Merrit Stüven

Merrit Stüven ’17

Munich, Germany
Major: Political Science
Minor: Economics
Concentration: Human Rights and Humanitarianism

Amy Ostermeier Human Rights Fellowship Summer 2016

Internship with Kakenya Center for Excellence

This summer I was fortunate to work with the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE) in Washington DC. KCE was founded by Kakenya Ntaiya, who was the first woman from her rural village of Enoosaen, Kenya to attend college in the United States. She returned to build a boarding school for girls in Enoosaen, which not only gives many girls educational opportunities they were previously denied but also works to combat female genital mutilation and early marriage in the community, two factors that heavily contribute to low education rates for girls. The organization’s DC office is small, with only a handful of staff members, so I was able to take on a wide variety of projects and do a little bit of everything during my time there. Some of my main responsibilities were running and re-vitalizing KCE’s social media; doing research projects on FGM, early marriage and girls’ education rates in the Maasai community, Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa and globally; researching partner and peer organizations and working on a communications strategy for the organization. It was great to be doing work that I was equipped and prepared for while also facing some new and challenging tasks that I had never encountered. Working in a small organization was also great because I got to build relationships with my coworkers and, in the 10 weeks I spent there, really came to feel like I was a part of the team, that they trusted me to take on important tasks and that my ideas and expertise were heard and valued. It was also great to be there when recent Macalester graduate Jolena Zabel ’16, who is a past Ostermeier Fellowship recipient, joined the office as the new communications and development associate.

I became connected with KCE through a Macalester alum I met while on the spring break Mac Connect trip to Washington DC. After talking to her about my interests in human rights and specifically women’s rights and education during an informational interview she suggested I apply for this internship. I don’t know if I ever would have found an organization that so uniquely lined up with my interests and past experience if I hadn’t had that connection. When describing my human rights interests to others I often say that my passion lies at the intersection of women’s rights and education, and KCE exemplifies that passion in every aspect of their work. I found myself applying concepts I have been learning since my first class in the Human Rights & Humanitarianism concentration, Introduction to International Human Rights, as I researched the complex topics of child marriage and female genital mutilation and learned how to speak about them beyond the academic context. It was great to see how the things I have learned and written about in an academic context play out in the real world, to see the problems in the context of a community and what barriers to implementing solutions exist.

Looking back on my outlook at the beginning of the summer I can already see how this internship has impacted my worldview and my career aspirations. This was my first time working in the field I hope to enter after graduation and I feel like I have a much more concrete grasp on what that work looks like, the skills that are needed and who the key players in the field are. The internship reaffirmed my dedication to human rights and work in the nonprofit sector: I know now more than ever that I want to be doing this same work after I graduate. Especially working in an organization that focuses on girls, I was exposed to a lot of other organizations who focus on women and girls and was struck by the passion and determination with which they approach gender inequality. My next step will hopefully be working for an organization a little bit larger than KCE that does work with women and girls on education, reproductive rights and gender equality. Before this summer, I was very worried and felt like I might not be able to find a job in the field I want to work in postgraduation but with my new network in DC and the staff at KCE that expressed their willingness to connect me and write recommendations I feel a lot more optimistic and able to take on the challenge of the job search but am also more secure in what I want out of a job.

For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about education as a tool for furthering human rights, and I want to thank you for allowing me to pursue my dreams through this summer internship. The Kakenya Center is exactly the kind of organization I want to work for eventually and getting to contribute to their mission and observe their work this past summer was an incredible educational opportunity. Thank you for enabling me and other Macalester students throughout the years to dedicate ourselves to human rights work.