Griffith University is continuing with its mission to create globally responsible leaders with its latest internship program, funded by the government’s New Colombo Plan.

Dubbed a community internship, the program sees students from a range of disciplines travel to India for three weeks with the aim of observing and improving the living conditions of those struggling in areas stricken by poverty.

Dr Dhara Shah, a lecturer with the Department of International Business and Asian Studies, is one of the course creators, and will be accompanying students on the trip.

She says that the internship is a truly unique opportunity within the university’s plentiful internship options. “It’s the first of its kind for Griffith, because it’s a trip where we are bringing different disciplines together,” Dr Shah explains. Students from the Business School will accompany those studying nursing, journalism, humanities, ecology and even photography.

Dr Shah was one of a group of delegates who made an initial trip to India to scout out suitability for students. The delegates stayed where the students would stay, ate what the students would eat, and essentially did a test run of the internship. From there, they convened to decide what they wanted the objectives of the tour to be. “One thing we wanted students to gain was the volunteering experience… to be involved in a community,” she says. “But the most important was also to be able to build their skills. We want them to think about how they can make changes to help others… to understand something as simple as how a small loan of $100 can change a woman’s life.

Griffith University Delegates

Griffith University delegates.

“I think most countries, western countries, we are very much protected, we don’t realise what is outside of our own communities,” she says, of why the trip is so important. “And so in today’s globalised world we can not actually just say, ‘I’m an Australian, that’s it,” we have to be open minded and more importantly it gives a sense of purpose to students.”

The first week of the three-week program will ask the 11 students to remain observers when they journey into slums and rural areas beset by poverty. “At the start it will be about students keeping an open mind,” Dr Shah explains. “We want them visiting the slums, visiting micro-finance companies, nursing homes and everything, and then making some notes.”

From there, participants are asked to look back on their observations, and use their backgrounds to come up with a project that will allow them to make a difference in the communities they visit. They will be working with their partner on the ground, Beyond Borders, to implement any plans that result from their brainstorming sessions.

Dr Shah explains the university staff on the trip are there to guide the students, but ultimately the project will be the interns’ own. “One of the things we are hoping is to be able to give students a glimpse of what the reality is for those living in the slums… I think it will open up students’ minds. It will be an opportunity for students to be able to work within the community, to feel that sense of ‘I have achieved something, I have done something different’.”

She also says that the internship will be an excellent opportunity to put on their resumes, as many companies are looking for candidates who have experience with both international markets and volunteer work. “Community work is becoming so important to a number of employers, and I think for students being able to do that while studying is a great opportunity. Employers want to see that someone is not just focused on studies but they are thinking beyond just education, because this is also real life education as I see it.”

Upon their return to Australia, students will be encouraged to continue fundraising to send back to the communities they’ve worked with. Beyond Borders assists with this process, by setting up a Facebook page to facilitate donations to the cause the students decide on. From there, the money is distributed to the communities in India in a transparent process so the students can see exactly how their contributions have changed lives.

Dr Shah says they have funding to continue the program for three years, increasing the number of students in attendance with each trip.