Penn students build ties in Botswana
Through the Botswana-UPenn Partnership summer internship program, students worked at human rights nonprofits, financial institutions
July 25, 2012, 9:44 pm·
For 10 Penn students, the ideal summer internship involved a flight halfway around the world.
The internships, which concluded last week, were part of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, an 11-year old collaboration focused on rehabilitating Botswana’s healthcare system.
Beginning May 18 and working until July 20, the eight undergraduates and two graduate students lived in student housing on the University of Botswana’s campus in Gaborone and served in a variety of roles in seven different organizations, ranging from a human rights nonprofit to retail companies to financial institutions.
Rising Wharton junior Molly He volunteered at the Competition Authority, Botswana’s primary enforcement agency for competition law. For her, a typical day began with work and departmental meetings at 8 a.m.
She was assigned to a research analyst and assisted with cases involving possible anti-competitive behavior among businesses.
“On many occasions, I do site visits to the accused firms, and interview various top executives to their side of the stories,” she wrote in an email. “It’s interesting because these are people I would have never had the exposure to otherwise.”
For Alex Dayneka, a rising College senior, the program offered a chance to work with orphaned and vulnerable teenagers.
At her internship with Stepping Stones International, an NGO that serves a village just outside Gaborone, Dayneka was “there every day helping with administrative stuff, helping generate funding and also working with the kids. It was a very comprehensive internship and really, really interesting to get to know the kids especially,” she said.
The internships provided the students an opportunity to experience another culture.
“With any kind of international placement, you’re learning what it’s like to work in a global setting, and you’re learning it on the job,” said Heather Calvert, director of the Botswana summer internship program. “It could be anything, it could be something really boring, like data cleanup or filing or editing reports, all of the regular things that an internship has, but just a little bit extra because it’s outside the U.S.”
Calvert, who is the associate director of the Botswana-UPenn partnership, added that adjusting to different business and cultural practices is a major part of an abroad experience.
Molly He agreed, noting that “the most beneficial thing about working in this country is that most people come here for luxury safaris and other traveling,” whereas the internship was “a great opportunity to live here like a local and learn and practice the local customs.”
For both Molly He and Dayneka, one challenge of the international experience was adjusting to a different pace of work.
“Things tended to move much more slowly,” Dayneka said. “Especially coming from Penn where you’re doing five different things at once under strict deadlines … there are really some different priorities, such as taking longer to work out details and enjoying the process more.”
Rising College sophomore Aliza Stone, who worked at an orphanage called SOS Children’s Villages, was also surprised by Botswana’s slower work pace. The orphanage’s preschool program would end at two in the afternoon, at which point she and another Penn student working there were done for the day.
“We wanted to do a lot more than they were expecting of us,” Stone said, explaining that her expectation, as well as those of the internship program, was to work a full day.
With her spare time, Stone took on the project of cleaning and re-painting an abandoned, dirty building in the village filled with cartons of books.
“We got to know the older kids in the village that way,” she said. “They would come to say ‘hi’ or help us while we walked. And that was how I got to know the kids I would get closest to.”
While the internships were in a variety of fields, the mission of the Botswana-UPenn Partnership focuses on rehabilitating health care in Botswana. Penn has more than 80 full-time employees based in Botswana, including doctors working on clinical research, such as HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.
According to Dayneka, Penn’s partnership with Botswana — which started in 2001 — has flourished thanks to Botswana’s existing healthcare structure.
“There’s so much to work with, but there is so much to be done,” she said. “It makes me want to do more.”