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Sophie Boehm '11 with her Ugandan homestay mom.
Sophie Boehm '11 with her Ugandan homestay mom.

Stocking the Arsenal Against AIDS

By Alexandra Ossola '10  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted August 10, 2010
Tags Career Center Funded Internships Student Internships
In South Africa, about 19 percent of the population ages 15-49 is living with HIV or AIDS.1 Many children are haunted by the disease, supporting family members or living with it themselves. Sophie Boehm ’11, with support from the Joseph F. Anderson Internship Fund, is interning with the Ubuntu Education Fund, which works to lighten the load of these burdened children.

The Ubuntu Education Fund was founded in 1999 and maintains its headquarters in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The province in which Port Elizabeth is located, Eastern Cape, has a very high percentage of AIDS prevalence with between 11 and 15.7 percent of people age 15-49 infected.2 “Ubuntu focuses not on how many children it can reach but, rather, how deeply it can reach each child. Thus, we work within a seven-kilometer radius of our headquarters, and we refuse to widen that area until we have successfully addressed all of the problems within these communities,” Boehm said.

The organization attempts to stabilize the environment for children whose lives have been disrupted by HIV/AIDS by providing them with mentoring, access to computers and libraries, HIV testing, AIDS treatment, counseling, food stability and career training. Education is the top priority for Ubuntu, as education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, so it focuses on providing resources for children to be able to go to school, no matter the status of their home life or whether or not they have HIV/AIDS.

Ubuntu’s deep concern for and dedication to the Port Elizabeth community is heartening to Boehm. During her semester in Rwanda and Uganda, Boehm noticed that, despite the number of NGOs working in Gulu, Uganda, many of the problems in the community remained from the conflict decades previous, such as unpaved roads, malaria and malnutrition, and limited water access. The ritzy NGO offices seemed completely out of sync with the community.

“After talking with people who directly benefited from NGO assistance, USAID workers, local and national government officials, and prominent community members in Uganda, I discovered that these nonprofits often create more problems than solutions, specifically that they undermine government accountability. I felt that many aid workers did not care about or want to discuss these negative impacts, and, instead, I felt that many were pursuing their own interests,” Boehm said. “But I wanted to hear a different side of the story, and I wanted to get the perspective of those working for an NGO.” Boehm’s internship with Ubuntu is helping her determine whether she wants to pursue a career in the non-profit sector after graduation.

As an intern with Ubuntu, Boehm is learning first-hand about the inner workings of a non-profit organization She proofreads grant applications, mass e-mails and op-eds, she researches related topics, prepares the financial records for the audit, and posts information about Ubuntu on websites like Guidestar and Idealist. She recently finished compiling a media kit that includes information on the South African townships before Ubuntu, the history of the organization, its programs and impacts, biographies of the founders, previous awards and acknowledgements and past press-clippings. She is currently writing success stories of children involved in Ubuntu’s programs, which the organization will use in grant applications throughout the year.

“I think that this internship has really shown me what strategies are effective for mobilizing communities for a cause,” Boehm explained. “I really hope that maybe I can get some more people at Hamilton to be more aware of what happens outside our community…I just want to share my experiences with as many people as I can in the hopes that maybe they’ll be more alert to what’s going on in the world or more passionate about a cause or more motivated to travel to the developing world.”

Boehm receives support from the Career Center's Joseph F. Anderson ’44 Internship Fund, which provides stipends to students who wish to accompany their academic studies with a real-world, career-based experience. It must be an unpaid position, and the Fund is open to students in all majors.

Boehm is a graduate of Siegel High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

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