Fellows FlyerNotes from Our Fellows in the Field
We have mailed out our paper invitations to this year’s Annual Gala! Can’t wait for your invitation? Buy your ticket online! Join us in celebrating Jay Ireland and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Learn more about our Honorees and Sponsorships by visiting the Annual Gala page of our website.
In addition to Gala preparation, we have just launched our 2018-19 fellowship application. Interested in applying to be a 2018-19 Princeton in Africa Fellow? Explore the Applicants pages of our website and learn more about our application process, upcoming information sessions and on-campus office hours. We are looking forward to finding the next cohort of Fellows!
Please click below to check out pictures of our Fellows, Alums and other members of the PiAf family meeting up at home and around Africa.
Notes from the Field
By Corey Dickinson, 2016-17 Fellow with The Kasiisi Project in Uganda
Oftentimes, when discussing my job here, I find myself asked a common question. That question is “Why did I choose to do Princeton In Africa?” I’ve given a lot of different answers to that question, ranging from reflections on the ethics of development to jokes about impulse control. One of the most common reasons I list for pursuing this opportunity has been to gain a better understanding of myself professionally. In the first few years out of college, one finds oneself in a wide variety of jobs – I’ve attempted everything from farmer to ski lift technician. In doing this, the goal is to, of course find something that fits you perfectly, and to thus make decisions to help inform future career choices. This was what I was looking to find working here in Uganda. Instead, I found something else.
Here in rural Uganda, I spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zone. I ride motorcycles to get around, I walk through banana plantations to get to work, I use bucket showers to clean myself every day. Much of this time is spent alone, or in the company of people who come from wildly different backgrounds than I do. This distance from what I find familiar has translated beyond just a physical and cultural gap to a philosophical one as well. It is far easier to gain perspective about things from the outside.
So what have I learned? Many traditions of thought would call it mindfulness. It’s the ability to separate all the parts of your whole and to examine each part. It’s sitting silently in spaces that belongs to someone else and understand there are things to which you cannot belong but you can appreciate. It’s awareness, in a multitude of ways. When you spend a lot of time in a state of reflection like this, you begin to notice things about other people as well. We all are built of many parts, and the complexities between any two individuals are far greater than the differences between two different cultures.
In the end, what I have found here is not an answer to the question “what am I doing with my life”. Rather, what I have found answers something along the lines of “who am I”. Thanks to this experience, I have a far better understanding of my mind, my existence, and myself.
Notes from the Field
By Will Edman, 2016-17 Fellow with Lwala Community Alliance in Kenya
Lwala Community Alliance (Lwala) is a community-led health innovator working in rural western Kenya. In addition to running Lwala Community Hospital, Lwala partners with the Ministry of Health and government health centers to organize health management committees, provide on-site quality improvement coaching to nurses and clinical officers, and recruit, train, supervise, and pay Community Health Workers (CHWs). Will sat down with John Oyugi and Euniter Adoyo, Lwala’s two lead CHWs. John and Euniter supervise Lwala’s cadre of 83 community health workers, and they are influential community leaders. Most household CHWs were originally traditional birth attendants who were integrated into the formal health system. Today, Lwala CHWs visit, monitor, and give health advice to pregnant mothers, under-5 children, and HIV-positive people in Lwala’s catchment area.
W: What brought you to Lwala?
J: Before Lwala Hospital was built, I was picked to be one of the community members to discuss where the facility site would be. We were the first community members who started the facility, and I remember collecting sand from the river to build the facility. Before that I was just a peasant farmer, I was just farming at home, but I developed an interest in health when the facility was built. To work for Lwala is a privilege for me because I had a maternity death where my wife passed and my baby passed while she was giving birth. When I heard about Lwala’s maternal health program, I knew I wanted to be one of those to teach health to my community.
E: Initially, I was in Kisumu, trying to volunteer for the Kenya Red Cross. When I came back home by 2010, I found a chance to come in Lwala and work as a nurse aid for a month. I’ve been working since 2012 as a lead CHW. Lwala’s maternal program was introduced because many mothers were delivering from the Traditional Birth Attendants who were untrained, and maternal deaths were frequent. I wanted to help in reducing these deaths.
W: What changes have you seen since Lwala’s inception?
E: In our area, initially latrine coverage was very low, and you could find feces wherever you walked. But since Lwala came with these programs, now you can see the environment is not so filthy, people have built latrines, and they use handwashing facilities. Thanks to our community trainings, people nowadays know how malaria is transmitted, and they know the importance of insecticide treated bed nets. We have even found that through community education, malnutrition cases have gone down. Even in family planning, initially you could find somebody being birthed every year in a family, but since the introduction of FP services at Lwala, people are now giving space between one child and the other. In HIV, we are trying to eradicate stigma, but you find that there is still stigma in our community. It is a gradual process and can’t be changed instantly, but we hope it can continue to decrease as the programs continue.
W: Lwala was founded and is led by the surrounding community. How does this shape your view of the organization?
J: I know, in human life, something that you struggle for, that is not given on a silver plate, you take care of it and you know the importance of it. Since our community members were so involved in creating the facility, they are also interested in seeing positive outcomes that they have worked so hard for.
Notes from the Field
By Faith Fugar, 2016-17 Fellow with HelpAge International in Kenya
As the Resource Development Fellow for HelpAge International’s Africa regional office, I spent a lot of time at my desk in Nairobi talking over Skype with colleagues in our offices all over the continent. I read reports about our fascinating work delivering life saving assistance in South Sudan and our amazing eye care work in Ethiopia. Although, hearing about this work was great, I was itching to get out there to the field and see it for myself.
The opportunity came knocking with a trip to our office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania where I had the opportunity to visit our Intergenerational Project in Kibaha, a small city about 25 miles away from Dar es Salaam. HelpAge’s focus is on improving the lives of older persons, and what was interesting about this particular project is it included family members of all ages (generations). This project was implemented to support healthy living practices in an effort to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) among older persons who may have already developed them and to prevent the development of NCD’s among younger generations. Example of NCDs include diabetes, hypertension, and lung and kidney diseases.
We traveled between Dar Es Salaam and Kibaha each morning for a week. A team of colleagues and I piled into a Toyota Land Cruiser and set off at the crack of dawn to interview a few of the beneficiaries of the project. We began by paying courtesy visits to the district councils of each village- a way to show respect and garner support and approval from local authorities. Then we split up and embarked on the interviews, which I was in charge of documenting through video and photos.
One couple’s story really stood out to me. The husband had a stroke a year ago and was bedridden, but all that changed once a Family Health Mentor (FHM) started visiting and advising him as part of HelpAge’s Intergenerational Project. The FHM showed his wife how to take his vital signs, which she demonstrated for us and encouraged him to take his medicine, go for regular check-ups at the hospital, and perform exercises to improve his mobility. All of this advice worked, and the man is now able to walk and showed us around his greenhouse, chicken coop, and garden, which were all established as part of the project.
We also visited an Active Ageing Club, where members of all ages from 9 to 80 performed various exercises such as jumping jacks, sit-ups, jump-rope, and traditional dances. I was definitely motivated to get back in shape after watching an 80-year-old woman performing several sit-ups! Experiencing the impact that our programs have on older people in the field gave me the extra motivation I needed to work harder to search for more funding to support this life-changing work.
Notes from the Field
By Claire McGillem, 2016-17 Fellow with International Rescue Committee in Sierra Leone
I believe that every development professional should have regular existential crises for healthy career growth. To work productively in this field, which is full of moral dilemmas and ethical trade-offs, it’s a useful exercise to reflect on whether or not our good intentions are actually creating positive changes in the countries where we work.
In my final month working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Sierra Leone, I had the opportunity to facilitate these discussions for our country program through our annual Strategic Action Plan review workshop. When we created our five-year strategic plan in 2015, Sierra Leone was a very different place. The country was just emerging from the Ebola epidemic. As one of the world’s top humanitarian organizations, the IRC had been a natural leader in Ebola response efforts.
Now it’s 2017 and there is no emergency going on here. No conflict. No famine. No epidemic. Our portfolio has shrunk significantly now that donors have shifted their funds to address other emergencies around the world. So what, exactly, is the IRC still doing in Sierra Leone?
My colleagues and I spent two days in the workshop grappling with this question. We reflected upon our mission as an organization and in Sierra Leone. We looked critically at what we had accomplished as well as our failures. Finally, we asked ourselves some tough questions:
- What are the most pressing needs in Sierra Leone?
- Are we the best actors to address them?
- If so, what kind of positive development impact can we realistically make by 2020?
The workshop was a refreshing opportunity to look at the bigger picture of the Sierra Leonean development context. Too often, our staff get stuck in the day-to-day implementation of our work without pausing to think critically about the effects of what we’re doing and to course correct if necessary. But once they had the space to do so, my colleagues were more than willing to discuss and debate the best way forward.
My favorite part of the workshop was listening to my Sierra Leonean colleagues speak passionately about the changes they want to see in their country. It was fascinating to watch them shed their identities as IRC employees and simply speak as engaged citizens of Sierra Leone. But it was also difficult for them to admit that many obstacles in the way of Sierra Leone’s development – such as endemic government corruption – cannot (and should not) be solved by the IRC. It required a high level of humility and pragmatism from all of us to recognize that Sierra Leonean civil society and other local partners, not the IRC, should drive development.
I’m grateful that my fellowship year ended with this exercise in conscious reflection, at both an organizational and individual level. Although leaving Sierra Leone will be bittersweet, I’m excited to watch from afar how my Sierra Leonean friends and colleagues will continue to bring about positive changes in their country.
Notes from the Field
By Faith Park, 2016-17 Fellow with Population Services International in South Africa
“Why in the world are you moving to Johannesburg?” Prior to my departure, it was not an exaggeration to say that 8 out of 10 remarks on Jo’burg (Johannesburg) were pessimistic, regardless of their source. Jo’burg is often associated with the label “a city of crimes.” Despite my excitement for the fellowship and attempt to be positive, it was inevitable not to be anxious about moving to a new city with such negative stereotypes. In September, I finally arrived at the OR Tambo International Airport hiding my waist pack underneath my baggy shirt; I recall not taking out my phone and being apprehensive withdrawing cash from the ATM at the airport.
Nine months later, I hardly ever wear my waist pack, frequently use my phone in public with some caution, and withdraw money from the ATM with vigilance. What media and most people failed to acknowledge was that Johannesburg is a vibrant, cosmopolitan, and well developed city full of art, culture, and history. Here’s a glimpse of my life in Jo’burg: on weekends, I love going to Neighbourgoods Market and Arts on Main. You can easily get lost walking around the food stalls representing a wide range of international cuisines including Korean BBQ, Congolese fish, bunny chow, paella, and plenty of other options. I also enjoy checking out pop up shops, arts, and interacting with entrepreneurs at these markets. Every first Thursday of the month, you can easily find me in Rosebank enjoying “First Thursday.” I start my night off by visiting art galleries, then head to Keyes Avenue, which is filled with food trucks, live bands, and lively Jo’burgers. I can go on and on about exceptional restaurants and a wide range of events and festivals in Jo’burg.
Most importantly, its culture and people are what make Johannesburg extraordinary. There have been countless meaningful moments I will always cherish. For example, my colleague Pinky organized my first South African Braai (BBQ), showed me around her neighborhood, and introduced me to her family and neighbors so that I could experience the township culture. After our visit to Constitution Hill, my South African friend, Tshego, challenged me to think more deeply about the history of apartheid and its influence on complex social issues, such as race and extreme social disparities in South Africa. It is also delightful to engage in conversations with the Uber drivers and learn more about South Africa through their unique lenses. Lastly, all my close friends always go an extra mile to make me feel at home; hospitality that I’ve received upon my arrival is beyond measurable.
In case you are curious, I am extremely grateful to say that I have not experienced any crimes. While I am not trying to undermine the seriousness of crimes here, what I can guarantee is that Johannesburg has so much more to offer beyond its stereotypes. I am proud to call myself a Jo’burger.
Notes from the Field
By Emma Patterson, 2016-17 Fellow with Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania
I’ve been home for a week and I’m savoring every sip of the IPA in my hand. The dress I’m wearing falls just above my knees, but I can’t stop pulling it down and stretching the cotton towards the ground. I’m surrounded by people in cuffed shorts and spaghetti straps, but I still feel naked in my dress. And then, it happens. The question I dread, and the thirty seconds that are usually allotted for my answer:
“How was Africa?!?”
I pause for a moment. I knew it was coming, I knew I should have prepared, and I knew it would be impossible to answer. Where do I start?
Do I just say “It was good!” and assume he’ll lose interest soon?
Do I express how I felt during the first month when I couldn’t talk to my mom without tearing up?
Do I show him photographs of my students to try and explain how their jokes and smiles have the ability to literally swell my heart?
Do I tally the number of times I woke up homesick and immediately Whatsapped my sleeping friends in America to tell them that I missed them?
Do I talk him through the projects I worked on and the lofty responsibilities I was given?
Do I start with the basics and explain that Africa is a continent with an incredibly diverse set of cultures and countries, of which I really only got to know a small fragment?
Do I explain what my organization does and how that fits into my non-existent Ten-Year-Plan?
Do I tell the story of the first time a student really opened up to me on the wooden bench outside my office?
Do I point to my foot and tell him about the rusty nail that left me with a bone infection to battle?
Do I explain how I got into a terrible habit of perusing Instagram late at night for photographs of the foods I craved most by searching hashtags like #chocolatechipcookie, #friedchicken, and #baconeggandcheese?
Do I talk about what I learned about male circumcision in the Maasai culture?
Do I tell him about the cornfield where I spent Friday evenings sipping beer and watching unforgettable sunsets?
Do I explain that leaving my new community feels so unimaginable that I’ve decided to extend my contract?
Do I share the way my thoughts surrounding race, gender, wealth, health, education, or the environment developed during my time in Tanzania?
Although well-meaning, the family friend and his one question send me into complete overwhelm. I’m not able to come up with a soundbite to appropriately and comprehensively explain the last year of my life. I would argue that it might be a silly thing to ask any human being to do, considering the ups and downs that can occur over 365 days.
In the end, I’ll most likely choose a short and watered down answer. In a subtle attempt to prove the diversity within Africa, I’ll talk about Tanzania as a country and my students as predominantly Maasai. I’ll explain that the move wasn’t always easy but that I learned a lot and ultimately fell in love with both people and place. I’ll even show him a photo or two. When I’ve finished my brief verbal report, he’ll hopefully walk away with a blurry but satisfactory image of my life in Tanzania.
But, I’m saving the clarity and complexity and emotion for another time. I’ll save it for the friends and family who let me ramble for hours over a glass of wine and who remember the names of students I often bring up. I’ll save it for the coworkers who became friends and confidantes and allies on the toughest of days. Most importantly though, I’ll save it for myself. I’ll save the memories that can still make me cry with joy, those that made me yearn for home, and those that continue to overwhelm me with gratitude for every individually rich moment of the last year.
Notes from the Field
By Carla Sung Ah Yoon, 2016-17 Fellow with Lutheran World Federation in Uganda
You learn that even though the Adjumani refugee settlements are only 30 minutes from the South Sudanese border, Adjumani is one of the safest places you’ve ever lived. The most fear you ever feel is irritation at swatting the fifth mosquito inside your net.
You will learn to love those small 12-seat flights. Doesn’t matter that they’re single engine. Nor that you once saw a preteen boy in the co-pilot seat. If you can avoid the seven hour on the road to Adjumani, you don’t mind the two hours to the airport, two hours at the airport, and three hours on the plane.
You learn to calculate all possible combinations of frying rice, beans, tomatoes, and egg (answer: 15). You don’t need factorials. You just know.
You learn to read jargon-laden sentences like: “the WASH team motorized five high-yielding hand-pump boreholes,” or “the project distributes NFI to 1,000 PWDs and UAMs.” In fact, you’ll be the one writing them. “Sensitization” and “capacity building” will enter your everyday vocabulary.
One day, you will wake up and know the differences between HH latrine, PSN latrine, and VIP latrine. The day you bother to look up VIP latrine, you realize, with shame, that it actually stands for ventilated improved pit.
You tune out the sound of shrieking babies during staff meetings. Male goats just sound that way, it’s not their fault. You learn what cows really sound like. Not the cute, black-and-white, maternal type on cheese and milk packaging. You actively wish someone will eat that dinosauric bull behind your house, the one that bellows demonically in the middle of the night and wakes you up in fear for your life.
You learn the meaning of grace and patience from your Ugandan colleagues. They are the first ones responding to survivors of abuse, rape, and child marriages in the settlements. The ones who work weekends and Christmas to respond to the refugee emergency. The ones who see their spouses and children once every few months. Their humility and hard work and good humor puts you to shame for First-World complaining about eating rice and beans every day.
You learn that, despite the skepticism about humanitarian aid, despite the NGO politics around funding, despite those times projects are rushed to meet deadlines and money spent for the sake of spending – despite all this, you can genuinely say you believe in this work.
You believe in this work because every day, you see the literally life-changing, untold work of the Ugandan and refugee staff in the settlements. You realize those beneficiary photos on UN websites and NGO brochures barely capture a smidgen of the real work on the ground. The response team that builds shelters for refugees arriving in the thousands every day. The WASH engineers who ensure sufficient water and latrines for the rapidly increasing population. The livelihood officers who create opportunities for single mothers and youth.
You realize it’s been a true privilege to witness Uganda’s compassion and generosity in welcoming over one million refugees, and to have worked with the Ugandans and refugees who keep the settlements running day to day. You realize they’ve been here twenty, thirty years and still will be after the international community has moved on.
Notes from the Field
Fellowship Organization Update: Welcome new 2017-18 fellowship organizations!
Princeton in Africa is welcoming six new organizations for the 2017-18 fellowship year! Read more about our new fellowship organizations: