She rode as far as the vehicle would take her before hopping out onto the uneven dirt road to walk the rest of the way. In the tropical heat of Thailand, thick trees grew close to the road as Emily Turner ventured further into the district of Phrao.
Ahead, in the crude settlements she sought, lived the ethnic minorities so poor as to be among the most marginalized in the country. “These people live without the most basic necessities and health care. They don’t even speak the language, but instead speak their own dialect,” says Turner, a Northeastern senior studying international affairs and political science.
Where most would see despair, she saw opportunity.
During her co-op position working for Warm Heart Thailand from July to December 2008, Turner was instrumental in several initiatives to develop public health care and microbusiness opportunities for the poor.
A researcher for the nonprofit organization, Turner reached out to the community she was trying to help, and introduced concepts and ideas that might serve them.
Women weavers knit the fabric of those plans with the colorful scarves they assembled. In a microenterprise effort, Turner convinced the women to let Warm Hearts sell their wares in the U.S. and return the profits to the small community, she explains.
The venture proved a success. “These scarves, which are made by the poor living in the lowlands, are now being sold on college campuses, including Northeastern University, Rutgers and the University of California in San Diego,” she says.
The achievement was especially rewarding for Turner, whose connection with Thailand began long before her co-op. As a child, Turner, the daughter of a Filipino mother, sent her castoff clothes to relatives still living in the Philippines. When she visited Thailand as a teenager, the bond was instant. “The first time I went, I felt like I was at home,” she says. “I grew up in Vermont, where it’s really homogenous. Culturally, I felt I belonged in Thailand, among the Buddhists who really intrigue me.”
She has never lost sight of her heritage or her altruistic ambition. “Microenterprise, like the one we did in Thailand, is one of those poverty alleviation efforts that has been proven to work,” she says, adding that she hopes her future profession allows her to continue this type of work.