By Kaila Drayton Ferrufino
I attended Bridgewater College, a small school located in a rural Virginia town. As a liberal arts college, they required students to take a handful of elective courses. These classes were often outside of one’s field of study and were meant to help students become well-rounded individuals. I was suffering from a very strong case of senior-itis and didn’t care what elective I took as long as it fulfilled my requirement and got me to graduation. So I closed my eyes and picked one. African Politics. Sounds great. Sign me up.
As it turns out, I did well in the class and enjoyed my professor’s lectures and my fellow classmates. I knew the professor was planning on taking a handful of student to Niger in Western Africa after graduation, but I had no money and no plans to join them. On one of the last days of class, the professor set the itinerary on my desk and said “You’re going. Figure something out.” So I figured something out and I went.
While in Niger, we went to visit a Bridgewater College alum who had joined the Peace Corps and was volunteering in a rural community outside of Maradi. We went to her community, traveling over one single stretch of dusty road for what felt like hours, dodging potholes and goats along the way. The entire community greeted us when we arrived. We stopped at the school and dropped off basic school supplies and then we walked around with the children. We handed out disposable cameras so the children could take their own pictures. I remember being stunned when we developed the film and got to see the community through their eyes and their perspective. Later, we escaped from the brutal mid-day sun by sitting with a group of girls in a thatch-roofed hut. They were painting henna on my hands. One of the girls wore a bubblegum pink headwrap with matching plastic earrings and a traditional dress. I pointed at myself and said “Kaila”. She pointed at herself and said “Lasara”. She drew what looked like a fern, starting at the heel of my palm and climbing up my thumb. We didn’t speak each other’s language but we were still able to gesture in some rudimentary form of communication. I remember thinking she was very intelligent and that she was good at leading the other children and helping me communicate what I wanted them to do. When we were getting ready to leave, Lasara tapped my arm. She pointed at my camera and then pointed at herself. I took her portrait in the hut where she gave me my henna tattoo.
On the ride home, I learned that 12 year-old Lasara was to be married the following week. She would become the fourth wife to man in his 60’s. That was my ah-ha moment. The moment when I knew I wanted to use my photography to be a voice for those who don’t have one. I followed that moment into the Peace Corps, into being a board member for Engage Globally, and into using my photography as a way to share other peoples’ stories.
To learn more about our current project focused on empowering youth to tell their stories visit: https://envirophoto.weebly.com
As a professor of sustainable development, I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to travel with my students to several countries. When I was planning our first trip to Ghana, I was advised that pens were a good gift to bring to the schools we would be visiting. When we arrived at our first rural school, which was closed for a holiday, we found that over a hundred children had lined up in the hopes of getting a pen. Turns out, there weren’t any pens or pencils at their school. There also wasn’t any paper, water, chalk, electricity, books, or toilets. A few days later, we visited a small women’s program. And, kids from a nearby school, seeing our bus, came over and once again stood in line. After we distributed the last of our pens, I was waiting outside when a little girl came running up. She was about 8 and she didn’t have a school uniform or shoes. She stopped and looked shyly up at me. When I smiled, she came closer and I saw that she was carrying a very rusty pencil box with a faded cover of Minnie Mouse on it. She opened it up to show me her treasures – a Ghanaian penny, a broken pencil, and a button. I found a pen in my bag and gave it to her. She took it, smiled this huge smile, carefully put it in her treasure box and started running as fast as she could towards home.
At that moment, as I put on my sunglasses to hide my tears, I knew that I had to do more. That same trip, we met a wonderful community leader working in a group of nearby villages, who had a long-term plan for his communities’ development. I believe that sustainable development is best achieved by local people managing their own projects to achieve their goals. During our next two trips, my students and I began to support the communities’ efforts and two years later, with a lot of help, I started Engage Globally.
For me, this is an exciting opportunity to make a difference, to learn new skills, to challenge myself, and to work with other people who are active and passionate. It is also tough, partially because there are parts of this I’m not very good at, but mostly because it is just not enough. Sometimes I'll be looking for something in my purse and I will see the five or six pens I’ve left at the bottom, and I think of that little girl and all the children like her, with beautiful smiles and endless potential, but without a pen…
Since the Millennium Development Goals of 2000, we have seen remarkable achievements in raising life expectancies, addressing global health crises, and reducing poverty worldwide. However, sometimes international aid is not as effective as we might wish with projects designed based on the donors’ priorities and timeline rather than the local community’s needs.
When I first visited Ghana, I saw some of these ‘donor-driven’ outcomes. A well-constructed library building that has been locked and empty, for four years, because no operational funds were provided. Another library with hundreds of donated books, all in German. Broken solar panels on schools, businesses, and wells that were damaged by wind, rains and dust. Without any repair funds or local training, the solar projects simply remain broken. Water purification projects that clog, break, or run dry. Recycling bins and ‘how to recycle’ murals made by international volunteers in a region where there is no recycling. In some small villages, you can find many of these projects, all with donor dedication signs, and all in varied states of disrepair and decay. This has a variety of unintended psychological impacts on communities that must look at these broken efforts every day, while their real needs go unmet.
Engage Globally uses a different model of development, referred to as ‘community-led’. In this model, local communities and community leaders meet and discuss their priorities and design plans for meeting their sustainable development goals. Outside partners provide the resources to enable local communities to implement their plans. These resources are generally a combination of funding and some capacity building, training, or technical assistance.
Local leadership and management of projects has many advantages including: