Students participate in community development projects on three continents

September 27, 2016

After taking courses at Northwestern in June, Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) students traveled from Chicago to Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, and Uganda. Once in country, they were placed as interns in grassroots NGOs. In collaboration with local staff, they worked in small teams to complete community development projects that focused on themes such as global health, education, environment, youth, women’s empowerment, social enterprise development, and microfinance.

Here are some of the projects they worked on this summer:

Marketing and Fundraising for Traditional Systems of Medicine

  • Odette at JJVSGESI team: Cheryl Chen, Sophia Olmos, Odette Zero
  • Location: Udaipur, India
  • NGOJagran Jan Vikas Samiti (JJVS) 

Despite medical advancements in urban India, many rural communities lack access to modern healthcare. In drought-plagued Rajasthan, farming is physically demanding and leads to debilitating health issues without providing the necessary income to pay for medical expenses. Allopathic care is far too expensive for villagers, making traditional medicine the most affordable and accessible form of healthcare.

Traditional healers, or Gunis, provide cheap and effective treatment for common rural diseases. JJVS has formalized and trained a network of over 1,000 Gunis, often the only accessible and sustainable health care system available. By partnering with Gunis, JJVS has made many strides towards improving rural healthcare access. However, the NGO lacked materials highlighting their recent achievements and the community members they work with.

The GESI team created marketing materials that will increase public recognition of Gunis and facilitate the fundraising efforts for JJVS’s traditional medicine program. To spread awareness about traditional medicine in India, they created a booklet on the life histories of 12 Gunis and launched a crowdfunding campaign for a traditional health training center. GESI students also redesigned and updated the JJVS website and created a crowdfunding manual for future fundraising efforts.

“Sewing” Seeds and Cultivating Skills for Success

  • GESI team: Erika Carter, Hannah Whitehouse, Jessica Saffold
  • Location: Kakamega, Kenya
  • NGO: Mahiakalo Child Development Centre

Sewing at Mahiakalo, UgandaMahiakalo Child Development Centre serves low-income children and young adults aged 3-22 in Kakamega, Kenya. The team’s project involved the implementation of a vocational sewing skills class to assist alumni of the program, especially women, in order to gain financial independence while pursuing a career field that interests them. After gaining these skills, the women will have the ability to produce uniforms for children in local schools in order to earn a profit for themselves and practical, real-world experience in sewing and tailoring.

After six months, the students will have acquired the level of skills necessary to take and pass the Kenyan examination for a Grade 3 tailoring certification. Additionally, the participants will be able to produce uniforms that will allow them to earn a profit, while also putting a percentage of their income back into the program to purchase more materials.

Building capacity of local artisans in Bolivia

  • GESI team: Lisa Chen, Dashiell Ridolfi-Starr, Bryan Wood
  • Location: Cochabamba, Bolivia

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America. Cochabamba, its fourth largest city, is characterized by a wealth of artisanship and small-scale entrepreneurship, but the complications of governmental regulation leave the vast majority of these businesses informal. In fact, according to a study from the World Bank, roughly 80 percent of employment in Bolivia is informal. Formalization offers benefits that can strengthen small businesses and it helps to unify the struggling Bolivian economy. 

The GESI team was assigned to work with a local NGO in Cochabamba called the Cámara Departamental de la Pequeña y Artesanía Productiva (CADEPIA). Their task was to develop a sustainable project that aligns with CADEPIA’s mission of supporting artisans and small businesses there. Through preliminary interviews, they learned that most entrepreneurs and artisans do not have formal businesses—many are not familiar with the concept at all—so they designed a simple guide to the formalization of small businesses. Each team member partnered with a small business owner to create marketing and business plans that were specific to the needs of each business.

Jjaja Sack Gardening Initiative

  • GESI team: Pooja Kanthawar, Eric Kim, Cassandra Masters, and Katherine Tierney
  • Location: Jinja, Uganda
  • NGO: St. Francis Health Care Services

Jjajas with GESI 2016 teamThe GESI team and St. Francis’ social welfare office sought to address the issues of poverty, poor nutrition, and limited access to land by teaching grandmothers (jjajas) farming techniques to increase their income. 

The team began the community assessment process by speaking with two communities of jjajas about specific challenges they faced in their day-to-day lives.  One challenge they repeatedly discussed was the jjajas’ struggle to afford school fees and meet nutritional needs for their grandchildren, some of whom were HIV positive.  Due to their age and limited land, the jjajas could not grow enough crops to sustain their families or to sell for profit, so the intern team sought alternative methods of farming that could be financially viable.  Through their research, the team found that sack-gardening has been highly effective in urban areas in Kenya.   

The team hired a St. Francis Community Based Facilitator (CBF) to instruct how to make sack gardens, kitchen gardens, organic pesticide, and liquid manure, all of which can be utilized to grow vegetables and improve crop yield.  Each community underwent a two-day training session and elected leaders to oversee the jjajas’ progress and continue the spread of trainings. In the following weeks, the CBF performed home-to-home visits to ensure correct implementation, and the Social Welfare Office has vowed to monitor and expand the project beyond the original two communities.

Udaipur Youth Council Campaign

  • GESI team: Kyle Lawrence Durango, Carmen Hines, Lorna Sánchez, Jackson Walker
  • Location: Udaipur, India
  • NGO: ALFA Educational Society

ALFA Educational Society has a vision of a prosperous, peaceful Udaipur district, and to be successful they need the hearts of the youth. Currently, over half of India’s population is under the age of 25. The GESI team arrived to ALFA with a clear mission presented to them: create a campaign to advertise the formation of a functioning Youth Council in Udaipur and promote awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

ALFA asked the GESI intern team to plan a campaign to promote the formation of a youth council, design advertising to accompany the campaign, and attract potential members through a variety of events and informational sessions at local universities. Capacity training was given to ALFA staff and community volunteers to ensure sustainability of the project. 

According to the GESI students, “In the foreseeable future, we anticipate ALFA’s popularity will increase in Udaipur city due to our advertising, the recruitment of potential Youth Council members will create a cohort of potential volunteers, interns, and resources, and that the hiring of more staff and the successes of our stay will encourage ALFA staff to take a more organized approach to their future work.”

Development, Undergraduate Students