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reed magazine logoAutumn 2007

Students in Social Service

Serving the common good through a McGill-Lawrence Internship Award shaped a handful of Reedies this summer in ways they never expected.

Six students landed the prized internships: Genevieve Roudane ’08, Patricia Snarski ’09, Ellen Green ’09, Lindsey Maser ’07, Emily Hollenbeck ’08, and Robin Fink ’09. Their projects spanned a wide range of subjects, from biology major Snarski’s work in New Orleans using microorganisms to clean up hurricane-affected houses, to art history major Maser’s work with the City of Portland on sustainable and local food sources.

Originally intended to cultivate multicultural understanding, the internship program has expanded through the years to support summer work in the public or nonprofit sectors. At least 50 percent of funds still go to proposals that put students in direct contact with ethnically and culturally diverse populations. Recipients are awarded up to $3,000 for eight weeks of work.

Within those limitations, the interns have a lot of leeway as to where, how, and with whom they will complete their projects. Roudane and Fink, both anthropology majors, worked with Latino populations—in Portland and South America, respectively. Both encountered unanticipated—but rewarding—changes to their plans as the summer unfolded.

Roudane, a senior, worked with Portland’s undocumented migrant day laborer population through the VOZ Workers’ Rights Education Project. She originally intended to explore a movement to build a day laborer center similar to one operating in Seattle, which would provide a central location for people seeking work and prospective employers.

She is still working on this topic for her thesis during the current academic year, but her attention during the summer was diverted by a June 12 raid of the Fresh Del Monte fruit plant in North Portland, in which federal immigration officials detained more than 160 people on suspicion of immigration and social security fraud. VOZ mounted a legal observation campaign to document the raid and help affected families; Roudane was in the thick of it. Afterward, she teamed up with a colleague to produce a documentary, La Redada (“The Raid”) about one woman’s struggle against the immigration system. She plans to screen the film as a fundraiser.

Roudane says she felt more in her element working for VOZ than she does writing a thesis, and says she struggles with the lack of relevance of most academic work. She’s not interested in “disappearing” into the ivory tower, especially if academia cannot reinvent itself in ways that make it useful in finding solutions to real problems. Still, she says, her training as an anthropologist “has made me a better volunteer . . . it has taught me how to connect and listen.”

An anthropology background also equipped Fink for her internship with Ayuda Directa International in Ecuador. She divided time between Ayuda Directa’s offices in the capital city, Quito, and the mountain province of Chimborazo, where she worked with family planning organization CEMOPLAF (Centro Médico de Orientación y Planificación Familiar). She also helped lay the groundwork for the next trip of the Reed-based Ecuador Service Project.

Ayuda Directa International is a nonprofit organization based in Italy that assists developing communities with projects designed and approved by community members and implemented sustainably. Fink says she learned firsthand the challenges of working in the development field while not slipping into a colonialist sense of superiority. “Progressivist organizations impose their values,” Fink says. Doing development work right, she continues, involves taking the community’s wishes seriously.

The other half of Fink’s project, with CEMOPLAF, a 21-year-old family planning organization, was supposed to involve studying osteoporosis in indigenous women—but somehow the lines of communication crossed. When Fink got to Ecuador, she was told she would be teaching indigenous couples about family planning, and working in a gynecology clinic. “I get down there,” she says, “and [the doctor] isn’t doing anything with osteoporosis—she wasn’t even looking at it!”

But Fink, who ultimately intends to pursue medicine and public health, says the experience gave her valuable insight into the role doctors play in their communities and the trust they inspire. “There is a certain power dynamic between a patient and a person in a white coat,” she says.

—Brian Radzinsky 09

reed magazine logoAutumn 2007