MIT student from E. Aurora happy helping Indonesian tsunami victims

By Ryan Haggerty, August 7, 2005

Many graduate business students hope to spend their summers in internships at major companies, padding their resumes and learning the ins and outs of the corporate world.

But East Aurora’s Nathalie Butcher, a second-year student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, is spending her summer working in Sirumbo, a tiny village on a peninsula of the Indonesian island of Nias.

The village — home to about 1,000 residents, two satellite phones, one Internet connection, a sketchy electrical grid and no cellular phone coverage — was nearly destroyed by the December tsunami, and was rocked by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake in March that flattened the few remaining buildings.

Despite the painstaking and meticulous work required to get the village back on its feet, Butcher, 28, says there is nowhere else she’d rather be. “I’ve always described myself as someone who can get things done,” she said in a telephone interview from Jakarta, where she lives in between trips to Sirumbo. “I like to organize things, and I love large projects. I don’t mind small details that would probably annoy most other people.”

Those “small details” include planning and building a coconut oil production facility in Sirumbo, a project that would convert an abundant natural resource into profit. It would also provide steady jobs to villagers whose fishing industry was decimated when their boats and markets were crushed by the tsunami, and would result in improvements to the area’s infrastructure.

Butcher, who graduated from East Aurora High School in 1995 and majored in finance at Lehigh University, took her first steps toward a summer in Indonesia while at MIT in January, when she was searching for a summer internship and trying to raise money for the Sloan Leadership Club’s March trip to Patagonia, a rugged region of South America.

“I was feeling guilty because I was asking for money for a bunch of business students to go hiking on glaciers, when there were people without drinking water on the other side of the world,” she said.

While hunting for opportunities in Indonesia, she was directed to Alan White, a senior associate dean at Sloan and a member of the international advisory panel of United in Diversity, an organization started by a Sloan graduate about two years ago to help Indonesia’s disparate minority groups work together for political and economic stability.

Butcher, armed with a digital slide show, laid out her goals in a 10-minute interview with White.

“He liked it so much, he asked for a digital copy of the pitch and a copy of my resume,” she said. “The next day, I had a job.” Butcher’s clear objectives and knowledge of her own limitations made her an ideal fit for United in Diversity, White said. “I was struck by her idealism and the realistic approach she was taking,” he said. “She wasn’t going to remake the world, but she was going to go out to see what she cou! ld do.”

Butcher’s 12-week stay in Indonesia ends Aug. 24, but she will be able to see some payoff from her work, when 18 families move into new houses in the middle of the month, capping a project that Butcher helped oversee. Such tangible results have turned Butcher’s thoughts to the nature of her work following her graduation next spring.

“I love travel, and I love learning about other cultures,” she said. “I would prefer to work overseas because it’s a beautiful world, and I love exploring. If I can use my skills to help others, that’s fantastic.”