Christina Miller does not take her kitchen faucet for granted.
"While I was in Tanzania in 2008, I watched a girl who was about 10 years old carry a 5-gallon water barrel to a community well," Miller says. "She filled it, put it on top of her head and walked off. I don't know how far she had to go, but I did not see any homes in the distance."
The desire to ensure more people around the world have safe water to drink prompted Miller to pursue a Master of International Public Affairs degree at the La Follette School. "I think we take it for granted that we can go to the bathroom or kitchen and turn on a faucet and we have water in our glass," Miller says. "We take showers daily and waste water continuously. There are so many places in this world where water, safe and drinkable water, is very hard to come by."
The welfare of women and children is also a priority for the second-year student, who is interning this summer with WE International Inc., a Wisconsin-based justice advocacy and economic development agency that addresses poverty and injustice primarily in Africa and in south and southeast Asia. La Follette School classmate and WE International board member Emily Brunjes introduced Miller to the agency.
WE International's focus on women and at-risk children fits with Miller's interests and gives her the opportunity to help the agency develop management systems for an orphanage in Mbarara, Uganda. The children come from a variety of backgrounds but are mostly abandoned street children. Miller is working in Madison and with WE International's Uganda country director and orphanage administrators to develop a budget that will inform the design of a program through which donors will sponsor individual children. "The child sponsorship program will help provide funds for the orphanage for its operations," Miller says. "I am also creating the 'Child Sponsorship Manual' that will lay out how the program works, including a system for letters to be exchanged between the sponsor and child."
While she is in Uganda this summer, Miller hopes to see classmate Troy Hoppenjan, who is interning with Help International in Uganda, and then she plans to travel to Tanzania to visit people she met in 2008.
Christina Miller volunteered at Grace Orphanage in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Miller is pleased she can do much of the internship work from Wisconsin. As the parent of an 8-year-old daughter, she would find leaving for an international internship in another country or in Washington, D.C. , for the full summer or a semester to be difficult.
Miller came to La Follette after completing her bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. Her economics professor, 2002 La Follette alum Chad Cotti, introduced Miller to the public affairs field and the La Follette School specifically.
The La Follette School's small classroom setting makes for a good learning environment, Miller says. "It feels more like the professors are speaking directly to you and they are there for you when you need additional help."
The cooperative nature of the classes is another benefit. "Your classmates are like team members," Miller says. "They are all willing to help when someone is struggling with a particular subject."
Next year, Miller hopes to return to Haiti, which she visited in 2010, three months after a major earthquake and its aftershocks devastated the county. There, too, Miller appreciated safe drinking water. "Water was available in little 8-ounce pouches," Miller says. "That was the only source of safe water that I had. People in Haiti have very few sources of water, and even the water that they have access to cannot be guaranteed safe for consumption."
At La Follette, Miller has gained new insights into international governance and its many problems. "There are many ideas that I have never considered before and that have changed my way of thinking and going about creating change," she says. "The quantitative skills I am gaining at La Follette will help me in my research. The numbers in the journal articles I read now have more meaning."
After Miller graduates in May 2013, she wants to work for an international development organization to improve the welfare of women and children and the quality of their drinking water. "Access to water is part of the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations set in 2000 to be achieved by 2015," Miller says. "I am very passionate about seeing our world attain that goal. I hope to use the skills I have acquired to one day perform my own case study on the effect of having access to improved water on child mortality rates."
— updated June 14, 2012