I remember sitting in Richard Gregory’s Community Development class at Medicine Hat College, being shown a film on female circumcision and wanting to do a field trip to Africa. That was in 2000 and in 2010 I realized my dream through an organization called Village Volunteers. www.villagevolunteers.com this organization facilitates the connection of volunteers to projects in Kenya, Ghana, India, and Nepal.
Originally I had chosen to spend time at Common Ground in Kenya and facilitate the making of “Memory Boxes” for children whose parents were dying of AIDS, but their volunteer accommodations were damaged due to flooding. I thought fine I will push it back a month and was told this is Africa these accommodations may not even be ready for the next year. My next choice was Sirua Aulo Academy, also in Kenya. There I would work with the Maasai people and introduce some incentives we had run at Northern Lights School Division where I had been an Outreach Worker.
I stayed 21 days in the Maasai community with Emmanuel Tasur, Director of Sirua Aulo Academy and his lovely wife Lily. It was the experience of a lifetime. I went on my journey as a learner and came back with new knowledge and friendships. I spent the days at the school working with the staff and children. I introduced them to snow and showed videos to all the classrooms, during the days we did this it hailed and I was able to compare it to our snow.
I shared an anti-bullying program called “The Virtue Program” based on Michelle Borba’s “Seven Essential Virtues Children Need to Know” which had been very successful throughout Northern Lights School Division. Emmanuel now tells me it is running in seven Kenyan schools, each school adapting it to their own value system. We began the “Adopt a Student” program in which staff secretly adopts a child who appears to need a little more support and nurturing and go out of their way to do things to encourage or boost their self- esteem. It was so rewarding to feel an impact would be made.
I was hooked on International work. This trip ignited a passion for work in Africa. I felt if every Social Worker could come here they would receive the gifts of an expanded world view, tolerance, and respect for other cultures, understanding of people living under oppression but portraying a peace and joy that we in our Western world don’t always have.
We all know that as Social Workers – we cannot change people nor do we want to –we want to empower and facilitate growth and encourage and offer options. In the end, it is the individual’s choice and we honor the self-sacrificing leadership we experienced. I am still working with Common Ground and Namunayk Maasai Welfare who have solid leadership and are thriving. We are planning a trip in 2017 to promote a Women’s Wellness program. It is my hope to one day facilitate Social Work practicums in Africa.