AIIS works with NGOs to facilitate internship and service-learning opportunities for students
On 7 January 2012, AIIS marked a new initiative by its International Learning program by convening a half-day workshop with local NGOs. In the first of what hopefully will be annual gatherings, AIIS explored with these potential partners what is needed to create optimum circumstances for U.S. students to work with Indian NGOs, contributing to positive change in India. Thirteen NGOs participated, providing a fascinating sampler across the spectrum of NGO activity (even though all were local to the Delhi/Haryana area), from at-risk women and children to environmental emphases; from crafts support to civil-society activism.
We learned much from them. We have, now, the start of a good list of guidelines for both students and host organizations that will help ensure the most successful internships and service-learning opportunities. We also collected what can serve as model contracts that can also be uploaded onto an expanded International Learning section of the AIIS website.
In the process, we identified important ways in which the organizations differ (for example, in their ability to absorb interns for a short period compared to those that need to have student volunteers for a longer period of time). Moreover, some NGOs have the capacity to invite students to create their own projects – because they have a number of branches into which special projects can be fitted – while others need to place students into their ongoing programs. All of these characteristics will be noted on the uploaded list of vetted NGOs that AIIS will post, providing much more information and a review process for students and their faculty mentors to work from in designing placements.
The conversations also highlighted ways in which AIIS can assist NGOs, even now. For instance, a number of the NGOs felt unable to issue letters of invitation when students requested them, because this incurred responsibility by the host NGO for the students’ welfare, while providing this assurance is already part of the student-visa process that AIIS offers. None of the NGOs would have known about this capacity of AIIS – or of its language offerings and its ability to tailor some language instruction to help interns become comfortable in their volunteer context – without this workshop discussion.
In fact, the capacity of the language program locales to serve as a base for NGO placement and collaboration has led us to think that one logical way to expand AIIS’ connections to NGOs will be to work out from these language program operations (there are some 14-16 locales dotted across the country). We will still pursue other leads, of course, including meeting with organizations whose missions seem to especially serve student interests, wherever they are located. Another promising outcome was the expression of interest by some of the NGOs (e.g. The Environmental Research Institute or TERI) to sign MOUs with AIIS. All of these developments point to a very substantial expansion of our capacity to support internships and service-learning opportunities, quite quickly.
The success of this workshop may be attributed especially to efforts by Rajender Kumar, the staff member whose job description includes a substantial proportion of time devoted to working on internships and service-learning, along with Director General Purnima Mehta. Also present at the meeting were Philip Lutgendorf, AIIS President; Sandria Freitag, Chair of the international Learning Standing Committee; and four heads of AIIS’ largest language programs. We can be really pleased with the progress the staff has made in this new initiative we identified just a short time ago.
 Participant organizations included: All India women’s Conference; Center for Environment Education; Craft Revival Trust; Deepalaya; Indo-Global Social Service Society; Institute for social Sciences; Naz; Pravah; Prema; Society for the Promotion of Women and Children Welfare; Society for Welfare & Rehabilitation of Oldie’s; St. Joseph’s Service Society; The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).