Experience Internships: Self-Help International

While it might sometimes take us visiting another country for that country and culture to have an impact on us, we don’t necessarily need to travel to other countries to have a positive impact on them. Service learning can certainly happen abroad, where you are able to be on the grounds and physically impact the area where you travel to, but there are also many domestic organizations whose purpose is to provide aid and support to other countries. Honors student, Caroline Scott, had the opportunity to work for a nonprofit organization that did just that. Read on to learn more about her experience as an intern with Self-Help International.

Over the past six months, I have served as an intern with Self-Help International, a nonprofit based in Waverly, Iowa. It’s a very small organization with only three paid employees in the United States – I worked in Des Moines with the Executive Director. Basically, what Self-Help does is work on sustainability in Ghana and Nicaragua with local employees to bring positive change to the communities, essentially lending a hand to help people help themselves with projects like water purification, school breakfasts, micro-credit loans, and agriculture training and loans. Working at such a small nonprofit allowed me to really make an impact with my work, as well as experience every aspect of operating an international organization. I was trusted to work on big projects like the social media and communications strategies for our biggest fundraiser of the year, which taught me about marketing and effective appeals to donors, and editing our Annual Report.


This job taught me so much about what I want to do with my future. I was lucky to work alongside inspiring people and learned that I loved working at a nonprofit. It was so motivating knowing that my work was directly benefiting people in Ghana and Nicaragua. I also learned that I really enjoy doing translation. One of my frequent tasks at Self-Help was translating reports, stories, and contracts from Spanish into English, and I realized that it combined my language skills and my writing skills – which, as an English major and Spanish minor, are two of my favorite things! I gained a much clearer perspective of what I want in my future career. My experience working as a Self-Help International intern showed me the paths available to me with my Spanish language and writing abilities, as well as the ways my scholarly training can be used to help others.


One of the pitfalls of working in the nonprofit industry is the “white-savior complex” and disrespect for cultures distinct from ours in the Western world. This phenomenon has been popularly and rightfully criticized, and at Self-Help, one of our fundamental tenets is avoiding creating more problems and dependency than if we had never worked in a country at all. Before working with Self-Help, I understood why it was important to be a responsible global citizen, why voluntarism and white-saviorism are wrong, but I was left wondering how one can help responsibly. Working with Self-Help International, I learned several strategies to ensure successful, sustainable, self-sufficient, respectful and appropriate development within communities in need, which I will always carry with me in my future endeavors. I am really proud to have worked for an organization that, above all, values responsible support for people in need.

I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in philanthropy and nonprofit work to seek an internship with Self-Help International. I was able to put to use what I have studied in my past four years at Iowa while supporting an organization that I believe in. By going through the Honors Program for credit, I was able to self-reflect and comprehend more fully what I have gained from this experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so!

Written by: Caroline Scott, Honors Student

Caroline Scott will graduate with honors from the University of Iowa with a degree in English and minors in Spanish and Political Science in May of 2018. During her time at Iowa she has interned with the Monica Vernon for Congress Campaign and Self-Help International, and studied abroad in Madrid. Next year, she plans return to Spain to teach English before attending graduate school.

Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager



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