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International Women’s Week features global student volunteers


In recognition of International Women’s Week, the Stanford Women’s Community Center held a panel discussion Tuesday featuring students who are actively engaged in international community service projects. Anne Firth Murray — a founding president of the Global Fund for Women, which provides funds internationally to seed, strengthen and link groups committed to women’s well-being — moderated the event.


Murray, also a consulting professor in human biology at Stanford, stated that the panel’s purpose was “to demonstrate that students can become involved in interesting experiences that will guide you through the rest of your human life.”


She encouraged students to apply for grants that fund international service projects.


The Stanford Women's Community Center held a panel featuring Aditya Mantha '10, Abena Bruce '12 and Surabhi Nirkhe '13 which discussed their international community service projects. (MARY ANN TOMAN-MILLER/The Stanford Daily)

“What you do may be important, but the way you do it is more important,” Murray added. “Go in a humble way with a learning attitude.”


Murray recommended that students “interact in a way to solve problems jointly. People will open up and they may have the answers themselves, or not.” She highlighted the role that these experiences play in helping students chart their future course.


Panelist Surabhi Nirkhe ‘13, a human biology major, spent her summer in India and Nepal working in tandem with two anti-human-trafficking groups. Nirkhe assisted at a residential school for young girls who are at risk of being trafficked “while their mothers are out working in red-light districts,” she said.


Nirkhe developed a new curriculum to teach the girls health and life skills.


The topics are “stigmatized issues there, so girls know little about this,” Nirkhe said.


The Committed Communities Development Trust in Mumbai, India, funded her fellowship to work with girls at risk of falling victim to child marriage and prostitution rings.


Panel member Aditya Mantha ‘10, a current co-term student in epidemiology, reflected on his experience teaching emergency paramedic services in India and Nepal during the summer. He described the challenging role of a volunteer paramedic and recounted one instance when his supervisor had to “bail out” medical personnel being held hostage by rioters following a bomb blast.


The third panelist, Abena Bruce ‘12, a human biology major, traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, with a Stanford program to teach emergency medicine to middle school students in poor, minority townships that are medically underserved. Bruce informed listeners that the National Institutes of Health “funds different colleges to [support service projects] internationally.”


Panelists were concerned with how and to what extent their summer work could leave a lasting impact after they left their sites. Mantha said he would like to build “a peer leadership project” to sustain his work while others expressed a desire to return in the future. Bruce stated that her goal is to “teach the older girls the curriculum I taught, and then teach them how to teach the younger girls” in an attempt to create a self-sustaining cycle.


“The best piece of advice ever given to me was to learn another language,” Mantha said. He advised students to attend “as many conferences as possible to make contacts, find like-minded individuals and learn about summer opportunities.”


When audience members asked the panel how to find and secure such opportunities, Bruce responded that networking is key.


“I kept asking people who to talk to and introducing myself to people, saying, ‘I’m interested in global health, can you help me,’ and followed up with, ‘Do you know anyone else who I should talk to?’” Bruce said.


The panelists discussed the ethical issues related to unavoidably short summer internships, during which many volunteers, according to Bruce, openly wonder, “Am I really helping? They train me, but I don’t know their history or culture.”


“I learned more than I gave, which is difficult,” Bruce added.


However, Murray injected, “Don’t be ashamed that you’re going to be learning so much.”


“You’re in the first third of life, and you should be learning and finding out what kind of person you want to be,” Murray said.


“There is nothing wrong with being on a steep learning curve,” she continued. “No doubt you have helped.”