Cassie Eng '25

Internship: Project PEARLS
Location: Manila, Philippines
Program: Service Focus
Concentration: School of Public and International Affairs (prospective)

Why did you choose your internship?

The reason I came to Princeton and am considering SPIA as my major is linked to my life's mission and passion for service, particularly around poverty alleviation and eradication. I firmly believe that empowerment through education is the key to breaking cycles of poverty, and this belief is shared by Project PEARLS as evident by their scholarship program.

Also as a half-Filipino, I want to use my power, privilege and knowledge to aid my community. With these two aspects aligning, I felt strongly about having the opportunity to work with the communities that Project PEARLS serves. I have been volunteering with them for eight years now, and this summer was my first time in an internship position with the organization. 

What have you learned?

This summer, I was once again reminded of the complexity of poverty and the need for interdisciplinary solutions to ensure the cycle is broken. As I observed the way that each of Project PEARLS' programs interact with each other (e.g., scholarship program sends kids to school, feeding program ensures kids have the mental and physical capacity of receiving an education, livelihood programs for the parents empower them to keep their kids in school, health programs restore dignity for all community members). 

So many systems, factors, and circumstances keep people and their families impoverished, and single-focused lenses aren't enough to understand the scope of the systemic issue of poverty. 

How do you think this opportunity will impact your career path and/or future goals?

Much of my internship and opportunity to work on-site in the Philippines meant I was interacting closely with the communities of Project PEARLS. I got to meet the accomplished college scholars that Project PEARLS had been supporting since grade school, talk with the mothers, aunties, and grandmas under the weaving livelihood program, and play with the kids who attended the weekly feedings.

Each time I visited one of the communities, I left more energized and motivated to hunt for knowledge, skills, and resources once I returned to Princeton that I could use to help the communities of Project PEARLS and other communities like it. This internship affirmed my life's commitment to having service as a central guiding focus of my career, whatever that may be. 

What has been most memorable for you?

Since I have been working with Project PEARLS for years before this internship, I have cultivated close relationships with many of the community members, scholars and staff. One of my most treasured relationships is with a college scholar that I will refer to as "A".

"A" and I met when I first started working with Project PEARLS at 12 years old. A year younger than me, we immediately connected, and she became my tether to the Bulacan community that Project PEARLS serves. She is one of the rising leaders from the Project PEARLS communities, being a scholar from the time she was in elementary school and rising out of the smoke of Ulingan, an infamous area of Manila where the livelihood was making charcoal.

I was reunited with "A" after 3 years of COVID. I learned about her dream of pursuing dentistry and how she hoped to move to Manila for school. She told me about her campaign as she runs for a seat on the local government council as a youth advocate for their community and that she is working hard to take care of her sisters. I have essentially grown up alongside her, and seeing her find her voice and passion has been such an honor and beautiful thing to witness.