Emma Puka-Beals '12

Hiefer International - Rutland, MA
Major: Environmental Studies

My internship with Heifer International, in short, provided a complete framework for my Mount Holyoke educational experience. I was able to apply my interest in ecosystem health, sustainable development and agriculture, poverty alleviation, world cultures, and education to the work I did every day. Most importantly, it gave me a global perspective on why these things are important.

Working as an Education Volunteer, I facilitated groups ranging from toddlers to their great-grandparents on afternoon tours of the farm, providing both (really interesting) information on our global village sites and Heifer International's mission, as well as opportunities for giggling toddlers to pet a camel and pick organic carrots from our gardens to feed to the baby bunnies.

Leading week-long intensive programs with high school age students allowed me to facilitate in-depth and transformative conversations and activities on themes such as organic v. conventional agriculture, eating local, standard of living vs. quality of life, factors that determine poverty, and strategies that might be effective in alleviating it. Witnessing children and teens, and even their chaperones, confront and conceptualize these incredibly complex questions for the first time, was a truly inspiring experience for me. It also allowed me to question my own ideas, and learn from the perspectives of the groups who visited the farm.

I was so inspired by the enthusiasm and personal growth of these groups, as well as the enthusiasm and personal growth of my colleagues. Although my housemates were from all over the country, and many of them did not do the same job I did, such as the livestock volunteers, farmhands, gardeners and farmer-chefs, we all shared similar interests and brought unique perspectives to out conversations.

I also loved getting hands-on experience on a farm, which I had never experienced before. Certain chores, such as running the sheep to and from pasture, milking the goats, and feeding the water-buffalo, never got old.

These hands-on activities, as well as the educational component of this internship, ensured that over the course of the summer, I was not once bored, and never disinterested in the information I was sharing. For each group that came to the farm, everything was brand new and exciting, and in that way, it stayed new and exciting for me as well.

I plan to use my experience this summer to pursue both research in sustainable agriculture and environmental education, and now hope to apply this research to global hunger alleviation.