Back to Africa

africa-cameroon

Just about 24 hours ago, I arrived at Dulles to check in for my second trip to Africa. I’m planning on blogging about my experiences while I am there, but I thought it might be helpful if I explained exactly what I will be doing ahead of time in case any of you are interested. I’m interning with the Young Women Leaders Program in Cameroon, the same mentoring program that I volunteer with in the United States. The program is similar in structure but their main goal is to encourage middle school and high school girls to continue pursuing their education in a culture where they are often encouraged to drop out early and get married very young. I will be in Kumbo, a small town located in the North West region of Cameroon. My goals are to research girls’ access to education and leadership development within YWLP and to provide an opportunity for cultural exchange with the Big Sisters and Little Sisters in Cameroon. Learning to be global citizens is one of the main components of YWLP! To conduct my research, I will be meeting with school and community leaders, family members and program participants to interview them on relevant topics. After returning to the United States, I will create resources during a semester long independent study to train group facilitators and Big Sisters in YWLP who are teaching the global connections curriculum to Little Sisters. Hopefully that gives you a bit of an idea of what I will be doing there!

I can’t say that my travels have been going smoothly so far. My flight out of Dulles was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight to Cameroon. After a quick Ebola scan in Addis Ababa and waiting nearly two hours to discover that my luggage would be going directly to Cameroon and I would not, Ethiopian Airlines put me in a taxi and took me to the hotel where I will be staying tonight. Apparently, there were no more flights to Cameroon until tomorrow. At first, I was a bit disappointed and worried about having no toiletries or clean clothes. I also know nothing about Ethiopia and that means one less day in Cameroon. But I have always wanted to try Ethiopian food and my hotel isn’t all that bad, so I’m trying to make the best of the situation. So far I have witnessed a car accident and seen the prime minister’s residence complete with two lion sculptures- my day has been full of adventure. Wish me luck!

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Habari from Nairobi!

slums

About a year ago, I did a case study on Nairobi’s Kibera slum in a Women, Peace, and Global Justice class I took for my internship with the UVa Women’s Center. I never imagined that just a few short months later, I would be serving in Kibera myself. I arrived in Nairobi three nights ago after a solid thirty hours of traveling to meet the group of energetic and friendly American college students that I would be volunteering with. So far, we have been overwhelmed with trying to adapt to the culture and very busy with orientation. I haven’t been able to find much time to reflect, but I will try to condense a few details of what has been going on for the past few days. Orientation began the morning after I arrived with a lecture on Kenyan culture and history from two professors that teach in Nairobi. It turns out I had already committed a few cultural faux pas in the short time I had been in Kenya (namely crying outside of the airport when my ride didn’t show up, which is apparently frowned upon as a huge embarrassment).  Afterwards, we got to meet the Kenyan youth we would be volunteering with. They are around the same age and involved with various programs that are related to the Kibera School for Girls. We have been working with them over the past two days to edit and create new lesson plans for the Summer Institute with the students at KSG. The topics I’ve been submitting workshops on vary from the water cycle for Pre-K students to positive body image for older students and I’m very excited to start teaching them. The Kenyan youth are enthusiastic and happy to share their culture with us.

So far, I have spent two days in the slum itself. Although I’ve studied Kibera in several of my politics and WGS classes at UVa, nothing could quite prepare me for what exactly Kibera is like. The roads are uneven and muddy, littered with trash, stray animals, and even occasional sewage. Kibera is about the size of Central Park and is home to over one million people. There is so much going on in Kibera. Every step you take comes with a new sight and most notably a new smell, some more pleasant than others. It takes about fifteen minutes to walk to the school from where we get dropped off each morning. There are a ton of young children in Kenya. Often they are on their way to school when we are walking through and they will chase us in their school uniforms singing, “how are you, how are you, how are you” because that is how they know to say hello to Americans. The facilities at KSG are nicer than most of the buildings in Kibera. The school is painted bright colors which contrast with the tin buildings that surround it. The hardest thing to adjust to has been the bathroom at the school. Considering we spend around nine hours a day at school, using the bathroom is unavoidable. It’s a circular building with several stalls. You go in and squat over a hole in the floor and do your business. The smell is almost unbearable, but I’m slowly getting used to it. This is actually a pretty nice set up for Kibera where “flying toilets” are a common problem. Besides that, I’m still trying to adjust to the food and general lifestyle here. Luckily, the American volunteers are all in the same boat and we have already built a pretty strong support system. Tomorrow is our first day of teaching and we are all looking forward to it very much!