Fellows FlyerNotes from Our Fellows in the Field
Welcome to Princeton in Africa’s new Fellows Flyer! While the look is a bit different, you will still find the same great photos and stories from our extraordinary Fellows.
It’s an exciting time at Princeton in Africa – this year, we have 47 Fellows from 28 different universities serving in 19 countries with 26 partner organizations. Our Fellows are working on everything from humanitarian aid distribution to sustainable energy sources, education to public health, and other important initiatives.
During the year ahead, we hope you enjoy reading about the many ways our new Fellows are having an impact on the ground, assisting our inspiring partner organizations – as well as the learning and fun they are having along the way.
P.S. We are still accepting applications for 2013-14 fellowships! Graduating seniors and young alumni from any nonprofit U.S. college or university are eligible to apply. For more information, check out our new and improved website at www.princetoninafrica.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications are due Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. EST!
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 Michael Arnst, 2012-2013 Fellow with Equal Education in South Africa
Twenty-two hour bus rides are never comfortable. Yet, almost two hundred students, teachers, parents and staff signed up for not one such ride, but two, in order to attend Equal Education’s first National Congress in Johannesburg. Coming from five of South Africa’s nine provinces, this assembly of three hundred people spent four days vigorously debating a proposed constitution for Equal Education and learning about the state of South Africa’s education system. The constitution would change the entire structure of the organization, from replacing the Board of Directors with an elected National Council. It would define age limits for membership and create disciplinary structures. Equal Education would look less like a non-profit and more like a social movement. Was this a transformation most people were comfortable with? That’s precisely the question Congress intended to address.
As with all constitutional congresses, factions arose and argument was inevitable. Equal Education’s youth groups are most numerous in the Western Cape and particularly Cape Town. Yet, EE’s other branches are growing quickly in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. In fact, we celebrated the opening of EE’s second office, which is in Tembisa, the second-largest township around Johannesburg after the much better known Soweto. This was the first time EE’s members from all the provinces were able to meet, and while they had much to unite around, the issue of linguistic and cultural diversity came to the forefront during a debate over regional representation in the national council. One delegate’s impassioned speech in Venda about inclusion caused a reaction from the majority Xhosa-speaking crowd, who could not understand what she was saying. But the moment spoke to the major dilemma of unity in a country as diverse as South Africa.
Many of the delegates had never met with other young people from another province, and so this experience alone provided them with insight into the very real challenge of democratic pluralism. The debates around the constitution were not supposed to be only inward-looking, charting the path of EE’s future, but also to enlighten the movement’s members on how to engage in civil but energetic debate about principles and ideas. As a fresh observer to EE’s activities, I must admit I was swept up in the arguments and delighted by the ferocity of these young leaders’ intellects. In a country where half the population is considered youth and 18 years of multiracial democracy have created opportunity but also inequality, youth leadership becomes ever more important and it was put on display at Congress.
The National Congress was not the only first that week, however. One parent woke up the bus returning to Cape Town at 1am, yelling “Snow!” No one could remember the last time snow fell in all nine provinces on the same day. Outside we saw a light white blanket all around us, then fell back asleep, too exhausted to enjoy the wonder.
Notes from the Field
By Nate Barker, 2012-2013 Fellow with BOMA Project in Kenya
I would like you to participate in a thought experiment. Imagine you are a woman living in Northern Kenya. You live in a remote area that has largely been overlooked by your own government. Several NGOs work in your area. Some build greenhouses, offer classes where they tell you wash your hands, or give you food. Some of the organizations are better than others, but one thing they share is that when white people show up, they generally want you to share “how the program has made a difference in your life,” and ask to take pictures of your smiling, now-improved self.
Now imagine that an organization called the BOMA Project has given you seed capital to start a business and helped to form a savings group. Later, some young, twenty-something-year-old with strange spots all over his face and arms arrives, and starts asking questions about the ways this program isn’t working, and about areas where you aren’t complying with the program. Do you think you would be especially forthcoming in your answers?
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, on my trips to Northern Kenya, I’ve had a rather difficult time uncovering useful information for our organization. I’ve learned that “Is there anything we can improve?” is a horribly useless question, and won’t yield any sort of answer other than, “No, everything is great, we appreciate the program so much.” (And yes, my freckles are absolutely baffling to people in Northern Kenya. I’ve been asked if they’re from a disease and kids are constantly rubbing my arms to see if they’ll come off.)
Over time though, I’ve learned how to improve my question-asking abilities. Here is an exchange I had after a week and a half in the North:
“When you borrow money from this savings group, what will you use it for?”
“Only for our business, like we talked about in today’s training.”
“I see your group has given out two loans already. What were they for?”
“Oh, they were both to help pay school fees.”
“Hmm, the last time you had to borrow money, maybe from a relative, what were those loans for?”
“They were always for school fees or medical expenses.”
“Have you ever taken out a personal loan for the business?”
“Well, the business belongs to the group of us. Why would just one person take out a loan and be responsible for paying it back, when it’s the whole group that will benefit?”
Accordingly, our trainings going forward are going to place a greater focus on responsible ways to borrow for school fees, and will emphasize that groups of people can borrow and repay loans together, rather than just as individuals.
Three months in, there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to asking the right questions, but I’m having an incredible time. I’m learning more than I ever could have hoped about Northern Kenya, about how to effectively ask questions, about the financial lives of the poor, and about the bizarre-ness of my freckles.
Notes from the Field
By Mark Birhanu, 2012-2013 Fellow with Save the Children in Ethiopia
The room looks on confused as a young man plays tetherball with a built-in microphone at his seat. When he finally finds the on-button his microphone lets off a radiant glow, and his eyes follow suit. The young man, me, is half the age of everybody else in the room. Initial anxiety gives way to excitement when I realize how fortunate I am to be at an African Union conference.
As an Advocacy Fellow with Save the Children’s Africa Area Office, my job takes me to the African Union two to three times a week. Here, I assist Save’s AU Liaison, my supervisor, by taking notes at meetings and communicating our organization’s official position on a number of key areas related to child rights. Most recently, I have been working with the African Union to plan the 20th Session of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, one of the most important bodies of the international organization. I always walk away from the African Union with a head packed with new information and a stomach filled to the brim with free lunch.
Other days, I’m back at the office editing publications and turning research papers into policy briefs. Admittedly, this part of my job is less sexy, but I’m learning a lot about design and advocacy through writing. Working on these advocacy materials has also forced me to get to know my organization fast, which has been very beneficial to my liaison work.
On weekends I alternate between Addis Ababa (the capital city where I’m based) and Debre Zeit (the nearby town where my grandparents live). Getting to know my father’s parents has been one of the greatest parts of this fellowship. Before coming to Ethiopia, I’d only seen them a maximum of five times in my life; I’ve doubled that number in the two months since arriving.
To say that we’re making up for lost time would be an understatement. During my bi-weekly stays, my grandmother feeds me as if I won’t eat until my next visit, filling my pallet with injera (Ethiopia’s sour-pancake-like staple food), spicy lentils, chicken, and more. I get stuffed to the point of pain but it’s okay, my grandparents have assured me that my stomach “can always expand!”
Last weekend I was lucky enough to be in Debre Zeit for Buhe, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebration that competes for time with Islam’s Eid. While I’m not familiar with the substantive aspects of the holiday, I did get to experience its celebratory elements. Essentially, families purchase bundles of sticks and reeds called chibo and set them on fire in a pile in front of their homes: this attracts small groups of boys, who pound sticks on the ground while singing “hoye hoye!” They are rewarded with small bits of the holiday’s titular bread, buhe.
By some divine miracle, the holiday passed without any (major) flammatory incidents. That, in my opinion, is enough to deem this Buhe a success!
Notes from the Field
By Kelsey Lilley, 2012-2013 Fellow with the IRC in Ethiopia
“Do you ever pay for this water?” my colleague asked the girls gathering water in Jinjor village of western Ethiopia, at a USAID-funded, International Rescue Committee (IRC)-implemented water pump. They said no. “You know,” he said, “someone paid to build this water point, right?” They said yes. Endegena continued, asking them whether they went to school. They did. Did they have time to fetch water and go to school? They did now. The old water points were much farther away, they said. This one has clean water and is much closer to home – only 15 minutes, making it easier to do chores and still attend school. The protection offered by the pump, drainage system, and fence to keep out animals, moreover, was a health improvement from the polluted, open stream that their community previously used.
This hand pump was built, Endegena explained, as a gift from the American people and their government. They built this, he said, for girls like you to have clean water, and to be able to go to school. He asked them if they knew the IRC logo posted on the sign above the pump – a bold black arrow on a bright yellow background. They didn’t. He pointed to one of our IRC shirts. “Does it look the same?” They said yes. He told them that whenever they saw that logo in their village, to think of the water point, and to trust it.
After getting back in the car, I asked why Endegena thought to ask those questions. Particularly in a region like Gambella, he told me, known for ethnic tensions and violent flare-ups that often spilled over from South Sudan, Ethiopians needed to know that the IRC logo symbolized peace and impartiality. They needed to understand that our Anuak driver (one of many ethnic groups native to Gambella) could work in a Nuer zone, and never worry about his safety, because being with IRC should trump ethnicity. Our logo should symbolize our commitment—to Ethiopia and its refugees, as well as its locals, and to fostering long-term development.
That’s a lot to ask of a logo. Perhaps it’s even naïve to ask so much of a water point.
When I started with the IRC two months ago, I knew what kind of organization and impact we had—however small my contribution would be. But for the first time since June, I left Jinjor village with a picture of what kind of results I wanted. The IRC shouldn’t just represent peace to communities who need, and deserve, it. Projects like a water point—regardless of the donor or implementer—and logos of organizations like IRC must show other girls, boys, and families that there are people and countries, even if they are halfway across the world, who work hard to ensure clean water and hygiene education in needy places; and that there are people outside their communities who care what happens in a remote village of Ethiopia. That, I think, should be our ultimate goal.
Notes from the Field
By Bridget Rhinehart, 2012-2013 Fellow with World Food Programme in Malawi
In my short life I have found that, metaphorically speaking, it is the roads less travelled that are the ones worth traveling. While we may encounter struggles and obstacles on these roads, the personal growth that occurs along the way is immeasurable. This has sort of been my mantra since being here in Malawi. I am currently in my second month working in the Monitoring and Evaluation section of the World Food Programme in Lilongwe, Malawi. While many past (and current) WFP fellows have worked in specific programs with WFP, such as Nutrition or School Meals, my work covers a broad spectrum of activities. My position is new within the M & E section, so there are many things that we are all still figuring out in terms of how I fit in and how I can be most effective. Thus far, I have done everything from designing a new template for situation reporting in the country, to monitoring the monthly activities of the programme unit, to conducting trainings in output reporting and program efficiency for School Meals.
In tangible ways, my life is certainly not more difficult than most Malawians. I do not struggle to put food on the table, to access health care if I need it, or to drink water whenever I need to. The struggles I face mainly lie in the intangible thoughts and realizations I am having everyday regarding realities of the aid industry (in particular mass-humanitarian aid), self-inflicted impediments to Malawi’s development, and the externally imposed impediments to Malawi’s development. Perhaps these thoughts are the cliché for a first-time-in-the-aid-industry college graduate, but it doesn’t make them any less real or valid (in my opinion). I don’t have the solutions to clear inefficiency, injustice and ineffectiveness that I am seeing, and this is frustrating. In both work life and personal life, I struggle to not only digest all of these things, but also figure out how I can be most effective at changing them from the position I am in. Easier said than done. But I am optimistic; I am surrounded by brilliant, caring, hardworking people in and outside of work, who I learn from everyday. In the process of my indisputable transformation this year, I hope to inspire some change along the way!
Life in Malawi 1-10
- month since I arrived in Malawi (plus a couple weeks).
- cups of Chombe tea (Malawian tea) I drink everyday.
- number of times our power goes out at home everyday (at least).
- number of times I hear “Chop my Money” everyday.
- weeks without hot water (and counting).
- days in the week that I crave iced coffee/diet coke.
- days in the week I have existential thoughts.
- average number of words in a Chichewa conversation I actually understand.
- number of safety pins holding the olive green curtains up in my room.
- my new bed time.
My time as a teacher in Gaborone, Botswana as a lesson plan:
5-minute warm-up activity: I arrived at Maru-a-Pula secondary school eager to start my posting as a junior science teacher. The timing was such that my fellowship began in the middle of a term and so my orientation was on the fly and I was quickly put in charge of three classes. Though I was nervous as a first-time teacher, the students and my fellow teachers were welcoming and supportive and I was quickly in the groove.
Lecture, 15 minutes: I’ll outline what a typical day looks like at Maru-a-Pula. Every morning starts with either a staff meeting or an all-school assembly at 7:00 a.m. Classes then begin at 7:20 a.m. and there are six total periods with a tea break somewhere in the middle. Students don’t have every subject every day and school runs on a 6-day schedule, so students I see on a Monday I don’t necessarily see the following Monday. Needless to say, it took a while to memorize my schedule. I have three classes: two Form 1 (8th grade) and one Form 3 (10th grade) and I usually see two of them on any given day. Classes are all over by lunchtime, which is at 12:45 p.m. and is followed by a much-appreciated siesta until 2:00 p.m.
Plenary activity, 15 minutes: After 2:00 p.m. is when the fun begins. Termed the Service, Physical, and Enrichment program, students spend the afternoon engaged in community service projects, sports and “enrichment” activities, which range from model UN to guitar lessons and chess club. As a teacher, I’m expected to coordinate one of each activity and this has definitely been a highlight of my experience so far. Last term, as I arrived halfway through, I sampled a number of service activities and was blown away by the students’ selflessness; we constantly had to turn kids away because the bus was at capacity. Next term, I will be supervising boys’ basketball, the debate club and the production of video lectures to be used in the school’s community tutoring service.
Lab Practical, 10 minutes: The academic calendar also affords plenty of time for travel and there have been group trips to Victoria Falls and Mozambique as well as Sun City (viewed as the Las Vegas of South Africa). I’m currently on break in between terms and just got back from a bus trip to Harare, Zimbabwe, which is the hometown of an esteemed colleague who recently concluded a seven-month stint as a teacher aide at Maru-a-Pula.
Notes from the Field
By Corinne Stephenson-Johnson, 2012-2013 Fellow with World Food Programme in Senegal
As a politics concentrator at Princeton, I studied the role of institutions in developing countries, both as a source of political stability and as a driver of economic growth (at best). How does a country that has recently emerged from conflict or a coup d’état not only establish institutions in a short amount of time but also make them credible, essentially leapfrogging what took developed countries centuries to accomplish?
Princeton could not be more distant – in miles and otherwise – from my life here in Dakar. And yet the theories of institution building and democratization that I studied in classes could not be more real. I am living my college academic coursework.
We are in the middle of the rainy season, and poor infrastructure in the suburbs has resulted in collapsed houses and casualties. To raise funds to improve housing and repair damages caused by flooding, the Senegalese Government decided to close the Senate, the upper house of Parliament. The Senate is chiefly a political body set in place to bolster the President’s rule, with the vast majority of its members belonging to the same political party. I imagined what the reaction in the U.S. would be if Obama suddenly decided to close down the Senate.
Over the past few months, I have experienced first-hand how institutions come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are state institutions like the Senegalese Senate that ideally provide a check on the power held by a single person or body in a country. And there are international organizations, like the UN World Food Programme where I work, that have broad institutional reach with operations in countries across the globe. And then there are institutions on a much smaller scale, like the cohort of fellows that arrive on a yearly basis.
I continue to be surprised at how Princeton in Africa has become an institution from afar here in Dakar. The concrete form of PiAf is the fellows. The less traceable evidence of PiAf are the daily interactions with the Senegalese who recognize the fellows both as individuals and as a group that changes slightly every year with the departure and arrival of new fellows.
Notes from the Field
By Chris Suzdak, 2012-2013 Fellow with Olam International in Gabon
Bonjour and Greetings from Gabon!
The five Olam fellows are now all settled in here in Libreville. Our responsibilities have been assigned, and so we’re beginning to dive into our projects. The Olam Livelihood Index is a project that Nabil Hashmi, another PiAf fellow, and I have been asked to initiate. This yearlong project will require designing a survey that will monitor the subjective well-being of the people living in communities surrounding Olam’s five large development projects. If all goes well, the survey will be given on a regular basis to help measure the impact of the projects and provide insight into what social investments Olam, the government, and other organizations should pursue.
I’ve been fairly active in updating my blog with descriptions and pictures of our experience so far, but here’s a run down of the highlights:
Biggest challenge so far: French lessons every morning for the first two weeks.
Favorite adventure in Gabon so far: Driving through the forest and along the beach at Pointe Denis with the other fellows and our boss.
Biggest question mark: The rainy season is approaching, and we’re unsure if it will put a damper on our regular beach outings, or more importantly, how much will it interfere with our plans to conduct our surveys in rural villages across Gabon.
Most exotic Gabonese dish: Porcupine
Favorite Gabonese snack: Fried plantains from a street stand outside our office.
Biggest surprise about Gabon: Unlike my experience in Ghana, running and biking on the street seems to be a fairly common form of exercise here. This has resulted in the decision to train with another fellow for a marathon that is being organized in Libreville by Olam this December. Already, running has allowed us to explore the surrounding neighborhoods.
Biggest surprise about Olam: How much time we have spent with the Country Head outside of the office. Despite his busy schedule, he has already eaten several meals with us and wants to run with us as we train for the marathon.
What I’m most looking forward to: Exploring the other national parks around Gabon.