Six University of Delaware students and one alumnus attended the seventh World Social Forum (WSF) from Jan. 20-25, in Nairobi, Kenya, where four of them worked as volunteers at two homes for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS complications. Six of the students also traveled to Tanzania and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa at 19,340 feet.
Zachary Schafer, a senior history, international relations and economics major from Unionville, Pa., Susan Lister, a senior computer science and psychology major from Oakland, N.J., Amy Vernon-Jones, a senior agriculture and natural resources and history major from Amherst, Mass., and alumnus Ming-Jay Shiao, from Stow, Ohio, who received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in January, said working at the New Life Home Trust and Cheryl's Home orphanages was the most rewarding part of the winter break trip.
“We did everything except change the diapers,” Schafer said. “For me, that was the most significant part of the whole trip, which surprised me because of what I thought of Kilimanjaro. It's the feeling of knowing a child who might have HIV/AIDS and, therefore, might not live past the age of 8 or 10, missing out on the things in life that we take for granted.”
Shiao, who was named 2006 Truman Scholar, said working with the orphans brought statistics to life. “We always hear about the HIV/AIDS situation, which affects up to 20 percent of some countries, and after a while you become numb to statistics, but to hold someone who is impacted every day by those statstics, who is part of the statistics, is overwhelming,” he said.
Kelly Livingston, a senior computer engineering major from Kingsport, Tenn., who also attended WSF, said care and food made the difference between life and death for the orphans.
“Now when I think about HIV/AIDS, I will think about Peter, Rhoda, Adi and Ambrose,” Schafer said. “It gives you more inspiration and more hope and energy. You see those kids and you realize that they deserve a future.”
Schafer said the group, which planned the entire trip on its own, decided to work at the orphanages to maximize the value of the WSF trip, which was made possible through financial support from the Department of Political Science and International Relations and Alumni Enrichment Awards from the UD Alumni Association. Except for Scarlett Shaffer, a senior anthropology major from Columbus, Ohio, all members of the group also climbed Kilimanjaro and paid for that part of the trip with their own money.
During WSF, the group met Wangari Maathai, who became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace" by promoting ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and the rest of Africa.
After attending WSF, Shiao and five of the students took public buses to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, a dream that Schafer said he had nurtured for 15 years. The seven-day camping expedition began with bad weather forcing the group to skip a two-day acclimatization hike and instead be driven up to the Shira Plateau, at an altitude of 11,000 feet.
Accompanied by guides and porters, the group camped along the route, where they joined two older British climbers, a lawyer with extensive knowledge of the geology of the mountain and an artist who shared his expertise as a hobby ornithologist. Carrying a UD banner that the students had made while they were in Kenya, the group began the final ascent at midnight and reached the summit at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 2.
Schafer is planning to write his senior thesis on orphanage infrastructure in Kenya and possibly spend one year after graduation working at orphanages there and helping them link up with churches and other organizations in the U.S. for financial support.
Media contact: Martin Mbugua, (302) 831-8749, [firstname.lastname@example.org]