And…back to reality.

Hey everyone!

So I’m not sure about the rest of the Indys, but I have had a bit of a difficult time keeping myself accountable with the blog posts. It’s not to say that India’s been a bad experience (because it absolutely HAS NOT BEEN), but more because I’ve tried to stay extra busy and every time I begin writing, there’s a new adventure to be had! Anywhos, below is a little reflection on my time in India, and I hope you all enjoy!

For anyone who hasn’t read my short little blog post from last time, I have spent my DukeEngage in Chennai, India working with an incredible NGO, REACH. Focused on eliminating tuberculosis, REACH has made amazing gains in the fight against tuberculosis. They have improved awareness and education to the point that even in a country where tuberculosis carries incredible stigma, the name “REACH” is recognized and well-regarded throughout India.

While I’ve been here though, one of my goals apart from service was to be fully immersed in the lifestyle and culture of India. I knew that I would stand apart as a foreigner, but I tried to be active in ensuring that I did not retreat from this once in a lifetime experience. Though this seemed a little daunting at first in a country where I did not speak the same language, was not completely familiar with the culture, etc…, doing this has made my time in India very special, and I’m hugely grateful for the opportunity to come here.

For me, India was a time for firsts. My first time in India led to my first scuba dive, first auto ride, first Rajinikanth movie, first experience interpreting head wobbles, first time eating mostly vegetarian, first cartilage piercing, first time in a Hindu temple, first time being cutoff by a moving cow, first swim in the Indian Ocean, you get the picture. Since being back at Duke, I’ve sort of summarized my experience in a few highlights.

Highlight 1. India’s incredible diversity.

India, as a country, is mind-blowingly diverse, and each region of India boasts of historical and cultural treasures unique to that particular region. For instance, the Tamil Nadu region in South India is known for some of the most intricate and beautiful ancient Hindu temples that are prevalent throughout the region, each with their own unique story. In Mahabalipuram, a small seaside town in between Chennai and Pondicherry (the inspiration for Life of Pi), there are ancient temples known as the Five Rathas, carved out of a single piece of stone. Pondicherry, a mere three hours drive from Chennai (including the time in standstill Indian traffic), is a former French colony that still has remnants of this part of its history in the names of the streets, architecture, and culinary influences. Many French Indians still live in the area, and while there for a weekend, we heard French, Tamil, and English side by side in passing conversations. But my own experiences in India do not do the diversity of this country justice, and I definitely want to return to explore the other treasures found in India. Kerala, on the other side of South India is known for some of the largest and elaborate temples in India and is known for their fresh seafood. (The family that owns the bed and breakfast we stayed at hails from Kerala and praises it to no end; it is supposed to be known as “God Country” it is so beautiful.) Or even in North India, where an ethnic minority known as the Naga reside in areas adjoining China, Tibet, and Burma.

Highlight 2. The people I’ve met!

Hands-down, the best part of my time in India has been the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The family that owned the bed and breakfast we stayed at truly became my family, and I am so grateful to have been able to meet such kind, generous, funny, intelligent, gracious, and in general wonderful people. They showed us around the city (see highlight 1) and took us out to dinner at some incredible places around Chennai—who would have thought that ice cream (full veg = no egg) could be so rich and creamy? The mother was also incredibly artistic, and we saw her paint (BY HAND) a giant ten-foot mural depicting a traditional Hindu scene.

Highlight 3. Food, coffee, and that masala chai tea.

I pride myself on being a coffee connoisseur, and the countless number of free coffees I have redeemed from Joe’s using their coffee card coupon is only a testimony to that fact.  But man, a round of applause needs to go out to the Indian Coffee House’s cold coffee. Priced at a cool 20 rupees, that’s around 30 cents if you don’t have your calculator out, Indian cold coffee rivals my families’ home grown coffee beans from the Philippines. In addition to the hint of some secret ingredient (Caramel? Ice cream? Magic?), making cold coffee is a uniquely Indian art form. In order to cool coffee, the liquid is elegantly poured between two containers. I know that description isn’t very helpful, but the grace that goes into pouring coupled with the fact that NOTHING EVER SPILLS was mesmerizing.

These were a few of my favorite things from the summer, and though I know the above could not encapsulate everything that I found wonderful in India, I will definitely say that DukeEngage was an incredible experience where I not only learned a lot from my community partner, but was able to learn tons from the community that I was in as well. (Sorry this was so long and probably very scattered, but I hope you enjoyed, now…back to the crazy reality that is Duke!)



Hope Beyond Transitional Center

hope beyondI lived in Kimana, Kenya for ten weeks this summer. I know the Hope Beyond Rescue Center children personally, through teaching them lessons in Science, Christian Religious Education, Social Studies, and Reading Comprehension among others. I have played soccer and volleyball with them, pushed the young children on the swingset, and taught them how to throw a frisbee back and forth. FGM, human trafficking, extreme poverty, and the like are not simply vague ideas or incidents that occur somewhere far off in the world; they are very real, and have impacted those that I love dearly.

Throughout the summer, I heard many stories about the rescue center students; some were rescued literally as they were being transferred in crates from one car to another, at a price of $20,000 each. Others have walked 35-40 kilometers alone day and night to find safety from childhood marriage, with only a name to go off of. Some of the children that I know incredibly well and call close friends have been raped and abandoned for dead in the woods, and others have been locked in outhouses for days at a time. Some have carried children at the age of 11 only to watch them die in their arms within the next sixth months. These students need your help. They need a safe place they can call home, somewhere that they can run to where others will play close attention to them. They will need to know that they are loved, and they will not feel the pressures of a school environment immediately after being rescued. As you sit in front of your computer and read these words, or while you lie in bed, scrolling through this blog post on your phone, remember that many of these children have never, and may never experience the comfort that you do. You can change this. ONE person can make a difference. ONE person can change someone else’s future. Who do you want to be?

The idea behind a transitional center is simple; students need a home which is dedicated to facilitating their transition from a dark past to a bright future. Children who have never been to school before need somewhere to transition and come to terms with their new reality before they are thrown into their new education system. Hope Beyond Rescue Center (soon to be: Hope Beyond Transitional Center) at Lenkai Christian School provides aid and sanctuary for children from a wide variety of backgrounds.

When a girl has been abused, forced to undergo female circumcision, or has been married off to a 60 year old man all before the age of 12, she not only needs a place to run to, but she needs a place of true refuge, somewhere where she will be cared for not only physically, but psychologically and spiritually as well. FGM, or female genital mutilation, is the official name of this process of circumcision for young women. Though it is outlawed in all of Africa, many people still hold on to these traditional practices, due to the rich cultural heritage which says that a girl is only pure and faithful if she is circumcised. If she is not circumcised, she is believed to be promiscuous, and even cursed. Whether dealing with poverty and the inability to pay school fees, or running from FGM and child marriage, these students all are on a path towards a bright future due to the the guidance of Hope Beyond.

For some students, the drastic change from the lifestyle they have always known to a completely foreign environment actually amplifies the trauma they have experienced. Though they may have run from their family only days before, to avoid child marriage or FGM practices, students who experience this second wave of transitional trauma sometimes opt to return to their previous way of life. However, not all students come from backgrounds of FGM or human trafficking. Childhood marriage is the selling of a child for marriage without any type of consent on their part. This is, in effect, human trafficking. But some students come from families afflicted with extreme poverty, others from families that are sick and/or broken, and many of the boys were rescued because they used to herd their father’s cattle day and night, without ever attending school. These students are able to return to their families during the holidays, because there is no fear of them being sold off, or not returning for the next term. However, a large number of the students currently have no where to go, and Hope Beyond Transitional Center will become their refuge.

The long term goal of Hope Beyond Transitional Center is to have counselors living on site at all times.  This is a great expense in Kenya, and so the Center must begin with what they can afford. This seed money will allow Hope Beyond to jumpstart their new program, and build upon it through the sustainable growth of the farm and livestock on the property. Transitional centers are different in nature than their rescue center or orphanage counterparts due to the highly individualized care the children receive through counseling and therapy. This personalized aspect of the transitional center will allow students to discover gifts and talents they never knew they had, through avenues of craftwork, the arts, and more.

These children need a safe home. The students need to know that they will not be left alone on campus during holiday. Many need counseling and therapy, but Hope Beyond does not currently have the resources to provide this for the children. Be the change. Help them to make the transition from FGM and child marriage to an educated life full of promise.

The Time is Now

Property prices are not only going up quickly, but they have suddenly reached a level where the property owner is prepared to sell to someone with a higher offer. A close friend of John and Dorcus, the property owner used to live in Kimana at this home. On the property there is a running, up-kept farm which produces a variety of produce for the community to purchase throughout the year. There is already a borehole dug at the property, so there is no fear of the lack of water. In other words, if purchased, the property will provide not only a home for the children, but it will create a nurturing environment and allow for the school’s self-sustainability for years to come.

Below is plenty of information on the fundraising campaign, but you can learn more and donate here.

Due to the rapidly developing area and high demand for land, our deadline for a downpayment to secure the property is August 31st. It is of the utmost importance that this deadline, and the goal of $15,000 must be met, as this downpayment will allow the property to be held for an additional 60 days to raise the last $35,000 to purchase the property. This is the first of a two-part goal, with $50,000 being the total cost of purchase. Otherwise, it could take years to secure another piece of property which would provide the same long term development as this one. The end result will be a transitional home for children newly rescued from the traumatizing realities of human trafficking and abuse that are childhood marriage and FGM among others. At risk children and orphans will have a place to call home, separate from the school, where they will receive psychiatric counseling and support on an individualistic, regular basis to aid in their adjustment from past to future.

Below is a Q&A session I had with John and Dorcus shortly before leaving Kenya (yes, I am home now!) Read through for detailed answers to questions you may have. Again, please visit this site to donate to help Hope Beyond Transitional Center become a reality!

What will this money be going to?

Dorcus: “We need renovations, furnishing, and employment, but all we need is the seed money. Once we have the property, it will be very easy to run everything else. In terms of food, where we are looking at how they have a borehole, they have a mature garden, a mature farm with bananas, sugarcane, fruits, and so much more. You can just take it and run it. We are looking at, well, as soon as possible. Property prices are going up very very quickly.”

What is the problem that Hope Beyond Transitional Center will be able to solve? 

Dorcus: The challenge we have is that when we rescue a child…when they go to school immediately they are more confused. There are some that have not yet been in school. They are 13 years old, but when they go directly to class they become confused and the trauma actually becomes worse. We lost one, because she decided to go back to where she came from, to childhood marriage. Hope Beyond Transitional Home will help by counseling them, one, two, three months before going to school.”

Where will the counselors come from?

Dorcus: “From Nairobi. They are friends currently working in a woman’s hospital, doing counseling. They can come and volunteer, maybe once a week, for three days at a time. We will have a retired nurse who can do basic counseling on location. She has done basic counseling, but that is what we can currently afford. We will hire two people: a matron, and chef. It will be a temporary contract/commitment, but the goal is a full salary. Our long term plan is to have a full counseling/therapy program, but to hire the very good counselors is very expensive… Before we get to that point, I MUST look for other ways. By the time we have the farm up and running, and people buying water from the borehole, we will be able to sustain a full time counselor.”

Are there other programs similar to Hope Beyond Transitional Center in Kenya? 

Dorcus: “This will be the first Transitional Center in all of Kenya. The others are normal rescue centers and orphanages, but not specifically transitional centers, so that the students will be prepared to go to university.”

Dorcus: “[There was a] 20 year old in class five. They understand little to nothing in the classroom. The more you force them to be in school, the more you lose them. They are so creative, they want to sing, work in a salon, dance…These children must go to a transitional center, to help them find new skills.”

Can you explain the differences between Hope Beyond Rescue Center and Lenkai Christian School?

Dorcus: “Lenkai is the school, and Hope Beyond will encompass both the transitional center and the rescue center. Once we have the home, [the rescue students] can go there during the holidays. We are targeting 40 students who will live at the center.”

John: “When we break for holiday, where do the rescue center children go? They will go to Hope Beyond.”

Will all of the rescue center students live at Hope Beyond?

Dorcus: “Some of our rescue center students we can send back to their families, because [the families] need them. Often, when parents see their children are being educated, they appreciate it more. Then, they help stop other families from enacting traditional practices of FGM and early child marriages in their neighbors, because they show them the promise of education instead. Often, child marriage is a result of poverty. You can get many many goats, sugar, and blankets, from selling off a daughter to an old man, but after several days this is all gone. Then, the parents want the child back, but it is too late and the damage is done for the child.”

John: “This is a restorative center. Say a child has been defiled, and comes to Hope Beyond. They stay there for several weeks, so that they can become acclimatized to Kimana and their new way of life. There was a girl who came here that didn’t want to come to school. She said,

“When I look at the blackboard, I see darkness. I want to go back.”

We say, “You want to go home? Fine. We will take you home.”

“This only happens when the family/relative situation back home is safe for the child,  but this is a girl who has never been to school, all of a sudden in class with people who are half her age. She was 14, in class with 7 and 8 year olds…. When we have the center, it will help us. It may take anywhere from one week to three months for each student, but we need it for FGM and child marriage victims.”

Any final thoughts?

John: “If we can be able to fundraise, especially to get critical support to establish that center, that is going to be a very huge thing. I am looking at the center for much more than just the rescue. It can expand to help other people… Most people don’t see what we are seeing. When we started this school, most people didn’t know what we were thinking. We wanted first of all to have a good school; a place where people good go to class in the morning, and enjoy the experience. In other schools, the first thing that happens in the morning is that you are caned. The food is not conducive to desire to eat, the books and teaching not conducive to desire to learn. When we first started here, people would come just to stand around and see the school. We warned the teachers, do not cane the students. There are many other ways of punishing children. Caning is wrong. It was very difficult for our staff to embrace the culture that you don’t have to cane the kids. After the staff embraced that, the children loved the school. We give the kids enough time to play, to socialize, and they love it. You have to make sure that every time, the children have a heart of expectation. They should be looking forward to Fridays, because they know that in the afternoon we have a football match. Other schools even try to copy us. But you cannot copy the culture and vision of a school.”

Help John and Dorcus meet this vision. Click here to donate now, and help us further their vision by donating. Share this blog and the fundraising page on Facebook. You can change someone’s life. The rescue center students have a beautiful desire to learn and a powerful drive to succeed. Help them to achieve their goals.

Never Say さよなら

Time flies.

I still remember the first day I entered the office, shocked by the project map on the wall showing the organization’s footprints all over the world… I then gradually came to understand how the organization, adhering to its belief that “every human being has a precious life of equal value,” strives to deliver sustainable solutions to people and regions that suffer from disasters and wars.

The organization not only provide material supports in conventional ways but also implement creative solutions. For example, they have initiated a local magazine publication in one of the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. Collaborating with professional editors and photographers, the youth in the camp were able to learn skills such as editing and writing, which could be helpful regarding facilitating communication within and among camps. What’s more, those Syrian youth always hold the dream that one day, when they could go back to their homeland, they are able to make contributions to their country.

I felt really excited to be able to work with such a unique organization for two months, facilitating their projects by working from their headquarter. Whether it’s report-translation or social-network marketing, every task was challenging yet meaningful. I especially enjoyed the fundraising event in Akihabara, one of most bustling regions in Tokyo, where I conducted a book-recycling event and introduced to more people in Japanese about the organization’s education-support efforts.

It’s never a goodbye, as I will continue to help the organization with its mini-website, and also hope to introduce more Dukies in the following summers!


The Story of Three Sailboats


“Trade your expectations for appreciation, and your world changes instantly.” Tony Robbins

A peaceful sailboat floats past. With a cool breeze blowing through my wavy, sun-bleached, blond hair, I sit atop a metal wall overlooking the calm water of the Bedford Basin below and bask in the warm sunlight. I glance up momentarily from my writing to notice that a second sailboat has joined the first, and upon hearing a rumbling, I look upward to see a jet plane fly overhead and quickly out of sight.

I am that second sailboat, bouncing boldly over the waters. I had few expectations for what I might do and see here but dove headfirst into unexplored waters, unafraid of joining the sailors aboard the first sailboat, my team of co-workers at the Centre on Aging.

Brushing my wind-blown hair aside, I am able to see more clearly the wide expanse of territory I have traveled the past seven weeks in Halifax. Again, the sun breaks through the clouds now, highlighting how I have transformed from someone dependent upon careful, pre-defined plans, full of ill-formed expectations, into someone able to recognize and to appreciate the beauty of every situation, whether it be a foggy, overcast Monday or a bright, magnificent sunset over the basin.

I admit I am guilty. Sometimes, I am that speedy jet plane, hurrying toward its final destination with only a birds-eye view of the world. Are we not all sometimes guilty of focusing selfishly upon ourselves and the broader spans of our life rather than the gorgeous scene playing out before us in the here and now as I have observed today? Working at the Centre with emotionally-trying themes, my heart has felt heavy and weakened many times while exploring aging-related challenges due to matters anywhere from the tremendous burden assumed by caregivers of someone with Alzheimer’s Disease to the unjustified lack of healthcare in rural populations of Nova Scotia to the ethics regarding end-of-life decision making. Although only twenty-years old today, I feel I have matured more mentally and emotionally this summer than I ever dreamed possible.

Glancing upwards one last time before leaving, I now glimpse three sailboats on the basin, though they all three are spread out, and two are much more distant than the one just before me. Here and now, I am the closest one, pausing to appreciate the breeze of this beautiful, seventy-five degree Thursday afternoon and to reflect upon the blessings of this life. The two sailboats in the backdrop of the scene are my distant past and future, respectively, moving more slowly with greater resolve and meaningful directionality. Only their white sails are distinguishable now, but that is how aging and life are to proceed: gradually and gracefully.

Life is hard, but that’s good.

When I boarded the plane from Dallas, I had expectations for absolute success. The plan for my project was to create a partnership between IPHD and Let’s Be Well Red (LBWR). By bringing LBWR’s model iron-rich “Gudness” bar production unit to Bhikamkor, I had hoped to provide a means to ending iron-deficiency anemia in the rural village while also broadening LBWR’s scope into Rajasthan’s borders. I was a motivated individual with a plan approved by IPHD, LBWR, and Duke University. What could go wrong?

After landing in India, I stood at the baggage claim, watching as the endless unfamiliar suitcases spun past me. Is it that black suitcase? No. That one? No. (Never buy a generic black suitcase, they all look the same). The airlines lost my suitcase.

Life is hard.

So what did I have? One pair of pajamas, one pair of street clothing, two pairs of kurta pajamas that Madhu bought for me, and two pairs of underwear (one used). My host family washed a pair of my clothing every day, but I didn’t know that I needed to wash my own underwear. On day 2: flip them inside out? They’re fine for another two days right?

Life is so hard.

And then it hit me on day 4 when my host father screamed “NOOOOO MICHAEL.” I was washing my face with the bar of soap my host mother gave me when I first arrived. Turns out that that was laundry detergent. I bathed and washed my face with laundry detergent for four days.

Life is soooo hard.

But in the meantime, my project kept me motivated right? Wrong. On day 7, it was clear that IPHD and LBWR’s partnership was not going to work out. Bhikamkor wasn’t ready for LBWR’s model, and LBWR wasn’t focused on Bhikamkor’s community development. The project thus fell apart.

Life is soooooooooooo hard.

So why bother even staying in Jodhpur? Maybe because the airlines held my luggage hostage? Maybe because plane tickets are crazy expensive? Maybe because DukeEngage mandates that I must stay?  Or maybe because we kept laughing. I, Madhu (the director of IPHD), and my fellow interns could not stop laughing at my misfortune. Along with the laughter came the learning and the soon-to-be-better life. First, Madhu taught me how to wash my underwear. Two weeks in, I received my luggage, but not before I went shopping for clothes. That clothes was reimbursed by the airlines that lost my luggage. I got paid to not have my luggage (Why is this not a profession?).

Because the project fell apart, Madhu and I did a workshop on the needs/skills of Bhikamkor and myself. Within the next hour, I had a new project in mind. IPHD’s ongoing health scans (conducted by Uma Gaddamanugu and Ryan Loong) showed that iron-rich foods were already accessible to the village, but these foods were not being consumed due to social and economic barriers. Several people had no concept of nutrition due to a lack of education; many villagers did not know that eating food provided energy or even what energy is. Furthermore, women serve other family members first, thus eating inadequate amounts of nutritious foods despite being most prone to anemia. The high anemia prevalence noticeably stemmed from upstream cultural and economic barriers. On top of these barriers, the villagers themselves did not believe the iron-rich bars would be consumed, nor did they care for the bars to be implemented. What Bhikamkor needed was not another product on the market, but rather higher education in nutrition and anemia. I thus began focusing on educating the Saheli women and high schoolers in nutrition and anemia. I then sought to increase the social status of women by teaching ideas such as victim blaming, advocacy, and accountability in the local high school.

So what happened by the end of my ten weeks? My project was a huge success; the Saheli women and high schoolers showed high enthusiasm in increasing the lentils, chickpeas, spinach, and sesame seeds in their diets. Presumably, they were eating more iron to combat iron-deficiency anemia. Furthermore, the majority of high schoolers ultimately believed in gender equality and were belligerently promoting a safer and less harass-y environment for girls to learn. Lastly, I became so close with my fellow interns, host family, and Madhu’s family. Knowing that I had to board a plane to leave these people and my life in India, I immediately thought…

Life is soooooooooooooooooooooooooo hard.

Despite the fact that the original project took an entire academic year of planning and preparation, IPHD and I stayed true to our purpose: community development. Although endless misfortune came my way, my jovial attitude and the contagious positivity surrounding me kept my spirits lifted. I came to love this culture and the daily five cups of chai tea. People invited me into their homes, I played sports with high schoolers that I can’t even speak to, and I experienced more than I could have ever imagined. Everything seemed to be going wrong at first, but maybe that’s what was needed for everything to go right in the end.


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Moroccan Reflections

It’s been an intense, eye-opening 2 months in Zaouiat Ahansal. Most times, I felt inspired, happy, and sweaty. But I’ve also been sick and sometimes homesick. I wouldn’t change my DukeEngage for anything. I couldn’t have chosen a better place with my supportive translators and my welcoming host family. There was never a break from the culture. I’ve witnessed Moroccan parties and engagements to dancing with Moroccan bands .I’m glad I came in with an open mind because this experience was not something I could have imagined.

Zaouiat Ahansal: aka home for 2 months

A day in the life

7:30 AM – Wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast
8:00 AM- Head out for school.
Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday- Amizral school. Aprox. 30-40 min walk from guesthouse
Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday- Aggudim school. Aprox. 10 min walk from guesthouse
8:30 AM- 11:30 AM – Teaching English and some French from what I’ve prepared with the school teachers and translators from the day before.nj
12:00 PM- At the guesthouse for lunch
12:30 PM- 3:00 PM- Take a nap, read, or write
3:00PM- 5:30 PM – Berber/Arabic lesson and either gardening or construction
8:00 PM – Dinner
12:00 PM – Bed

A basic sketch of my life. But there is so much more I didn’t include such as my hyperactive students to my 5 year old translator named Saadia.
So from the beginning, I lived in the Sheik’s guesthouse. The Sheik is like the mayor of the village so there was never a shortage of guests. The first day I arrived was actually a little overwhelming because there must have been 20 people welcoming me. But to get back to the guesthouse, I lived with the Sheik, his wife, Alij, and their 4 kids: Mohammed (23) (but everyone called him Bebo), Omayma (16), Monear (13), and Saadia (5). So I was rarely alone. If this family were ever to have a moto it would be- Mashi Moshkil or No Problem. I can’t remember a day that there wasn’t laughter. If someone dropped a glass or broke a faucet (oops) it was Mashi Moshkil. It was an easy-going and welcoming environment. Even when I was quiet and shy for the first two weeks, everyone always had a smile for me. Surprisingly, it was Saadia I felt closest to. It was probably because she spoke English but she also looked out for me. Whether it was needing toilet paper or asking about the the local market, Saadia has my back. I wasn’t afraid to look dumb in front of her. Her brassy and sassy attitude made it easy for me to connect to her. With my limited knowledge of Berber and Arabic, at first it was challenging to have a conversation with the rest of the family that wasn’t – Hello, how are you? I did eventually make a deeper connection to the rest of the family, but it’s Saadia I’ve felt the most comfortable with.

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Sadie (left) Ismail (middle) Ayoub (right)
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Omayma being awesome
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Amizral classroom

The guesthouse is a pretty popular place so it was no stranger to foreign visitors too, including Americans. It was a perfect setup. Doing an independent project can be a little lonely especially when you’re not familiar with the language or what’s culturally appropriate. I’ve felt like I had a people to experience Morocco with me at least for a little bit. Then when they left, I was resurged with even more interest and appreciation for Moroccan culture.
The first couple weeks were more difficult than I thought it would be. The language barrier felt insurmountable at times so I really appreciate that I had such patient translators, who were constantly there for me. During school, I tried to use as much of my French as possible but the kids just couldn’t understand me. When I asked Ismail (one of my translators) why, he said my French had a really American accent. So at that point, I began to rely on my hand gestures, learning more Berber and Arabic,and my translators more. It became easier to communicate with my students.
There was also a wide variety of English knowledge in both classrooms. Some kids knew their English alphabet, knew their numbers , and could introduce themselves in English too. While others had trouble counting past ten in English. Therefore, it took some time to find that sweet spot. I didn’t want some students to get bored and some to get lost.
Besides that, teaching English can be challenging. There were some rules I didn’t know how to explain. For example, the difference between “I go home” and “I go to school”. These were rules I just knew but not the reason behind them. So when in doubt, I googled and if that didn’t work, I hoped they wouldn’t ask.

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In the classroom
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Some of my awesome students
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Amizral school

I think I was lucky, I had some really passionate and dedicated students who really wanted to know English. I also had students who weren’t so dedicated. But they all brought an energy to the classroom that made it a fun environment to teach in. Something interesting I noticed is how different the Aggudim and Amizral students are from each other, especially for two villages that are only a half an hour from each other. Aggudim students are a little more reckless and a bit more nosier. While the Amziral students were pretty reserved and quieter. There was also a noticeable drop of students in the Aguudim school, we started with about 20 students and at the end there were 6, while Amizral stayed steady with 16 students. When I asked why this happened, they retorted that Agguidim is not where a lot of the students lived; it is where students come to take care of their farms during Ramadan. Most of them actually lived 2 hours away, and it would be too difficult for them to go to school. Which, I understood, but it was still disaointing to lose more than half my class.

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Aggudim school

I was in Morocco for most of Ramadan. It began on the 5th of June and I arrived on the 10th. Personally, I really enjoyed Ramadan because the entire family would get together and begin eating breakfast at 8PM. It was a time for everyone to slow down and appreciate what they had in life like their family. And although I chose not to participate, I saw how important Ramadan was and what it meant to each person. I was really lucky to have experienced that. When it was Eid, I celebrated with my host family and I felt the joy that was in the air. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision not to participate. The discipline it takes to not eat or drink from 3AM to 8PM is intense. Moroccan weather is brutal, uncompromising and I had to look out for myself. I don’t think I missed out because I saw with clear eyes why Ramadan is so important.
I was really lucky to have found an organization such as Altas Cultural Foundation, especially because it was an internet search and I wasn’t 100% sure what I was getting myself into. It is reputable and respected foundation throughout the village that does change Amizral and Aggudim for the better. They have built water stations for families to wash their clothes and bathe witout polluting the river. This summer ACF built a bus station so the villagers wouldn’t have to wait in the heat or rain with their personal belongings. I had teachers and translators that helped me build an English curriculum that was practical and helpful for the students to know. The ACF staff not only looked out for me but they became my friends too. There was never a question I couldn’t ask them. They had my back, always. I truly got lucky.
Thank you Ismail, Ayoub, and Hassan. Thank you Cloe Ericsson. Much love and thanks to my host family, the teachers, and my students. I cannot wait to return to Zaouait Ahansal and see all of you again. Finally, thank you DukeEngage. I would not have had such a meaningful and life-changing 2 months in Morocco without your support.
My first post said I believe I will change in some way after this experience and I have. I’ve realized that there are so many ways to communicate, and language doesn’t have to be a barrier. I have learned to see the beauty in culture and how it shapes us, but it doesn’t make us less human than anyone else.

Me doing some reflecting
Saadia being sassy
Saadia being sassy

Looking Back

July 31, 2016. A relaxing Sunday spent on the rooftop, reading. As I write this blog from up here, I see beautiful beautiful red and white flags celebrating the Peruvian independence weekend and also, welcoming my last 5 days in Peru. Before this summer I used to think 10 weeks is a really really long time. I guess not. While I have mixed feelings about leaving this incredible country I am complete satisfied with every day, every hour and every moment I spent here. I still remember I stepped out of the aircraft and into the lima airport skeptical about clearing the immigration with absolutely zero Spanish skills. 65 days later I can proudly say I can not only just build wind turbines but also do plethora of other things I never thought I would.


When I look back, days merge into each other, a rush of thoughts run through my mind and the level of dopamine shoots up. These happy days can not be traded for anything else in the world. As cliché as it may sound, I mean every word when I term these 70 days the best days of my life. Most of the days were spent in Trujillo, building the turbine, working on the workshop, helping the organization and analyzing data. While 20 days were spent in Playa Blanca, a rural fishing community in Northern Peru, where we installed 3 wind turbines, built a test center for sustainability of the project, surveyed the families and studied the socio-economic impacts of WindAid on the community and their lifestyle.


What goes into making a wind turbine? Well the recipe of a turbine in super simple and is based on the basic electromagnetic induction principle of physics. We start by making the blades with resin, carbon fiber, foam and fiber glass. Next are the coils which form the stator. A disk of alternatively arranged north and south poles of magnets is called the rotor as it rotates with the blades. We make every part from scratch at the workshop. During the process I got trained in using different tools and welding machines. We also made our own tools and jigs to simplify the current process. Arranging the electronic systems including wiring the houses at Playa Blanca was a completely new and interesting experience for me.


At Playa Blanca our days would start as early as 6 am because that was the time most families could be found at home and not on their fishing boats. The duke team interviewed and surveyed current turbine using families and other future turbine users to gauge the project impacts. We studied the demographics, energy usage behaviours, impacts on birds and economic benefits of the turbine. Each family will be given an infographic showing them the money they are saving and the environmental benefits of not using diesel generators and candles.

I couldn’t have asked anything more from my 70 days spent in this magnificent country, interacting with people from all over the world and contributing to the Peruvian community. In this country I have not only made memories but also a family of international leaders.




The Midway Point – Madagascar

Posted on behalf of Donovan Loh
It’s been five weeks out here in the bush in Southeastern Madagascar, and I have been thoroughly engaged with the conservation and community work that Seed Madagascar (my partner organization) has been organizing over the past couple of years. We are currently based in Sainte Luce, roughly 35 km north of the town of Fort Dauphin, an important port city during the French colonization of Madagascar. Sainte Luce comprises of several fragments of littoral forest (17 to be specific) and 3 Hamlets – Ambandrika, Ampanasanatomboka and Manafiafy.

To give you a better idea of the work done out here, let me first briefly walk through what a typical day in the bush is like.

0630 — Wake up to the sound of birds calling; get out of the tent and wash up.

0700 — Bush Breakfast. This consists of rice pudding, mofo (pronounced ‘moo-foo’; a breakfast staple here that are essentially the Malagasy version of a doughnut ball), Banana cake and fruits. All of that is coupled with a delicious cup of coffee, a daily staple for me.

0800 — Volunteers head out for our first activity. Morning activities typically consist of some form of biodiversity monitoring (lemurs, insects, plants) in the various forest fragments, surveying fishermen by the beach in Manafiafy to determine if their harvest is sustainable, or planting critically endangered plants of the littoral forest in a bid to restore their dwindling population.

1200 — We get back to camp for our bush lunch of rice and beans (another Malagasy staple). This is typically flavored with a spoonful of ‘shakai’ (local chilli sauce) and roasted peanuts. We then take an hour off after lunch to rest and recover for the next activity.

1400 — Volunteers head out for the second activity of the day, which typically involves more monitoring work, as well as English lessons with the local guides and environment education lessons (dubbed ‘Club A’) with the kids living in the surrounding village. This is an important part of our conservation work as effective conservation involves engaging the community as partners in our projects.

1800 — We get back to the Campsite for dinner which comprises of rice and dishes (zebu meat, greens, pumpkin or fish) and have a review of our day’s work.

1900 — Last official activity of the day. This largely involves surveys of nocturnal animals such as frogs, bats and nocturnal lemurs, which we hardly encounter during the day.

2100 — After getting back from a long day of various activities, we hangout in the ‘long house’ (a little hut where we have our meals), play some card games and chit chat before we retire back to our tents for a good night’s rest.

Although being constantly engaged in activity gets tiring at times, I am thankful that it is allowing me to make the most out of my eight week stay here.  At this middle juncture, I’ve thought a lot more about what conservation comprises and how difficult it is to achieve that delicate balance between protecting natural habitats while providing for the needs of the local community. Living in the ‘developed world’ for the most part of my life, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of distancing myself from the impact I have of the environment and pointing fingers at others as the ones who are responsible for environmental degradation. It’s so easy for me to say, “Sure, people should stop cutting down trees and polluting rivers and that all remaining natural areas should be designated National Parks where extraction is strictly disallowed.” Yet, after spending a month of here,  the realization that many impoverished communities depend directly on these resources for their livelihoods (e.g. wood for charcoal, reeds for making lobster baskets, palm leaves for making shelters) has become a lot more apparent to me. As the world moves forward in tackling both conservation and development, it is essential to find solutions that are complementary, allowing for both needs to be met concurrently, rather than compromising on one to solve the other. It is my hope that my remaining time here will continue to demonstrate to me how this can be done and that by the end of stint I will have a more concrete conception of how this can be achieved. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you again then!

Signing off from the bush,

Talk Is Cheap; Switzerland Is Not

En route to watch an evening soccer game in Geneva with friends, I decided to grab a quick dinner for the road. I strolled into a Subway and ordered the same sandwich I always get back home – sweet onion chicken teriyaki with banana peppers, please – all the while humming Subway’s famous “Five Dollar Foot-Long” jingle. It was a completely normal transaction with comforting familiarity… until I got to the register.

“16 US dollars, monsieur.”

16 dollars, over double the price in the US- all for a fast-food sandwich.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Geneva is (in)famous for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, and friends had previously sent me The Economist’s “Big-Mac Index”, which lists Switzerland at the very top. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated as I left the store. And as the night went on, a question persisted in my head: How do others live in such an incredibly expensive place?

You see, while there are hundreds of interns working on thousands of projects across Geneva’s fifty five UN-agencies, almost all of them have something in common: the lack of a salary or stipend. With tight budget constraints, most offices are unable to provide payment for their interns. Some students are fortunate to receive financial support from their home institutions, but many others face a difficult decision: decline a position in one of the world’s most important organizations, or last for ten weeks without a salary in one of the priciest locations on Earth.

This bottleneck homogenizes the intern population like the wave of a magic wand. Most of us here hail from “elite” institutions in the US or Europe, where we plan to return after our stay. Meanwhile, there are relatively few interns from the regions in which the organizations actually provide most of their aid, namely Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. I don’t mean to criticize- my experience has been fantastic, I know that organizational funds are limited, and agencies made it very clear that positions would not come with stipends. However, the current situation does mean that only the most privileged students can experience this opportunity of a lifetime. Internship programs should empower the next generation of leaders in development and public health, but right now it seems that most beneficiaries are those of us who were already empowered to start.

After living in this context for two months, I’ve reflected on how fortunate I am to have DukeEngage’s support. Working at the WHO has been an incredible experience – one that has helped me grow both intellectually and professionally – and it may not have been possible without DukeEngage. There are thousands of students around the world who aspire to volunteer with similar organizations, but few are so lucky to have a program that can support those goals. As I enter my last ten days in Switzerland, I plan to work as hard as I can to make the most out of this experience I’ve been given. And in the future, I hope Geneva’s agencies can provide financial support for at least a few students, allowing others to enjoy the same opportunities I found this summer.

“Vamos a la Playa” ♫

Two volunteer groups have come and gone and it’s been less than a week since the members of the third volunteer group have settled into the WindAid House. I am glad we got the six extra weeks, compared to a normal volunteer, to understand the impacts and complications with the project, grow closer to the WindAid staff members, and become more integrated in Peruvian culture.

Sunset in Playa Blanca

Community involvement in WindAid’s project in Playa Blanca, a rural fishing village in northern Peru is essential to ensure the turbine’s sustainability. WindAid hopes not to do charity work for a community, but to work alongside a community to build something that will last longer than WindAid’s involvement with the community. That’s the motivation for developing a workshop or test center right in Playa Blanca- so the community will eventually have the resources to construct and maintain turbines on their own. One of our main project goals was to ensure a lasting impact in the Playa Blanca community by speaking and providing educational sessions with both the young and the older (the village is relatively new so no one is really old) in Playa Blanca. We planned to tackle this goal in a couple of ways:

  • Aiding in building the workshop or test center
  • Creating educational posters for the walls of the test center depicting the health, economic, educational, and environmental benefits of wind energy and lessons for the children
  • Designing and conducting a survey to analyze WindAid’s impact on the community for a presentation and paper Jessica’s working on
  • Conducting Real Time Evaluations (RTEs)

The first two tasks went smoothly. We started building the rooms during the first trip to Playa Blanca and completely completed the rooms on the second. During the second trip to Playa Blanca, we also laid down the posts of the workshop. I was in charge of researching the health and educational benefits of wind energy, which include providing energy for families to use blenders, giving children more nutrients from juices and providing light so children can do homework at night. Our educational lessons consisted of constructing paper windmills and English classes; the turnout of children at these activities was great!

Community test center- room construction
Community test center- room construction
Painting the test center
Painting the test center

However, we quickly ran into trouble while completing the second two tasks. Between morning and afternoon fishing trips and taking care of kids, families were often not home or too preoccupied at the time we knocked on their doors to answer our survey questions. Sometimes, we would plan a time to meet with a family, but when the time came, no one would be home. With one lady, we planned to meet her at 10:00 am so when it was 11:00 am and she didn’t show up, we went to her house and she says, “Don’t worry, I didn’t forget. I’ll meet you at 10:00 am.” We realized that in Playa Blanca, where people wake up with the sun and fish until they make their catches, people don’t have a need and therefore don’t keep track of time. Although less efficient than we would have liked and more time consuming, we eventually completed all our planned surveys by making more rounds around the village, especially early in the morning.

Interviewing a wind turbine user

Finally, we had hoped to complete Real Time Evaluations (RTEs), which are discussions with the community meant to determine the community’s response to the project and identify areas where WindAid needs improvement. We had our RTEs planned out and told community members to show up at a specific time, but when the time came no one showed up, not even the members of the turbine directors, who manages funds and maintenance of the turbines and acts as community leaders in the project. While talking to Jessica, we realized that this has been an ongoing problem with the directors and the community members as they have not been as enthusiastic and responsive about WindAid activities and meetings for a while. While we do not have enough time to actually solve this problem, we debriefed with Jessica about possible solutions. We brainstormed to have a meeting with the turbine directors to see who still wants to be involved and whether directors should be replaced. From fixing the problem top down and reigniting the enthusiasm of the directors to continue working closely with WindAid, these directors can increase community member involvement in the project as well.

Playa Blanca, although is not filled with fancy clubs and restaurants, is much more fun than I could have imagined. On certain afternoons, the men play soccer in the sand and they always welcome us when we ask to join. Though the games are very competitive and tiring, they are always filled with laughter and enjoyment. The children welcome us with open arms, tight hugs, and small snacks. They really loved playing Frisbee and collecting shells with us. The beautiful beaches are arguably the best part of Playa Blanca. The cool saltwater is the perfect remedy after a tiring day of turbine installation or surveying. The fishing boats are anchored close to the beach so climbing onto the boats and jumping off is quite exciting. The only sad thing is that there are stingrays and on one of my last days in Playa Blanca, I got stung while walking into the ocean. The pain was bad, but we made it to the nearby clinic quick enough that the pain was localized to my foot and didn’t travel to other areas of my body. The wound is still in recovery but should get better soon!

Sea shells the kids collected
Sea shells the kids collected

While I will not miss eating fish and rice for three meals a day in Playa Blanca, I will forever miss the friends I have made, the beauty of the milky way, and the ability to put smiles on families’ faces from lighting up their house.