Harvard Students Serve Poor Appalachian Areas

When most Harvard students head South for summer internships, they're usually on their way to jobs on Capitol Hill.

But 20 undergraduates, including three from Harvard, passed up the swinging Georgetown nightspots this summer for less glamorous locales in America's impoverished, rural Appalachia region.

All are participating in a new eight-week summer internship program organized by the Harvard-based chapter of the Overseas Development Network (ODN), which is aimed at getting students out of offices and into "the field."


Backed by $50,000 from the Ford Foundation, ODN paired students with grass roots groups in the central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

"A lot of time is spent in the classroom talking about the injustices being committed in the world," said Shubham Chaudhuri '88, head of ODN. "The discussion, though, doesn't have any real meaning until you actually get first-hand experience doing community work out in the field, which is what we are trying to do."


Dispersed throughout 11 public service organizations in Appalachia, the students have tried to help the groups improve literacy, health and the environment in the region, said Karl Hill, the organizer of the internship program.

Room and board are subsidized by ODN, but students receive no salary or stipend from the organization.

The residents of central Appalachia, a heavily mined, coal-rich region, have generally responded favorably to the students presence, Hill said. However, he added, it takes a period of adjustment for the locals to feel comfortable around the students, especially ones from Harvard.

"The people of Appalachia have a long history of being exploited by Yankees fromthe North," Hill said. "But Yankees--and Bostonand Harvard is as Yankee as you can get--onoccasion encounter a justifiable hesitancy fromthe local community."

But Marie Cirillo of the Appalachian CommunityDevelopment organization in Clairfield, Tenn.,said the Harvard students adapt well to theconditions. "Sometimes when you are [upper class]you know how to be down to earth," she said.

Still, there have been occassionaluncomfortable moments for some of the interns,Hill said. A few Black undergraduates on theprogram, he said, have encountered racialprejudice from the predominantly white Appalachiancommunity. But Hill said the Blacks say the racismis not bad or frequent enough for them to withdrawfrom the internship program.

The project's organizers said the internshipserves as "leadership training" for the studentswho will start or continue ODN chapters on theircollege campuses. Partly for this reason, the 20students will gather three times during the summerto compare experiences and discuss how they cantell university students about the necessity ofpublic service.

ODN was founded at Harvard in 1983 by KamalAhmad '88. The organization now boasts independentoffices at 35 colleges, including Princeton, Yaleand Stanford. It now has 700 student members.

One of ODN's main aims is to tell studentsabout underdeveloped areas around the world andfurnish students with information on organizationsworking in these troubled places.

It also raises money for its partnership anddevelopment program, which helps finance communitygroups in countries in Latin America, Africa andAsia. The Harvard and Stanford ODN chapterstogether have raised $150,000, mostly fromfoundations, for this cause.

The Appalachia and soon-to-be-startedBangladesh internship programs are the first ODNprojects to directly supervise on-site studentpublic service work. In the past, ODN has only putstudents in touch with the groups.

The first overseas ODN supervised project willstart in late September when five recent HarvardCollege graduates and one College junior willbegin a half-year of studying community programsin Bangladesh.

Based at the Bangladesh headquarters of theCommilla Proshika Centre for Development, located70 miles outside Dhaka, the capital, the studentswill make a series of two-week visits to thegroup's projects throughout the Asian country,Chaudhuri said.

Four women and two men will pay their own fareto Bangladesh, while Proshika, a non-governmentaldevelopment agency, will subsidize their room andboard