Class  of  ‘72  Fellowship


For the first time this year, The Class of ’72 is sponsoring a Princeton in Africa fellowship. Veda Sunasse will be working at African Leadership Academy. We hope to grow partnerships like this with other Princeton classes. If your class is looking for a new way to help Princeton serve all nations, please get in touch with us.


PiAf Alum and current fellows gather after the Alumni Panel during Princeton Reunions

As a grants intern for the IRC, I don’t get to visit our program sites too often.  Despite a flurry of trips to the field when I first arrived here in Liberia, most of my work soon centered around editing reports for our donors, keeping me behind a computer at the office most days.  Then our health coordinator left, and six months on, we still don’t have a replacement.  In the interim, I’ve been largely managing one of our regional health teams—a job that I enjoy and that has taught me tons about how health programs should be managed, but still one that requires me to spend most of my time in the office—in this case, organizing staff, building their capacity in project planning and writing reports.  This is all right with me, though, because I know that through my support to the field staff, I enable them to better implement our programs in the community.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but occasionally pine for a day in the field to see how our programs are actually benefiting people on the ground.

Naturally then, when the opportunity to visit our most remote health clinic presented itself, I leapt at the opportunity.  The community of Balagwalazu was known for being incredibly mobilized, and I had long wanted to see the village for myself.  “Are you sure you’re strong enough?” my staff constantly inquired in the days leading up to my trip. “The walk is very long.”  There was no deterring me, however. With less than a month left in my fellowship, I was going to Balagwalazu if it was the last thing I did. Literally.

As promised, getting to Balagwalazu was no easy task.  After four and a half hours of bumping along dirt roads that often gave way to giant pools of mud, the IRC car dropped my coworker and me off at the Vai River.  We crossed the water via “monkey” bridge, a structure arguably more like an elaborate tightrope of jungle vines over the water than a bridge.  With the bridge swaying to and fro with each footstep, the experience gave me new found respect for the community members who traverse the bridge with all manner of medical equipment and supplies—including a large-size freezer we recently gave them to keep vaccines cold. Once we made it across the bridge, it was then a three-hour hike through thick forest in order to reach the village.

Upon arriving in Balagwalazu, I met with health staff and local leaders to learn about the history of the clinic. During Liberia’s civil war, the community’s first clinic was destroyed when the village was razed by Charles Taylor’s rebels. When peace came and the community started to rebuild, there were no resources for a new health center. But when a community member nearly died from dysentery, the people of Balagwalazu decided to act. They requested a donation of construction materials from the U.S. government, and the whole community worked together to build the clinic once the materials arrived. For the next three years, the center was staffed entirely by volunteers. Only once IRC took over the facility last year did the staff receive a salary. Moreover, with IRC’s support, the clinic now provides free treatment. Attendance has increased more than ten fold since the change—a testament to the difference free health care and strong NGO support can make. Though the clinic still has unmet needs (for instance, there is no latrine or clean water source), countless lives have been saved due to its establishment.

Meeting the people of Balagwalazu and seeing firsthand their passion and determination to improve the standard of living in their community was more than a little awe-inspiring.  Moreover, knowing that the work I’ve been doing for the past year—from planning trainings for clinic staff to writing reports for our donors—has helped make it possible for the community of Balagwalazu to have a clinic with qualified staff and free treatment makes all those long hours at the office worth it.

Reunions  Events  2010






Fellows’ Flyer

June/July 2010

News and views for and by Princeton in Africa Fellows

Text Box: 				   In this Issue:

A few weeks ago, as I was sitting in a rural clinic in Swaziland, talking to our staff about their experiences with client monitoring and data capturing, it really hit me how different my life had become – just one year ago, I never would have imagined such a scenario would feel “normal!”

mothers2mothers, a Cape Town-based NGO, works to educate HIV+ pregnant women and new mothers in Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT). The organization uses a peer-education empowerment model which employs hundreds of HIV+ “Mentor Mothers” stationed at clinics across the seven countries in which we operate. m2m has grown exponentially over the past few years and has incurred increasingly challenging donor reporting responsibilities. It also seeks to learn about its own program successes in more concrete terms in order to better itself. Thus, a new Monitoring and Evaluation system was recently developed to enable the organization to enumerate its client population and track their PMTCT progress. This may sounds like a simple endeavour, but issues such as the inability to use a computerized data system and the often weak numeracy and English literacy skills of our site staff, mean a lot of adjustments must be made when working in this setting. Another challenge is getting staff to move beyond simply collecting data properly to stepping back and understanding what it means and using the findings to indentify gaps in services.

When I arrived in Cape Town last July and was told I would be working in m2m’s new Department of Strategic Information and Technical Support, I fully admit to being pretty clueless about the situation. With my previous job experiences limited entirely to working behind a laboratory bench, I knew very little about research and data use applications in the NGO world. “Monitoring and Evaluation” and “Operations Research” were quite new terms to me! Over time, I was able to transition from a place where I felt completely lost to actually being able to make meaningful contributions to the DSITS team. Working with m2m, I have had the good fortune of taking part in numerous exciting organizational research projects. I travelled across Malawi for an evaluation of its country program; I travelled around Lesotho, Swaziland, and South Africa to work on providing m2m with baseline program data so we can recognize challenges and measure future progress; and I have worked extensively in the Eastern Cape in South Africa on a project at the mothers2mothers Innovation Center, a small cluster of sites where m2m pilots new initiatives before scale-up.

Though my day-to-day work is not focused directly on PMTCT, it has been very satisfying to work so closely with programs at the site level. I still have much to learn, but this year has really opened my eyes in terms of what research can be and how meaningful it is on levels beyond what goes on in a lab. Though excited about where my next steps will take me, I’m certain the value of my time with m2m will never dissipate. In the end, I have nothing but gratitude to express –to Princeton in Africa, to mothers2mothers, and to the numerous women I’ve met working at the sites who remind me what it means to live life to the fullest. I will miss them the most.

by Morgan Goheen, ‘09-’10 Fellow at mothers2mothers in South Africa

Notes from the Field

The waiting line for women visiting a clinic where mothers2mothers works

Morgan relaxing on the Zambezi River

Recent Press On Campus



PiAf Fellows have been featured in several Princeton publications in recent months:


PAW: April 2010

Fitting in:  For a black alum, time in Africa raised questions of identity by Alexis Okeowo, PiAf Fellow ‘06-07


Bulletin: May 2010

From New Jersey to Nairobi: Princeton in Africa marks 10 years


PAW:  Feb 2010

Princeton in Africa turns 10


Notes from the Field

Whitney and friends prove that it’s not all work and no play at BPAI

At BPAI in Lesotho, which is generously supported by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation

Whitney at work at the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative

by Ariel Wagner, ‘09-’10 Fellow at the International Rescue Committee in Liberia

Notes from the Field

Ariel and her co-workers with the garden they planted in their compound

Ariel, crossing the “monkey” bridge on her way to visit a rural clinic 

Morgan with the m2m Swaziland country team

by Whitney Williams, ‘09-’10  Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellow at Baylor/Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Centers in Lesotho

Ariel with a friend (left) and her friend’s baby, Ariel.  Ariel, holding her namesake, is surrounded by the young Ariel’s family.


PiAf welcomes our newest class of Fellows. They are headed out to Africa this summer for a year of eye-opening experiences and hard work that we know will change their view of Africa and the world forever.

This year we have 26 Fellows going to 18 countries to work with 15 organizations. They come from the following 14 colleges and universities:  Princeton, Harvard, Georgetown, UPenn, Northwestern, Brown, Tufts, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Swarthmore, UVA, Iowa State and Colgate.  We are excited to be working in two new countries in ‘10-11: Central African Republic and Cote d’Ivoire.

Nikos Monoyios, Skip Rankin, Veda Sunasse PU’10 and Jim Robinson

2010-11 Princeton in Africa Fellows with Executive Director Cordelia Persen and Program Manager Stephanie Hooper

Climbing Kili


Two of our ‘09-10 PiAf Fellows  (Clare Hunt and Abigail Smith) recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.



Morgan Goheen in South AfricaAriel Wagner in LiberiaWhitney Williams in Lesotho

PiAf  Welcomes Our New Fellows

When I accepted a PiAf post with the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative in Lesotho, I considered my decision neither bold nor adventurous.  Nonetheless, initial conversations regarding my post graduation plans read like a script:

“So, what are your plans for after graduation?”

“Well, I’m going to Southern Africa on a year-long fellowship program.”

“Oh wow, where in southern Africa?”

“Lesotho (short pause for recognition)…it’s one of the tiny countries within South Africa”

“Oh WOW, how exciting! Doing what?”

“I’ll being working in a pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic.”

“OH WOW (with a look of surprise)! That should be… intense/sad.  Do you think you’re emotionally prepared for that?”


At that point, I usually answered with something to the effect of “Well, I’m not quite sure.  While I’m very excited, I’d prefer to enter the situation with as few expectations as possible.”  To which they would usually respond, “oh OK... Well good luck.“ Prior to my departure and for the first few months of my fellowship, those conversations irked me: not necessarily because of what people asked, but because of my inability to give them a satisfactory response.  I could sense their discomfort with the fact that I didn’t have much planned or expected for my “adventure.”  However, at this present time, I am grateful that I began my fellowship without expectations and that I didn’t let others perceptions of Lesotho, Southern Africa, or Pediatric HIV/AIDS negatively influence me.   Over the course of my fellowship, my open mind allowed me to give others more satisfying answers.  Conversations began as follows:


“So what are you doing?”

“I’m working in a Pediatric HIV/AIDS clinic in Lesotho.”

“Oh wow, that must be intense/sad”

“You know, I can see why you might think that, but…”


I began to tell people that while I understand their expectation, “Pediatric HIV/AIDS” is a term and does not personify the individual experiences of those infected with or affected by it.   Sadness and intensity do not inundate my experience.  Yes, the fact that children have a disease like HIV/ AIDS is sad in and of itself, but I don’t feel burdened with that fact every single day.  While each morning I walk into a building marked with the term “Pediatric HIV/AIDS”, I am met with a heart warming image: a room full of smiling children and grateful mothers waiting to receive their monthly supply of life saving antiretroviral medications.  I’ve held gorgeous and healthy babies who successfully received PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) and who now live HIV- lives despite their mother’s HIV+ status.  I handed out dolls and blankets to children who graciously held out their hands and said “thank you” and then mimicked how their mothers carry them by placing the dolls in the backs of their shirts.  Did many situations break my heart? Yes.  But, I am eternally grateful that I allowed my concept of Pediatric HIV/AIDS to be shaped not by those back home, but through my interactions with those who live with it, those affected by it, and those who work to treat it.



Alumni Panel


Princeton in Africa hosted two events during the 2010 Princeton Reunions.  On May 29, we gathered a panel of our first class of Fellows from 2000-01 to speak about their experiences and reflect on how the PiAf experience has affected their lives since. We were happy to gather a big group of alumni at this event (pictured below) and at our Alumni Open House later in the day.  To see more pictures of PiAf’s Reunions events, visit our album on Facebook.