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Insights from Interning: Food for Thought from the Guate Cafe

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IMG_1898Being the Program Intern at Philanthropiece is an amazing opportunity for someone as passionate about sustainable human development as I.  There are new ideas forming and taking shape all around me and while it is a learning experience in it’s own just to watch, getting to be a part of it is a dream come true.

One of my favorite parts about this internship is how it goes along so perfectly with my interests.  After many development classes at the Joseph Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, I came to the conclusion that the best way to address various human development areas across the board is to focus on women’s education.  Women and children often bear the brunt of violence, poverty and disease.  Given the opportunity and the means however, women have been shown to invest more in their children’s education and health than men do, which in turn benefits the economy and the society as a whole.  Educating a woman on things like reproductive health, business skills, and vocal empowerment creates ripple effects that improve the lives of so many others at the same time.

On March 19th, Philanthropiece convened a group of non-profits focused on empowerment and education in Guatemala to discuss best practices, challenges, and ways to work together.  Given my interest in this topic, it was an honor and a joy to coordinate this event, called “Guate Cafe”.  While I appreciate the benefits to the organizations of having a group to use as a sounding board, the event was almost more exciting for me on a personal level.  From my own perspective, it felt like I got to gather all the local experts on a very specific field of interest of mine, sit them all down at a table together, and shout, “Discuss!”  To me, it was comparable to a VIP ticket to a personalized TED Talk where I got to meet the speakers and participate occasionally.

As a recent graduate, this was also an amazing professional opportunity for me.  I know that I want to work in the same field and maybe even in the same organizations as the people I got to meet and learn from.  In a few years, I hope to be in a similar place as they are now.  Looking around the room felt like a strange glimpse into my future.

Aside from practically organizing my own personal networking event and development conference, Guate Cafe was an incredible, innovative space to be in.  The overarching theme this time around was empowerment, but the topics stretched from women in politics to a few Guatemalan women affiliated with a local non-profit named Starfish starting a lingerie business to generate income and fill a need for dressing rooms in the community.  A common problem with international development is a lack of communication among organizations that are doing similar things.  Guate Cafe largely solves this problem for the small area of Guatemala that the “Guate Cafe-ers” work in.  Being a part of this creative solution has most definitely been a highlight of my internship so far.

Aside from Guate Cafe, I’ve also loved the parts of my internship that allow me to work with local and Guatemalan youth.  I’m always inspired by the amazing projects they have going on and how passionate they are.  Many of my own projects were daunting at first, but working at Philanthropiece has taught me to not be intimidated by the unknown.  As I start looking and applying for jobs after graduation, I can face new positions with the confidence that just because I haven’t done something before doesn’t mean I can’t do it well.  I like the challenge that Philanthropiece can present and the knowledge that it is preparing me for whatever is to come.

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Caitlin Mendenhall is a recent graduate of the University of Denver with degrees in International Studies and Spanish.  She is hoping her internship at Philanthropiece will lead to a career in education and development where she can use her Spanish skills and work with indigenous populations in Latin America.

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