Recipient of the Joshua Haglund Memorial Peace Scholarship
“I hope to one day be able to work with women and children in India who have been affected by trafficking and/or poverty and find effective ways to help them find a safe way to gain income as well as a feeling of self-worth.”
Tell Us About Your Program
I interned with an NGO called I-India during my first semester, which assists street children by providing them housing and education or reintegration with their families. I spent about half of my time there teaching girls English. I can’t tell you how fulfilling that felt. I had spent the last year at the University of Minnesota taking a Hindi class (and not feeling very good at it) but to be able to speak, even a little bit, with these girls who I would have otherwise not been able to communicate with verbally at all made it so worth it.
We also helped to build a database of the children in the program. In reading their stories, the majority of them are incomplete. Many of the children were made to work as child labor, others were abused, others were picked up on the street without a family member in sight. These stories are things that, to this day, I struggle to get my mind around. I struggle to find an adequate answer as to why they were born into that situation and I was born to loving parents and am growing up breathing clean air, taking hot showers, and not worrying where my next meal is going to come from. I still haven’t found an answer. All I can say for certain is that these kids taught me the importance of the individual, of each person’s individual story. I know that many of these kids have probably faced trauma in ways many won’t experience their entire lives, and I can only hope that they find healing in any way possible. While it may not be through counseling (as mental health is largely neglected in India), I believe that a timely word or act of love can provide great hope. I know that the faces of these children won’t soon leave my memory.
What Did You Learn from Your Internship?
During second semester I interned with an NGO that works with female sex workers to provide them with HIV preventative care. I was able to go to the houses of many of the women while the counselor would try and convince them to come with her to the hospital to get an HIV test. The women always welcomed me so warmly into their homes, giving me tea (and more tea, and more tea) and allowing me a look into their lives. What touched me the most about this NGO was the way in which the staff and the women involved in sex work interacted with each other. For the longest time, I could not tell who was a sex worker and who was a staff member...There was not a sense of “I am better/more respectable than you”. I saw a lot of unconditional love provided by this NGO which would help these women protect their health without the requirement or commitment that they get out of sex work, which many of them feel is their only option. I loved seeing the way the women interacted with each other as sisters. I have never felt more strongly that a person’s profession does not define them. Moreover, I learned about the violence these women face from husbands, family members, police and community members because of what they do. I learned how many people will often tell them that they “deserve it” or that they are not worth being protected and that has spurred on my desire to work for an end to global violence against women, especially women who are seen as doing something “immoral”...it is of utmost importance to show the women (or any population) that they are loved and worthy of respect and dignity...