by Andrew Edwards
Gloomy clouds gather overhead on a Saturday night outside the Amadeus project on Cornwall Avenue in downtown Bellingham, but inside the atmosphere is a stark contrast to the weather. Uplifting music and empowering poetry performed by local artists entertain a crowd of people gathered to support Whatcom Community College student Kashia Gale in her effort to raise funds for an internship working with chimpanzees at Central Washington University.
Gale, 18, is the youngest person in Central’s history to be accepted for an internship at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute. The program would see her interacting with chimps during everyday tasks, such as feeding them and cleaning their cages, as well as actively gathering information by communicating with them through American Sign Language.
“I feel the experience itself is going to be life-changing,” said Gale, who became familiar with signing at an early age and tutors others on the subject.
“My best friend in elementary school was deaf,” said Gale. She said that learning about deaf culture was very interesting, and that experience has influenced her studies. She said she’d like to major in linguistic Anthropology with an emphasis on nonverbal communication.
It was during a linguistics class that the program was recommended to Gale by Dr. Dominique Coulet Du Gard.
“I’ve never had a student who is really proficient in sign language,” said Coulet. So one day in class, “I said ‘By the way, there are these internships.’”
Because of Gale’s knowledge of sign language, and other qualifications, like her membership in the honor society, Coulet said she thought Gale would be an ideal candidate for the position. “She’s a great communicator,” said Coulet.
Most of the applicants accepted into the program have at least a few years of university experience, said Gale, which made her hesitant to apply. The cost of the apprenticeship, $1,900 without food or housing, also seemed prohibitive. As Gale blunty put it “I don’t have money.”
After being encouraged by friends and family, however, Gale decided that it might be possible to fundraise enough to go.
There has been a lot of community support for Gale, said Makela Alem, who has been dating Gale for eight months. Alem didn’t want her to lose this chance, which she described as “the kind of thing, that when you’re a little kid, you say you want to do.”
“Working with chimps allows us to see the evolutionary process,” said Gale. “From understanding their language capabilities we can learn more about ourselves.”
A lot can be learned about early human communication by observing chimps since they generally have fewer inhibitions, said Gale. This can make it easier to recognize and study non-verbal cues, which could be valuable for a future career, Gale said.
The students accepted into the program are randomly assigned a research project which they must complete over the course of eight weeks, said Gale. This will not only provide a chance to gain hands-on research experience, she said, but could also let her network with people actively working in this field.
“Her prerogative is to learn as much as she can while she’s there,” said Alem. Gale, who has been volunteering since she was 9-years-old, is very deserving of this position, Alem said. She said that most people who attend Whatcom can identify with her attempt to raise money to attend a university program, and students should continue to support her.
This sentiment was repeated by several performers at Gale’s first fundraiser, many of whom exchanged hugs with her after leaving the stage.
“People are really rallying behind me,” said Gale. “People I didn’t think supported my morals or goals are really supporting me when I need it most.”
Gale has set her fundraising goal at $4,500 to cover the fee and cost of living for two months.
Gale suggests that people stay tuned for future fundraisers and hinted at the possibility of a silent auction or other performances.
“I’m putting almost as much of my own money in this as I’m getting in donations, said Gale. If the community continues to get behind her as much as it has, “I think it’s going to be successful,” she said.