Advocate for change: Richelle George on interning in India

When Trinity student Richelle George was weighing up her options for summer 2017, it didn’t take her long to decide. India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) offered summer internships through Camvol, a charity that places Cambridge University students with a variety of grassroots and research organisations in India and Nepal.

The third-year Human, Social and Political Sciences student had personal and professional motivations for interning with SEWA. She said:

As a woman from a developing country in the Caribbean, I have seen first-hand the benefits and challenges of development-related work. My time at Cambridge has been filled with advocacy and campaigning for the rights of women, particularly women of colour, and this is something I want to pursue after graduation.

Aarti, taking notes_Jahangirpuri
Aarti, a SEWA employee, taking notes at a members’ meeting

With 1.9 million members, SEWA is a trade union for women working in the informal sector that campaigns for their economic, social and legal rights. During her six-week internship, Richelle interviewed SEWA members for case studies which will be used in advocacy work and funding applications. She said: ‘These case studies also include members’ suggestions for SEWA’s policies in future. The opportunity to see the effects of SEWA’s work first-hand made clear to me the scope of the organisation’s success over the last 40 years, as well as the tangible impacts of this work on the livelihood of its members.’

Richelle also observed workshops offering computer training, interview practice and English conversation for girls in deprived areas of Delhi.

Subhadra runs a SEWA skills workshop
Subhadra, a SEWA employee, runs a skills workshop in Jahangirpuri, Delhi

 

For many of these girls, it was the first time they had been allowed to leave their small corner of Jahangirpuri, due to their families’ concerns for their safety in an area that is generally dangerous for women and girls. SEWA was able to build trust with the community through years and years of service. They are now starting to see the huge impact of their work on these girls’ lives.

 

Richelle also researched and wrote a report on the impact of India’s demonetization in 2016 – when the Indian Government stripped 500 and 1,000-Rupee notes of their legal status in a bid to combat corruption. ‘This was particularly engaging as it allowed me to put research skills gained at Cambridge to use in the ‘real world’. I also valued being trusted with such an important task; my 3,000-word report will be used by SEWA to publish an e-book about the effect of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy on their most vulnerable members,’ Richelle said.

Her positive experience with SEWA has confirmed her decision to pursue a career in international development, in particular advocacy. ‘SEWA gave me an insight into the way that advocacy can work on a regional and large-scale level, and how different social, political and economic rights can be campaigned for by institutions,’ she said.

Richelle George’s internship was arranged through Camvol and enabled by Trinity’s Projects Fund. Camvol was founded by Trinity alumna, Shiraz Vira, in 2006. 

This is the first in a series of articles about how the Projects Fund helps students at Trinity pursue their personal interests, research initiatives and career choices.

 

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