Sara Dale ’99 and Heather Haigh ’99 both lived overseas before college and wanted to return; Michelle Redfearn ’99 was interested in international relief and development. So these three sociology majors jumped at the chance to expand their education by doing a six-month internship with World Vision. Sara and Heather traveled to India, and Michelle lived in Tanzania and Kenya.
“It’s one thing to learn theory in a classroom and another to apply it in the world, especially in a cross-cultural setting,” says Heather. “The cultural differences were so acute, it took creativity and communication to accomplish my work.”
Living in rural villages, she researched the religious and cultural factors influencing the education of Muslim girls. Like the residents of Indian slums, the villagers have nothing and rely on their wits to survive. The concept of a career is foreign to them.
Through Westmont’s San Francisco Urban Program, Heather also interned with Shanti, an HIV/AIDS service organization, so she had already encountered poverty and disease. A semester of intensive reading and study with Houghton’s Oregon Extension Program helped her do the research assigned by World Vision. Before enrolling at Westmont, Heather spent a year in Holland and Europe and yearned to see more of the world. For the future, she plans a child-centered career, possibly in the inner city with youth from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
As a child, Sara lived in the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Morocco, and Brazil, where her parents taught school. Like Heather, she also spent a semester at the San Francisco Urban program and worked with Shanti.
“I felt a need to get away from campus,” Sara explains. “I wanted to see what was out there in the world and be forced to confront reality. College classes can only prepare you for so much.”
Sara undertook two research projects for World Vision: she compared the effect of Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs on the nutritional status of women; and she studied how Hindu and Muslim children and adolescent girls perceive personal hygiene. Although water is readily available, parents don’t teach children to keep themselves clean. Any reference to the body is taboo.
“I felt a part of World Vision—they treated me like an employee, not an intern,” she says. “Dealing with new circumstances and working through them was very challenging and character-building—as was seeing so much poverty and suffering.”
Michelle came to Westmont from Park City, Utah, because she liked the location and friendly people. She stayed because the faculty challenged her and made her think for herself.
In Africa, she observed World Vision projects such as school construction, installing clean-water systems, and teaching agricultural techniques. She lived with African families in rural villages and held numerous workshops.
“In these meetings, World Vision hoped to encourage people to begin their own development projects rather than waiting for outsiders to come in and start something,” Michelle explains. “It was eye-opening to see how poor the people are and how hard they are willing to work. I was able to see some progress take place.
“It was a different kind of education,” she reflects. “I used what I learned in the classroom and applied it in the real world. The experience reconfirmed that I want to work overseas in international development or business.”