Hometown: Wilmette, IL
Major: Global Politics
Minor: Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Agency: Teamwork City of Hope in Ntagatcha, Tanzania.
What did you enjoy most about the internship? I know that what I miss most are my time with the children and all of the friendships I formed with the teaching staff, workers and villagers. There is such a warmth and genuine sense of hospitality in Tanzanian culture that it is almost impossible not to fall in love with the people. Because of the trust I built with them, I had the invaluable opportunity to visit their homes, meet their family, eat their food and learn about their life triumphs and struggles. What I will cherish forever will be the day-to-day interactions I had with people.
What was the greatest challenge? Immersing yourself into a completely different culture is never easy, no matter how well-traveled or innately adaptable you are. The slower pace of life that pervades rural Tanzanian culture can be a peaceful, stress-free and pleasant interruption from the more hectic and schedule-congested American lifestyle we are all accustomed to. Afternoon strolls, long chai breaks, and lengthy tête-à-têtes are permitted, if not encouraged. You have time to breathe and think. But the slower pace of life can also appear as a hindrance to efficiency and swift progress. There is no rush for things to be done because of the pre-conceived notion that there is plenty of time and because it will be done eventually. But there is also a very limited supply of resources and technology, which keeps society from developing. This was frustrating for me to observe because I felt as though numerous improvements could have been made during my time there, especially urgent ones concerning the children's diet. Bringing about any real change in the non-profit sector where disorganization meets cultural incompatibility is a great challenge. You have to remind yourself you are a visitor of a short two months, above all.
What was the greatest lesson you learned through your experience? Despite all cultural, ethnic, political, religious, language, socioeconomic and sexual orientation differences, human beings are the same everywhere. We are all classified as a "human." We harbor the same basic worries and aspirations. We all love, hate, cry and laugh. We all need food, water and sex. We all want to be cared for, make friends and have a purpose in life. With the right doses of compassion, open-mindedness and empathy, this revelation became quite clear to me very fast.
It is probably true that the distinctions highly outweigh the similarities. Differences among people are marked by personalities, individual opinions, location and condition of habitation and much more. All are strong and defining attributes. But something even more powerful and unrelenting than those distinguishing traits is what we can call "the human connection." Through the simple gesture of conversing with others, finding ways to communicate despite language barriers, and demonstrating a willingness to learn about one another, we can build bridges across any superficial variance between people. It is possible to overcome bias and differences in order to recognize the human being in another.
How might the internship affect your career path? My experience in the remote village of Ntagatcha opened my eyes to a society where boys are sent to school instead of their sisters if the family can only afford to send one of their children, where it is acceptable for women to marry much older men, and where men can have more than one wife if they so chose. These are all examples of unjust social traditions against women still prevalent in the underdeveloped world. As Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argues, the oppression of women is the moral challenge of our century and education for all world citizens is the primary solution to global poverty. It was amazing to be able to witness problems in Tanzania that were illustrated in the book. I have come to realize that global poverty will never surrender to humanitarian efforts until quality education becomes a fundamental right for every girl and boy. No amount of water purification programs, food distributions, micro-finance groups, solar power installations, sustainable agro-farming initiatives or social services will ever eliminate poverty alone until every person in the world receives an education and backward cultural preferences are dominated by academic progress. This kind of educational and experiential internship has motivated me to strive for a career in global educational advancement. There will always be forces such as political agendas, civil wars or corrupt business deals that will work against justice for humanity. I'd like to make it my life's work to help make sure those forces are never triumphant.
It was late in the morning after a very filling breakfast of passion fruit pancakes. The house cooks were preparing for lunch and needed some extra hands. An 18-year-old girl named Regina and I raced each other down the red dirt path to the shamba where the maize grows. A beautiful, dewy field sprawling with sprouting corn harbored a host of morning critters like white and baby blue butterflies, fuzzy yellow-green caterpillars and delicate long-legged spiders gently undulating on their webs in the deliciously fresh cool breeze. Rainwater from the night before lightly showered us as we brushed through the jungle of maize stalks. The surrounding wet vegetation glimmered a glorious golden yellow and citrus orange from the sun. My bare feet felt good in the soft soil. I had forgotten why we came here.
We made our way to the center of the shamba, where Regina stopped and began our small harvest for the midday meal: roasted Irish potatoes, sukuma wiki (kale), sautéed maize and cut mangoes. Even with the language barrier, she was able to teach me which maize ears were tender enough to cook and eat. As we picked, we taught each other simple words in our respective languages. By the time I had the confidence to pick ears on my own, I was so satisfied with the new simple harvesting skill I had just acquired, as well as the Swahili phrases I had just learned. We walked back to the guesthouse kitchen proudly carrying about eight ears each. While we shucked the maize, Regina and two of the cooks, Margaret and Marion, happily sang an upbeat Swahili song as I hummed along, sporadically shouting out words I could catch.
This was the beginning to one of my favorite days in remote Ntagatcha, Tanzania, at the City of Hope, a home for abandoned or impoverished children as well as a fully-functioning primary school for the surrounding village area. Out of all 62 days I spent in East Africa, I distinctly recall this one. After lunch I cleaned out the children's library with Zoe and organized books and Bibles into ripped cardboard boxes. We collected a Hefty bag of tattered boxes, old Christian newsletters and used puzzle books to be burned in the rubbish pile. Soon enough the children were digging through the garbage mound, harvesting their own newfound possessions. Girls wanted to use grubby, broken boxes that were missing a side to keep their clothes in. Boys wanted the old books and balls made up of dust bunnies, scraps of paper, adhesive and pieces of trash to play with. I remember secretly giving the girls tape so they could fix up their new clothes bins. Then I went to the nurse's station to learn how to treat tropical ulcers caused by malnutrition. And right before dinner I brought out my computer to show two little girls, Eliza and Anastansia, pictures of Serengeti animals from my one-day safari.
Coming from a life of food stamps and free lunch programs, I was uncomfortable feeling wealthy in Ntagatcha village, where there is a lack of electricity and running water. The guesthouse has passion fruit pancakes while the kids slurp up grain porridge. Though I love the smoky flavored goop, our variety of vegetables and fruits for meals is higher in nutritional value. The children endure painful ulcers on their skin because their diet consists of ugali, a dough-like mixture of water and ground maize, sukuma, kale, porridge and beans and maize. Fruit is served only once a week. Bananas are cheaper than dirt there. The cooks sing for musical entertainment. I turn to my ipod. The children at City of Hope play with things like tape balls we would consider refuse, while the children I babysit for need constant electronic stimulation through animated movies from Apple TV, music, computer games and YouTube videos on their iPad. Eliza and Anastansia will most likely never personally see lions, baboons and giraffes in their own country's beautiful and natural Serengeti Park, though thousands of foreign visitors from the developed world drop thousands of dollars for an obscene 14-day affair of photo ops with the baboons and village children.
There were several things I found unjust and wrong there, a complete contrast to the naturally lush and beautiful land where people seemed to be content in their simple lives. The interactions and relationships I formed with the children, villagers, workers and teachers opened my eyes to a world defined by satisfaction with simple yet enduring work and family. The initial euphoria of culture shock and novelty shielded my view of the real problems my friends were struggling with. But once I discovered one issue, I began to see more and more. Most of the problems seemed to have no easy solutions, and that was frustrating to come to terms with. But regardless, it was essential and important to gain exposure to both positive and negative experiences. From all the injustice, inequality and underdevelopment I witnessed, not only did I acquire a great deal of knowledge and life experience, but also found the strongest sense of motivation to live my life to the fullest. Here in the U.S. I am on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. But I am fortunate to be in a country where resources are available for me to pull myself out of poverty, such as my education here at Washington and Lee.
I am not sure if my perspective has changed as much as it has evolved. It has developed and grown in width and depth. I have more confidence in everything I have always believed in. I am well in-tune with my passions, desires and ambitions. I have never felt more encouraged to live fearlessly, enthusiastically and happily. And I am happier. I have realized how privileged I am, and therefore content with all the ups and downs that truly define life. I am more patient, at ease, tolerant and empathetic. My experiences have humbled me. And though personally, this Tanzanian experience has positively affected me, it has also forced me to perceive the world as a contradiction. It is simple and complex. It is good and evil. It is right and it is wrong. There is nothing absolutely certain in this world besides the fact that despite all the differences that segregate people, we are all bound by the human connection. If we look towards our primal bonds and view each other as fellow human beings, I believe this world can improve drastically.