Thursday, October 3, 2013

Jessica Banda is one of the Masters International Peace Corps students who has just recently started her assignment in Benin, Africa, as a Development Volunteer. Jess has put together a Blog and Vlog that allows us to follow her on her outstanding journey, and that provides interested Masters Peace Corps students with an outline of the Peace Corps/Masters Program application process. You can follow her blog here:
Plus, you can check out the Vlog she leads on Youtube:

Posted on Monday September 16

Feels Like Home I just finished a ride on the back of a moto, my new stove-top in tote, with a messenger bag full of goodies, at dusk, just in time to see the sunset and the street lights simultaneously. I looked down the road, lined with trees, and thought, "this is home."
The Parakou Market

It's funny how, 3 months ago, I felt scared on the back of a moto and now motos feel like home. That's what life in Benin will do to you, it will take those things so foreign that they scare you and make them commonplace and comforting. I like that about this country.

Freedom feels so so good. I can walk out the door without telling anyone, although I've adopted the habit of recounting my every move in French... right in the middle of doing so I catch myself and I remember I no longer have to be accountable to anyone, that I no longer have to spell out my itinerary to the minute, with time I think I will stop the habit.

I'm currently eating the dinner of my choosing, roasted maize, an apple (from the fridge), white beans, and soy cheese. I am in utter shock that I can eat balanced vegan meals for THE NEXT TWO YEARS! I can't even believe it as I type it. I am going to be so healthy; I bought as many vegetables as I could carry at the market today, I almost broke two reusable bags.

Last night I sat, in an easy chair, in the Parakou workstation library, sipping coffee and writing, until 3:30am. I haven't felt that much like myself in months, since well before I started my Peace Corps Service

Tomorrow I move to Sirarou. The car will come at 8:00am ( in 11 hours) to pick me up. I read 11 Peace Corps memoirs before I came here. Each memoir devoted a chapter to the experience I will have tomorrow, to the moment of being dropped off, with a car of belongings, to a strange village, where you will live, alone, for 2 years.

The memoirs make the moment sound so exotic, but nothing feels exotic about Sirarou to me. It is just my home...just like Laramie is my home, and I'm not alone, I have Kelly (my post mate, who is here now), and Erika (the volunteer who is from Spain). And then there are the people of Sirarou of course, who speak a different language (Bariba), and who probably think I am quite strange, but who seem to me, like any other people on the planet, with the same struggles and triumphs that define the human experience. Exotic is the last thing I expect to face tomorrow...Serenity is a better word to describe Sirarou.

I can't wait to go home (home to Sirarou, that is). :)


I just spent the day shopping for my new house. Tomorrow I will move into my house in Sirarou, where I will spend 3 months (until December 9) completing "On-The-Job Training II," a 3-month integration period in which I will undertake a tremendous community study (there is a 50 page book just to describe the report that follows). During the 3 month period I am not supposed to work, just observe. Also during the 3-months, we are not supposed to leave village, short of visits to our market town. Luckily, my market town in Parakou (where I am now).

Posted on Thursday September 26

Adventures in Teaching!

Guess what? Yesterday I taught marketing, to 15 women who are about to open businesses, for 5 hours! I'd be lying if I said that anything about the experience was easy.

And here are three main reasons why:

1) Many of the women were not literate, so I had to pull an all-night-er last week to draw pictures of everything I was saying. And, trust me, I'm not an artist.

2) My french is no where near advanced enough to talk for 5 hours, so I had to spend about 25 hours preparing, and translating lecture notes, plus practicing!

3) I had to use a (male) translator, to reach the women who only spoke local language, and he used a demeaning and angry tone with them, which made me progressively more angry as the lesson went on!

4) The women who did speak french had a difficult time understanding me, because of my accent!

With this said, I constantly adapted throughout the day, and, by the end of the day, I all but ditched the translator (and let the women explain to each other), and there was laughing all around!

The women divided into 2 groups for a competition in which they created marketing products: sketched signs for their botiques, prepared radio ads, etc.

And last night, under the light of my headlamp, I prepared the prizes for the winning team (see photo on the right) An orange, a bracelet, and 200 francs, enough to buy food for 1-2days.

It feels great to have my first big Peace Corps project under my belt!

Warning: Don't try this at home, unless you have sufficient supplies of coffee and are highly sensitive to caffeine.
Stay tuned for Jessica's new posts!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Henry Rawlings is a junior UW student who is double-majoring in Economics and Global&Area Studies. Currently he is studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, through the Business+Culture program. He leads a weekly blog where he shares his experiences that can be useful if you are still doubting whether to go study abroad. Enjoy!


Week One: Arriving

It is impossible to sleep on a plane. The past nine hours in the darkened cabin were a claustrophobic nightmare of shifting around and wishing my seat would tilt back just a smidge more. In order to keep my sanity, I remembered why I left Wyoming in the first place: to spend a semester studying abroad in Santiago, Chile. I shed the poor excuse for a blanket, sat up and looked around the cabin. The rows of seats were filled with people from all over the world. Some of them sleeping, some reading, some watching movies on their computers, but all were heading to the South American continent for some reason or another. Up the aisle I could see the flight attendants waking people up, and handing out breakfast. As she neared, I nudged the man sleeping next to me in the window seat. Talking earlier, the man had let me know he was Argentina bound for some Dove hunting. After the attendant gave us a warm croissant, some apple juice, some cheese and crackers, she informed us that we were flying over the Andes right now.
The man pulled up the window shade, and my stomach dropped. Looking out the window I could see a picturesque view of La cordillera de los Andes. The sunrise tossed different shades of orange against the clouds, and from these clouds emerged the largest mountain peaks I had ever seen. The endless mountains seemed unreal as the wind threw dust into the air off their snow-covered peaks. It was then I realized there was no turning back now. I had left my home in Wyoming–ten acres and a few horses–traveled half way around the world, and was about to land in a city of six million Santiaguenos.
A bell chimed, the fasten seatbelt sign lit up, and the pilot’s voice echoed throughout the cabin saying we started our descent. I buckled my seatbelt, took a deep breath, and got ready. Not for the descent, but for a new adventure. I got ready to experience something I had never done before. And, after nine sleepless hours in a cramped plane some 30,000 feet in the air, that felt pretty damn good.


Week Two: Mi Familia

Beep, Beep.
In the usual morning confusion, somewhere between dreams and consciousness, my alarm blared from the nightstand. I sat up, stretched, and shed the covers. Then . . . I crawled back under the covers. The chilly hotel room confirmed it was not only a dream, and yeah, I really did just wake up in the Southern Hemisphere.
We had spent our initial night in a cozy hotel near the heart of Santiago. Here, I got my first taste of three-pronged outlets (read: couldn’t charge anything). I learned expensive central heating often eludes many buildings, and as a result, inside can be a tad bit nippier than out. So, after a shower, I hurriedly dressed in the brisk winter air, grabbed my luggage, and headed down to the lobby for breakfast, and, more importantly to be picked up by my host family.
I waited in the lobby with fifty other Americanos, and I was pumped. I glanced around at the other students who represented the East Coast, West Coast, and scattered parts of central United States. To them, coming from Wyoming seemed just as foreign as traveling to another country. With knees bouncing, time constantly being checked, luggage in hand, and excited laughter, I knew it couldn’t be too much longer before our families started arriving. Not having received any information prior to whom our families were, what they looked like, or what type of family they would be. We were anxious and excited for them to show up, and when they did, it was like the Hunger Games.
Now, I have never watched or read the hunger games. As a result, I could be completely wrong. However, I have heard the term Reaping, and in my mind I am picturing kids getting hauled off and never returning. Right? Who knows, but our families started showing up! One-by-one a name would be called out, a nervous student would grab their luggage, get hauled off, and were never to be heard from again. In truth, everybody’s head would perk up at the sound of a name being called, and we would watch as an eager Chilean family member embraced a newfound addition to their family. I couldn’t wait, and my heart beat faster, waiting to hear my name. Then at last,
I said a short prayer before I lifted my head towards the hotel entrance. There, a taller man met my gaze. He looked younger, maybe in his late twenties. His neck held up an enormous scarf, which led up to a scrappy beard. He had dreads which fell past his waist. To his side stood a shorter, older woman. Short haired and with pearl earrings, she smiled a very motherly smile. Dope! I grabbed my bags, and introduced myself. I gave my mother a kiss past her cheek, which is the custom here, and together we piled into an old stick-shift car headed straight for the huge, looming Andes.
So, I couldn’t have asked for a better family. The man turned out to be mi hermano, and the woman, mi madre. His name is Jose (cote as a nickname), 26 years old, and loves hiking. He’s studying to be a vet. My mother, her name is Rosario. We arrived at a house in a gated little community, with about four bedrooms. It is in a neighborhood, La Reina, that is a bit closer to the Andes. I have three more siblings: Pedro (Pelao) is 28, and is constantly showing me dubstep songs and American music videos. I have two older sisters too, Sofia is 29, and Javiera is 30. All living in the same house. Mi padre is a little older, wiser, and awesome. His name is Pedro as well. With him, I have some great, philosophical conversations, of which I retain about 20%, but they’re sweet nonetheless! Tonight when he sees me, he will say, “Señor Enrique, caballero, como esta?” We have a nana (maid), Violeta, who cooks amazingly. Every day, I take the best lunch to school because of her. Last, but not least, I have a dog named Jako (Yah-ko), and I love him too.
I lucked out, and ended up with an amazing family. At first, our dinners consisted of me staring blankly at them, trying to decipher their rapid Spanish, and overall contributing less than Jako. Now, however, we’re moving forward, and little by little, I’m able to say more and more (like, please pass the bread). Overall though, mi familia esta perfecto.
Week Three: Vacation on a Vacation
“Shit.” I was late.
That stupid moment when my alarm went off, I blinked, and an hour had passed.
I was late.
I weighed how much time I had—I could still make it. I jumped out of bed. I threw on some clothes, and grabbed the duffle bag I had luckily packed the night before. I made sure I grabbed my bus ticket before sprinting towards the subway under a twilight sky with a piece of bread stuffed in my mouth.
One of the girls in our program was having a birthday. To celebrate, we planned a trip to Chile’s coastal city, Viña del Mar. To get there, one should sprint the whole way to the bus platform, and arrive with seconds to spare. One should then board a Turbus with 15 other college students, have some great music on their iPod, and be careful as to not miss the scenery along the way. If done correctly, one should arrive two hours later in Viña del Mar not having any idea where the hell their hostel is.
After a few moments of unsuccessful wondering with luggage and hungry stomachs, we convinced a taxi driver to find our hostel for us; packing his van full of adolescent gringos. Viña, twin to her sister Valparaiso, is a city built on top of herself. Literally. Stacks on stacks of Easter egg-colored boxes spanned the panorama, accented with Palm Trees of all sorts here and there. The driver navigated up one of the many hills, and dropped us off. Climbing the stone steps, our hostel came into view. A green lawn led up to a brown cottage which looked like it had come from the hills of Europe. An ideal getaway for some college students on a birthday vacation.
Day One
Do you know what Slack-Lining is? Two trees, some soft green grass, a blue sky, and a ratchet strap turns out to be all you need to work on your balance. Not so easy, though. We spent the afternoon jumping, walking, and falling off the Slack-line. Hours passed, and we were in want of a little sunset-on-the-beach action.
If you’ve never watched the sun fall into the ocean, you suck. Living in a landlocked state surrounded by mountains and alfalfa never gave me many opportunities to witness this either, but I really underestimated what I missed out on for so long. Beautiful does not do justice the fiery orange sun rays or rolling mirror of an ocean. Soothing does not fully describe the rhythmic waves and call from the gulls. And, insane is an understatement for the overall experience.
The group of gringos napped at the hostel. Napped before walking the two blocks headed towards a banging club on the beach. A great way to cap off Day One was to turn up with a ton of Chileans.
Day Two
The next day was a free day with nothing planned. While the girls left to explore the Botanical Gardens of Valparaiso, the boys headed to Concón, a beach to the north, to do a little surfing. Surfing?
Paddle, paddle, paddle. Long strokes is what they told me—dig deep. I laid face down on a surfboard. The water salted my lips, and stung my eyes. The winter ocean was numbing my bare feet, my hands, and my exposed head. Impossibly cold, I tried to focus instead on watching the ocean. She was a great, metallic reflection of the sunny sky above us. I finally saw her take a deep breath which signaled an incoming wave.
Okay, let’s go. I turned around with my head to the shore. The whole time never taking my eye off the swelling ocean looming towards me. I waited. Come on, a little closer . . . Go! Paddle, paddle, paddle!
Shoulders burning, I dug into the water, keeping a little ahead of the wave. I was going to get it this time. The wave came, and I felt the swell raise the board up with me on it. Keep paddling, not yet. I felt the wave forming underneath me. Actually catch the wave, don’t just stand on it. The time came. I placed my hands near my armpits, trying to steady the board. Then, pushing off the board, I jumped to my feet. I fought for balance on the glassy surface. I was up! Salty air cooled the water on my face as the wave pushed me. Hot damn, I was finally—unf! My board slipped out, and a metallic reflection of the sunny sky above us swallowed a boy from Wyoming without a second thought.
Surfing = amazing. We spent hours on the water. The boys from the west coast surfing, and me trying to. We saw the sky turn orange as we returned the boards. A sandy swapping of wetsuit for clothes, and a nap on the bus ride later, we were back at the hostel. Here, we met the girls who had cooked a mountain of spaghetti for dinner.
Leaving the next morning, exhausted and sand still between my toes, I boarded the bus again. This time, I was on time. I grabbed a complementary pillow, and rested my head against the window. It didn’t take long for me to pass out. But, before I closed my eyes, I replayed the weekend. It was an ideal vacation, couldn’t have asked for more. But, I am still on vacation, and I have four more months to go.
Week Four: One of Those Moments
Some moments steal your breath away; a sunset in all its fiery glory, or maybe a star falling across the night sky. Greater moments stop your heart from beating; a baby being born, or maybe a hole in one on a golf course.
Waking up on a snowboarding day is a surreal feeling. The house, dark and silent, holds everyone inside lulled until morning obligations say their dreams are over. The house keeps everyone asleep— everyone except one.
He woke up at the sound of his alarm, and sat upright in bed, hoping he did not over sleep. The unusual feeling of excitement mixed with exhaustion runs through his veins; today is the day, and it has finally arrived. The only conscious soul in a sleeping house, he headed to the shower, towel in hand, rolling his bare feet on the cold planks as to not make a sound. In the shower, beneath the hot water, he allowed his mind to escape to the mountain for a preliminary run. In a darkened house, silent and sleeping, he was on the mountain going through which tricks to land, and which techniques to improve.
Out of the shower and over the warmer planks, he dressed appropriately. More awake now, he double checked the equipment he packed. Boots, snowpants, extra socks, jacket, goggles and helmet. Ready, he snuck into the kitchen and cereal falling into a metallic bowl broke the silence in the kitchen. After a breakfast by himself, he checked his room one last time, and grabbed his bag. Stepping out into the crisp air of the morning’s first hints of blue, he gently closed the door to a still sleeping, still darkened, and still silent house.
One thing my heart was set on doing was snowboarding The Andes. At around 4,800 miles long, these mountains are the backbone of South America, and the longest mountain range in the world. Three other students and I met early Wednesday morning to rent gear, and ride the bus which would shuttle us up these Andes Mountains to Valle Nevado. Valle Nevado is one of the premier ski resorts around Santiago, and lucky for us, was laden with ample snow which had fallen a few days prior to our trip.
The day was perfect. The sunshine fell on a powday at the resort which, because it was a weekday, remained uncrowded the entire day. After a slow start, we stepped off the gondola and packed onto the first ski lift.
Some moments definitely take your breath away, and sometimes I have felt my heart skip a beat. But, as the ski lift ascended with us four college students, I learned some moments to be different. My eyes widened when I caught sight of an enormous rock face, frosted, and in front of a blue sky backdrop. Soaring on the ski lift, some 13,000 feet in elevation, I felt chills run down my back. I inhaled, and felt my shoulders relax in pure satisfaction. I looked over my shoulder towards the endless panorama of mountain peaks. It looked like something I could only see on a postcard. I exhaled.
Yeah, there are moments greater than words can describe. It happens when your soul finally reaches a place it has always wanted to be. Your heart beats a little faster, and you never want to see the end.
We snowboarded all damn day. Run after run over the fresh powder seemed effortless.
Homeward bound, packed yet again onto a bus, a watching the mountain peaks silhouetted by a setting sun, I considered myself to be very blessed—very lucky, and very blessed for sure.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Matt & Eric | Benin

Matt Dooper and Eric Schlidt are senior UW students who traveled to Benin West Africa during winter break of 2012-13 as part of a Faculty Led Program. Matt and Eric enjoyed their time in Benin and have several recommendations for others looking to visit the area.

Matt suggests visiting Songhai, a self-sustaining city in Porto-Novo Benin’s capital. According to Matt:

“Songhai’s claim to fame was that nothing goes to waste- and truly, nothing did.  They used special plants native to Benin to purify water coming from the septic system, which was then used to drink, process foods, water other plants, and assist in the production of agricultural machines and ceramics. In addition, all animal waste and compost was used as fertilizer for their gardens and fields. They also build their own agricultural machinery that would be sold to help other developing farmers in order to promote the ideals of further self-sustainability. Beyond selling the equipment, Songhai offered extended courses to educate young farmers how to manage a farm. The over-arching goal of Songhai was to promote independence in agriculture and a “live off of the land” type of lifestyle. We were lucky enough to be able to enjoy a few exquisite meals, both produced and cooked, at Songhai along with the eco-tour.  With the meals, all-natural fruit beverages produced on location were available that were equally incredible!”

Eric suggests visiting Benin’s annual International Voodoo Festival in Quidah. According to Eric:

“Voodoo was born in Benin, and remains the official religion of the country.  Unfortunately, due to misrepresentation in movies and general bad press, the religion has been misconstrued.  In America, it is extremely misunderstood, but this course, in addition to attending this festival, enlightened me to the true principals of Voodoo.  On the contrary to the “Black magic,” that usually represents Voodoo, practitioners are not interested in harming anyone or anything, only self-improvement and the practice of kindness.  The voodoo festival took many questions I had about voodoo and provided a great firsthand experience of a religion and culture that I would never have been a part of otherwise. “

At the festival, the group of UW students had a chance to participate in traditional dances. According to Eric:

“The dancing was incredible. Although we were drenched in sweat and working on sunburns, their routines kept us entertained all throughout the show. They knew a plethora of intricate dances and many of them played instruments and drums at the same time. After trying to master these instruments for two weeks (and failing), I was amazed that in the heat and pressure from crowd didn’t distract them, and that the performers could perform at such a great level.”

Although Matt and Eric never felt in danger during their time in Benin, they did encounter several challenges, specifically climate and language. The boys said, “It was very hot and, unfortunately, air conditioning is a rarity.  We sweat constantly.” Additionally, although the group studied French during the trip, they were never fully able to communicate with the locals. According to Eric, “ it would have been extremely rewarding to have been able to chat with the local people.”

Another challenge was the group's minority status. Matt said, “we definitely stood out, but luckily the majority of the population was extremely friendly and courteous to us.” Witnessing poverty also challenged the group’s notion of privilege. As Eric stated, “Beyond those more superficial burdens, it was difficult to observe a nation that essentially lives at or below what is considered the poverty line in America.  It begs the question of why we deserve the luxuries we have, and is conducive to overall appreciation to the lifestyles we are granted. “ Matt continued saying, “With all things considered, the trip was very easy on us, but it was hard to see some of the socioeconomic situations present in Benin.  The lesson we learned was to not abuse or overlook any of our luxuries, be it hot showers, cold drinking water or infinite educational and career opportunities, and to ultimately be thankful.”

What the boys took for granted the most, however, was the U.S. school system. Eric said:
"Education is not a right in Benin, it is a privilege.  The subsequent fallout is a populous of children ecstatic and driven to learn.  We were able to observe the classroom setting of the elementary age group, and although they were loud and energetic, they were absolutely focused, as opposed to a country like America where students begin to resent school attendance at an early age.  That alone definitely makes one, if not forces, to be more appreciative of the opportunities available.” 

The group had an excellent opportunity to study Benin’s education system during the trip. In addition to observing classes, they also spoke with Peace Corps education volunteers and education-base philanthropists in the country.

The group spent the bulk of their time at the Centre International d’Art et de Musique de Ouidah (CIAMO) in the city of Ouidah, Benin, which focuses on the training of arts and music primary teachers. During their time at CIAMO, the group participated in music, dance, art, and French classes taught by locals! Matt found the French lessons particularly rewarding, he said:

 “It was profoundly entertaining to be able to apply the French phrases, words, and bargaining skills we learned in class.  By the end of the trip, each of us could effectively bargain and shop in the local markets with the vendors, which was not only exciting for us, but entertaining for said vendors.   That in itself was the most rewarding activity of the trip to me.  In addition, this basic task gave me further incentive to learn a foreign language in order to travel independently to a country in which I don’t speak the native tongue.”

Eric particularly enjoyed sampling a new cuisine  He said:
 “ I found the food to be a completely refreshing and amazing experience. We were constantly sampling various foods that I would have never had the opportunity to try had I not been there. I especially enjoyed the fried plantains, which I (as well as everyone) ate whenever possible. While plantains are available here, nothing compares to the freshness of them while in Benin. Experiencing the local dish of pate was likewise a new experience. It can be eaten with your hands  and can be paired with anything. The fresh fruit was abundant there and that was something I appreciated greatly because it is so difficult to get in Laramie.”

In addition to learning about Benin’s education system, each student in the course chose a topic for independent research. As aspiring physicians, Matt and Eric chose to study Benin’s health care system. Because common Beninese diseases, like malaria and tuberculosis, are well studied, Eric and Matt chose to study the infrastructure of the health care system. As Eric stated, “The presence of disease in a tropical environment is to be expected.  However, what we didn’t expect was the exodus of physicians, and the ripple effect that this had throughout the country.  Thus, we chose to delve into this topic as our scope of research.”

To gain a firsthand experience about the health care system in Benin, Eric and Matt interviewed Dr. Rufin Kpadonou. Rufin Kpadonou, M.D., occupational health/tropical Medicine & Parasitology,  a doctor for the Peace Corp at the head office in Cotonou, Benin.  Eric and Matt’s research findings are summarized below.

As a physician born, raised, and educated in Benin and still practicing in Benin, Dr. Rufin Kapadonou is adept at seeing the issues surrounding health care in his native country. He listed the main diseases affecting Benin as malaria- an infectious disease characterized by severe fever and headache and its spread through mosquitoes, and tuberculosis- which presents symptoms of intense coughing and fever. Beyond these two diseases, he stated that the migration of doctors from Benin is paramount to the issues surrounding Benin.  Health care is not great in Benin, or Sub-Saharan West Africa in general, but before it can improve, physicians and facilities need to be present.  This is the reasoning behind our topic of study.

To begin, doctors are leaving their native African countries for several reasons. One, they wish to improve their education and learn more about their field. The better educational opportunities are not found in developing countries like Benin; they are found in North America and Europe.  This phenomenon has been occurring since the advent of the first medical professional. Historically, however, once the physician has learned the new methods and perfected them, they return to their home (Eastwood, 2006). But, this is not the case today, as increasing amounts of doctors are leaving and working in other countries that offer greater compensation and perhaps better living conditions. For instance, this is heavily documented where 515 physicians working in the United States and Canada are from Ghana alone. This might not seem so shocking a number in terms of the massive number of physicians working in the US, but when there are only 1600 total physicians practicing in Ghana, it becomes quite statistically significant (Hagopian, 2005).

The effects of these doctors leaving are not readily noticed in the countries in which the emigrated physician work, but are heavily noticed in the countries from which they depart (Hagopian, 2004). This is an issue that must be addressed in the countries where those doctors are working. The effect of those doctors leaving in their native countries is harshly negative. The overall health care system is put into jeopardy with fewer doctors practicing. With lower numbers practicing, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to access care and see doctors when necessary (Hagopian, 2005). Because of this lack of care, people must travel further to see a doctor, or recruit foreign doctors, deepening the strain on these health care systems.

The emigration of physicians not only affects the health care in Benin and Sub-Saharan West Africa, but the economies of those countries as well.  Losing physicians results in fewer clinics and health care facilities, which require nurses, technicians, secretaries custodial faculties, etcetera.  The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates that the loss of one health care professional is equivalent to approximately $184,000/year in potential revenues.  With as many migrating physicians and health care professionals as there are, the total number of lost profits can become astronomical.  Consequently, with physicians leaving, Africa must bring in a health force externally.  As an example, Ghana brings in a large population of Cuban health care professionals, which require travel expenses as well as translators; an extremely inefficient and not self-sustaining system (Eastwood 2005).

A problem definitely exists which is what to do about the problem.  As one of the primary destinations of migrating African health care workers, the United Kingdom has proposed a solution in preventing practices in UK from recruiting African physicians.  In addition, they have proposed to limit visas to foreign medical students to the time that they are in training, which would force said physicians to return to their native countries after they are finished with their training. Similar proposals have been made in France as well, which is another leading recruiter of French-African physicians (Eastwood, 2005).

Another scheme, introduced in Ghana, is for the government to subsidize the financial burdens of a physician studying in a developed country.  The deal is that those physicians will then return to Ghana after their training is completed to begin practicing (Eastwood 2005).  As a side note, Wyoming has enacted similar programs,  WWAMI and WICHE, to try to entice doctors to return to Wyoming.  These programs offer increased acceptance rates and decreased tuition, as long as health care professionals who completed their undergraduate work at the University of Wyoming return to practice in Wyoming for three years. 

Along a similar school of thought, we believe a possible solution might lie in allowing medical students from the US (or other countries) to work off some/all of their student debt as volunteers in Africa, assisting in clinics and hospitals.  The United States recently enacted a similar program known as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which is a part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, allowing college graduates to work in full-time public service positions (usually low income) and receive assistance in loan repayment.  However, stipulations do exist and this is not available to medical school graduates in the United States, it may be something that could work where medical school tuition rates are not as high.  We realize underlying economic issues would be present, as those debts still need to be paid, but this could be a potential benefit to African health care.  Although Doctors Without Borders does exist, the incentive to alleviate student debt does not.

In conclusion, any solution will be extremely complicated and will require each country to make its own personal decision to retain its physicians. While countries such as the United Kingdom and France can write proposals to regulate the issue, in the end the physicians must want to stay in their home countries or their governments must entice them to do so.  If this can’t happen, health care in Africa will continue to struggle. We believe that initiating programs to incentivize physicians to stay would be highly beneficial and work well to retain physicians.

 Eastwood, JB., Conroy, RE., Naicker, S., PA West, Tutt, RC., Plange-Rhule, J. 2005 Loss of health professionals from sub-Saharan Africa: the pivotal role of the UK. The Lancet, 365(9474). 1893-1900. Retrieved from

Hagopian, A., Ofosu, A., Fatusi, A., Biritwum, R., Essel, A., Hart, L., & Watts, C. (2005). The flight of physicians from west africa: Views of african physicians and implications for policy. Social Science & Medicine, 61(8), 1750-1760. Retrieved from

Hagopian, A., Thompson, M., Fordyce, M., Johnson, K., & Hart, L. (2004). The migration of physicians from sub-saharan africa to the united states of america: measures of the african brain drain. Human Resources for Health, 2(17), doi: 10.1186/1478-4491-2-17

Overall, Eric said that, “Benin is a great place to visit,” and Matt said that he will, “remember the experience in Benin for the rest of his life.” If you are interested in traveling to Benin, please feel free to contact Eric at!

Rhiannon | Israel

Rhiannon Jakopak is a UW junior who traveled to Israel during the summer after her sophomore year.

During her trip, Rhiannon lived mostly in hostels, which she would recommend to others.

Rhiannon’s favorite activity of her trip was visiting Jerusalem’s Western Wall each Friday. The Western Wall is considered one of city’s holiest sites and visitors come from all over the world to pray at the wall and to manifest their wishes. About the wall, Rhiannon said, “Jerusalem was my favorite city, but the Western Wall was my favorite part of the city. It is definitely a must-see.”

In addition to the Western Wall, the Tel Aviv beaches were one of Rhiannon’s favorite places to spend time. Looking back on the trip, Rhiannon said, “I couldn't possibly pick a favorite memory; there were so many incredible parts of the trip.”

If you’re interested in finding out more, or visiting Israel yourself, please feel free to e-mail Rhiannon at

Heidi | New Zealand

Heidi Meador is a UW Master’s student who travelled to New Zealand over winter break as part of a Faculty-Led Program. Heidi was one of several UW students to earn academic credit by participating in the trip. During their time in New Zealand, the Heidi and the other students got a chance to study New Zealand’s biodiversity. In addition, the students had plenty of downtime to explore New Zealand’s many sights.

Reflecting on the course, Heidi said, “It offered an amazing opportunity to explore the vast biodiversity of New Zealand, as well as an unforgettable experience." One of Heidi’s favorite experiences of the trip was climbing Mount Taranaki, one of New Zealand’s volcanos! To reach the top, the group climbed 131 stories to a view that was, “absolutely amazing.”

The group also visited several beaches and had a special New Year’s Eve beach celebration, which was very memorable for Heidi, in her words: “we went swimming in the ocean on New Year's Eve, and watched fireworks from the water.  It was an amazing New Years !”

If you’re interested in traveling to New Zealand, or participating in a Faculty Led Program, please feel free to contact Heidi at

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Whitney | Jamaica

Whitney is a senior UW student who travelled to Jamaica in the spring of 2013. Whitney organized her trip with the help of a volunteer service named Amizade. She says that Amizade was very helpful and she would recommend the company to other UW students.

During her time in Jamaica, Whitney lived with a host family, which was great because she “was able to completely immerse in the Jamaican culture and visit the beaches that the locals frequent.”  She said that developing a relationship with her host family was the best experience of her trip because, “they readily welcomed me into their house, shared their knowledge, cooked amazing meals, and much more.”

While in Jamaica, Whitney taught courses at a local high school. As a Wyoming substitute teacher, she enjoyed the opportunity to compare U.S. and Jamaican education systems. According to Whitney, one of the greatest differences was the class sizes; “Jamaica averages 30-40 students per class, while the Wyoming classes I have taught only have 20 students."          

The greatest challenge that Whitney encountered during her trip was dealing with local security. She was able to solve this problem by, “taking one of our local volunteer guides with us when we walked up and down the beaches.”

Whitney says that the memories from her time in Jamaica will “last forever,” and that “given the opportunity [she] would definitely go on the trip again.”

If you’re planning to travel to Jamaica, or work with a program provider, please feel free to contact Whitney at

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Kalayla | Argentina

Kalayla Hough is a UW Master’s student who studied abroad during the summer of 2012. Kayayla planned her trip to Argentina with the help of a program provider named International Studies Abroad.

Kalayla spent her summer at the University of Belgrano, which she says she would recommend to other UW students because “the teachers were very invested in the students' education and the facilities were very nice.”  The University also opened their intramural sports teams to international students, which Kayala enjoyed very much. She said, “I would advise students to get involved in an intramural sport to interact with locals.”

During her time abroad, Kalayla stayed with an Argentinean family in the Nuñez neighborhood of Buenos Aires. She described the city as, “the most beautiful place I have ever been." Kalayla’s favorite memory of her study abroad experience was a day she spent introducing two of her friends to Buenos Aires.  She reflected on this day saying, “we started the day by browsing handcrafted items in the local weekend market, where we also purchased local food.  Then we took the food to a nearby park and watched the Argentines play fútbol (American soccer).  It was the perfect day.”

Kalayla says that the most challenging situation she came across during her time in Argentina was trying to stay safe during outings at night. Reflecting on this, she said, “We made a concerted effort to be smart and safe about our outings.  We always made sure to carry limited valuables and keep the items we did take with us close to our body. We also made sure that we knew what public transportation options were the closest to us and we made sure that we knew how to get home.”

Kalayla made the most of her study abroad experience and she hopes you will to. To maximize your study abroad, Kalayla says, “Enlist one or two people from your program and explore the city you live in every chance you get. Go to a new local market every day, see a new park, or eat something local that you've never tried. Try to learn as much as you can by doing and not just listening. Don't be afraid to ask questions and ALWAYS look at your experiences as different then home experiences and NEVER as better or worse."

If you’re planning to visit Argentina, or work with a program provider, please feel free to contact Kalayla at