Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development

It Takes a Community

By Anne Lizette Sta. Maria

It was a high school assignment that started it all for Madeline Cahue, MA SID’22. When tasked to find stories of different heroes, Cahue learned of Kakenya Ntaiya (whom she interned for years later), a social activist who sought to educate girls in rural Kenya. 

Inspired by how Ntaiya leveraged community relationships for social change, Cahue began to see possibilities in this space. 

Opening Doors to Possibilities

In her undergraduate years, she found a mentor in a professor, Kyle Woolley, also an alum of the SID program, who would later encourage her to apply to Heller for graduate school. He advised her to read professor bios to see if their research aligned with her interests. 

Cahue saw potential door openings in research focused on education, gender and climate, among others. “I knew I wanted to be with other people who were searching for solutions,” she said. 

Conversations and Connections

Once at Heller, Cahue took every opportunity to learn and connect. Despite the remote modality of the pandemic, she collaborated with friends and now retired Professor Joan Dassin to form a special readings course titled Education for Liberation and Resistance.

“The conversations, critical questioning and relationships that came from that course are still things that I carry with me,” she reminisces. “It’s exemplary of Heller as a whole. Heller is a place that pushes beyond what we see in front of us to imagine things in a different way.”

“I learned that we can’t really do this by ourselves. We need to do it together. I need to be a part of this community, to ask for help and to also give help.” 

SID is for Practitioners 

To this day, Dassin helps Cahue to synthesize her learnings outside of the classroom “because at the end of the day, SID is for practitioners.” 

During her second year, Cahue completed a practicum with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), wherein she supported Indigenous Peoples and local communities, as well as nature-based initiatives

She also gained research experience through the Bluestone Fellowship of Heller’s Center for Global Development and Sustainability (GDS). She assisted with participatory action research looking at human rights violations of the Raizal people in the San Andres Archipelago off the coast of Colombia. 

At the end, Cahue arranged for her research team to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Coincidentally, her UNDP colleagues were also there. This was not only a unique opportunity to culminate her two experiences, it was also a way to bridge connections with other passionate practitioners and activists in the field. 

Prepared to Make Change

Cahue then completed the International Development Fellowship Program with Catholic Relief Services in Togo and Rwanda before starting her current role as Knowledge Management Officer for the Indigenous Peoples Portfolio of the World Food Programme

“I don’t know if I would’ve fully gotten here on my own,” she concludes. “Heller prepared me to have the type of movement that I have right now.” She gives credit to her lasting community of critical thinkers.