Happy holidays to friends and family near and far!
Last year I celebrated my Christmas at the Fang Fang Restaurant in Kampala, Uganda with a good friend on my way to Nanyuki, Kenya to work on a project. It was a quick trip and my New Years was spent waiting at the check-in line at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. After seven Christmases away from Michigan, I was fortunate this year to spend a long overdue Christmas with my family in Michigan.
2011 brought me on many exciting adventures, including four more months in Africa. Funded through the University of Michigan, I spent three of my summer months at an internship in Uganda working on a bicycle generator prototype at Technology for Tomorrow in Kampala and Fort Portal. While in Uganda, I met some amazing people and forged friendships I that I expect will be long lasting.
After the internship I went back to Mali for three weeks. Returning to the completely transformed community of Kadiaradugu was one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences of my life. They now have two pumps with gardens in addition to the latrine and well projects I completed. Coming home again invoked a celebration as if it were my first day there again. They were as surprised, excited and welcoming as they were on my first arrival there. I choked back a flood of emotions as I stared speechlessly for hours at the babies that were born during my service now walking and talking, and the girls who became young women in my absence. I only stayed a few days in Kadiaradugu before heading to Bamako with my work counterpart, Hadi, where we met a Peace Corps Volunteer and began building a wind turbine and two bicycle generators. Unfortunately, I was unable to see this project to completion due to a bout of malaria.
I finished off my summer with a busy but relaxing and beautiful three weeks near Nanyuki, Kenya at the Mpala Wildlife Foundation where I met with three fellow University of Michigan students. We’re working on a dynamic and exciting 16-month long project to provide Mpala with a water sustainability plan, and are planning a return trip to Kenya this February.
2011 was a busy and fulfilling year and was not without tough times. On June 27th my paternal grandmother, matriarch of the Ransom family, passed away just one week before her 91st birthday. I was in Uganda at the time and was unable to support and mourn with my family, which was extremely difficult. Following this event, I learned of other deaths including a friend from high school and another friend’s father. These deaths combined with my own frighteningly intense battle with malaria and a respiratory virus that landed me in two hospitals in Mali and Kenya made me once again acutely aware of my own mortality. I pondered the reality that life is fragile, and for so many survival is the only thing that matters. I was reminded that amidst its beauty and wonder the world can be scary and sometimes the only way through it all is with the help of friends and family.
I returned to school in the fall, where I’m currently in my second year of a dual Masters degree program, Engineering Sustainable Energy Systems, in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the College of Engineering at University of Michigan. Shortly after returning from Africa, I received a phone call from Hadi, who, in his most serious tone, said, “I need your advice. My little sister (ba kelen, fa kelen), wants to go to medical school, what do you think about that”? I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, it sounded like a no-brainer to me, and so I asked why he was asking. “Well”, he said, “I didn’t go to school, and she’s younger than I am, and I wasn’t sure that it was okay for me to allow her to be more educated than me.” Their father passed away years ago and she is unmarried, so he is her guardian. This was quite the reminder about how different our cultures are!! I encouraged him in what he already knew, that if she were to become a doctor, she would be an invaluable asset to the community.
Her name is Coniba Berete, a 22 year-old girl whom I used to chat with almost every night during her school breaks. She was previously enrolled in secretarial college in Sikasso, but the government teachers were striking on a regular basis and didn’t seem to take education seriously. She also realized that with such high unemployment rates, a secretarial degree would probably land her back in the village working in the fields. Hadi payed her tuition the first semester, which she completed successfully, but he doesn’t know how he will keep coming up with the money. The tuition is only 945,000 fCFA ($1,900) for the entire three-year program plus housing and food. While a small amount of money for us here in the US, I know this is a serious financial strain on him, so I’m once again asking for assistance in helping this community. She’s already the most educated female in the community and if she were to complete the program successfully, she’d also be the first female doctor there. Kadiaradugu has gained autonomy after years of struggle with the government, opening it up to government funding. With a female doctor, they can apply for government funding for a maternity, forever changing the face of this community. I’m asking you for your support in this effort to send her to medical school and give her the chance that so many of us take for granted. I have set up a Paypal account and am asking anyone and everyone to donate any amount that you can. The tuition receipt, along with a photo are attached, and all of the money will go to her tuition and housing costs. When the money has been raised I will send it over to the school, securing her an opportunity that so many of us take for granted.
Thank you and happy New Year to all!! I hope 2012 brings joy to you, your family and friends!