Julie Yermack, ’13, saw firsthand the power of grassroots organizing while studying abroad in Thailand this fall.

The community-based learning model of her program gave her an opportunity to interact and live with families in the northeast part of the country to study environmental issues and how certain villages are working to combat problems.

It was while learning about such issues that she snapped the winning photo for the third annual “Capturing the Jepson Spirit Abroad” contest. The contest is open to leadership studies majors and minors. Winning photos are announced in January and displayed in an international photo gallery in Jepson Hall.  

Yermack’s photo shows a woman standing in a village plagued by flooding.

“The place where the woman is standing is actually a road,” says Yermack. “It’s hard to tell that from the photo. I don’t know what the woman is thinking, but I was inspired by the determination of the people in the village and how they are working to improve their situation and their community.”

To enter the photo contest, Yermack had to write a short explanation relating her photo and study abroad experience to leadership studies.

She wrote: “The community of Rasi Salai has been organizing without aid or compensation from the government and leading by example for other dam-affected communities for the past 17 years.  

“Currently, the residents' farms are flooded and their means of work is destroyed, but they are organizing to form an organic market for the future and utilizing media to continue their movement.”

Studying abroad drastically changed her view of grassroots movements, she says.

“Before I went to Thailand, I thought a group of villagers couldn’t get together and make a real difference,” she says. “I thought there needed to be a lot of financial assistance from someone who had power. But I met people in the villages and saw them organize and assisted in their movement. I was blown away by all they had accomplished.”

As part of the final project for her program, she worked to help villagers start an organic market. She created and conducted surveys of consumers and producers and made a pamphlet about eating organic.

The leadership studies and political science double major says the experience was invaluable.

“I don’t know what I want to do after graduation, but I learned a lot about grassroots organizing, leadership and myself.”

*Sarah Lucier ,’13, earned an honorable mention for her submission, which was taken in Italy. Lucier is majoring in leadership studies and business.