“I gained a perspective on how NGOs actually work on the ground.”
Sara Parcero Leites ’15 (Moana-Pontevedra, Spain) and Emma Cederlund ’15 (Stockholm) have a lot in common: Both are international students majoring in international studies and political science, and both have interned with the Red Cross. With that organization they had quite different, yet equally valuable, experiences.
Parcero Leites works for the Red Cross in Minneapolis on its Restoring Family Links program, pursuing every possible lead to reconnect families separated by war, disasters, and other problems. “I work directly with clients, interviewing them and analyzing their situations to determine whether we can help them,” says Parcero Leites. “Most of our clients find themselves in very delicate circumstances.” The three most common cases, she adds, are tracing cases, in which the client is looking for a family member; delivery of Red Cross Messages; and Certificates of Detention, in which a client needs, for example, a record of their time spent in a refugee camp in order to receive financial benefits from a government.
Parcero Leites decided to add a Human Rights and Humanitarianism concentration because of two college experiences: taking Wendy Weber’s Introduction to International Human Rights course and representing Peru at the National Model United Nations Conference.
Because the American Red Cross had proven to be such a great place to gain human rights experience, Parcero Leites continued her internship into the spring semester. She has found her work rewarding, though at times emotionally difficult. One man sought a brother he hadn’t seen since 1989, for example, and one woman learned that her son was serving a multi-year jail term.
She also stepped up to help from her Minnesota office when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. “I talked to more than 10 Twin Cities families who couldn’t get in touch with relatives living in the Philippines,” she says. “We immediately opened tracing cases for them and gathered all the information we could to help them find their loved ones.”
The Red Cross in Kenya
Emma Cederlund interned with the Kenyan Red Cross Society in Bungoma and Nairobi. At the Nairobi headquarters, she says, she had a surprising amount of responsibility on the Monitoring and Evaluation team, which is responsible for project proposals and donor accountability. “I never expected to become instrumental in relationships with major donors, including embassies and global finance institutes,” says Cederlund.
In the field, her team provided medicine and medical consultations, and sponsored peer-education at schools, during which Bungoma youth discussed sexual health, life skills, alcohol and substance abuse, and basic hygiene.
Her most transformative experiences, says Cederlund, took place through a Red Cross program called Global Connect, which fosters cultural exchange between rural Kenyans and outsiders who want to learn more about Kenyan society.
Her internship complete, and having “gained a perspective on how NGOs actually work on the ground,” Cederlund is now considering a career in humanitarian assistance. She left Kenya, she says, having learned “to be more assertive, diplomatic, and flexible in situations that can literally mean the difference between life and death.”