Africa, from the ground up
An unusual fusion will take place at the Community Center in Chilmark tonight, August 28, when two young global citizens from very different backgrounds will discuss the circumstances and interests that have united them in the effort to provide opportunities for young Africans. Originally from war-torn Sudan, Aduei Riak now works for a nonprofit based in Burlington, Vt., that plans to build 20 schools in her home country in the next seven years. Nathaniel Scott, a Chilmarker who has taught English in the Marshall Islands and the Ivory Coast, has recently set up Africa's Own, a nonprofit that will support African-led development projects.
The grandson of Ozzie and Rena Fischer of Chilmark, Mr. Scott may have inherited the instinct to help out people in remote locations. Earlier this week he said, "When I was heading out on one of my trips, my grandfather told me, 'You know, if they'd had the Peace Corps back when I was your age, I would have done it.'"
After graduating from the University of Vermont in 2002, where he majored in education, Mr. Scott came back to the Island to work as a carpenter. But within two years, his wanderlust got the better of him and he was on his way to the Pacific. "I ran into a friend in a bar who told me about World Teach," he said. "I'd done some traveling, but it was to hike somewhere for a week or so, things like that, and I wanted a more intimate experience. So my year in the Marshalls sort of merged my interests - teaching and travel."
In 2006 Mr. Scott enrolled at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. As part of the Master of Arts in Sustainable International Development, which he was awarded in May, he spent the last year in the Ivory Coast as a Teachers for Africa volunteer. His experience there left him a bit discouraged by the way some aid and development projects are managed in Africa and, no doubt, throughout the third world. "They were more accountable to the top, and didn't put as much emphasis on the people on the ground, and that kind of violates what I believe in - in life," he said.
Rather than turn his back on an imperfect situation, Mr. Scott decided to devote himself to getting help where it is most needed. "At the same time I was watching mismanagement by people that were supposed to be experts, I saw some real experts on the ground who are Africans who are scrounging just to get some things going," he said. "To me it makes more sense to support those Africans who are living in the community and aren't going to leave."
Photos courtesy of NESEI
So Mr. Scott decided to start African's Own, a foundation that he is just getting off the ground. In keeping with his bottom-heavy approach to development, at first he will focus his fundraising efforts on friends, family, and acquaintances. "Small groups," he said. "Like at the Center tonight. Or I'll come speak at a dinner party - on the Island, anywhere."
Appearing with Mr. Scott at 7:30 this evening at the Community Center will be Aduei Riak, who Mr. Scott met at Brandeis. A Sudanese native, Ms. Riak came to the U.S. from a refugee camp in Kenya in 2001. While more than 4,000 "Lost Boys of Sudan" immigrated to the U.S., only a handful of girls made it out of the refugee camps, according to Mr. Scott, who calls Ms. Riak "one of the most amazing people I have met in my life."
Ms. Riak graduated from Belmont High School in 2003, and in 2007 from Brandeis, where she was named a Justice Louis Brandeis Scholar. After a year as a paralegal with a law firm in Boston, Ms. Riak is now Associate Director of the New Sudanese Education Initiative (NESEI) a nonprofit "partnership between Sudanese and a global network of supporters, who have come together to bring the gift of education to Sudan [and are] working to ensure a lasting peace in this region by building 20 schools by 2015." At NESEI, Ms. Riak oversees advocacy for girls' education and fundraising initiatives.
Sudan has the lowest access to primary education in the world, according to UNICEF, with only a third of the children going to primary school, and five percent completing high school. Less than one percent of girls in the country finish high school.
On May 19, NESEI's first school opened in the area of South Sudan. The New Sudan School of Health Sciences offers standard academic courses and practical vocational training in health work and agriculture, and will follow a system of economical sustainability.
Tonight Ms. Riak will talk about NESEI's work in general and also about her recent trip back to Sudan. Mr. Scott will talk about his year in the Ivory Coast and the genesis and goals of Africa's Own. It promises to be an interesting evening, and Mr. Scott promises that it will end well before Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at the Democratic National Convention.
Nathaniel Scott and Aduei Riak, tonight, 7:30-9 pm, Chilmark Community Center, South Rd. Chilmark. Free; donations strongly suggested. Information at 508-524-0919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.