Meet the Previous Awardees
I traveled to Manjushri Di-Chen Buddhist Learning Center (MDBLC), a school for young Tibetan Buddhist monks in Pharping, Nepal to assist the staff in implementing an interactive health education and hygiene campaign. MDBLC's vision is to provide a modern education alongside a traditional monastic curriculum, in hopes of preserving Tibetan Buddhism and culture in a contemporary setting. I spent my mornings teaching English and my afternoons leading workshops focused on health awareness and behavioral hygiene practices for the students. In addition to this, I assisted the students in creating an archive of photography and writing compiled during my stay on issues related to health and happiness. With support from the Wallenberg Travel Award, all 55 students were vaccinated against Hepatitis B, and a water filtration system was installed, reducing the occurrence of water borne illness at the monastery. My experience this summer allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of cultural preservation and compassion for all human beings.
I spent my summer interning at Mizan Law Group for Human Rights in Amman- Jordan. This internship was my first experience working with Human Rights. Mizan focuses on three categories of disadvantaged people in the Jordanian community. Women and children suffering from Domestic Violence, cases of people who were/are tortured in Jordanian jails by police officers, and foreign women rights. My primary responsibilities were to do preliminary work with our clients; this included taking their calls, interviewing the clients to understand their problems, and directing them to the resources that were available to them. I also conducted research on various human rights violations and spread awareness in the surrounding villages to stop the problems before they started. In addition, I prepared their cases to present to our lawyers and helped our team highlight any right violations in order to convince them of the validity of our clients' claims.
This past summer I spent 3 months working as a field intern in the Isiolo District of Kenya for the nonprofit organization Global Health Network International (GHNI). After previously volunteering with GHNI in the summer of 2009 I was inspired to apply to the School of Public Health and through my master’s requirements had the special opportunity to once again volunteer. The impetus of this summer research was to help develop the "wellness" component of GHNI's Transformational Community Development model through the collection of baseline health assessments in 4 partnering villages. As a field intern I had the opportunity to work and collaborate with not only GHNI staff, but the Ministry of Public Health and the Isiolo Central Hospital on various projects including Community Health Worker trainings and public health campaigns while in the midst of the famine currently affecting the Horn of Africa. This experience was extremely profound and has strengthened my deep desire to serve the poor and marginalized in the world.
This summer I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Kolkata, India, two major cities in an area where millions are threatened by groundwater contamination of arsenic. I learned Bengali, the language spoken in this area and met with researchers at six universities and three different non-governmental organizations who are working on arsenic mitigation projects in Bangladesh and India. I visited over 20 different installations of various arsenic removal technologies and was able to learn about the successes and remaining challenges. These experiences will help me as I pursue my Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, researching a novel technology to remove arsenic from drinking water. I will now be able to direct my research towards questions that are relevant to field application in Bangladesh and India and collaborate with groups who are already active in arsenic mitigation.
I spent part of my summer in Kenya working on clean drinking and hand washing water treatment, storage, and distribution systems in a series of rural primary schools in Kenya. A few years ago the Kenyan Ministry of Education launched a pilot of these systems in 33 schools in cooperation with the NGO IPA, and in the short time since, nearly all of them had failed. My project focused on determining the causes of failure and finding a redesign capable of fixing the problems at or below the original Ministry of Education cost point per unit using only locally available technologies and materials. In the end, I was able to do so with a final cost 40% below the original provided by the Ministry of Education and I installed a new unit using this design in all 33 schools.
I continued my work this summer into the Fall of 2011. I am focused on filling the gaps in tuberculosis patient care in India by utilizing locally appropriate communication technologies. I am based in Mumbai and operate in coordination with the World Health Organization, Medic Mobile (www.medicmobile.org), and the Revised National TB Controlle Program. The work is around conceiving, building and implementing a scalable mobile phone tool which informs and incentivizes patients through the process of completing TB treatment.
Balachandran Gadaguntla Radhakrishnan
I worked with Pudiyador, an NGO in Chennai, India that works towards community empowerment primarily by ensuring an engaged childhood through various educational activities. The project that I undertook was towards establishing metrics for gauging a child's overall growth. Developed through consultations with experts from different fields, it entails measures such as health records and activity-based tools to keep track of academic progress and communication skills, as well as the individual interests of every child. The project is intended to give Pudiyador feedback on their efforts so that further plans can be laid towards a well-rounded childhood for those from under-privileged communities.
With the support of a Wallenberg International Summer Travel Award, I was able to work with Tiyatien Health, a grassroots community health organization in Zwedru, Liberia. Tiyatien Health implements an innovative community health worker (CHW) program throughout Southeast Liberia, which functions to disperse life-saving health services to Liberia’s rural poor. The objective of my project, titled Health Through Accompaniment in Rural Liberia, was to collect qualitative narratives from Tiyatien Health’s CHWs and their patients in order to further highlight the effectiveness of this program. With the aid of my findings and qualitative narratives, Tiyatien Health will be in a better position to leverage the attention and support that their CHW program deserves. Additionally, Tiyatien Health will be able to further develop and expand the program to continue providing essential health services to the most under-served communities of Liberia.
I spent my summer working in the town of Huancayo, Peru. While there, I volunteered in the mornings as an aide in the Coto Coto Orphanage working with the preschool program. In the afternoons, I taught English, as well as science and math to children in an afterschool enrichment program in Ladriellera, one of the poorest districts in Huancayo, where most of the men are brick-makers. The funds from the Wallenberg Travel Award also allowed me to take down clothing for the children of Ladriellera, many of whom only had one or two sets of clothes.
One and a half times as many people have died on the U.S.-Mexican border since its militarization process began in 1994 than those who perished in the September 11th terrorist attacks. As the 2010 recipient of the Isabel Bagramian Summer Travel Award, I traveled to the U.S.-Mexico Border where I volunteered with various organizations focused on Immigration Aid and Rights. Working with No More Deaths in the southern Arizona desert, I provided water and medical aid along the migrant trails in an effort to decrease the death toll in the hot summer months. The award allowed me the opportunity to walk 120 miles of migrant trails and travel 1,769 of the 1,969 miles of the border while documenting and providing direct humanitarian aid in border towns.
I started a non-profit effort with fellow undergrad Julie Bateman to realize my idea of establishing a school and field station in a rural area within a natural World Heritage Site. The area, known as the Brazilian Pantanal, is an ecological haven for countless rare and endangered species, and consists of mainly privately-owned land. The effort is designed to introduce the area to sustainable technologies and improve understanding of ecological risks while preserving the local culture and bringing new opportunities with basic curriculum. Our team also had engineers and architects, and together with locals we built the school in 3 months. In addition to building, we conducted a census to better understand the community and we negotiated with the Mato Grosso State Secretary of Education to provide classes for local children (including many who have yet to go to school). I will return in January to finish work on the school and field station, and to talk to the State Secretary of Health to negotiate facilitating access to doctors and medicine for this rural community.
I traveled to the Pantanal wetland in Brazil to help build the Pantanal Center for Education and Research (PCER). The main objectives of PCER are to provide education in the Pantanal while promoting sustainability and conservation of the wildlife. The majority of my experience involved building and testing the water systems for the buildings that I spent last semester designing. In the process I gained a better perspective of engineering challenges in developing areas and learned first-hand about Pantaneiro and Brazilian culture.
Emily E. Bretz
I will work in Tanzania as an intern at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). This organization aims to advance the doctrine of political and legal accountability and establish a forum for victims’ rights. This experience will allow me to serve a local community while working to promote the growth of democratic institutions and the adoption of a strict human rights standard. By working in Africa, I can advance these ideals while gaining a unique view of a different government infrastructure and legal system.
I will travel to Ghana to aid Dr. Ofosu and the surrounding district hospitals with medical supplies from a humanitarian aid level and to work on sustainable projects for the future, both to increase access to health care for all Ghananians, especially women. The second part of the trip will be spent in the Community Health Compound with a midwife, assisting in education of prenatal and postpartum care and also taking observations on the gynecology bed I designed as a part of my engineering studies at the University of Michigan.
I am the 2009 Isabel Bagramian Award recipient. I will join the al-Kamandjâti music education program in Ramallah (in the West Bank) aimed at helping Palestinian children. Working within the model of the school will help me formulate ideas of how to stimulate artistic outreach for communities that are in need of it. The West Bank is a model location for this, considering the international importance and implications of steering Palestinian youth towards a positive and productive future. Additionally, I aim to collaborate with a Palestinian musician in developing one of his compositions.
I will be documenting issues related to vision problems in Tanzania. 45 million people in the world are currently blind, two-thirds of whom are women. Cataracts remain the leading cause of blindness, despite the fact that a simple 15-minute surgical produce can restore sight immediately. Unfortunately, poor quality of service and high cost of treatment prevent the majority of the world’s blind from receiving proper care. I will be working with organizations such as the Seva Foundation, ‘So One Million Eyes See Again,’ Standard Chartered ‘Seeing is Believing.’ and Aravind ‘Management of Diabetic Retinopathy.’ These organizations hope to end avoidable blindness by the year 2020, and I will help these organizations create a media toolkit to present their case for a need to change.
I will serve as a legal intern for Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka (HFHSL) in Colombo, Sri Lanka. HFHSL is an international NGO whose mission is to provide adequate and affordable housing to people in need. My internship will focus on research and advocating housing rights for the poor, primarily those affected by disasters and those displaced by war.
I will join the Plan Techos, an organization that is working to build healthy communities in Buenos Aires and its surrounding districts. Plan Techos’ ideology revolves around the concept of building “Dignified Homes” to form a community of unity, solidarity and trust. I will use my architectural education to help build homes and create close-knit communities.
The Wallenberg Travel Award has provided me with funds to spend a month in Xian, China, this summer, volunteering to help educate and care for children with physical and mental disabilities. Disabilities are widely misunderstood and highly stigmatized in China, and children who are born disabled often face a bleak future. Resources for disabled children and their families are almost non-existent, and even mildly disabled children cannot attend public schools. Through a program with Cross-Cultural Solutions, a non-profit global volunteer organization, I will be placed at a non-profit day care and education center for infants, children and teenagers.
I am a junior double-majoring in political science and Asian studies and have been studying Mandarin Chinese for three years. This volunteer program will be an opportunity to use my language skills to raise awareness of an under-recognized issue, and to help children in a country where I some day hope to work. In the long term, my goal is to attend law school, and to then pursue a career in international law and policy in China, where many issues, such as those faced by disabled children and adults, need advocacy and policy revision.
I am a native of Ann Arbor entering my senior year at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy. The beginning of my college career in Chicago at DePaul University sparked my interest in working with groups of people who have various economic, educational or social barriers to overcome. I am currently interning at COPE, an alternative high school that offers individualized attention to students for whom traditional public high schools are not a good fit. This work at COPE has offered me an amazing experience getting to know the students and helping them use art as a positive means of self-expression. It has also solidified my goal to help formulate new opportunities for those who may have difficulty accessing available resources and supports.
In pursuit of a similar objective, I will spend July and August working in Madagascar with Azafady, an NGO based in London, England. Some of the main focuses of the program will be digging wells to bring clean water to people in remote villages, building schools, and helping to renew and revive some of the vegetation that has been torn down through slash-and-burn methods of agriculture. After flying into the capital of Antananarivo, I will spend the first three weeks in Forth Dauphin, an urban area on the southern shore of Madagascar. Here, the other program members and I will be participating in health education programs with local clinics, as well as learning about the Malagasy culture and traditions. After Fort Dauphin, we will spend seven weeks in remote rural communities of the Tolagnaro region constructing and furnishing schools and developing systems for delivering clean drinking water.
The Wallenberg Travel Award has provided me with the ability to participate in Azafady’s program. It will allow me to help out a community in need and provide me with valuable experience and tools to pursue a future related to urban studies and poverty in this country. I have hopes that my experiences with Azafady and the Malagasy people will supply me with the knowledge to work in a similar capacity here in urban areas of the United States, where resources are scarce and the need is great. It will also give me an inside look into how NGOs function, which would be useful in starting a non-profit of my own here in the States. Already, the organization and reach of Azafady is something I admire, and I aspire to duplicate this level of service in my future.
Stephanie Elise Curtis
During my time in Honduras, I was most struck by the resourcefulness of the people. The community hospital I volunteered in was short on the most basic supplies such as gloves, needles, hospital gowns and medicine cups. This hardly seemed to faze the nurses; perhaps because they had never witnessed the abundant supplies in U.S. hospitals. To save, they used cloth diapers and washed and reused medicine cups. At the cost of ideal sanitation, they used gloves sparingly and reused needles on the same patient.
Despite the need, the nurses continued to be generous with their patients. Newborns would wear hospital clothes home because the mothers couldn’t afford to buy some of their own. It was difficult to return to the hospitals in Michigan and see the unbelievable waste that occurs with such thoughtlessness.
I was moved by the discovery that almost everything can be reused by someone. Once when I was on a field trip to a neighboring town, I saw a man wearing a University of Michigan cap and couldn’t resist the urge to shout “Go Blue!” The man had no idea what I was talking about, but at least I knew that wolverines give to charity.
A year later and I still can’t make any big purchase without thinking of the value the amount of money could translate to someone in Honduras. That plane ticket could feed a family for two months or those shoes could buy a respiratory machine for a child in a hospital.
Aside from the lessons on the value of money, I learned things that will enrich my entire career. As a nursing student working and living with Spanish-speaking nurses and doctors for five weeks, I drastically improved my medical and conversational Spanish. My dream to become a bilingual nurse is coming true as I begin my first nursing job on a pediatric floor in a community with many Spanish-speaking families here in Michigan. The support I received from the Wallenberg Travel Award will continue to spark positive change in the world with each Spanish-speaking child I treat. I also hope to continue to visit Honduras throughout my career on medical mission trips.
In the past year I have grown a great deal as an extension of my experience. After traveling solo through a developing country, being dependent on a second language, climbing underneath a 140-foot waterfall, helping deliver babies in an outdated foreign hospital and making friends with fellow volunteers from around the world, there isn’t much that I feel I cannot do.
I feel like each person has a duty to use their gifts to better the world around them, and I thank the Wallenberg Foundation for using theirs to better mine.
I strongly believe in children having a “balanced,” as opposed to a strictly academic, education. This is despite (or maybe because of!) the fact that I was brought up in a culture which places academic success above all else. My belief in well-rounded education has been strengthened by the Wallenberg Travel Award and my experiences thereafter. The Award helped me implement my dreamy ideals in a tiny corner of a tough world.
I traveled back to my home country, India, to establish an after-school program Pudiyador-Adyar for underprivileged children in the slums of Madras (Chennai). The program was modeled after an existing program called Pudiyador. The central idea revolves around the belief that children should have a wholesome childhood, irrespective of the background they come from. Although this idea seems simple and obvious, I quickly realized how this is not the case in places where children are viewed as potentially cheap labor.
Since my work was in my hometown, I thought it could be accomplished smoothly, but nothing could have prepared me for those crazy but amazing six weeks. I encountered frustrating bureaucracy that stood between us and our objectives, pessimistic people who questioned the very need to educate underprivileged children and tiresome cultural practices that made life very difficult in general. On the other hand, I worked with some of the nicest people, saw some fantastic work done in other organizations, learned a whole lot from the children at Pudiyador and truly understood what it takes to start a non-profit organization from scratch and run it successfully.
Most important lesson learned: Impacting society even on a small scale is not a 6-week affair. It not only involves a lot more time than I had imagined, but also more people, resources and...obstacles! Starting a Pudiyador would not have been possible without the Wallenberg Travel Award money and the inspiration that it provided. I also want to mention that it was certainly not a single-handed effort. I had at least three people from the Pudiyador family by my side at all times. Together with their experiences, resources, goodwill and encouragement, we managed to start a center to help children in need. A year after that was done, we are still working hard to keep the center up and running from halfway across the world with occasional visits. A registered Michigan non-profit called PACE now bridges the gap between the two countries. A University of Michigan student organization called Inner PACE now works directly with the running of Pudiyador. More and more people are getting involved at various levels, from volunteering to work with the children on the ground to contributing ideas at the organizational level.
The children at Pudiyador do not really understand the scale of it all, but they will do so as they grow up. I truly believe that their well-rounded education will help them transcend their economic and social boundaries. Perhaps they will soon learn that no ideal is too dreamy for the real world.
Matthew Leslie Santana
I am a third-year student from Miami, Florida pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and a Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance. I am also active in sexual health-related activities on campus and have been a member of the World AIDS Week Planning Committee and the Sexual Health Peer Educators with Chinyere Neale at University Health Services.
As a violinist, I have performed with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama as a member of the Teen String Quartet in Miami. In 2005, I was one of eight semi-finalists in the junior division of the Sphinx National Music Competition for Black and Latina/o string players.
As a member of Trio St. James, a piano trio comprising undergraduates at the University of Michigan School of Music, I have performed twice for President Mary Sue Coleman.
Since coming to the University of Michigan, I have been named an Angell Scholar and have been given the William J. Branstrom Freshman Prize in recognition of my academic achievement.
This summer, I will be going to South Africa as a member of the Pedagogy of Action program led by Dr. Nesha Haniff and sponsored by the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and the Women’s Studies Department. While in South Africa, I will be teaching an oral methodology in HIV prevention developed by Dr. Haniff for people of all ages and literacy levels. As a part of the teaching process, I will train students to teach this methodology in English, Zulu, Xhosa and other South African languages. While in South Africa, I will be working at the University of Zululand in rural KwaZulu-Natal, at Cato Crest Primary School in Durban and at Damelin Community College in Johannesburg. While at the University of Zululand, I will be involved in conducting focus groups and in-depth interviews in order to assess the impact of Dr. Haniff’s oral methodology from the previous years of the program.
In addition to the Raoul Wallenberg International Summer Travel Award, I have received the Center for International and Comparative Studies Student Research Fellowship and the College of LS&A Summer Opportunity Scholarship to fund my summer travel and research. I am very thankful for the generous support of the Wallenberg Endowment, without which I would not have been able to participate in this transformational program. Upon my return to the United States, I hope to help publish reports based on the findings from the research conducted in South Africa and to use my experience to inform and enhance my sexual health work in the campus community.
In the summer of 2007, I had the fortunate opportunity of participating in a Project Suyana humanitarian/medical volunteer trip to Puno, Peru for five weeks. Project Suyana is a student organization at the University of Michigan dedicated to improving gynecological and obstetric healthcare conditions in Puno, where maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world (for more information, please visit the website.)
Under the generous grant endowed by the Wallenberg Committee, my work in the area included volunteering in a health clinic and teaching English to kids and healthcare professionals.
In the Regional Hospital, my experiences included accompanying physicians in their daily rounds in ICU and Surgery, observing routine checkups and surgical procedures, observing interactions between physicians and their patients, and learning some basic knowledge about medicine and the Peruvian healthcare system. I also frequently made efforts to initiate conversations with the patients to learn about their health conditions and lifestyles. These experiences are immensely valuable to me personally as an aspiring physician. After spending 30 hours per week in a hospital, watching multiple surgeries and encountering a countless number of people being cured of their illnesses, my desire to study and practice medicine grew even more intense – I wanted to be a part of the life-saving process that I’d witnessed on a daily basis in the hospital.
After working in the hospital, we taught English to schoolchildren and some hospital staff. Since they often receive English-speaking tourist patients, the hospital workers were enthusiastic to learn English, so I utilized my medical Spanish vocabulary acquired in a Spanish class. The children we worked with were ages 6 to 13 and from a poverty-stricken area of Puno, and their families had very little means of providing them necessities like notebooks and pencils, let alone a good education. But the kids were so eager to learn from us; by our second day, our class had doubled in size. I believe that our presence in their lives gave them very positive messages—that education is important, that they matter, and that we care about them. The whole experience was emotional; our farewell on the last night was filled with tears.
During my trip, I gained an understanding of the local culture, improvements in Spanish communication and exposure to clinical medicine and surgical procedures. But most important, this experience solidified my enthusiasm for humanitarian work and intensified my passion for medicine. I believe I will continue to devote myself to efforts of similar nature.
I am a filmmaker and undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. Over the course of several months in the summer of 2008, I will be traveling throughout East Africa where I will work with FilmAid International, a non-profit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of film for education and social change in refugee populations worldwide.
I will monitor and evaluate services and communications in FilmAid offices in Nairobi, Kenya for several weeks while also working with the refugee population through interviews and volunteer work within Kenyan refugee camps.
Specifically, I will be traveling to the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps within Kenya, which house primarily Sudanese and Somali refugees respectively.
Additionally, with the help of the Wallenberg Travel Award, I will be traveling to refugee communities in Rwanda and Uganda to meet with camp coordinators with regard to extending FilmAid programs, while drafting a preliminary handbook for gauging infrastructural needs for future operations along with a report monitoring communication between the field offices.
Raised in New York, I am a senior in the Department of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan and I plan to ultimately make a career of directing and producing documentary film geared towards social issues while pursuing a graduate degree in visual anthropology or comparative media.
I am a Master of Public Health student in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, working with UNESCO for the summer in Nairobi, Kenya. Part of my work involves working with Jacaranda Designs, a local education-based enterprise closely connected with UNESCO, to write health-related articles for the Young African Express, an educational newspaper widely distributed in East African schools. Additional duties include assisting with grant and project proposals and developing a health curriculum for their innovative Chanuka Express mobile education outreach program aimed at offering life skills and sustainable development education to upper primary students in Kenya.
From an equipped and branded bus, teams of young people, including university students and graduates, travel to low-income schools to offer education on health, safety and the environment, while motivating youth to engage in community development by applying these new skills. In Kiswahili slang, chanuka means “to sharpen up, or get with it, by using knowledge.” The program challenges and recognizes young people for their participation in promoting peace and contributing to building a more productive nation.
The Wallenberg Travel Award is allowing me to do meaningful work in both health and education, in a post-conflict country with a struggling health infrastructure and education system. I am gaining meaningful insight into Kenya’s education system and the way health education is implemented through visits with Chanuka to local primary schools. In the past, I have considered pursuing a career in international education policy, and this experience has solidified that goal. I truly believe that education is the heart valve of any country and that health and education are inseparable. Poor health affects one’s ability to receive a quality education, and a quality education is the greatest predictor of one’s future health and quality of life. This experience will inform and shape my future studies and work in international education policy and public health.
I am currently doing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
India, where I was born, is a nation of inequalities: although one of the ‘fastest-growing’ economies of the world, more than half of its population of a billion survives on less than 50 cents a day, living in dismal conditions. The greatest challenge faced by India is to make its growth more inclusive; to ensure that its economic growth offsets the alarming disparity between the privileged minority and the less fortunate majority.
Growing up in a middle-class family shielded me from the real India: I saw neglected street children every day. Yet, their hunger, disease and life in appalling sanitary conditions could not penetrate even my outer shell of consciousness. This attitude can be easily misconstrued as indifference. However, the truth is that the magnitude of the problem is so enormous that I felt overwhelmed and powerless, not knowing where to start.
It was only after a year of being away as a graduate student in Ann Arbor that my shell began to break.
In the summer of 2006, I chanced upon an article in the Ann Arbor Observer about Pudiyador, a non-profit organization in India that works towards the empowerment of underprivileged communities. Pudiyador’s vision is to overcome existing socioeconomic challenges by empowering people using a wholesome approach that includes both balanced education and social support.
During my next trip to India in 2006, I encountered the same poverty that I was accustomed to; but this time, the experience shattered my shell. It moved me. It was real and it made me react. My paradigm shifted gradually: from awareness, concern and distant support to direct action.
In 2007, understanding that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, I took up a project with Pudiyador-India, to work on an after-school center for underprivileged children in the semi-rural community of Urappakkam, outside Chennai.
The community of Urappakkam now has a Pudiyador center, to supplement the poor quality of education the children receive in nearby government-run schools. In addition, Pudiyador also organizes several extracurricular and community activities, including distribution of nutritious food supplements and free medical care.
The center currently supports 40 children aged 11–16 years. Due to the environment in which they are brought up, when our children come in at the age of 11, certain habits are already hard-wired into their system that are very hard to tackle. Stricken by malnutrition, furthered by the lack of attention from parents and teachers alike, they are also already disadvantaged in terms of learning. So one of my main goals for this summer is to resolve existing issues in the center and expand the program to include 30 younger children aged 6–10 years.
I spent this summer in Bukhaweka, Uganda—I cannot begin to describe how much the experience has affected the life that I lead and the person I am. It was the most trying and stressful experience of my life, and it seemed to have no reward—the children were still hungry, wounds were still infected, the school was still bookless, and the people were still desperate for aid of any kind when we left the tiny little southeastern village. There was no visible success in what we did. And I cannot begin to tell you how hard this was for me to deal with.
I spent two months with nine other volunteers from across the United States completing door-to-door surveys of about two thousand households surrounding Bukhaweka—a teeny village about an hour’s drive outside of the country’s fourth biggest city, Mbale. We administered basic health tests such as heartbeat and blood pressure and temperature checks to each member of the family that lived there, asked questions about the family history and recorded the conditions of the homestead. These surveys will be used by the local and regional government to determine the most pressing problems and where to most effectively allot government funds.
We then filled out a slip listing the members or the family who were ill, describing their malady, and invited them to bring the paper to a clinic we were holding. The clinic had two doctors (there were only three in the 300,000-person sub-county), a dentist and discounted medication, and was financed by our program fees. It cost each family slightly less than one dollar to receive a check-up and whatever medication that they needed. We visited homesteads six days a week for six weeks and held two three-day clinics. Overall, it was estimated that we treated about 1,300 people.
But it was heartbreaking knowing that, when the medicines ran out, the womens’ arthritis would return, when the children’s bandages fell off the cuts would only become infected again, and when the glasses broke the wearer would no longer see even that little bit. And then there were the bigger problems of HIV and measles that will never be fixed — that, even if diagnosed, are a death sentence because no one can afford a car ride to get tested in the city, much less the medications to successfully treat whatever it is that is eating away at their body.
Considering all of these things, it is unbearable for me to be so self-righteous to say that I made a real difference. And coming home to a soft bed, running water, telephones, working lights and even the smaller comforts like a clean toothbrush or a piece of candy, after spending eight weeks with people who literally struggled through every day sent me into a sort of depression for about a month. But in the end I was forced to acknowledge that there may never be a tangible result from this summer, but that it was still perhaps the most worthwhile two months that I had ever spent. The way that I live my life and the goals that I have, coupled with the tremendous sense of obligation that I feel to use the privilege and opportunities that my life has been graced with will ensure that I will endlessly work to improve the lives of others for the rest of my years.
As before my trip, I aim to become a journalist. And I will travel the world and let everyone know what exists beyond their jobs and their homes and their lives. I will do this because it is now my responsibility to give what I have received. I have developed self-awareness, a humility that drives me to improve myself, an overtaking sense of appreciation, and also a cynicism that is not negative—as is often the case—but incredibly motivating. Because my experience in Africa has given me these gifts, I am determined to spend my life using these things to return the favor.
I am currently a PhD student at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan School of Education. This summer, thanks to the Raoul Wallenberg International Travel Award and the Can Tho Youth Empowerment Project (CTYEP) in Vietnam, I am directing a youth leadership camp that I am calling the Raoul Wallenberg Summer Youth Empowerment Program.
CTYEP currently provides tutoring to children at orphanages in Can Tho (a city 90 miles southwest of Ho Chi Minh City).
The Raoul Wallenberg Summer Youth Empowerment Program I have developed will enable the CTYEP to build upon its strengths and serve these children in new and special ways. Following a summer camp format, the program will focus on three main themes: learning, leading and having fun!
Each day and all day, the children (aged 8 to 15) will participate in a variety of program activities. For example, they will take English and computer lessons; engage in community service, team building and leadership development activities; and take part in creative arts and crafts and athletics, such as playing basketball, badminton or da cau (the national sport in Vietnam).
To help me with the design and delivery of this program, I am working with a few fantastic Vietnamese college students. One of my research interests is developing civic engagement in society through higher education, and I am excited and hopeful that the students with whom I work will grow their own appreciation for serving others and will develop into strong and compassionate community leaders.
Another research interest of mine is international higher education. I am excited to be learning more about the higher education system in Vietnam by talking with faculty, students, and administrators at colleges in the area where I am working and living. One of my goals this summer is to identify future research opportunities so that I might have the chance to return to this amazing area of the world and conduct formal research on higher education institutions here.
As a result of this summer award experience, I hope to build strong connections with friends and colleagues in Vietnam, make a difference in the lives of the children served by the Raoul Wallenberg Summer Youth Empowerment Program, and make strides in my professional career as an education researcher. I can’t thank the Wallenberg Endowment enough for this amazing opportunity!
The Temple Orphanage program through ELI in Vietnam is designed to help shelter children from the harsh realities of life, even though they have already experienced a little of it. As a volunteer, I will be staying in a dorm that is situated close to the orphanage in Vietnam. Travel may require bus, but the site is feasibly within walking distance. Currently, I am in contact with the program specialist located here in the United States, Malissa Spero. She has provided me with much information about the typical goings-on of a volunteer placed in Vietnam.
Throughout Saigon, there is a full-time medical staff with roughly 10 nurses that we will be able to assist. Many of the children in these orphanages have disabilities, and as volunteers we will be able to lend a hand to the medical staff in terms of paperwork and the physical therapy that is given to the children. More important, we will be able to develop a strong connection with these children as more time is spent with them. I feel that this bond will become a good foundation for these children and bring light and happiness into their life. In addition to helping with the medical staff, we will also be focusing on giving these children a chance at receiving a higher-level education. Most of the children attend school on a regular basis, but due to their situation, they easily fall behind in school. The orphanage tries to help these children by hosting extra tutoring sessions. My trilingual background allows me to specialize in tutoring English in addition to helping with other subjects. By encouraging the children to do well in school, their confidence will increase and we can better integrate them into the community, giving them the first step into a brighter future. Volunteers will also lead activities and games for the children in order to create a sense of family within the orphanage. Through forming an amiable environment, the program attempts to give these children as normal a life as possible.