Ellie Gunderson

FEBRUARY 9, 2011 – After witnessing firsthand the effects of the HIV/AIDs crisis in South Africa while studying abroad at the University of Cape Town, Ellie Gunderson returned to the country after graduation to do something about it. She now works in South Africa for Hands at Work Africa, a Christian nonprofit organization that helps local churches across sub-Saharan Africa care for orphaned children and others affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis.

My role with Hands at Work is to help rural villages find community-based solutions to the HIV/AIDS crisis, which has left 2.5 million children orphaned in South Africa alone,” Gunderson explains. The nation once torn by apartheid is also now stricken with infectious disease and poverty, she notes. The 2010 graduate of the College says her work involves helping the underserved rural communities build sustainable programs that provide food, education and health care.

She says her years at Georgetown, where she had a concentration in social justice analysis, strengthened her commitment to service. “[Georgetown] challenged me to contemplate societal ills through the lens of justice and social change, while my senior year internship assisting a community organizer helped me to put those intellectual questions into action,” Gunderson says. Outside of the classroom, she worked to promote civil rights and address racial inequalities, and weathered controversy as the first white president of the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP.

Translating her skills from the Hilltop to the international community has been a learning experience, Gunderson notes. “The most important lesson I’ve learned is our personal and collective responsibility to fight global poverty, and our immense privileged status as citizens of this nation,” she says. “Witnessing the dire poverty in Africa’s underdeveloped regions and understanding the privilege and immense material wealth of the United States as a whole, I have come to understand that we have a mandate to use our power and wealth to lift up our brothers and sisters across the world.”

Part of the reason for returning to South Africa was to honor the memory of her friend, Terrance Davis (C’10), who accidentally drowned while on vacation in the country. “Losing Terrance, someone who loved selflessly and spent every waking moment serving and inspiring others, made me realize that service is not simply an act of kindness, but a lifestyle,” says Gunderson, who hopes to be a social worker one day. “Many of the orphaned children whom I serve … desperately need that light of hope, and it is my responsibility to share it.”


Aya Waller-Bey (Class of 2014)
Sociology Students Garner Honors (Class of 2012)
Toddchelle Young (Class of 2012)
Ellie Gunderson (Class of 2010)
Donique Reid (Class of 2010) 
Maxwell Hsu (Class of 2010)
Rachel Ellis (Class of 2010)
Stephanie Miller (Class of 2009)
Kathleen Noel Benz (Class of 2007)
Rebecca Medway (Class of 2006)
Laurie Okinaga (Class of 2006)
Bill Healy (Class of 2005)
Anice Schervish (Class of 1998)
Dr. Rosemary Barberet Havican (Class of 1983)