WGS Internship Series: Self-Help International

by Jo Allen

Somerle Rhiner (she/they), a junior in sociology and women and gender studies, spent last summer and fall of 2020 interning remotely with Self-Help International (SHI). SHI is a non-profit organization founded in Waverly, Iowa by Vern Schield and is currently operating sustainable development programs in Ghana, West Africa, and Nicaragua, Central America.

“Self-Help works to alleviate hunger by assisting the rural poor, small-scale farmers, and related enterprises in developing countries. We help them become self-reliant in meeting the needs of families and communities through training, education, leadership development, and other forms of assistance.” — Self-Help International Website

Katie Seifert, Rhiner’s supervisor and the Latin America Programs Specialist at SHI, worked closely with Rhiner over the course of her internship. During May through June of 2020, a series of needs assessments was carried out by SHI. Rhiner spent their time analyzing the responses of the needs assessments completed by women in Nicaragua.

“The needs assessments were open-ended questions prompted by 18 women clients by the program’s Officer; I then translated the responses and shared them with Somerle to analyze and provide recommendations to SHI based on the responses,” Seifert said.

Never once stepping foot in Nicaragua, Rhiner learned more from the Nicaraguan women they analyzed without ever physically meeting them or even knowing what they looked like. She said she wanted to empower them and really understand how to benefit the women.

“I learned about their values, their problems, and their ideas. Their ideas were so important and critical to my internship,” Rhiner said.

Seifert explained that she was extremely pleased with the work done by Rhiner as an intern.

“Not only did she come to conclusions that I think were true and reflective of the women’s responses; she was also meticulous and thorough and provided very detailed, partly quantitative analysis of the frequency of responses from the women,” Seifert said.

Oftentimes, international work can be seen as a form of colonization. During their time working with the women, Rhiner said they realized that their help was not necessarily needed.

“These folks already have the resources provided for them. I learned a lot about how to not colonize because that is a big problem with non-profits,” Rhiner said.

Rhiner said that their main goal within their profession is to continue to do human rights work with folks. They said that interning with SHI was one of the many steps that helped them decide what they wanted to do in their future. Rhiner explained that working with individuals on an international level also gave her a new outlook on approaching research.

“Instead of a western point of view, I’m now focused more on an international perspective. It has really opened up my mind — my first step of decolonizing my mind,” Rhiner said.

If you are interested in earning credits through an internship, chat with WGS Advisor Christiana Langenberg (clang@iastate.edu). More information about internship requirements can be found on our WGS 491 Internship Form, which must be completed and approved prior to adding the course to your schedule.