Posted on Friday, July 25, 2014
Before starting her final year at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) in the fall, Amanda Ward ‘11 has set off on a journey to Sierra Leone and Kenya to work with the UNForgotten Fund (UNFF) and the Among the Least non-profit organization.
At CIPA, Ward will pursue a degree in international development, with a focus on women's economic empowerment and education. As such, she felt it was important to spend time working in a developing country. Over winter break she researched NGOs that offered field internships in developing countries. After learning about UNFF from a CIPA alum, Ward applied for a position as a field intern at the organization's newly formed Sierra Leone chapter.
She took on many tasks to complete within her seven-week stay in Sierra Leone, including working to compile grants and an evaluation program for the UNFF. Her main focus, however, is to help the mothers of 10 girls enrolled in bridge schools (schools that get the girls to the grade level that they should be in so that they can enroll in a private school).
"We meet weekly to discuss their living conditions, their needs and household responsibilities as well as what they want for their future," says Ward. "I am currently writing business plans for each mother. By the end of the summer I will decide based on my visits and research of the communities if the business plans are viable or if we have other options for the women."
Ward also is working to help the young daughters of these women. She developed a tracking system program for teachers to use to see how the girls are improving based on homework and test scores, and it will also help them group the girls by level.
Additionally, she is involved in ministry meetings in Sierra Leone to branch out to other NGOs that could help support the mothers through business and skill training classes; she also attends meetings at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Freetown City Council, and the Ministry of Youth to see what areas UNFF could expand into and how the organization can receive aid from other groups or the government.
Lastly, Ward is trying to find a solution to the housing problem in the area, where the houses are made out of timber, tin and cement. "The rain and wind can get into the houses without any difficulty and it often leads to illness," says Ward. "As of the past week, two houses were destroyed due to the rain and wind and those mothers and their children have been sleeping on the street until their homes are fixed."
After leaving Sierra Leone, Ward will travel to Kenya to help with the Among the Least non-profit organization in Kisumu for three weeks. Among the Least helps to provide clean water to poor areas and business skill training and loans to widowed mothers, in addition to working at orphanages and schools for disabled children.
Ward earned her B.A. in political science and international social justice (an individual major) from William Smith and minored in English. As a student, she was a member of the Social Justice Collective and Rotaract, and served on the board of Amnesty International, Student Activists for Darfur, and Americans for an Informed Democracy.
At Cornell, her level of involvement has continued. She is treasurer for Women in Public Policy and the vice president of the Cornell Latin American Student Society. She is a research editor for the CIPA Policy Review Journal and a member of the International Affairs Forum. She works as a student assistant for outreach coordination at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and helps to organize teacher trainings about how to internationalize curriculum in local schools. She helped plan a fundraising campaign to construct a veterinary clinic for the Belize National Zoo. Next year, Ward will work on a consulting project with THRIIVE, an international NGO that provides microloans to small businesses, mainly owned and operated by women.
"I credit my time at HWS with how involved I am at Cornell. I really loved my work in activism and with different organizations at HWS," she says. "So I took this community service and involvement spirit with me into graduate school."
"HWS sparked in me a love for activism and community service. I was taught to think outside the box and persevere in my projects and goals. Even my interest in international development was first discovered on the Egypt summer study abroad trip, which was an amazing and life changing experience for me," explains Ward. The trip to Egypt was led by Assistant Professor of Political Science Stacey Philbrick Yadav and Associate Professor of Political Science Vikash Yadav.
Ward also credits HWS for providing her with a life lesson.
"The best lesson I ever learned at HWS was to never view a challenge as too difficult. There are days here after visiting the sites that I am emotionally drained," she says.
"I think my club activities at HWS and my classes taught me that by trying to help a little we are making a small difference and for now that is what can be done. Later this can be expanded into something larger, but start small at the grassroots level and something will always come from it."
The Sierra Leone chapter of the UNFF was started in January 2014 and has worked to create two schools, and provide two nutritious meals a day to the girls and their families. As of now, the chapter has identified 10 girls and their mothers, and over the next three years they are hoping to expand to 50 mothers and girls.