know the details of the natural disasters, which communities are affected, and in what ways. With the data in one centralized spot, responses to disasters can be more efficient and geared toward the specific needs of the area.
In the off time from the website work, I do miscellaneous tasks to help. Another useful part of this particular week has been designing the sign for the CKS office, which is 3’ x 9’. I was glad to use my graphic design skills in a helpful way here, and it was relaxing to play around with art for a short time while working on the sign.
In a country where I do not speak the most common language, I have found that the way I can be most helpful is with computer-related or internet-related tasks. Stepping outside of those bounds renders me mostly useless, and I change from being helpful to an unknowledgeable observer. I feel that it is necessary to strike a balance between being helpful/productive and learning as an observer.
With regard to learning Bengali, I am content with not knowing much of the language. I say this because English is one of the three mainly-used languages here, and I think it is much more helpful for Indians to learn English than it is for me to learn Bengali. I would only be able to pick up a few phrases and basic grammatical pieces, and I would rarely use the phrases again after returning to Seattle. On the other hand, Indians see and hear English everywhere, but few people are able to speak in-depth someone with who is fluent in English. I am glad to be helpful in that regard.
Being able to be around Puthumai (the director of CKS, our boss, and our host) is an inspiring learning experience. I am able to see how he organizes work, how well he manages people and projects, and what being a director of a small NGO involves. Traveling with him to meetings is an amazing chance to learn by osmosis, which I would not really know how to appreciate entirely in words. His passion for innovative projects is stirring, and I have been able to discern that these kinds of new ideas are what I love. I get such energy from having new ideas, and not only that but acting on the ideas as well. Turning ideas into reality is a source of energy for me; it has been in the past, but it has not been until working with CKS that I realized the possibilities for this passion within NGOs.
I am thrilled to soak up as much knowledge as I can in my next seven weeks here. Every day there is a moment when I instinctively stop, look around, loosen my vision to take everything in my sight at once, hear all sounds at once, feel the ground underneath me, smell the air, and breathe deeply. This place is beautiful, this experience is beautiful, and life is beautiful.
Reflection # 2
Reflection # 3
From my journal on the plane:
"a child walks the aisle next to me. I brace myself for a child beggar, to ignore him until I haven't a choice, when I'll glance at him, shake my head, and mumble a soft 'Na.' no child beggar can be here. on this flight. out of the country, off the street, into clean clothes, with a white mother leading him down to the bathroom, down the aisle." I've arrived safely back in Seattle. It's wonderful to be back in the loving embrace of this home. I'm dealing with constant mini reverse-culture-shocks. Going to the grocery store is overwhelming. Small things, everywhere. It's surprisingly easy to adjust, though. I've learned to let go to my reactions as a measure of the experience, which was difficult—like I had a sense like the greater culture shock (in both directions), the more authentic/intense the experience. It isn't like that.
I'll share some of the most valuable things I learned for this trip: Puthumai said to me one night (paraphrasing), "I've learned many things in my journey with CKS. The hardest lesson was being taught not to be quick in action. I used to be quick to act, but hasty action isn't effective with this work." He was talking about the deliberation that people take in India, being slow to change the way that people do things. Patience, because things do not come quickly. To loosen my grip on my pride. I don't know how to do things right all of the time. I don't have to be right. I acknowledge that I take pride in knowing things--and I've had to loosen this pride, since I do not know many, many things. I am not immune to stress. FULLY acknowledging my own stress is healthier than casting it aside, or else the stress becomes physical symptoms in extreme cases. NGOs doing things on the cutting-edge are my passion. Innovation and new ideas and approaches—these excite me enormously, and I want to be involved in them.
India, you're beautiful. Thank you for our shared experiences. Puthumai and Shubhra, thank you for everything. I have a feeling that our paths, however long and winding, will cross again. I'll end this with some wisdom to stew over. I believe it could be true of finding ultimate contentment. This is again paraphrased—Puthumai told it to us months ago, but he translated it into English (and I can't find the original anywhere on the internet): "To realize moksha [Hinduism's word for nirvana] is to find action inside inaction and to find inaction inside action."
International Studies Major, Women Studies Minor
Originally from Northern California, I have lived in Western Washington for the past 10 years. My mother’s international job first sparked my love of travelling and experiencing the diversity of various cultures, a passion that I have not been able to escape since. In the summer of 2008 I had the privilege of studying French in Cap D’Ail, a small town on the Côte D’Azure, which only furthered my interest in the study of international affairs.
Growing up with two sisters, four stepsisters, and a close-knit family may explain my relationship to women and interest in international women’s movements and ideologies. An interest in social justice and spirituality, as well as these experiences, have all lead me to Seattle University, where I am studying International Studies and Women Studies with the hope of working in international development after graduation. I am very excited and thankful to have been chosen to participate in the International Development Internship Program, where my interest in the empowerment of women in international communities can be fully realized and developed.
Reflection #1 (Country- India)
As part of the International Development Internship Program (IDIP) I wrote a cultural analysis paper before departing for my internship with the Center for Knowledge and Skills (CKS) in West Bengal, India. This paper was very helpful in learning about the overall political and economic structures of India. It was not particularly helpful in preparing me how to eat with my hands, or rather, my right hand. In fact, no amount of preparation and research could have adequately prepared me for daily life in India.
Upon my arrival in India, I spent approximately 24 hours in the home I am living in for the duration of my internship before leaving it. On the second day in West Bengal, Ted and I went to stay in a rural village for five days. It was there that I learned how to eat with only my right hand, when to take off my shoes, why I should wear my hair pulled back, and that ladies always wear a scarf in public. How did I learn these things? By doing them incorrectly, and then having my host Jayunti gently tell me “Sister, you must wear your hair back when eating, otherwise you look shabby.” Learning things via trial and error every day is exhausting, but also extremely rewarding. It creates a sense of intimacy and family more quickly than I have ever experienced anywhere else.
However, IDIP is not a program dedicated to cultural immersion, it is about international development. My work while interning at CKS is to research hawkers’ economies. Hawkers are men who sell small goods on the trains and platforms. These items include: chai, bananas, local newspapers, children’s books, small cakes, and many spicy Indian snacks. Observing and interviewing the hawkers has been an exciting process. I work with the wonderful Lukman, who uses his role as my interpreter as an opportunity to improve his English. We ask the hawkers several simple questions about their income, their daily investments, and other things regarding the capital required to become a hawker. Generally we find ourselves in a conversation about the man’s family, whether his daughter is married or what his son does. These facts reveal the pride these men take in their entrepreneurial work, and are evidence of the general friendliness of Bengali people.
At times I have felt frustrated by the difficulty that surrounds cultural immersion and learning, especially when I am also expected to work as an active member of an NGO. I feel as if I am a burden for CKS instead of an asset. In spite of this, I have come to realize that cultural immersion is part of development and fieldwork. To assume that researching the local culture in books or online will be adequate, and that you will be able arrive and know how to interact with the locals or relatively blend in, refuses to acknowledge the complexity and depth of the local culture. Working with CKS is a unique experience because it is a Southern NGO run completely by Indian nationals for Indians. Feeling like an outsider is important because that is the reality of this experience (I have yet to interact with another white person besides my fellow IDIP student). All Northern NGO employees are outsiders, and when they are working in an environment that is separated from the local people, the very people whose lives they want to improve, it is tempting to pretend that they belong or fully understand the situation around them. I am thankful that I am experiencing what perhaps is a more genuine situation—one of mutual learning and sharing.
Before coming to India, we had a class lecture on the importance of staying for tea. In India, this could not be more applicable. Whether I am talking to hawkers or sitting in on a meeting with a government official, there is always a cup of chai. Staying for tea is about learning about and participating in the local culture. It is about getting to know the names of the hawkers I interview, and about learning a few Bengali words while helping Lukman correct his English. It is about respecting local innovators and sharing different ideas. And especially for me, staying for tea has almost always meant embracing the awkwardness of being the only white woman in the building, and about absorbing what the locals have to teach me.
Riding a bicycle on Srineketan Road to the railway station is a bit terrifying. My cycle of choice is the Ladybird, a purple cruiser that is about six inches too short for me. Okay, this wasn’t really a choice—CKS staff member Subhra needs the medium sized bike more than I do and if the Ladybird is six inches too short for me, that means that it is at least a foot too short for Ted. So it goes, I cautiously follow Subhra to the railway station on the Ladybird. While riding I am simultaneously avoiding the women in saris slowly walking and marketing on my left, staying out of the way of the honking motorcycles and buses on my right, and keeping an eye on Subhra so that I don’t get lost. On top of all this, I am on the left side of the road! I am sharing the particulars of riding a bicycle on a busy street because while doing this very task today I realized that I was no longer stressed out. Riding on the left seemed natural (I actually had to think when typing this if we walked/drove on the left or right in the US) and I was not petrified by all the honking surrounding me. I felt almost comfortable!
This sense of comfort has not been isolated to bike riding. After reflecting on my successful bicycle journey, I began to realize that I had such a hard time starting this reflection because I have generally become accustomed to life in India. Bunches of kids staring at me, or being asked questions that are (by American standards) totally personal have become a part of my daily existence here. I used to have trouble drinking hot tea quickly or making sure that my scarf was draped appropriately, but now I do these things every day and do not even think about them. That is not to say that I am not constantly being proven wrong or surprised—there was a camel outside our house this morning, you can’t get a bigger surprise than that!
The way in which I have most appreciated this newly realized comfort has been in my work at CKS. My work with the hawkers is picking up and my interviews are becoming much more personal and rewarding. I have noticed a general pattern in my interviews; these men usually come from poor families and did not finish high school. However, most of the hawkers I’ve interviewed who have children are sending them to school, one man even had a son and a daughter in college. Hawking was an entrepreneurial career in which these men could begin to raise their socioeconomic status, and they continue to hope that their children do not have to be hawkers, but some other career that is even better paid than their own. I feel very privileged to hear these personal stories of hope and success. In addition to my research on hawkers, I have been assisting CKS in various administrative tasks around the office. After accepting that I am an American in India, I have found that I can be most useful doing work on the computer or helping some of the other staff members improve their own computer skills or spoken English. While these tasks may not be terribly exciting, I know that they are important to the organization and I am glad to be helpful.
Yesterday marked the end of my sixth week in India. This means that I have already passed the halfway point, that I only have five weeks left. Much like my bicycle realization, noticing that I had passed the halfway point happened by accident while I was looking at a calendar (a popular decoration in West Bengal). This realization, in conjunction with my newfound comfort, has inspired me to live more fully and attempt to experience and learn as much as I can in my remaining weeks in India. What is the point of becoming comfortable if you are not willing to continue pushing boundaries and discover new things?
I’m going home in three days. This sentence feels a bit awkward since I have been calling this green house in Bolpur, India “home” for the past ten weeks. Part of me is convinced that home means a big cup of Stumptown coffee and some warm sweaters, but a little voice keeps telling me that chai at five p.m. sounds a bit more comforting right now. I have been thinking about the United States and India a lot recently. How alike and how different these two places are. After spending time in Kolkata, the previous center of British colonialism and a city of over 4 million people, I began to see even more similarities. Kolkata proved to be a thoroughly modern and international city. I heard English being spoken, ate Chinese food, and saw large offices for American and European companies. There are skyscrapers, sidewalks, and a metro. These things all pointed to the fact that India is not very different from America—that I could feel “at home” here too.
If the tall buildings and excessive cinemas are signs of India’s modernization, there is also no shortage of indicators of India’s tradition and past. Next to the metro are rickshaw wallas and hawkers selling jhal muri (spicy puffed rice). While walking down a street in the middle of the city I had to stop and let a heard of fifty goats walk by. I don’t want these markers of tradition or “old technology” to be seen as negative. Contrary, these are the parts of Kolkata that made me feel comfortable. There is nothing about being old or traditional that is inherently bad or in conflict with things that are new and modern. In Kaliaganj, the village where I stayed at the beginning of my internship, it was not uncommon for people who had no electricity or running water in their homes to own cell phones. I think that this illustrates my point that the delicate balance of tradition and modernization, of old and new, and of poverty and development has defined my experience in India. This is why India has proven to be simultaneously the most foreign and familiar place at once. When I first arrived in West Bengal I think I would say that there could not be two places more different than India and the United States. But now I am beginning to feel as if these two giant and diverse countries are not so different after all. They are both full of creative people working to make their lives and the lives of others a little bit better. They are both constantly growing and changing, challenging the world to keep up. Both India and America have people who I have grown to care about and miss. I just wish that saying hello to some did not mean saying goodbye to others.
My parents moved to the United States from Pakistan in 1983 in order to escape religious persecution in Pakistan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In 1990, I was born in Queens, New York. When I was just two years old, my family moved to Washington State and this is where I have been raised. We lived in Lynnwood for a while, but then moved to Snohomish, where I spent most of my childhood. I attended Snohomish High School, and really enjoyed getting involved in extracurricular activities such ASB, Newspaper Club, Teens against Tobacco Use Club, Key Club and others. I was really involved in school, but in my free time, I spent a lot of time with family. Much of my extended family had moved to Washington as well, so I grew up having large family gatherings. Also, I am an active member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, so my family went to the mosque often. Through my frequent visits to the mosque and our large family gatherings, I was able to immerse myself in Pakistani culture. I learned a lot about the cultural values, cultural traditions, cultural food and dress. After I graduated from high school, I enrolled into the University of Washington for my bachelor’s degree. I started off as a pre-medical major, but soon realized that it was not for me. I took a class in international studies, and I really enjoyed the subject so I switched my major. At the University of Washington, I had to adjust to large classes, which sometimes included about five hundred students. I realized that I would achieve greater success in a smaller classroom environment. This led me to my decision of transferring to Seattle University, where I would have smaller classes and more personal engagement. For my sophomore year, I attended Seattle University, which enabled me to excel academically as well as socially. I was able to get involved in different activities that catered to my interests such as volunteering at the International Dinner, becoming an orientation leader for international students, and getting involved in the Global Awareness Program. In the future, I wish to attend law school and further my studies in the realm of international studies. In the meantime, I look forward to exploring what else Seattle University has to offer.
Reflection # 1 (Country- Ghana)
A little over two weeks ago, I landed in Accra, Ghana’s capital city. I was pretty nervous, because this was my first time going to live away from my family and on top of that it was in Africa. It was a long three hour ride in a crowded tro tro (a van, bus-like transportation system) to get to the village of Anloga, where I am now staying as well as doing my internship for the microfinance organization, Lumana. The first few days were pretty hard for me because I did miss home, but I’ve adjusted to my new environment and I am really enjoying being immersed in a new culture and a completely different society. I’ve gotten used to the staring and people constantly referring and calling out to me as a Yavu (white person). It’s really strange being referred to as a white person since I have never considered myself to be white as I’m ethnically Pakistani. They even have a little song about white people that children love singing every time they see a light skinned person. The Ghanaians are one of the friendliest and welcoming people I have ever met though, and they love it when you attempt to say anything in Ewe, it gets them laughing every time. While walking on the street, or buying something at a store, I’ve been stopped to chat with people many times, because people truly enjoy getting to know you. My name is impossibly hard for people to say, because they’ve never heard such a name before. I’ve gotten an Ewe name; it depends on the day of the week you were born. After looking up that I was born on a Sunday, I was given the name Acos. The atmosphere seems very relaxed here, sometimes, when passing shops, you see people just lying down and resting. I was surprised by the house that the Lumana staff lives in too, it is much nicer than what I had imagined and I have a room to myself.
I’ve started on my major project for Lumana, and on the side I’ve been given other projects to work on as well. My main project is to establish a system to track the goals of Lumana’s clients. There are two Lumana offices that I usually go to, one that is just a two minute walk from the house and one that is in Atorkor, which is about a seven minute drive in a taxi. The office in Atorkor is open from 10:30am to 5:30pm from Monday through Wednesday and then the Anloga office is open during the same hours, but on Thursdays and Fridays just to give people living in both areas a chance for repayments. I can’t say I have a routine, because everyday seems to vary. Sometimes, we end up going to the client’s houses in order to do meetings with them and sometimes I’m just at the office. The local staff is great; they are a very energetic group who are always making me laugh. They love to have a good time and they make the office an enjoyable place to be. I really like working with them and answering their many questions. As I started my project, I realized that currently, most of Lumana’s clients don’t have savings goals that they have recorded or officially established so there is no way to track them. However, as new clients come in, they are required to establish their goals as they receive their first loan. Also, as old clients renew their loan cycles, they will be establishing goals as well. It is a slow process that will have to be gradually implemented, but it’s interesting to see it gain momentum already. Recently, I sat in on a cooperative meeting where a new group of clients were creating their goals. Eric, the lead loan officer, led the meeting, and he explained to the clients what a goal was and then he assisted them in calculating how much they would be saving in order for them to create a goal pertaining to their savings amount. I realized that it is essential to help the clients step by step in making a goal, because often times they are unrealistic about a goal when making it on their own or they don’t know how to calculate their savings in order to know how much money they can use towards their goal. Eric has been very helpful in this process, and he has helped the clients very patiently to make their goals. He held the meeting in the local language, Ewe, but translated what was going on for me as the meeting went on. Most of the clients usually want to save some money for their children’s school fees, or otherwise expand their business. I will continue to work with Eric to establish a goal tracking system, which hopefully can get implemented successfully over the next few months. I’m excited to be a part of getting such a system in place. I am also going to be researching a new Savings Only Program that Lumana is looking into. Basically, the program would offer people a secure savings service, where people who are not interested in loans can still get help in saving their money and know that it is in a secure location. I will be finding more information on this soon.
The days go by pretty fast here, and before you know it, its dinner time. The food choices are pretty limited here, but the food is pretty good and I like the spiciness of it. Usually for lunch, I get this rice and beans dish with a spicy pepe sauce on it or sweet potatoes with pepe sauce on it. It’s given to you in a small plastic bag. You get everything in a bag here and people selling things to you make sure you have a bag for it; they even have little packets of filtered water. There are a lot of stews that are made here that are usually eaten with different doughs, so far I’ve tried bonku and abolo. People eat this dough and stew with their hands, and it gets really messy, but I have to admit, it is a fun experience. We’ve only gotten meat from the city, because the meat here is just sitting out all day long and not very appetizing or good quality either. I love the fruit though, especially the mangos and the pineapples which are delicious. I see coconut trees everywhere as well. It’s a very beautiful place, with all the palm trees and red sand on the ground. Last weekend, we went on a boat ride that took us to a beach side corner. It was really beautiful, the sand was so white, soft and fine and the water was a pretty greenish color. The Ghanaians played the drums and sang songs along the way, it was quite an experience. I hope to see make the most out of my trip here and see more of Ghana and its culture.
Reflection # 2
As my fifth week comes to an end, I realize how fast time passes here even with the relaxed atmosphere. I’ve accumulated enough good stories to tell when I get back to the US. I’ve had some interesting experiences, one of them being malaria. I recently just recovered from it after finding out last week that I had malaria. It was thankfully only just a mild case, and mostly I just felt weak and tired, so it wasn’t too bad. There was a clinic nearby too and they gave me the necessary medications. I got plenty of rest last week and I am happy to be well again and ready to get back to work. The week before we took a trip to the city of Accra, this was a nice change from the village life. I finally got to sit in some air conditioned rooms for the first time during my trip and eat something besides rice, beans and stew. It was very interesting seeing how different the city is from the village. The mall had a nice grocery store, with food items that were actually recognizable to me. The streets were much busier. I think I prefer the village life where everything is a bit calmer and cleaner except for the amenities which are better in the city.
Recently, I’ve been continuing my work on the goal tracking system, but I’ve gotten a few other projects to work on as well. As for the goal tracking system, we’ve basically have gotten the process of goal setting well established and going. When clients reapply for loans during the reapplication meetings, one of the local staff members conducts the meeting in Ewe and tells the clients about the importance of goals and how they need to establish either a business goal or a personal goal. The clients are told their savings and then sent home to think about what they might want to record as their goal. When they come to pick up their next loan that is when their goals are recorded. The goals are going to be updated every three months and each update is entered into the Lumana data manager. I helped make a sheet, which will be hung in both the offices, that would record the date of when each cooperative recorded their goals and when they are due for an update, which will make it easier for Eric, the lead loan officer, to check when a group’s progress should be checked. This process is only for previous clients, but as new clients come in, we hope to get the process even smoother and establish goals sooner. During the three day mandatory business class that is required for clients to take before receiving a loan, there is going to be a goal’s portion where clients will undergo the same goal setting process. I am working with the Lumana staff to get a written process down for the goal setting portion of this business curriculum. Meanwhile, another one of my projects is to make media collection easier. Currently, Chris, who is in charge of interviewing clients and getting their stories and pictures recorded, has to track down each client by either going to their house or calling them to the office to get their interview and picture. In order to make this process easier in the future, we hope to get the interviews done when the clients take their business readiness survey when they first apply for the loan. I have been working on getting a series of questions written down for an appendix that will be added to the end of the business readiness survey which would cover all the interview questions and eliminate the need for an additional media interview. Chris and I have to finalize the process and make sure the Ghanaian staff members know exactly how to implement this new process. My newest project is on the savings only program that Lumana wants to get involved with. As of now, my job is to research how interested people might be in getting involved with such a program. I will be working with the Ghanaian staff and asking their opinion about the program to see the level of interest that locals might have in such a program. We will be working with some community members who are in charge of the business classes to research this information as well. Eventually, the Lumana staff will start interviewing clients about the new savings only program. Everything here is a gradual process, so it will take some time to get things moving, but I am looking forward to working on this new project.
I was born and raised in one of the most beautiful cities in the world: San Francisco. When I heard of the similarities San Francisco and Seattle share, I decided to come to Seattle to study Public Affairs, specializing in Nonprofit Leadership. At Seattle University, I work as a Writing Center Consultant helping students develop their writing skills. I also work with Student Activities where I plan and implement events for students to attend both on and off campus. For Student Activities my co-workers and I invite speakers to Seattle University and sell subsidized tickets to students so they can attend local museums, plays, and events. In my free time I like to go to coffee shops with friends, watch movies, make good food, listen to Fleetwood Mac and other classic rock bands, and read as many books as my eyes (and free time) will allow. When I graduate I hope to work in the nonprofit world in the Bay Area and promote access to health services and education, focusing either on international or domestic issues. I will be entering my senior year this fall and am excited to work hard, study abroad for IDIP, and enjoy my last year as an undergraduate student.
Reflection # 1 (Country- Vietnam)
In the three weeks I have been here, I have learned two things about Vietnamese culture that I have grown to love; Vietnamese people really know how to celebrate and they understand the importance of getting to know someone. While IDIP students are supposed to participate in a ten week internship, my internship didn’t start until February because Tet (Lunar New Year) celebrations last so long that I would have had little to do the second half of January. Luckily, this enabled me to travel for two weeks in Vietnam with my father. From Hanoi in the north, Hue in the middle, and Ho Chi Minh City, still called Saigon by some, in the south, I met person after person who was excited to know my name, where I am from, why I’m here, and so much more about me. The first questions are always, “What is your name? How old are you? Do you have any brothers and sisters?” and sometimes, “Are you married?” What a change from a culture where people are too afraid to be intrusive!
As for the ability to celebrate, I can only say that I am in awe that Tet celebrations are still continuing even though Tet was over a week ago. I was in Hanoi right before Tet as everyone was busy preparing for the holiday. Preparations for the holiday are extensive and many Vietnamese save up all year so they can afford to holiday season. The narrow streets of Hanoi were full of motorbikes delivering supplies to stores and people taking supplies back home. People prepared for Tet with new clothes, haircuts, food, and kumkwat trees representing new life for the new year. In Ho Chi Minh City right after Tet, many places were closed during the week as most people who live in Ho Chi Minh City are from other parts of the country. Even now, weeks after Tet, signs wishing everyone Chúc Mừng Năm Mới (Happy New Year) are still colorfully displayed around town. Just the other night I drove past a park in town with bright lights and people singing Chúc Mừng Năm Mới.
But after my travels in this beautiful country, I have finally settled in Quang Tri Province located in the center of the country near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). My current location has much to do with the DMZ and the still present memory of the Vietnam War. My internship is with PeaceTrees Vietnam, a Seattle NGO founded in 1995. The mission of PeaceTrees is, borrowing from their website, “to renew relationships with the people of Vietnam and promote a safe, healthy future for its families.” Quang Tri Province was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, and many of the unexploded ordnance (UXO) were left in the area. This has posed a great threat to the people of Quang Tri. Long after the American soldiers left and the war ended, the UXO continued to endanger the lives of many people in the area. I was told before coming that much of the UXO look unthreatening, and a child might mistake it for a toy. When I visited the Danaan Parry Landmine Education Center, I saw that what I had been told is true; some of the deadly UXO resemble a small ball or toy any child could possibly want to touch. Thankfully PeaceTrees, the in-country staff, and community partners have worked hard over the years to teach people how to protect themselves. Not only has the organization worked to clear more than 535 acres of land and remove more than 63,000 UXO items, they provide survivor assistance to more than 700 UXO survivors and their families in the form of scholarships and medical assistance. PeaceTrees has built kindergartens and libraries in the communities, organized numerous tree planting projects, created a Friendship Village, and more recently teamed up with the Vietnamese Women’s Union to provide micro-credit lending to local families.
PeaceTrees’ collaboration with the Women’s Union has enabled me to carry out my research project. Over the next six weeks, I will travel to many communities in Quang Tri to interview women who are members of the Women’s Union. My project is to research the structure of the Women’s Union and how they are working to empower the women in Quang Tri. At Seattle University I have learned about micro-credit programs and the goals of such financial assistance. The majority of borrowers in the micro-credit world are women, and lenders hope to empower women by teaching them to increase their savings and become equal partners in family financial planning. My research here is particularly interesting because Peacetrees and the Women’s Union are providing loans to Vietnamese families as well as ethnic minority families. In Vietnam the government officially recognizes fifty-four ethnic groups, and all of these groups have their own language, tradition and culture. I am most excited to learn how the Women’s Union has shaped their programs and services to address the specific needs of the Vietnamese and ethnic minority groups in Quang Tri. As I prepare to start my interviews, I have so many questions swimming in my mind. Are the majority of women in each community involved in Women’s Union activities, or only some? How often to these women give feedback to the union administrators? Although the Women’s Union holds a conference every five years to determine what programs need to be amended, how dramatically are these programs actually changed? Are the women in the communities a part of this amendment process? Are these programs sustainable models?
In a recent meeting with Madame Thuy from the Quang Tri Women’s Union, I was reminded of the difficult task I have ahead. For each home visit I will be accompanied by my translator and a guide from the Women’s Union. When I visit the home of a Vietnamese woman, my questions and the answers will be communicated by my translator. An inevitable consequence is that some of the information will be lost in translation. Visiting the homes of ethnic minority women will prove all the more daunting as my English questions will be translated into Vietnamese to the Women’s Union guide, who will then ask the question in the language of the particular minority group. I will of course receive an answer to my question, but I fear for the details that will unfortunately be lost along the way. But Madame Thuy is right; this is unavoidable and I will have to make do. I am just thankful for this experience and that I am so supported by both PeaceTrees and the Women’s Union. I have been welcomed to Vietnam in so many ways by so many people. The women frequently tell me that they are excited I am here and are more than happy to help me in any way that they can. I have been in this region for such a short amount of time and have already made many friends. The Vietnamese continue to pleasantly surprise me with their kindness and generosity.
Reflection # 2
Since I first arrived one month ago, I have second guessed and reevaluated so much of what I thought about the poverty and gender issues in Vietnam. In the first few weeks of interviewing for my internship, when a woman told me she is doing better than before and has increased her income, I mentally checked her off as a success story for the Women’s Union and for my research on community capacity building and female empowerment issues. But then I started to think about the standards of living in the United States. An American female success story looks quite different than what I see here. I wondered if I should even be comparing the two. Then I wondered if my wondering even mattered, and I began to feel a bit less inspired and hopeful. Although I am still figuring this all out and I am still processing all that I continue to see and learn, I realize my wondering is leading me to ask more questions for myself and during interviews. For my own learning purposes, wondering is exactly what I need to be doing. When it comes to the women in the communities I visit, what matters is that they are doing better now than they were before, and they are continuing to improve their lives. The most significant lesson I have learned so far is that if you give a woman a chance, she will do amazing things and surpass many expectations. The women I have met are strong, kind, and self-sacrificing. My translator explained to me that she has seen so many Vietnamese women struggle to make sure their children have better lives than they had, and that often results in women compromising their own needs. I interviewed a woman who has been able to put all three of her children through college because the loan she received has helped her expand her business. For women in the poorer mountainous areas of Vietnam, this is extremely rare. The woman proudly told me that she is doing so well for her children that she has been able to turn her attention to herself and buy new clothes, like a nice dress if she goes to a party. The loans these women receive enable them to better whatever circumstance they were in prior to taking out the loan. For some women this means being able to feed their families substantial meals every day instead of every once in a while, and for others this means being able to expand their businesses and afford another motorbike.
Another lesson I will come away with is that you cannot define poverty. An outsider cannot come into these communities and say, Now that you can afford more things, you are at a good place in life. We can set standards, we can set expectations, but non-government organizations, government organizations, community partners, and all those involved in development should never stop trying to do better. More importantly, they should never stop trying to give women like the ones I’ve met the chance to do better. Muhammad Yunus, the pioneer of microfinance, said, “We have created a society that does not allow opportunities for those people to take care of themselves because we have denied them those opportunities.” Microfinance takes people that financial institutions would normally cast as “bad for business” and give them the chance to borrow money and improve their circumstances. But no solution is ever uncomplicated or one-hundred percent sustainable. Micro-lending, in addition to training classes on how to grow better crops, manage finances, and take care of the family and oneself, seems to be working in Quang Tri Province. Giving these women a loan is not the only thing that has helped them better their circumstances. A lack of money is a large part of the poverty problem, but money is not the only solution. People who borrow need a support system, they need training, and they need confidence. The Vietnamese Women’s Union has developed a network for these women to learn and share their experiences. The women have been given the tools to change their lives, but they have also been given the assistance to see that change through. The information I have gathered for my research has not provided irrefutable evidence for this observation, but I would claim that the continued support for these women is why they are able to do so well for themselves and their families.
The best example I can give for why I believe the growing support system in Vietnam is the guiding force in improving the lives of these women is from an interview with the Women’s Union chairwoman for the commune next to the Vietnam-Laos border. This woman, like many union officials, is happy with the progress that has been made, but does not believe the union’s work is close to being done. The chairwoman told me that in the past when a woman suffered from domestic abuse, the union officials would try to explain to the husband why his actions are unacceptable. She said that many of the husbands would argue that it was a private matter and the union should stay out of their business. But in 2007, the Vietnamese government passed a law prohibiting domestic violence. Now, the chairwoman said, the union officials can explain to the husband that domestic violence is not a private matter; it is a social issue and it is illegal. The support of the government and the changing culture has enabled the women’s union to further their cause of empowering women. But the chairwoman said her main goal for the commune in the coming years is a prolonged venture; she wants to continue increasing knowledge and awareness so the women can continue to lead better, fuller lives. As I leave Vietnam and return back home, I will take with me the lesson to always try to do better. We can always improve and we can always move forward. Success is merely taking a step in the right direction. I think that is one of the best ways we can try to measure success.
With all the hope I feel and all the positive feedback I have received, I still worry about the women I have not had the chance to interview in this province. I worry that I have interviewed the success stories, the minority, and the exceptions in Vietnam. If I were to compare these women to the rest of the world, what differences and similarities would I notice? I realize that with all I have learned and all the hope I feel for these women I still only have a limited perception of poverty and the potential solutions. These women are inspiring and are all success stories, but they are not the whole picture. The thirty minutes I spend with each woman cannot even come close to giving me an accurate idea of her daily struggles and accomplishments. I get frustrated with this fact, but I realize the limits of my internship and can only work to acquire as much information for the duration of my time here. I decided to participate in IDIP to get a better picture of development issues and to see if development is a field I wanted to continue to pursue. I have come into this community many years after the Women’s Union has begun its work to better the lives of Vietnamese women. I know that I want to be a part of this kind of process. I can see that there are many ways to work in a community and to raise the standard of living. The women I have met have not only developed their economic household and risen to a point in which they are not constantly worried about finances, but they are more involved in their community than before. They are excited to participate in volleyball tournaments, celebrate International Women’s Day, and share their experiences with other women in the community. The Women’s Union has achieved many of its goals because its clients are its members. The community members offer their concerns, and the Women’s Union officials work to create programs based on these concerns. The government and other international NGOs help in so many ways, but the real change-makers are the women. Community capacity building has overtaken my research and my thoughts, and I plan to increase my knowledge of the process of community capacity building long after my internship ends.