I spent my first academic experience abroad in Dortmund,
Germany when I was a junior in high school. It was a really big deal to do this
and long before the advent of international travel where junior high school
students take a field trip to Butaan or Santiago. I did my second study abroad
as part of my capstone for my Master’s in Public Health thesis in Ghana working
on a malaria project. Both of these experiences significantly changed me and
the way I think about the world.
I think everyone should go abroad. We are living in a global
economy where the decisions we make in everything from health care to education
are impacted by the rest of the world. How we engage one another
internationally will define how we impact change in the health and wellness of
our own communities and how we govern effectively.
I get asked this question a lot. I have traveled extensively
around the globe and have had the humbling opportunity to engage in rural and
urban communities on almost every continent. In
2006 the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation invited me to join their
inaugural class of Livingston Fellows. My fellowship was designed to support me
in finishing my PhD, expand my network in the Denver business community via the
Chamber of Commerce and grow my understanding of international youth poverty. I
traveled to Uganda in 2007 at the tail-end of my PhD to better understand how
they were integrating child soldiers back into their communities in Northern
Uganda after Joseph Kony moved into Sudan. My travels through Uganda and Rwanda
won my heart and I decided that this would be where I would begin developing my
international work. I’m not sure why you gravitate to one place over another… there
are just people and experiences that draw you to certain corners of the world.
For me it was East Africa.
I get excited when students and community leaders are
interested in looking for innovative solutions to poverty. I will spend the
rest of my professional life working for the poor and we live in a world that
desperately needs to cultivate leadership committed to ensuring that people
around the globe have a better quality of life. I was born a child of privilege
where education, health care and basic needs were never in question. How do we
work collectively to ensure that
other communities have access to resources necessary to ensure that no child
ever has to live life on the streets
or go to bed without a proper meal? We need to think bigger and we need to
think differently about how we solve our complex social issues. This subject
matter facilitates that dialogue.
That is part of the fun of this course. What happens when
you turn a group of really smart, internationally engaged students loose? All
too often we try to define our outcomes in advance of the experiences that we
need to have to think differently about the world. This course allows
students to touch, taste and smell East Africa; we meet with community leaders,
political leaders and other students…and we listen and we think before we act.
But after you have those conversations and engage in the community and begin to
understand the issues, then what happens? I get very excited to see what
students and community leaders do when they take all of the information they
gather and then run with it. And that is when you get outcomes you could
have never anticipated!
I have personally noticed this
"spark" in thought and passion in my past students of Matthew Bravo
and Christine Pack. The immersion travel that Matthew and Christine experienced
on their trip encouraged them to return to Uganda after graduation and tackle
some of the issues they grappled with as students. As Christine continues to
build a women's association with a growing candle making business, and Matthew
works with an all Ugandan staff to run the Entusi Retreat and Resort Center,
GLI is proud to support their endeavors. Maybe the way Africa changes you will
manifest itself when you return home and work in your local community, but
regardless of your future trajectory, interests or career it will have an
impact on how you think critically about complex problems and navigate
challenges in all aspects of your life.
How will Africa change you?
When I was 27 years old and on my first trip to Africa as a
Livingston Fellow, Sister Jovita taught me the difference between need and
want. I was visiting her jungle clinic in Northern Uganda in a town called
Lira. She was serving hundreds of poor
women and children in this rural community every day; most of whom were
impacted by malaria and HIV. She had a small team of dedicated nurses and they
were doing amazing work. When she showed me her pharmacy, her shelves were bare
of the most essential medical supplies. I boldly made my first promise in
Africa to her that I would return and fill her medical shelves with supplies in
the next year! She smiled ever so sweetly and told me that it would be lovely
if I did that for them but if I didn’t… they would be just fine! She reminded
me that Africa doesn’t need me and that as Africans they are not waiting around
for us to come back and help them. If we want to partner with them and
collaborate, that is terrific! But Sister Jovita humbled me into the
understanding that we often treat Africa as a charity case as opposed to a
partner in international development.
Africa doesn’t need us to teach this course… but there are many students
and community leaders in East Africa who are eager to work together and learn
together with us through courses like Public Administration in Uganda.
I love how similar we all are. The Global Livingston
Institute is committed to creating reciprocal relationships in the communities
where we work. The more we engage in these communities the more it becomes
evident how we can learn from each other. Africa doesn’t need us. The people of
Africa do, however, want to work with us! Together, if we move out of the mode
of looking at Africa as a charity case and really dig in and look for ways that
we can work collaboratively, some truly amazing things can happen. There is so
much we can learn from the work they are doing in Uganda that could improve our
own communities if we find ways to put our neo-colonial preconceptions of
Africa aside and level the playing field.
That when you go to Africa… Africa will change you. It is different for everyone; some
personally; some professionally. But every time I go… it changes me too.
I love the notion that we need to change our frame of
reference from “Don’t just stand there… do something!” to “Don’t just do
something, stand there!” This course is designed to get students and community
leaders to just stand there; to listen; to think. And then when you do that, it genuinely
changes the way that you ultimately act. The Global Livingston Institute has
created a space to really dig deep into the intellectual curiosity and tap into
the countless talents and ideas that students and community leaders have when
they better understand the issues that communities in East Africa is facing.
What will you do after you listen and think in Uganda and
Rwanda? And more importantly, how will you act?