Fellows' Flyer

November/December 2011

News and views for and by Princeton in Africa Fellows

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Ciarra and her students in the chemistry lab

For the past four years I have spent countless hours hunched over chemistry text books and lab benches. Now I am Johnson and Johnson's Fellow working in Yetebon, Ethiopia, and surprisingly not a lot has changed. I am working for Project Mercy teaching 7th, 9th, 11th, and 12th grade chemistry, and running the laboratory for the entire science department. With four classes of my own and an additional 9 laboratory sessions a week, the goggle lines rarely leave my face. Working with the biology and physics teachers has given me the incredible opportunity to introduce them to interactive teaching and experimentation, which they have had no training in and little exposure to previously. The local teachers are excited to be involved and are quickly picking up the skills they need to run their own lab sessions.  The past four months have been a big learning experience for me too. I don't think I fully appreciated dependable electricity, trash disposal, and sewage treatment plants before I started trying to implement a modern science curriculum in a rural setting. I find myself facing unanticipated challenges.  How can I make a distillation apparatus? What is the proper way to dispose of our chemical waste? Is it possible to do hands on activities when your uber enthusiastic 12 year old students out number you 100:1? I am steadily overcoming these challenges, and even anticipating new ones. I cannot believe first semester is halfway over. My students have completed two out of four tests and I am proud to say they have scored well, but more importantly they are really engaging in the classroom. Watching their eyes light up when they finally grasp a difficult concept taught in their 3rd language is my favorite part of the job. I seriously have to resist doing a little happy dance every time it happens.    


Here are a few lessons I have learned so far this semester:

1. If you double cross your ts on the blackboard "matter" becomes "maHer" and will be pronounced as such.

2. The big kid with the stick that keeps yelling and hitting people is not the school bully; he is the class monitor and your biggest ally when it comes to crowd control.

3. When it is extremely hot, the privilege of doing class work outside under the acacia tree is a good enough bribe to get 100 7th graders to work silently and diligently in a stifling classroom for 30 glorious minutes.

4. Negatives are confirmed with a positive. Al Gunbanym? (you don't understand) will be answered with Ow (yes)

5. Harvest days are not as fun as snow days and even less predictable in their timing.

6. Good pens are like gold, never lend them out if you expect them back.

7.   Greet someone in Guraginya and you will have a new best friend!

Notes from the Field

Yassi enjoying a Saturday afternoon with 2 SSP alumnae & their friends at the cricket

Yassi with South African actor Jerry Mofokeng outside of the Soweto Soccer Stadium for the MTN Finals between the Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.  Proudly Pirates fans!

Ciarra working with some of her many chemistry students  at Project Mercy

by Yassi Tamdji, '11-'12  Fellow at  Student Sponsorship Programme, South Africa

Tel: 609.258.7215    Fax: 609.964.1818    piaf@princeton.edu

Mailing address: Post Office Box 226, Princeton, NJ 08542    Street address: 194 Nassau Street, Suite 219, Princeton, NJ 08542     

Leah with '11-'12 PiAf Fellows Emily Trautner (Plan International, Uganda) and Amanda Ramcharan (Johnson & Johnson Fellow at Nyumbani Village, Kenya) at the Uganda vs. Kenya soccer match

Sanibonani! Fortunately since my first blog post, I've added more Zulu words and phrases to my vocabulary.  Because greetings and acknowledgments are such a large part of African culture, making the effort to connect with people in their own language has opened so many doors for me as well as hearts.

I have had a truly blessed experience with Student Sponsorship Programme (SSP) thus far.  SSP offers 5-year high school scholarships to academically talented youth from economically disadvantaged areas to attend the best schools in the Gauteng and Eastern Cape provinces. 

Working with an NGO in the education sector, there is always a whirlwind of activity coupled with endless opportunities to touch lives and be transformed by the experience.

The students and families that I have met through the recruitment process have enriched me.  Despite cultural differences, parents want the very best for their children and that often comes through access to quality education.   The desperation in the eyes of a parent from Soweto trying to get his daughter into a top school in Joburg's northern suburbs is no different than a mother struggling to get her son into a private school and out of a poorly performing school district in the States. Sadly, we cannot take the thousands of potential applicants that apply each year, but SSP hopes to make a positive impact in the lives that we cross paths with.

In addition to assisting with the recruitment process in the earlier months of my fellowship, I have been given a lot of ownership in terms of my job responsibilities.  I am fortunate to have a good relationship with my colleagues and the SSP office culture is warm, lively, and welcoming.  I was able to transition quite well into the "SSP family."

Apart from my "SSP family," I have been fortunate to tap into several supportive networks while here.  I attend church services regularly and have met wonderful people through that.  Knowing that this was my first Thanksgiving away from my family in the States, my South African friend from church organized a lovely dinner at her home and even baked pumpkin pie!

I also have been fortunate to meet Jerry Mofokeng, actor from the Academy Award winning film Tsotsi and his family. He has been gracious to take me to the Soweto Soccer Stadium and I am a sold out Orlando Pirates fan now. He also invited me to his nephew's wedding to experience a traditional Zulu marriage.

My weekends in Joburg are always bustling with activity.  From seeing Coldplay in concert to watching- yet still not fully comprehending- the cricket to riding taxis in Jozi and not necessarily knowing where I am going per se but always ending up where I need to be "for the most part" because of the gracious help of "human angels" along the way.

All I can say is, I truly <3 Jozi.

by Janeen Madan, '11-'12 Fellow at  UN World Food Programme, Senegal

Notes From The Field

Leah and her fellow '11-'12 Uganda Fellows:  Frankie Warren (eleQtra), Emily Trautner (Plan) and Julie Kornfeld (Lutheran World Federation)

Janeen with beneficiaries at a distribution site in Kaba village

PiAf 's 2012-2013

Applications In!

Interest in PiAf is continuing to grow steadily!  This year we received 419 applications from 108 colleges and universities around the U.S.

Overall we had a 20% increase in applications over last year.

Thanks to everyone who helped us recruit and spread the word about the PiAf program. Looks like we have some very strong candidates for 2012-13 fellowships!



Prospective candidates should visit our Applicants page for more information.

Highlights from PiAf's 2011 Benefit

'11-'12 Fellow Amanda Ramcharan (Nyumbani Village, Kenya) and PiAf alum Byron Austin (m2m South Africa, '09-'10) helped the PiAf office process 2012-13 fellowship applications.

PiAf  Connections:  PiAf Fellows And Alums Meet up  At Home And around Africa

PiAf's '11-'12 Fellows Jane Yang (IRC Kenya) and Frankie Warren (eleQtra, Uganda) make a new friend in Nairobi.

PiAf's '11-'12 Ghana Fellows (Niklas Peters, Olam) and Grace Hoerner (African Cashew Alliance, right) meet up with Jane Yang (IRC Kenya '11-'12) in Accra.

PiAf Alums Hannah Burnett (m2m  South Africa '10-'11) & Andy Bryant (Friends of Tanzanian Schools '04-'05 & Director of the Segal Family Foundation - a PiAf supporter) meet at the Clinton Global Health Initiative.

PiAf's '11-'12 Fellows Isabel Pike and Janeen Madan (WFP Senegal)  with Becca Balis ('10-'11 Fellow at IRC Liberia) on Goree Island.

NeXii Fellow Nellie Morris ('11-'12) stopped by the PiAf office to visit Stephanie Hooper and Blair Blackwell over her Thanksgiving travels.

Janeen talks with beneficiaries in Diatmel village about their thoughts on the project

Notes from the Field

by Leah Haynesworth, '11-'12 Fellow at  Plan International, Uganda

Princeton in Africa hosted a panel discussion on Monday, November 28 at the Princeton Club in New York. World-renowned journalists and leaders in the humanitarian field shared their unforgettable stories and journeys of personal transformation.

The Panelists were:
George Rupp '64 CEO & President, International Rescue Committee
Femi Oke-Senior Editor and Special Correspondent, "The Takeaway"
Nasser Diallo-Journalist, Le 4'me Pouvoir, Guinea
Michael Davie--Documentary Filmmaker, National Geographic Television
Ben Skinner--Author,
A Crime So Monstrous
Emily Holland '01- law student, journalist and co-author of And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation, a book about the former child soldiers of Liberia and a woman who became their champion.


Read a recent Princeton Alumni Weekly article by Emily Holland, one of our very first PiAf Fellows, here.

Princeton in Africa honored Lauren Bush Lauren at our annual benefit at the Desmond Tutu Center in NYC on November 10, 2011. Over 180 guests were on hand to hear about Lauren's commitment to Africa as spokesperson for the World Food Program and her dedication to feeding Africa through her company, FEED Projects.  Former PiAf Fellow Andy Bryant and Executive Director of The Segal Family Foundation also spoke about the impact that Princeton in Africa made on his life and career. Highlights of the event included a first ever Junior Event After Party featuring the sounds of Cocody Productions (African Music) and a vibrant and successful live auction featuring PiAf board member Steven Fox as auctioneer.


For more information and photos from the event, see the below press links:








PiAf Panel:  On The Ground in Africa


I expected to laugh, to cry, and to learn. This fellowship has given me an incredible opportunity to bond with people from all different walks of life. My departmental team at mothers2mothers is full of talent and diversity. My colleagues have helped me develop into a "jack of all trades" within the Department of Programs & Technical Support. I have written a protocol for a pilot, analyzed key South African policy documents, designed process flow maps, and discerned the difference between combined and consolidated financial statements, all the while multiplying my knowledge of HIV/AIDS and prevention of mother-to-child transmission by 400 percent.      

I did not expect quite so much reflection, on myself or on my chosen field. I had thought I was done breaking down my belief system, stripping what I accepted as truth to the bare bone. I had thought I was ready to start building it up again. It turns out, I discovered another layer. This one is a little more complex. While I've been improving my understanding of development through this experience at a non-governmental organization, I have also compounded the questions I have going forward. Is there a better way? 

I expected to meet new people, to make new friends. From Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to famed South African vocalist Vusi Mahlasela, to my fellow Fellows, I've certainly added some inspiration and brilliance to my personal network. 

I did not expect these challenges. Don't get me wrong, I expected to encounter many challenges, just not the ones that have proved most formidable – my own working style and the English language. I have been tutoring a nine-year-old boy at an elementary school near m2m through another NGO, the Shine Centre, which helps teach kids to read. He has made a ton of progress over the last semester, but I'm afraid that I had very little to do with it. This language is incredibly tricky and little kids don't rest their questioning at "because that's just the way it is." Hopefully next semester I can do better with a new student because mine is graduating from the program!

I expected to be overwhelmed by natural beauty. Living a block from the ocean and a few minutes from the mountains never gets old, especially now that summer is right around the corner. Cape Town is truly captivating. I don't believe there is any other city like it in the world.

I did not expect new passions to arise. I arrived in Cape Town with a love for Africa and an interest in the intersection of policy and development. Those things haven't changed. However, I've developed a few new hobbies as well: photography, cooking, and signing up for intense feats of athleticism that I am in no way prepared for. It began with a challenging half marathon through very hilly vineyards. Now I'm getting ready to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with some other Princeton in Africa fellows in March.

I do expect the next six months of life in the Mother City and beyond to exceed my expectations, just as the first ones did.

Awa Diouf walked 2 kilometers to the nearest WFP distribution site, with her ten-month old son tied to her back. That morning, her husband, a farmer, told her he was worried about how they would feed their family of eight, due to a bad harvest this year. Awa is among thirty mothers who gather at the distribution site to collect weekly rations of enriched flour for their children. Awa's son, wide-eyed with a distended belly, visibly suffers from moderate acute malnutrition, a condition where a child weighs too little relative to his height.

Malnutrition is widespread in Tambacounda, a region in eastern Senegal where poverty is rampant, local diets lack diversity and access to health care is limited. As a Nutrition Fellow at the World Food Programme's (WFP) Regional Bureau for West Africa, located in Dakar, I recently traveled to Tambacounda to conduct a monitoring exercise and provide recommendations to strengthen ongoing nutrition activities.

In villages across the region, community volunteers coordinate distributions and conduct cooking demonstrations, showing mothers how to prepare the enriched flour into porridge to treat their infants. The program prioritizes the first 1,000 days of a child's life- from conception to 2 years of age- which provide a critical window of opportunity to ensure adequate nutrition for mental and physical growth.

Volunteers also lead discussion groups to raise awareness about the root causes of malnutrition. Awa and the other mothers discussed the importance of dietary diversity and breastfeeding. At each distribution site, I spoke with mothers, community volunteers, local governing council authorities and doctors of village medical centers about the difficulties they encounter, including access to safe drinking water and inaccessibility of some villages.

I was reminded about the importance of longer-term solutions that help break the cycle of dependence, by providing more than just coping mechanisms. While Awa is learning about the importance of good child-care and feeding practices, she is in turn malnourished, which inhibits breastfeeding. Across West Africa, as well as in my home country of India- where malnutrition rates are the highest in the world- the extent of the need is daunting.

It is easy to become skeptical about the problems associated with aid agencies and development work, but I returned from the mission with a greater sense of how things work in the field; invigorated to confront the critical questions that crop up. I was able to see first-hand not only the harsh realities of the lives of women like Awa, but also the difficulties of implementing distributions at the community level.

This experience was also full of new encounters and surprises: I was forced to eat sheep for the first time (I squirm at the thought of meat); I slept on Twilight sheets at the small hostel I stayed at; and even in the most remote villages, I heard Michael Jackson and Rihanna ring tones. 

Back at the Regional Bureau in Dakar, the fast-paced work environment pushes me to grasp new concepts, and my experienced colleagues help me reflect on what I've already learned. From designing a regional nutrition strategy to monitoring the movement of stocks from warehouses to distribution sites, I am discovering the multiple levels of WFP's work and gaining insights that make me conscious of the criticisms associated with the field of humanitarian assistance.

by Molly Schmalzbach '11-'12 EGG Foundation Fellow at  mothers2mothers, South Africa

Notes From The Field

Molly expanding her horizons at Cape Point

Molly on Chapman's Peak Drive overlooking Hout Bay with a friend and Fellows: '10-'11 Cape Town PiAf Fellows Alicia LeClair (mothers2mothers), Nellie Morris (NeXii) and Jessica Annis (Ubuntu Africa)

Notes from the Field

Although admittedly cliché, my experience with PiAf can so far be best described as "surprising." First off, I would have never thought that my first job out of college would be working for an NGO, much less an NGO in Kampala, Uganda. I majored in English in college and did not initially envision myself working in development. However, after spending a semester studying in Cape Town, South Africa, I became interested in aid, particularly aid in Africa.

I  am now working at Plan Uganda, an organization that specializes in child-centered community development and child sponsorship, as one of two technical writers – the other is PiAf Fellow Emily Trautner, my good friend and housemate. As a technical writer, I am primarily responsible for editing reports and case studies. I also work with the PR/Communications department to manage Plan's social media accounts, write press-releases, and help update the website.

Easily the most rewarding and exciting part of my job, however, has been working as co-Project Coordinator on Plan's Commercial Sex Workers (CSW) project. The project seeks to rehabilitate CSWs by sponsoring them to get vocational training in hairdressing, shoemaking, catering, jewelry and craft making, etc. so they can make a living off of these skills instead of sex work. Working with the girls has been a bit challenging because most only speak Luganda, the local language in Kampala. Nevertheless, the personal stories that I've heard and the progress that I've witnessed amongst the girls is quite inspiring.

I've not only been surprised by work, but also by Kampala itself. Being in the capital of Uganda, I naively expected a more western city when I first arrived. Thus, I was slightly shocked when I saw monkeys running around my hostel and discovered that there is not a McDonald's in the entire country (!).

Even so, adjustment to life here has been much easier than I initially imagined; it helps that there are three other PiAf Fellows currently working in Kampala – Emily, Frankie Warren, and Julie Kornfeld – and that I get along very well with all five of my housemates. However, I think that the openness, generosity, and compassion of the Ugandans with which I've interacted have most impacted my great experience thus far. Within my first few weeks in Kampala, I had several people invite me into their homes. Some of my co-workers have gone out of their way to teach me Lugandan phrases and one went so far as to give me a Ugandan name: Nagawa.

With all of these surprises in just my first five months in Kampala, I cannot wait to see what happens during the remainder of my fellowship.

by  Ciarra Barreras, '11-'12 Johnson & Johnson Fellow at Project Mercy, Ethiopia

Laura and a fellow research assistant stand next to the tranquilized bull elephant. The spear that was lodged in his back rests on his belly.

"Look at this," Enock says to me. "That's a nice picture," I respond, glancing at the photo of an elephant's backside on his laptop. After a pause he asks, "Do you see the spear?" "What?!" I exclaim and peer more carefully at the image.  Indeed, I can make out what looks like several feet of rebar sticking out of the elephant's back.  Enock, the Kenyan who monitors all the elephants that roam through Mpala, had snapped several photos of this bull that morning.  The Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) vet arrived the following day, which for me became a day tagging along with wildlife vets as they attempted to rescue a baby camel that had been attacked by a leopard, a greater kudu with a snare pinching her neck, and this bull elephant. Certainly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget. Not only did I get to touch a full-grown, bull African elephant, but I also watched as the veterinary team pulled a spear, the size of a man, out the elephant's back.  Half the spear had been buried deep inside, puncturing one of his lungs!  As we are fond of saying here, it was "just another day at Mpala."

Ok, I admit, not every day here is quite that spectacular, but a lot of them have been pretty close.  Mpala is home to cattle, camels, wildlife, and a number of researchers. In a region where people debate between ranching and tourism, Mpala offers a unique approach: research. Many neighboring properties rely on tourism to supplement, or replace, ranching incomes. Mpala, on the other hand, welcomes several hundred researchers, from all over the world each year, who study everything from hydrology, to acacia-ant relationships, to wild dogs and lions. These researchers, and the wildlife they study, exist alongside Mpala's 2500 cattle.

My time at Mpala is split between the office and the field. In the office I put together the Mpala Memos, the quarterly newsletter, I run the adopt-an-elephant program, and I manage a database of donors, researchers, staff, student groups, and other contacts, among numerous other tasks. Working closely with the administrative staff at Mpala, I've learned about many of the challenges involved in running a research center in such a remote area with limited infrastructure. I also interact with local school children through supervising the conservation clubs at five local primary schools. At these schools I've witnessed the challenges of education in impoverished, rural areas, but also seen the eagerness these children have to learn. In the field, I've surveyed bird communities and sampled soil over a large area of Mpala to develop a description of Mpala's soil composition. I've also set camera traps and analyzed photos as part of a project that explores how different land use practices impact wildlife populations.

With such a mix of responsibilities, and the ever-changing cast of researchers residing at the research center, each day is different here. And of course, with wildlife roaming through Mpala, you never know what creature you might spot, or who might need a little rescuing. Unfortunately, the now spear-free elephant hasn't been seen on Mpala since the vet's visit, so we don't yet know his fate. Despite such attacks on wildlife, the staff and researchers who strive to make Mpala an example of how wildlife and people's livelihoods can coexist are an inspiration for me.


by Laura Budd,  '11-'12 Fellow at Mpala Research Center ,Kenya

Notes From The Field

Lauren Bush Lauren accepts the

Princeton in Africa medal of honor

A girl from the conservation club at Kimanjo Primary School paints a leopard on the school's large water tank as part of a mural depicting local Kenyan wildlife.

PiAf Alum

Emily Holland