Center for Human Rights Awards Make Local and International Internships Possible for SDSU Students

December 6, 2022
internship students: Serena, Like, Kali, and Janae

With support from the San Diego Peacemakers Fund, students assist refugees, migrants, human trafficking victims, and work for other social justice causes.

For students interested in human rights work, an internship can be a life-changing experience, expanding their opportunities to pursue work or graduate studies in the field and enhancing their skills, knowledge, and professional networks.

It can also strain their finances, as most of these internships are unpaid.

That’s why SDSU’s Center for Human Rights (CHR) at the College of Arts and Letters began the Human Rights Internship Awards with a donation from the San Diego Peacemakers, offering their first set of awards in the fall of 2021.

“The award relieves some of the financial concerns of students, so that they can devote the time as fully as possible in their internship experience,” said CHR Director Grace Cheng. “The experience and award are notable accomplishments that both potential employers and graduate schools will recognize.”

“As director of CHR, I have been developing programs that will enable students at SDSU to learn about human rights, both in the classroom and through experiential learning opportunities,” she added. “After CHR launched the Certificate in Human Rights in fall 2020, we were fortunate to receive funding from the San Diego Peacemakers to offer students with a financial award while they are interning at an organization that is engaged in promoting human rights.”

“We Peacemaker Fund advisors are gratified as we see the effect on both our SDSU students and those they are serving through their internships,” said Davida Huchel, Peacemaker Fund advisor at the San Diego Foundation. “A second positive outcome for us is learning, through our interns, about Human Rights NGOs we had not previously been familiar with for our own future exploration. This beautifully meshes our Peacemaker goals of helping those in need at this time, and supporting development of a new generation of leaders with global awareness and an understanding of how powerful compassionate, positive, peaceful actions can advance goals of a more just and sustainable life for all across the globe."

Cheng knows first-hand how valuable these internships can be. “I was an intern at the International Organization for Migration when I was an undergraduate, and that experience changed me in tremendous ways. It was a thorough education in international refugee assistance and how politics, funding, and all sorts of other considerations shape international relief and protection for refugees.

“ I know that students who participate in an internship will gain invaluable insights into the human rights issues that their organization is concerned with.”

Here, some of the recent awardees describe their internships and how they impacted their studies and future careers.

Luke Heine

MAJOR: History / Fourth-year
MINOR: Communications and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies 
Internship: University of San Diego School of Law Children's Advocacy Institute, spring 2022

In my capacity as a pre-law intern for Children’s Advocacy Institute, I worked on a variety of projects related to fighting human trafficking in the greater San Diego area. One of my primary duties was conducting a landscape analysis to create a network and database of organizations and specialists working in the realm of human trafficking. This database could then be used to connect parties in working in this field and encourage collaborative efforts. In addition, I also performed research on successful past advocacy movements to determine effective intervention strategies.

My internship experience helped me develop essential research skills which are applicable to almost any profession. The ability to analyze information, compile it, and synthesize it into a useful format is something which any organization, for-profit or nonprofit, can benefit from. In addition, I was able to practice skills such as being interviewed and job accountability, which are universally useful as well. 

What surprised me the most during my work was the number of organizations out there working to protect vulnerable women and children in need. It is comforting to know that such organizations exist to advocate for these disadvantaged groups, and I am happy to have made a contribution to their work.

The internship provided experience and a window into the legal profession, particularly dealing with social justice and altruistic arenas. This was very valuable since I’m considering applying to law school.

For many students, the decision between choosing an unpaid internship or a paid job can be a difficult one. This award allowed me to gain the benefits of pursuing this internship and serving society while also fulfilling my financial obligations.

Kali Luna

MAJOR: Political Science / ‘22 Graduation 
MINOR: International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR)
Internship: The Cameroon Advocacy Network, spring 2022

The Cameroon Advocacy Network is a coalition of organizations that advocate for migration as a human right, and draw attention to issues facing immigrants from Cameroon, as well as other Black immigrants. This is done by advocating for Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Cameroonians, an end for unjust and inhumane detainment of immigrants, and providing legal, post-release and resettlement resources for Cameroonians in the U.S. 

During my internship, I helped run social media campaigns, in which various organizations came together and posted digital campaigns aimed at bringing public and political awareness to some of these issues and injustices facing Black immigrants.

I learned about the importance of TPS for immigrants fleeing their homes due to fear for their lives, the struggles unique to Black immigrants, and about how social media can be mobilized as a platform for political activism and advocating for human rights. I am proud of taking part in a meaningful movement, PS4Cameroon, that I was initially unfamiliar with and being able to make a positive impact by advocating for basic human rights for immigrants.

This internship award helped me because it enabled me to better tackle school costs and I am now pursuing a master’s degree in international relations from the University of San Diego. This internship fit in with my other extracurriculars at SDSU in that I was also serving as the president of the SDSU organization Refugee Aid Initiative, which worked to provide aid and donations to refugees, and expand our social consciousness about ongoing humanitarian crises and prevalent issues facing refugee populations around the world.

Janae O'Connell

MAJOR: International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) / Fourth-year
Internship: The Borgen Project, summer 2022 (remote)

The Borgen Project is an NGO that works in countries globally to end poverty and its effects on the people living in those countries. It specifically focuses on eradicating food insecurity, reducing maternity/child mortality rates, increasing water, and sanitation access, and overall raising awareness about the effects of poverty.

I was a journalist/writer intern, so every week I was responsible for researching and writing articles that pertained to poverty topics. I wrote a variety of articles with topics spanning from health discrepancies in Argentina to protests about living costs to conflicts and their effect on poverty. I also fundraised to promote The Borgen Project's mission, and advocated for bills and legislation to be passed regarding anti-poverty.

I learned about the magnitude of poverty and how it affects people globally. I was able to better understand how the living conditions and lack of basic necessities affect people's ability to live, but most importantly, survive. Oftentimes, the struggle to survive is not an individual struggle, but a community and societal issue. Through this research, I gained greater compassion for people and their situations. I also learned about the importance of advocacy to enact change. By raising awareness for these global issues, we as a society can be one step closer to solving them. 

I am most proud of the research and articles I produced that will hopefully make a difference to those who read them. I was an advocate fighting to end poverty and encouraging people to do the same, which was showcased through my research and writing. 

Serena Rojas

MAJOR: International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR) / Fourth-year
Internship #1: Fundación Samaritana Amar y Servir, summer 2022
Internship #2: Catholic Charities, fall 2022

This past summer I had the opportunity to complete an unpaid internship in Medellín, Colombia with Fundación Samaritana Amar y Servir. I had the honor to intern with this amazing nonprofit for six weeks assisting them in their social media outreach, community outreach, and partnerships with English speaking donors. Being Colombian myself, this internship held a special place in my heart as my family grew up in Medellín.

This semester, I am interning with Catholic Charities as a migrant shelter intern. I am interning at the migrant shelter located in Mission Valley every week, assisting with various tasks such as client intake, aiding clients with travel information to their sponsor, aiding clients with food and clothing when necessary, and airport drop off. Airport drop off is my favorite part because it is such an engaging part of the internship where I am able to directly help our clients retrieve their boarding passes and assist them all the way up until they get to their flight gate.

How to Apply

Both undergraduate and graduate students in any major at SDSU may apply for an award, which ranges from $1,000 to $2,000, if they are participating in an unpaid internship involving human rights work. More information about the types of internships that may be covered, as well as other criteria are on the CHR's internship website.

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