As I undertake my eighteenth trip to East Africa and my fourteenth year in northwestern Tanzania, I am once again excited to be embarking on another trip of discovery with undergraduate and professional health care students and faculty. This picture of me with Tanzanian and South Korean friends was taken in January 2015 in Tanzania during my time there studying KiSwahili with other Wazungu (non-Tanzanians) who work in East Africa.
Every year becomes a new chapter in an ever changing dialogue of people and culture. In 2002, I originally developed this study abroad program to introduce university students to community heath in a rural Africa setting in order to enhance their cross-cultural awareness and competencies. In addition, I wanted to teach students how to engage in international research in partnership with local African agencies and health care providers by involving them in my own research. Since that time, over 150 students and faculty colleagues have joined me in my summer trips to Karagwe Tanzania. It has been a starting point for a life of global engagement for many as they choose Africa for their first trip outside of the USA. My own perspectives have expanded exponentially throughout these years as I experience new perspectives about what it means to be a global citizen through the eyes of my fellow travelers and the family friends, and colleagues who welcome us in Tanzania. The partnerships that we have forged have led to research on HIV and AIDS demographics and program assessment, a series of children’s books in Swahili with community partners, and our current project since 2012 on maternal and infant health. All of these things have shaped “my story” as a person. For our first blogs this year, I asked everyone to “write their story” after listening to an excellent talk by African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: http://on.ted.com/b0sY9. This year’s Wilkes community immersion global health study abroad trip includes four professional and pre-professional health care students: Sara Brozena, Erica Chambers, Kelsey Feinman, and Areil Velez. In addition, we are joined by Dr. Cynthia Mailloux, chairperson of Nursing and faculty member at Misericorida University. You will find their stories and pictures below.
I often say that my story feels like “oh, what a wonderful life!” I have been able to meet, and form relationships, with so many interesting people across the globe as my travels and teaching take me to country after country on five continents.
It is in rural Africa, in Karagwe, part of the northwestern Kagera region of Tanzania that I find a home place and a family of friends outside of the USA. For a time every summer, this place and the people that I engage with expand my cultural boundaries and inspire me with their compassion, dedication to family and community, enjoyment of life, and laughter. The study abroad and research trip that I have been leading to the Karagwe area since 2002 have been pivotal in developing my understanding of my life as a global citizen who comes from one of the wealthiest and most privileged country in the twenty-first century. These trips inspire me and my students and colleagues in an ongoing journey to find ways to partner and share. The hospitality and rich vibrant interconnected complex cultures of East Africa are like a novel in which every chapter has a new revelation. We learn as our study abroad group spends its days immersed in Nyakahanga Hospital and its community health programs or with other partners like the AIDS Orphan Project, MAVUNO, WOMEDA, Radio Karagwe, FADECO, local schools, etc. All of these organizations are grass roots initiatives and testimony to the success of African entrepreneurs. The leaders and workers in these organizations inspire us with their commitment and creativity as they work within their communities dealing with multiple challenges of underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of resources. (See http://www.mavunoproject.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Womeda/285166848171570, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWxUFUkEUb8, http://www.fadeco.info/).
As I reflect on my story and my family, the people I have met have constantly shaped and expanded my world view. In the above picture, my father and I are walking on the beach in his home state of Oregon. Although we live on opposite sides of the USA, he has been my constant supporter and his life of travel, curiosity about world events, positive outlook, volunteer work, perseverance, and generosity to friends has been a marvelous example. He and my mother shared with me their enthusiasm for education, music, community, the value of family, and an appreciation of new experience and travel. I grew up in a family that moved often with homes in five different states scattered across the USA (West, Midwest, and East). My parents encouraged me to seek friends across cultural and language boundaries as they welcomed Native Americans, Mexican sharecroppers, recent immigrants and others to our home. No doubt that this encouraged my interest in cross-cultural immersion and communication.
I am also sharing a picture of my Tanzanian colleague and friend Venant Mugenyi. Venant has been the director of the Karagwe AIDS Control Project in Karagwe Tanzania since the 1990s. His dedication to others, practical wisdom, and sense of humor have shaped my understanding of the Karagwe community and the needs of orphaned children. Through our work together, we have had an ongoing project to support orphans in this area (see Wilkes Embrace a Child campaign: https://www.facebook.com/embraceachild). This has given me a window into many aspects of Tanzanian culture (family life, education, opportunities or lack thereof, and the power of hope). He has also given me and others a place to share what we have as donors by supporting a child in school. His commitment and ingenuity has touched the lives of thousands in his community. He is one of many people whose friendship has shaped my perspectives and my story.