Rice students take on serious issues as summer interns in Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities program

Rice students take on serious issues as summer interns in Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities program

BY FRANZ BROTZEN
Rice News staff

Sherry Lin spent her summer in an Indian slum. And she loved it.

Lin, a Jones College senior, worked with Niramay, a public health organization active in and around the slum areas of Pune, a city in western India about 100 miles from Mumbai. She monitored malnutrition levels in Pune’s poorest neighborhoods and helped to create a health-awareness program.

Citing the friendships she developed and the satisfaction derived from her work, Lin came away from the experience feeling “humbled, honored and truly blessed.”

  Sherry Lin, a Jones College senior, monitored malnutrition
levels in poor Indian neighborhoods and helped to create a
health-awareness program.

Lin is one of 22 Rice undergraduates who took part in the Susan McAshan Service Internships as part of their interdisciplinary minor in Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities (PJHC). The program, which is housed in the Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality, makes it possible for students to work for nonprofit organizations and charities across the United States and around the world. Although they do not receive academic credit for the internship, students must undertake an approved internship program as part of the minor.

Zack Panos, a junior at Hanszen, went to Katmandu, Nepal, to work with children infected with HIV. He called his experience “an incredibly rewarding way to spend the summer.”

Others stayed closer to home. Wiess College junior Lauren Theis cooked and distributed leftover food to poor people in Lexington, Va., with the Campus Kitchens Project. “This summer experience allowed me to finally practice what we preach within our classes: I was able to see that no poverty or deprivation looks alike and demonstrate that no instance of such predicaments should be deemed as more worthy of assistance than another,” she wrote.

Many of the students offered examples of how their experiences changed them. Martel senior Marielle Schweickart interned in Seattle with Neighborhood House, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to help low-income communities become healthier, more self-sufficient and more financially independent. “Working at Neighborhood House not only allowed me to learn about communities that I had never before encountered,” Schweickart wrote. “It also allowed me to learn about myself and what I would like to do when I graduate from Rice. Meeting these children and their families has shifted the way I think about income and education disparities, and it has changed my goals. I have never before considered entering the nonprofit sector, but I now see it as a likely career.”

Wiess College junior Lauren Theis cooked and distributed leftover food
to poor people in Lexington, Va., with the Campus Kitchens Project.
 

Adriana Bolivar, a junior at Wiess, said her experiences at the Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center made her “acutely aware of the failures of our legal system.” She heard hundreds of complaints from laborers, many of them concerning wage theft. “Whether it is not being paid at minimum wage, not being compensated for overtime or receiving no payment at all, wage theft is plaguing the (workers) of Houston,” Bolivar wrote. She said she is planning to pursue a career in law so she can help address the problem.

Brown College senior Corinne Young encountered a different kind of injustice. Working at Child Advocates, she was shocked and outraged at the accounts of child abuse she saw as she filled out reports on the cases that came under the care of Children’s Protective Services (CPS). “I could not fully grasp how people were capable of being as cruel to children as many of the affidavits indicated,” Young wrote.

However, when Young began to “shadow” some of the Child Advocates staff members in court and at home visits, her views became more nuanced. She was concerned with the long-term effects on children after they were logged into the CPS system. Then she met a couple in court who were charged with abusing their infant boy. “Watching the court proceedings seemed to bring all of the books I had read for my sociology courses in use in front of my eyes,” Young wrote. “I learned that education is not only used to uplift and empower victims but it can also help prevent abuse.” She understood the vicious cycle of abuse and how it can be broken. “In the case of the infant, believe it or not, the baby boy returned to his home,” Young said, “except now his parents have been clean for nine months and are both holding stable jobs while completing their GEDs.”

One of the goals of the PJHC program is to add to students’ understanding of poverty and inequality beyond the classroom. By exposing students to that reality, the program aims to instill “a longstanding commitment to enhancing the well-being of all people,” said Diana Strassmann, the program’s director.

For more information on the Poverty, Justice and Human Capabilities program, visit www.rice.edu/pjhc.

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