Paris Cochran’s cool internship: HELPS International
Every student who participates in PLU’s Gateway study-away program in Oaxaca, Mexico, has to participate in a four-week internship.
Based on the students’ interests, there are many internship options during the semester-long program, including working with healthcare providers or at women’s shelters, working on migrant issues or even student teaching.
In Paris Cochran’s case, she was able to find something that matched perfectly with her two majors and interest area: She worked with HELPS International, a non-profit that helps indigenous communities install sustainable wood-burning stoves in kitchens. The stoves, which burn fuel more efficiently than traditional stoves, not only mitigate deforestation in the area, but they improve the health of the users by keeping smoke and particulates out of the kitchen.
Cochran was the first American, and female student, to go into rural Oaxaca with HELPS. That was a big deal. Cochran had to earn the trust and respect of the people she was working with. “I was able to change their opinion about what Americans, and students, are capable of,” she said.
The opportunity Cochran had to talk directly with the women in these communities and see, firsthand, the cultural importance of these wood-burning stoves, was invaluable to her – and not just because it improved her Spanish markedly.
“I learned how important relationships between people and the environment are,” she said. “I learned how to use resources efficiently and I learned that by watching people – these people have used these technologies for hundreds of years.”
That will come in handy when Paris graduates – she plans to return to her native Alaska to work with the indigenous communities on land-rights issues.