Global Scholars Summer Program Puts Students to Work in The Gambia, South Africa, and Guatemala

Global Scholars Summer Program  Puts Students to Work in The Gambia, South Africa, and Guatemala

When international studies and politics major Nadra Al-Hamwy ’18 traveled to the tiny West African nation of The Gambia for her summer internship, she was shocked to hear a group of young village girls singing the lyrics to a popular Miley Cyrus song.

“It is amazing how globalized our world is becoming,” Al-Hamwy reflected on the experience. “We really are all more similar than we think.”
As today’s marketplace becomes increasingly global and multilingual, Fairfield University has launched a summer internship program to help students get ahead of the global curve, particularly those interested in pursuing international or humanitarian work post graduation.
Introduced in October 2016, the Global Scholars Program is a joint initiative between the International Studies and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies programs, that offers students four- to ten-week summer internships with non-profit organizations located in the Global South.

Aligned with the University’s mission to develop global citizens, the program encourages young men and women to be at home in the world and to confidently engage in any cultural circumstance. “The goal of the program is to increase student engagement with less commonly known cultures and languages, while providing a more diverse pool of students with access to exciting learning opportunities in interesting places,” explained Terry-Ann Jones, PhD, associate professor of sociology and anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the University’s International studies program.

The program, originally conceived in 2014 by the late Gisela Gil-Egui, PhD, was awarded a two-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education to pilot partially funded internships in the Global South during the summer of 2017. The short-term nature of the internships is ideal for students with heavy curricular and extra-curricular time constraints during the regular school year, as well as students who are otherwise unable to study abroad for an entire semester.

Sydney Williams ’19, a student-athlete volleyball player, was one of the first 10 students to participate in the program, working behind-the-scenes at The Tomorrow Trust, a South African non-profit dedicated to supporting the development of orphaned children.

In Johannesburg, a city she described as “constantly in motion,” Williams’ responsibilities ranged from making care packages and tracking students’ progress, to traveling into the various townships and coordinating self-esteem building exercises with the local children. Her downtime was just as varied and packed with cultural visits to the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s home, and the Lion and Safari Park where she spent the afternoon playing with tiger cubs, yet, her favorite part of her travels was witnessing the remarkable growth of the children supported by The Tomorrow Trust agency.

“I have worked with non-profit organizations before but have never seen one that yields such tangible progress in such a short period of time,” Williams said. “The fire that I saw in the eyes of my co-workers only further motivated me to explore career opportunities in the non-profit sector.”

Afew thousand miles north of Williams, Al-Hamwy was on an inspirational journey of her own on the sultry coast of The Gambia. While interning in Lamin Villiage, she fell in love with the mission of Starfish International, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Gambian girls through advanced education and service learning opportunities.

After starting each day with an early morning walk around the village and a home cooked breakfast featuring the most flavorful mangoes she has ever tasted, Al-Hamwy dedicated her time to tutoring local girls and boys in a variety of subjects before working on her own projects, which involved managing the organization’s social media and producing a series of promotional documentaries. While her off-duty adventures included swimming the shores of Lebayto Beach, participating in a traditional Koriteh Day celebration for the end of Ramadan, browsing the jewelry at Brikama Craft Market and traveling to the capital city of Banjul to purchase fabric for her Gambian naming ceremony, the highlight of Al-Hamwy’s Global Scholars experience was working with the girls in her program.

“I went to The Gambia expecting to teach, but the girls ended up teaching me so much more,” Al-Hamwy said. “Living in The Gambia has pushed me toward self-discovery and taught me to be more confident, as well as more understanding of cultures other than my own.”
Similar to Al-Hamwy, Fairfield senior Aura L. Pineda ’18 embarked on her own journey of self-discovery when she selected her home country of Guatemala as the location for her internship. The organization she worked for was dedicated to the socioeconomic development of rural areas located within the city of Totonicapán, an issue very near to her heart.

“I moved to the U.S. about four years ago but I haven’t forgotten where I came from,” Pineda said. “I have always been passionate about Latin America, but I am also concerned about the socioeconomic and political situation of the regions where social injustice prevails.”
A stark contrast from the Guatemalan town she grew up in, Pineda discovered that the indigenous and Mayan cultures were much more predominant in the city of Totonicapán, a place where women wear traditional Mayan dress, the sounds of Marimba fills the air, and poverty is a fact of life.

“When I moved to Totonicapán, I felt like a foreigner, and it was a very weird feeling because I am Guatemalan,” she said. “I encountered the socioeconomic reality of the country face-to-face, and the experience I had was not ‘culture shock,’ but was rather life-shocking. I realized there is so much I need to learn about the country I grew up in.”

As part of her role supporting the director of business development for CDRO (The Coordination for the Rural Development of the West), Pineda would take public transportation then walk a few miles to visit the indigenous communities where CDRO offers support. Despite the poverty of the families she visited, she was moved by their generosity and welcoming spirit.

“[The people of Totonicapán] are a beautiful people who inspire you to be a better human being and value the opportunities we have and they do not,” she said. “This internship proves that it is not enough to study theory in the classroom, but that it is necessary to directly face the reality of poor nations to understand the roots of their social issues. I am grateful to the CDRO and the Global Scholars Program for firming up my social justice career path at Fairfield.”

While the students are appreciative of the inspirational experiences and cultural exposure they gained as part of the program, they are not the only Fairfield community members grateful for the opportunities their internships provided.

“Through the students’ experiences, we have been able to see the manifestation of the program’s fundamental goals, and we are delighted that the students are gaining even more than we had hoped for in terms of cultural exposure, as well as the incorporation of this experience into their short-term research plans and long-term career aspirations,” Dr. Jones echoed.

While four Global Scholar locations are currently available for the summer of 2018, the program aims to expand its geographic reach and include new locations in Asia during future semesters.

“Right now, the program is in its infancy, but we dream that it will get bigger and offer more opportunities across the globe,” said International Studies Associate Director Anita Deeg-Carlin, who facilitates the program alongside Dr. Jones and economics professors Dina Franceschi, PhD, and William Vasquez Mazariegos, PhD. “We are excited to offer these internships to our students and look forward to seeing how they incorporate their experiences back into the fabric of the Fairfield community.” ●F