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A global internship in Ghana

By Alexandra Wertz '12
February 3, 2011

Liz Lampman '11 (right) offers assistance to a Ghanaian women as part of her work with Global Mamas this Interim.

Crammed in the back seat of a van between two men talking enthusiastically in a language she doesn’t understand, Liz Lampman '11 smiled. The packed vehicle swerved down a bumpy dirt road in Ghana, screeching to a halt as three more strangers piled in and the already sweaty passengers had to squish together even tighter. For Lampman, this was a regular ride to work this Interim and, despite the noise and dust, became a commute that she loved.

Lampman spent Interim in Accra, Ghana, where she completed an academic internship with Global Mamas, a nonprofit organization that promotes women's economic independence and fair trade. Her experience was supported by a Kloeck-Jenson Scholarship, an award distributed through the St. Olaf Center for Experiential Learning that encourages students to engage in activity that addresses the causes and impact of economic, political, and social injustice and violence.

A sociology/anthropology and English major who also has a concentration in women’s studies, Lampman’s work with Global Mamas involved keeping the organization’s website updated, compiling an annual report, and marketing the homemade merchandise made by Ghanaian women. She’s also been keeping her own blog about the experience, and she took some time to answer a few questions about what she learned along the way.

What drew you to the mission of Global Mamas?
I'm passionate about working toward gender equality, and that's exactly what Global Mamas does. This organization supports women-owned businesses in Ghana by marketing their products online and on many continents. This contributes to the success of these women's businesses and, therefore, helps them work toward economic independence. Studies have shown that when women earn an income or become economically independent, it drastically changes their lives. Women may choose to pay off their debt, pay for necessary health care for themselves or their families, or invest in education for themselves or for their children.

How did you land your internship at Global Mamas?
I expressed interest to Global Mamas some time ago, but this fall they actually contacted me and invited me to consider applying for an internship. I applied and, as soon as I found funding, booked my ticket to Ghana. I would not be here if it weren't for the Kloeck-Jenson scholarship.

What's your favorite part about your work with Global Mamas?
I love that every single thing I do is important. If at any point I feel worn out, I just have to take one second and remember what I am a part of and what my work is helping to accomplish. I love the mission and the practical goals of Global Mamas, and I feel so honored to be able to contribute.

What's your favorite part about Ghana?
There's a particular type of transportation vehicle in Ghana called a tro tro. It's similar to a bus system in the States, but tros are the about size of 15-passenger vans and they have many, many more seats crammed in them. A tro is always jam-packed and speeds down the road, swerving around pot holes and the occasional wandering goat, and stops only to drop someone off or cram in one more passenger. They're loud, dusty, hot, and I love them! I love the unpredictability, the speed, and the simplicity. You don't really think about the fact that you're jammed between strangers, or even that you don't understand what they're saying; it's just a time to breathe (or cough) and be. I find the chaos calming and the Ghanaians, with their openness and warmth, are always a pleasure to travel with, even when we're sitting on each others' laps.

What's one thing you find surprising or challenging about life in Ghana?
It's sometimes challenging to be white. There's no blending in, and I am constantly aware of how my behavior is going to represent other white people or Americans. I recognize how invaluable this experience is, however, and I welcome the challenge it brings.

What are your career goals and how has this experience shaped them?

In the near future, I hope to work for an organization that promotes social justice. After two or three years I plan to return to graduate school, possibly for an MFA in creative writing, but I am also considering other avenues for further education.This internship has confirmed the fact that I work diligently and happily when I agree with the mission of the business or organization. I don't think that I'll be able to compromise on this aspect in my future career, so I'll need to seek employment with socially responsible organizations or businesses.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or