Friday, September 23, 2011

The month I spent with my new friends at Familia Moja was filled with a multitude of experiences that I will not soon forget. I was overwhelmed by generosity displayed by the men, women and children of Familia Moja. The children stole my heart and I will treasure the times and memories I have with them. Not only was I able to make a difference in the lives of the children, I also gained lasting friendships.

While many afternoons were spent wondering how we could be more helpful and not feeling like we had enough to do, we learned the importance of just being present with people. My most memorable moments were not the ones when I found myself being that I "helpful and hands on" but those moments that were spent learning about each persons story and their family.

I was constantly amazed at how resourceful people in Kenya are. They find a way to make use of everything. Every "thing" has a purpose and a use. There are no possessions that go unused or lack a purpose.

When I first arrived, I remember feeling like a fish out of water. Unsure of who people were, how things worked, and cultural norms. Each passing day, I felt more and more comfortable in my new environment. I loved spending time building relationships. It was an incredible feeling at the end of the month to reflect back on each friendship and how each one evolved.

The children were so happy to have us there with them and were so proud to be seen with us. Each one valued our attention and fought over who got to sit near us. It broke my heart that they are not shown more individual attention, love and comfort each day.

It was an incredible experience developing relationships with the children. They were each so inspiring. I loved learning more about their hopes and dreams along with their struggles. While they each have experienced so much loss and disappointment in life, they have so much hope within them selves for the future. I was truly inspired by each of them.

Saying goodbye to my new friends in Kenya was not an easy task. It was an emotional day filled with tears and happy reflections of what a great month we had together. While not every moment spent in Kenya was fun or comfortable, the relationships I now have made the experience worth every minute of it. I left Kenya with the hope that I had made a positive experience in the lives of the men, women and children I met in Kenya. I hope that I helped empower them and that they continue to feel encouraged about each of their futures. Now that I have returned home, I hope they will always treasure our time together, and remember that someone in America is praying for them, cheering for them and believing in them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Updates from Cameroon

I can't believe my stay in Cameroon is halfway over! Buea has really started to feel like home and time has flown by. I've gotten to know wonderful international volunteers and lots of local Cameroonians. We've spent beautiful weekends in Limbe and Bamenda and many a night talking on our porch or eating delicious fish on the street. The main programs volunteers participate in during the summer is "school on wheels" which drives us out to nearby villages to provide academic enrichment for the kids. The kids here are so energetic and eager to learn. One of my favorite memories comes from the kids right on my street: After hiking Mt. Cameroon (which was hard but gorgeous), I had left my very gross, muddy hiking boots on the porch so as not to get the house dirty. I left them apparently a night to long, because one morning I woke up and they had been taken. I pinned a sign to our clothes line asking for them back and we told all the neighborhood children they were missing. Within four hours a pack of children showed up at our door, with one a little taller than the rest carrying my boots above his head cleaned! I don't think there are many places in the world where that would happen, and it brought a smile to my face to see such a small but meaningful act of goodness.
My partner from Penn, Mike, and I have also been working on examining the One Laptop Per Child installation. Progress has been slow on that front, and patience is definitely a value I am working on cultivating here. So far we have located only 26 of the 100 laptops. I am hopeful that they can still be found, but getting access to keys to check different places has been a challenge. It seems that the computers have been used at the school in computer class, and while this doesn't fit with OLPC's intended use for them it is good they are at least being used. The kids are familiar with them, always stopping by our house to ask to play, however teachers are not. This week we began computer training for abut 8 teachers which is exciting to really be contributing something concrete. The head teacher asked us to do basic computer training so we have started with the PC and microsoft word skills and are phasing in the XO laptops. We will also be creating a training video for the laptops as the manual can be difficult to read.
Some teachers didn't know how to turn on the computer, so we really had to start with the basics and think carefully about every little part of the computer as we are so used to them. We are trying to focus our training on ways the computer can be used to enhance their teaching and provide resources, however in general computer training is in vast demand as many jobs are popping up for people who can use windows.
We will continue training for the next few days and then head north for a 9 day trip to see some other parts of the country. I am very excited to explore more parts of this beautiful country.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Days in Cameroon!

Hi All!
This is Allyson writing from the lovely land of Cameroon! The night before last I and my travel buddy Mike arrived in Douala, Cameroon to begin my Open Mind for Africa learning and volunteering experience! Stepping off the plane I was met with mild chaos and extreme humidity. Soon however I found our driver from United Action for Children and made my way to Buea, the place I will call home for the next two months. The people of Cameroon are incredibly hospitable and my first two days have been fantastic. We live with a group of other volunteers in a little house next to the Director Mr. Orock's. Mr. Orock left yesterday for Germany so I have not gotten to know him well yet but his family has been very nice. We were fortunate enough to arrive just in time for the primary school graduation and spent Tuesday watching Class 6 be praised and awarded as they graduated. They length of the graduation would definitely rival any university, but included fantastic dancing and singing by the children. The children also looked adorable in their purple and gold robes. Today was our first day of volunteering for the summer program. Each day we take a van to a different rural village outside of Buea to provide educational enrichment. They age from babies carried by older siblings to middle school aged students. The kids are great and to me seemed very well behaved. I worked with the oldest students going into class five or form 1 (middle school) because I really enjoy older students. We read a book about air (donated books can be pretty random and worked on some vocabulary building. We learned and acted out billowing, sway, swirl, tug, among others and the kids were very attentive. After a "spelling quiz" I took them outside the one room community building for some fun. I taught them the "banana song" that CSSP ( a Penn student group that works in Philly schools) does with our kids and they absolutely loved it and proceeded to teach the younger kids. Afterward, we returned for lunch at Mr. Orock's house with the other volunteers all of who are incredible people. We have also made friends with the local soccer team who are teaching us pidgin and dancing. I successfully took my first bucket shower and ousted a cockroach so I'd say I'm fairing well so far!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


“Abaraka” means thank you in Jola, one of the tribal languages spoken in Gambia. Thanks to the Open Mind for Africa Travel Grant, I will return to Gambia for two months this summer! After I volunteered there the summer before starting college four years ago, the Gambian people left an indelible mark on my heart, and I resolved to return. My lifelong dream is to root myself as a medical doctor for the poor and underserved in two communities, one in the US and another in Gambia.

Power Up Gambia provides reliable electricity and running water to healthcare facilities in Gambia through solar energy. After volunteering at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital in Bwiam, Gambia, Kathryn Cunningham Hall founded this nonprofit organization while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania! Kathryn, who is currently finishing her third year at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, worked tirelessly to provide the hospital with reliable electricity.

At the end of my sophomore year, I received an email about Power Up Gambia through Penn’s pre-med listserve. Michael Reiche, an intern with Power Up Gambia, wanted to start an undergraduate chapter to support the organization’s efforts! I remember thinking, how cool is this! Gambia is a small country located on the west coast of Africa and surrounded by Senegal on three sides. It’s about twice the size of Delaware. At that point, I had not met anyone at Penn who had been to Gambia! In fact, other than the Americans from Maryland who I went to Gambia with in 2007, I did not know other people in the US who had been to Gambia! I had the privilege of helping to start the undergraduate chapter in May 2009, serving as vice president for two years, and coordinating fundraisers. Participating in Power Up Gambia has been incredibly meaningful to me since it enables me to help Gambians even when I am not physically in Gambia.

I am ecstatic to volunteer at Sulayman Junkung General Hospital (SJGH) in Bwiam, Gambia this summer. Before Power Up Gambia provided SJGH with solar panels, the hospital had unreliable electricity, which created challenges to providing care. At SJGH, I will help with medical records, conduct follow-up evaluation, work on energy and water conservation projects, and shadow medical staff. I will also volunteer at the hospital's trekking clinics and collect information from community health workers and locals to ascertain if the clinics are meeting people’s needs and how they can be improved. I leave for Gambia in just eleven days, and I am delighted to wholeheartedly serve the Gambian people! My heartfelt thanks goes to the Christian Association for providing funding! Abaraka!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. Isaiah 1:17

I will be traveling to Kenya and volunteering at an orphanage in Central Province.

I will be spending my time working with the children in the orphanage. My work will primarily be around trauma and play therapy with the children.

As a follower and believer of the teachings of Jesus, I have strived to keep an open mind to gain better understanding of all the people I have come across through out my life personally and professionally. I believe the greatest commandment of all is to love one another as God has loved us.

As a social worker, I am held to certain values and core beliefs professionally that I strive hard to stand by in working with my clients. My draw to the social work profession came from my desire for social justice and peace throughout the world. The main goal of social work is to promote people’s well-being and help them to realize their potential to the fullest. I strive to help clients live reasonably satisfying lives, comfortable with themselves and in society. The school of social policy and practice at the University of Pennsylvania has provided me with incredible skills and tools to continue the efforts of what I have believed have become my life calling.

I feel fortunate for the blessings and opportunities I have received in my life and thank God for these fortunes. Because I have been given so much, I feel convicted to continue to give back to the greater community. Service and giving back to the community has always been a priority in my life. The type of service taught in the Bible does not come at a price, with the expectation of receiving something in return. I do not expect everyone I come in contact with to believe the way I believe, and my intentions are never to proselytize my own beliefs or shun other religions or faiths. The experiences of serving communities and individuals who are in need of assistance continue to teach me the important things in life are not monetary things, but in stead health, relationships and life. By going to Africa and gaining a better understanding of the specific needs and experiences of the children, I will build relationships and gain experiences that will hopefully lead to more opportunities and experiences to serve and assist the people of Kenya. I am excited to learn and work along side the Kenyan social worker. It will be important for me to learn culturally what is appropriate and acceptable when working as a social worker in Africa.

I hope to continue to contribute to the blog about my experiences and reflections in Kenya over the next month. I look forward to sharing about the new relationships I develop and the lessons I continue to learn about life and God's love.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


So for a religion major who’s dating a Muslim, I know surprisingly little about Islam. This past weekend was Eid. In Ghana they tend to call it Sallah. I was told that this is the "local name" for Eid but I don't think that's right, because isn't Sallah the five prayers a day thing or something? Anyway, my impression of Sallah is that it’s like a snow day. You know, you have a huge project due the next day, but it’s been snowing, and everyone’s calling each other, do we have school tomorrow or not? You’re excited because if you don’t have school, you have an extra day to do your assignment. But if you do have school tomorrow, it’ll suck because you have stay up late and finish it. And there are rumors everywhere, “yes we have school,” “no I heard teacher so and so say we’ll have off.”

So Saturday night everyone was calling each other, “has anyone seen the moon yet?” If someone sees the moon, fasting is over! If no one sees the moon, then it sucks, because you have to fast for another day. So everyone’s calling each other, and rumors are going around like crazy, yes the moon’s been sighted, no it hasn’t been. And unlike a school district and a snow day, there’s no superintendent to make a definitive decision on Sallah. So what ended up happening is like half the mosques declared Sallah on Sunday, and the others declared Sallah on Monday. Also, I am mentioning the snow day analogy because when I mention it here, no one knows what I’m talking about because they’ve never had a snow day.

Alright so ending fasting was exciting, but otherwise Sallah in Accra is kind of boring, sort of like Easter at Penn. In Rahman’s hometown, Tamale, which is predominantly Muslim, Sallah is a huge deal. But here in Accra it’s nothing. Me and Rahman wore pretty new clothes to mosque in the morning, and afterwards we ended up joining Rahman’s cousin and a friend for breakfast at this chain pizza restaurant that was the only place open on a Sunday. And then we just went home. No Easter eggs or peeps or plastic grass or ham dinners with family. It was good pizza though.

So Sunday or Monday was Sallah depending on which mosque you listened to. And then Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana’s first prez/big independence movement guy/huge pan-Africanist/Penn alum)’s 100th birthday was also on Monday, and so on TV for the past month they’ve been showing all these British documentaries on Ghana from the 1960s. Old documentaries are fun. And Nkrumah has a funny accent.

Let’s see what else. I’m still on the listservs for a bunch of Penn organizations, and promises of free food are really making me hungry.

And multicultural relationships are funny too. Right now I feel like I have both my parents’ short ends of the stick if that makes sense. Similar to my dad, I’m a foreigner in a weird country where I look different, talk different, and don’t really fit in anywhere. But similar to my mom, I’m white/Western/American, and therefore my culture matters less than everyone else’s, because you can’t have white pride. It’s giving me perspective or something.

Also, I tried getting my iron repaired yesterday (it won’t heat anymore) but the guys at the repair shop closed before I came back for it, even though I came back in an hour just like they told me to.