Red Cross volunteers meet for an orientation in Zambia. CU grad student Kanmani Venkateswaran is working in Lusaka, Zambia, with the Zambian Red Cross to develop a community early-warning system for floods. Courtesy photo/Kanmani Venkateswaran

Learn more about CU-Boulder’s internship program through the Climate Centre at .

The Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and the University of Colorado at Boulder have linked up to send CU graduate students to Africa for a three-month internship program focusing on the climate.

Lisa Dilling, co-director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent program at CU, said the internships will give participants a chance to use climate-based research in real world decision-making and generate effective environmental policies and practices for humanitarian aid efforts.

“This program essentially puts our student’s intellectual learning on the ground,” Dilling said. “It gives our graduate students some practice with usable climate information, and allows them to go to an organization and put resources in place for humanitarian aid.”

This is the first year CU has partnered with the Climate Centre, but the program has been working with Columbia, Yale and Oxford Universities for several years.

Meaghan Daly, a Ph.D. student in environmental studies at CU, completed the internship in 2009 through the Climate and Society Master’s program at Columbia University. She said she was excited to hear that program co-director Max Boykoff and Dilling had initiated an effort to institute a partnership with CU.

“There is a lot of useful scientific information out there that has the potential to make a significant impact on society, but there are challenges in making sure that this knowledge is successfully put into practice,” Daly said.

This summer, three CU environmental studies graduate students (being a member of that program is not required, Dilling said) are working with the Climate Centre program, in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. The students arrived in African in mid-May and will return in August.

Arielle Tozier de la Poterie is assisting the Ugandan and German Red Cross in Uganda, training Ugandan volunteers to conduct evaluations. She’ll be traveling in the area in the coming weeks to ensure assessments are being carried out smoothly.

“It feels more like a consulting job than an internship,” de la Poterie said. “There is a definite role for my skills, not because people here cannot do what I am doing, but because resources are limited, so additional manpower is helpful.”

Amy Quandt has been working alongside the Partners for Resilience Project in Isiolo, Kenya, an area that is arid and susceptible to floods. While in Isiolo, she is conducting interviews in seven different communities and identifying alternative livelihoods for locals that will benefit the local climate and ecosystem.

Kanmani Venkateswaran is working in Lusaka, Zambia, with the Zambian Red Cross. Her project’s aim is to determine how humanitarian aid workers and susceptible communities along the Zambezi River can use flood forecasts to avoid damages and losses caused by floods. Venkateswaran says the plan is to have the early warning systems be a community-based initiative, which will allow locals to continually assess and develop the system.

“It’s been great to have an opportunity to learn about climate change adaptation in a completely different cultural context,” said Venkateswaran, who had previously conducted research in India. “Overall, I’m learning a lot here everyday, and not just about disaster management — I’ve been learning about human-wildlife conflict, deep-set political and social vulnerabilities, degradation, and so on.”

Venkateswaran says she is satisfied with her experience so far, and the Zambian Red Cross has made her feel welcomed and integrated in the research process.

“I’ve been given a lot of independence in terms of determining my research objectives and designing methodologies, and the Red Cross has been excellent about supporting my research needs,” Venkateswaran said. “I feel like what I’m doing actually matters, and that the research I’m conducting will be used to benefit the communities I’m working with here.”

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