Caleb King, a senior biology major at West Virginia University, describes his recent study abroad experience to Africa as “an experience that can’t be taught.”
Over the past summer, King traveled to Tanzania, in eastern Africa, with a group of 12 students on a study abroad trip that rapidly changed his outlook on life. The study abroad program, made possible by Amizade, gives students a chance to earn WVU course credit in a different country while engaging in service learning.
Amizade – Portuguese for friendship – is a non-profit study abroad organization at WVU that partners with the Center for Civic Engagement and Office of International Programs to offer students affordable and life changing study abroad opportunities.
During his time in Africa, King helped set up six houses with rainwater harvesting systems. These systems “harvest” rainwater by acting as gutters for rainfall, depositing the runoff in a tank for people of the area to collect.
In Africa, access to water continues to be a major dilemma. Some people are forced to walk up to 15 kilometers to get to the nearest water source. In many cases, children are prevented from going to school because they have to spend so much time fetching water.
King described the rainwater harvesting systems as “simple solutions” that are relatively low tech but can make a huge impact on people’s day to day living.
Another issue King’s group tackled concerned a difficult situation many women living in Tanzania face. The women are married off to men who marry them solely to take their dowry. The men marry many women and then pick a favorite, leaving the other women out on the streets with nothing.
In order to address this problem, King’s group worked with the Women Development and Emancipation Agency. Based in Karagwe, Tanzania, the agency provides free legal and educational services for women and children in the northwest region of Tanzania.
“Studying abroad can open your mind to a world that is almost the polar opposite of our own,” King said.
He also mentioned his surprise with the fact that the people in Africa, many of them living in desperate poverty, seem very happy.
“They have nothing, but yet they are so happy with everything and are always smiling. There are a lot of driven and smart people over there trying to make a difference,” he said.
Next semester, King – who was recently accepted in the WVU School of Medicine – will be traveling with another student to Brazil where they will be working with a professor who runs a healthcare facility.
Studying abroad through Amizade is affordable. The cost of a service learning semester is similar to the cost of studying a semester at WVU.
Amizade offers a variety of programs ranging from opportunities that last a whole semester, worth 15-18 credits, to short, weeklong trips offered over breaks. Students have a wide range of places to choose from, whether they want to help build a library in Africa, pay tribute to Holocaust victims in Germany and Poland, build schools in Bolivia and Brazil, or work with community development in rural Jamaica and Mexico.
“The partnership between Amizade and WVU gives students a unique chance to study issues that make a difference in people’s lives while supporting community organizations around the world. Amizade experiences change students’ lives while students change the world.” said Anna Phillips, Amizade outreach coordinator.
By Elyse Petroni
WVU News & Information Services
CONTACT: Anna Phillips, Amizade Global Service-Learning & Volunteer Programs