Last summer, Emma Puka-Beals '12 interned for Heifer International, a nonprofit organization committed to ending global hunger and poverty by funding and facilitating the donation of local livestock to families and communities in more than 100 countries around the world.
Stationed at Heifer International's Learning Center at Overlook Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts, Puka-Beals led groups of various ages on afternoon tours of the farm, during which she provided information on Heifer International's mission. As an education volunteer, she also facilitated conversations about the social and political factors that determine distribution of wealth, as well as strategies that might be effective in alleviating malnutrition.
"Witnessing children and teens from all different backgrounds confront and conceptualize these incredibly complex questions for the first time was a truly eye-opening experience for me that allowed me to question my own ideas," said Puka-Beals.
In addition to the educational component, the internship had a hands-on aspect, as well: Puka-Beals helped the farmhands complete a variety of chores. Whether she was milking goats or feeding water buffalo, she never had a boring day at the Learning Center.
"I loved getting hands-on experience on a farm, which I had never gotten the chance to do before," she said.
Puka-Beals is an environmental studies major with a concentration in sustainable development. After taking courses with MHC professors Beth Hooker and Susanna McCandless, she became interested in sustainable agriculture and the social, political, and economic factors affecting land use. She found the internship position through the Miller Worley Center for the Environment.
"I am beginning to understand how complex, relevant, and urgently important it is to design and support local and large-scale farming strategies that are environmentally responsible, locally sustainable, and can support the world's growing population with nutritious, accessible food," she said.
While working at the Learning Center, she was able to build upon her Mount Holyoke educational experience.
"I was able to apply my interest in ecosystem health, sustainability, poverty alleviation, and education into the work I did every day," she said.
Puka-Beal's passion for environmentalism led her to a study abroad program this past fall in Panama, where she explored tropical ecology and biodiversity. She plans to use both experiences to further research sustainable agriculture and pursue environmental education.