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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Building Hope Overseas: The Struggle for Africa

The streets of Accra can be lively and exciting at night, much like an African New York City. In fact, the capital of Ghana is one of the most modern cities in Africa, and boasts an active night life for its relatively well-off residents. However, the national attractions, beaches, and museums only serve to hide the stories of some 15,000 homeless children living in the streets day to day with little hope.

According to Catholic Action for Street Children, a non-governmental organization active in Africa, more than 30,000 children live daily on the streets of Ghana’s bustling cities. Many have fled their rural homes, hoping to escape poverty and build a better future for themselves. Trapped alone in the cold without education, family, or work, it becomes immediately apparent that their prospects are rather dim.

Not all hope is lost, however. Just ask the dozens of kids who now have their own schoolhouse near Breman, Ghana. While they may be a tiny portion of the needy children in their country, they are the potential success stories who owe their newfound hope to a group of young students who spent their summer building the school.

Lisa Bevilacqua, a freshman at Duke University, was one of the students who answered the call of Global Routes, an NGO that gives high school and college students the opportunity to perform community service projects all over the world.

Lisa and her 18 fellow volunteers worked hard in the day to build the school, while staying with villagers at night in the town of Breman. They experienced local culture firsthand, living and eating with the very people they were helping. She reflected on what a positive experience it was, also saying that she was exposed to things she never even knew about, whether good or bad. She adds, ‘I would tell anyone who is considering doing something like this to do it and do it as soon as possible.’

NGOs are not the only ones mobilizing young adults to help ease the situation in Africa. The Peace Corps, a US federal government agency inspired by President Kennedy’s challenge to college students to ‘serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries,’ has sent more than 182,000 volunteers to 138 developing countries that have invited the Corps’ young volunteers. The volunteers, who serve a 27-month tour after completing their undergraduate degree, perform duties such as teaching, preserving the environment, and technical training.

South Africa, Madagascar, Ghana, and Tanzania are among the 26 African countries that benefit from the presence of these well-educated, highly-motivated volunteers. The students also receive benefits, such as up to 30% student loan cancellation, a modest stipend after their tour is complete, and the chance to complete a Master’s degree in conjunction with their tour under the Master’s International program.

Along with those tangible benefits, adds a Columbia University medical student who served a 2-year tour in Mozambique. This brings the satisfaction of having made a major difference in the lives of dozens of people and recognition of one’s dedication to service during the graduate school application process.

As a group of thirty underclassmen at Herricks High School in New Hyde Park, NY they have proved, teens do not have to wait until they are college students to make a significant difference. For the past two years, the history classes of social studies teacher Matthew Jehn have organized fundraisers to help benefit the victims in Sudan.

In 2005, they held a track event called ‘I Ran for Sudan,’ which raised over $6,000 for Doctors Without Borders. In 2006, they hosted ‘Stop the Genocide, Start the Music: Dance for Sudan,’ which raised more than $6,500.

While the sum of this individual effort may seem miniscule in comparison to the resources needed to wage an effective humanitarian operation in Africa, if one were to multiply it by the many thousands of high schools across the country, the potential for incredible impact is obvious.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), has more than 2,356 medical and support staff operating throughout Darfur to help ease the humanitarian disaster that has prevailed there. In 2006, thanks to the efforts of such individuals as the Herricks High School students, they had an operating budget of $25 million just for their Darfur operation.

Matthew Jehn, who is involved in numerous charitable activities at Herricks, says that ‘it is one thing to learn about the world. It is another thing to act on your knowledge in order to make a difference.’ He added that change occurs when educators ’empower students to understand the world and then challenge them to act on their beliefs.’

With many NGOs accused of corruption and inefficiency these days, it has become more important than ever that young, motivated minds like those of college students be involved in the effort to aid African development.

College students are in a unique position to help, since they have both the education and the enthusiasm to affect change. At the same time, students also have the room to grow and develop from their experiences, whether it is a volunteering position in the Sahara, or a simple fundraiser on campus.

If college students beco
me involved in more service projects that they believe in, they not only gain a better sense of the world, but also become true global citizens who can restore hope abroad and become leaders in their fields at home.

Students interested in making a difference can visit the Global Routes website at for overseas volunteer opportunities. To find out more information about the Peace Corps, visit

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