Featured Organization: African Community Internship Placement Programme

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1This week’s feature was written by Kristine Sloan, who currently serves as the Director of Operations for ACIPP West Africa.

The World is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.

–Chinua Achebe, Arrow of God

I’d say I first got involved with ACIPP four years ago, when I traveled to Ghana on a study abroad. I met our founder, Simon Eyram Tsike-Sossah then. What struck me then, and continues to strike me now, is Simon’s simultaneous optimistic energy and hardened realism about volunteering and interning abroad. I was forced to question my motives for studying abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa. Was I really giving through my volunteerism, or was I merely receiving: wisdom, experience, and a paradigm shift.

West Africa wielded its way into my heart, and though I travelled and worked on three other continents and regions throughout the world in the next four years, I knew I wanted to go back. Ghana, the land of tro-tros, mangos, and red soil had spoken to me in a way that other places simply did not.

Interns at HEPENS

So, in the summer of 2011 I emailed Simon (well, I think I Facebook messaged him—we love social media). There was an internship opportunity available to lead a Farm project in Ghana, and I wanted in. I’m currently working on my Masters degree, and the Farm offered me an avenue for practical experience as well as a chance to complete research with a local community nearby. The emails back and forth kept at a steady stream, and it seemed my philosophy on interning and volunteerism had more closely aligned with Simon’s. We shared a common goal: engaging interns and volunteers in a way that provides lasting impact to organizations on the ground, rather than simply an “experience” for the intern.

Thus, after about 11 months of working on various projects, I was offered the Director of Operations position with ACIPP. My plans for the summer had changed, and now I was off to both the farm in Ghana and to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we also offer internship opportunities with 5 different incredible and engaging organizations.

Freetown is madness: 1.5 million people in one city, most who fled there for refuge and never left. The streets are congested, people living in the valleys, neighbors everywhere. Freetown is also beautiful: mountains behind you falling into the sea, colors and energy and a resilient vibrancy that WILL bring growth and vitality to this post-conflict country. During my time there I met with heads of organizations, felt their commitment and drive to their mission and values, and wanted to sign up to intern with each of them myself!  At night, looking out over a city of darkness knowing that our house, with our generator, may be the only of a handful in a city of over 1 million that has electricity, and yet listening to the neighborhood soccer game, the conversations in the street below, and the endless chatter of chickens and dogs; I knew our interns would do well here.

One of the monthly intern BBQs at the Abusua House!

The rest of my summer passed in Ghana, where I was welcomed with the warmest hospitality by our house manager, Ms. Mavis Aseidu, and where we had 16 interns living in our house in Kwaprow village. It was madness, but it was wonderful. Importantly, we saw the expectations of our interns and the struggle for them to conceptualize and internalize their experiences, which were far out of their ordinary. We also saw the impact on placement organizations, where our interns published news articles, edited media content, led community health talks and importantly, left behind their curriculum for future use. We created partnerships between organizations and new communities; we fostered capacity, at the heart of ACIPP’s mission.

I think the most important thing for people to consider when they think about interning abroad is what set of skills/knowledge they can share, and what set of skills/knowledge they hope to receive. Does impact last? Are we creating situations where we, as interns and as staff, are at the periphery (not the center) of community engagement? Are we building local leaders, or are we simply leading? These things are crucial, because in a way, they multiply time if achieved. Effort catalyzes action, rather than simply acting itself. That’s what makes ACIPP so unique I think. We believe in the agency of the places that we work to solve, to create, and to be receptive.

West Africa is an incredible place to work and to live. I’m so proud of ACIPP West Africa, both of our dedicated staff and all of our interns (over 27 just this year). Everyone works hard. They make friends; they create relationships. Just as importantly, they go out to a bar in a gas station (yeah, you’ll have to come visit us) and drink cheap beer, dance all night, and have a great time.

I hope to see all of you there.



To check out our various internship opportunities and learn more about us please visit our website: www.acippwestafrica.org

Like us on Facebook “Acipp West Africa”

and feel free to email me with comments, questions or inquires at Kristine.sloan@acippwestafrica.org.



Janice Smith, Ramakrishna Vivekanada Girls’ Blind and Deaf Orphanage School

Name: Janice Smith
Type of Work: Education, Arts, Language
Region: Asia
Length of stay: 1-2 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I was the first foreign volunteer to stay and live with the girls in 2009. I taught and and other cultural activities.

Share a favorite memory.
The never ending love the girls had to offer. I learned so much about life and self discover.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Material items are not essential to live a happy and meaningful life. I learned so much about their language and culture that positively effects me today on a daily basis.

What was the most challenging part of your job?
Not being able to speak the language, adapting to their food and hot humid climate.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Travel with an extremely open heart and try as many new things as possible, except from street food venders :)


Caryn Oppenheim, EduCARE India

Wearing the sari I bought in India

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Caryn Oppenheim
School: Bowdoin College
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Community Development, Arts, Language, Human Rights
Region: North America, South America, Middle East, Asia
Length of stay: 3-6 months

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I interned for a grassroots NGO, EduCARE India, in rural Punjab, India for three months. EduCARE India’s vision is to promote pathways to intellectual freedom, social justice, community welfare, economic liberty, and sustainable development for individuals, families and social groups working to achieve their rationalized life dreams.

Share a favorite memory.
Hannah Wolkwitz, coordinator of health day, spent weeks organizing transportation, supervision, and free check-ups with local hospitals for the Trash Pickers community in Adampur. The health day was realized several days before her departure from EduCARE. The Trash Pickers community suffer from constant health problems due to poor sanitation, water, and other conditions in which they live. The goal for the health day was to complete a general physical for the majority of the community, numbering around thirty people. An English student and friend of EduCARE’s, Sukhjinder Singh, extended a helping hand, as usual, by transporting, in multiple shifts, the community to both locations. After initial disorganization and delay at the Lion’s Club during the first shift, interns developed a system to oversee that each person would be attended to. At the Civil Hospital the children bravely beared finger pricks. I sat with several of the adorable little ones in my lap, while they got their fingers pricked. The community’s dog, Tiger, accompanied them for moral support, at times over-extending that support by lounging in the lobby. Although my main responsibilities as an intern did not involve work with the Trash Picker and Snake Charmer migrant communities, I enjoyed visiting their camps and assisting with education and sanitation lessons. After a long exhausting day witnessing the joy of the children, the personalities of the buffalos, kittens, puppies, goats, and chickens, and the resilience and modesty of the adults rejuvenated my spirit. Even without language sharing we could communicate in smiles, play, and hand gestures. I will always remember Krishan, a young bright boy from the community, journeying to our office before I left and sitting in my chair with me. He had drawn a mustache on his face—a face I will not forget.

hree young Indian boys on their way to school, male affection is common.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
The opportunity of interning for EduCARE allowed me to gain more practical grassroots experience related to many different overlapping social projects. The independence and responsibility I enjoyed in several social fields made me realize I should broaden my future career scope and consider social work. My job role as the Communications Manager has renewed my interest in Communications and encouraged me to look for a more creative approach to a career. I have improved my team work skills and gained knowledge of what makes an organization successful. In addition, I developed adaptation skills due to living and working in a culturally and physically challenging environment. I have always valued clear communication and witnessed the importance of it firsthand this summer in my internship.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Living and working in a climate, culture, and NGO management system different than one’s own country required adjustments. In rural Punjab transportation is an adventure in and of itself. Many see foreigners and money as synonymous and see foreign women as candy. It took time to get used to existing uncomfortably in terms of the heat, bugs, and water supply. Cultural concepts on bill paying and communication are treated differently in India as well. Despite these experiences, I consider my time in India one of my most worthwhile adventures. When I think of India I think of vibrant colors, decorative fabrics, resilient and playful people, breathtaking vistas, and life changing wildlife. My fellow interns, who inspire me with their travels, interests, and dedication, remain one of my most valued keepsakes.

Shama from the Snake Charmer community making a calendar.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Travel the road less traveled and do so with an open mind, flexibility, and as few expectations as possible. It is to your advantage to work abroad with a feeling that you may offer something to the program, but more likely your experience will change you. Learn as much as you can and document your time through pictures, blogs, writing, and other forums. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do some type of gap experience take full advantage of all the people and places you connect with— time moves quickly. Future employers may value the skill sets and knowledge that you developed.

Lydia Ochieng, Art Outreach Programme

Presenting a play in a children’s home.

Name: Lydia Ochieng
Type of Work: Environment/Conservation, Education, Community Development, Arts, Childcare
Region: Africa
Length of stay: 1 Year+

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I work for Art Outreach Programme. I work in Volunteer Placement department.

Share a favorite memory.
My favorite memory at AOP is the work camp. A work camp is a place where people of all races, ideologies, and nationalities live and work together for two to four weeks on a project organized by Art Outreach Programme. Most work camps occur during the summer months and have between 10 and 20 international participants. They volunteer, they socialize, and they work with the local people. They are a multicultural, voluntary workforce. That is a work camp – and it works! We usually go far away for the camp and assist the community in various project, as well as teaching in schools and going for excursions every weekend with the group… WORK CAMP IS SO MUCH FUN.

Clearing The field for an Eco-Lodge.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
I’ve learned that if one wants to go fast, they can go alone; but if one wants to go FAR then one should go with people. A lot can be achieved if there is team work.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Lack of people and resources.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
Just be open minded!


Roheet Kakaday, Project RISHI

A forest path in Mulgavan.

Name, Age: Roheet Kakaday, 21
University, Major: UC San Diego, Bioengineering
Region: Asia
Length of stay: Less than one month
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Infrastructure, Community Development, Arts, Childcare

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
Project RISHI (Rural India Social and Healthcare Improvement) at the University of California, San Diego, is a relatively new organization that’s making positive and sustainable changes to rural Indian communities. UC San Diego’s Project RISHI primarily focuses on helping Anandwan, a rural leprosy colony in Maharashtra, India, and the physicians, patients, and staff who reside there. We plan on expanding our focus to encompass more rural areas that need help in the coming years. Project RISHI has chapters in UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and Northwestern University with more on the way.

How did you find your position?
During another club’s general body meeting, the president of UCSD Project RISHI was given the opportunity to present a short powerpoint. As he recounted the experiences he had in Anandwan, I became inspired to help him out and, perhaps, visit Anandwan myself. I’ve been with UCSD Project RISHI for three years now, serving as a member for two of those years and on the leadership board for one year.

What’s your typical day like?
The thing about Anandwan, and rural India in general, is that there is a lot of work to be done. This enables volunteers to choose the field in which they would be most effective and focus their time there. When I visited with the first UCSD Project RISHI group, I took my time exploring the various needs of Anandwan. As a colony, Anandwan has become largely self-sufficient and with that self-sufficiency has come a microcosm of “industries” to help in. Anandwan educates children through their own schools, grows and ships its own food, creates its own prostheses for the handicapped, diagnoses and prescribes medications from physicians who live there, and much more. From a volunteer’s perspective, Anandwan is ripe for exploration, with each volunteer’s experience dependent on how much they leverage their capabilities.

When I came into Anandwan, I had a pre-medical student’s mindset which led me to assist in the medical area. I woke up nearly every morning at 5 AM to help out at a wound-wrapping clinic where leprosy patients with open wounds would come for treatment. I shadowed physicians in hospitals and sat in on public health seminars in order to explore what UCSD Project RISHI could do for Anandwan. I was also a part of the group that went to Somnath and Mulgavan, two rural farming areas, that needed help as well. As I was guided around the areas, I learned how farmers were having difficulties harnessing rain-water during India’s relentless monsoon season. These were illuminating experiences that jump started UCSD Project RISHI’s future improvement projects.

A typical day will start in the morning hours, the latest at 9 AM, and end around 11 PM at night. The work day here is unusually long due to the fact that you live and work in the same place. The hostel that hosts us is on the campus and is not more than a 10-minute walking distance away. You’ll start working in the morning, take the typical lunch break, a tea break in the afternoon, and end your work day sometime around 6 or 7 PM. Some of the other volunteers in our trip continued working with their groups until 10 PM! If you have the passion or drive to really help, there is no limitation placed on your volunteerism.

What kind of people do you work with?
The people who come on the trip with you are college students of varying age. The natives that you work with at Anandwan vary in their age and education. The physicians who work there have plenty of education and training in the medical field. There are, however, staff members who are older, younger, or the same age as you with varying levels of education. For example, one older staff member who trained me didn’t have a college or high school degree, but knew how to take blood pressure, wrap wounds, take medical histories and more. There are also volunteers from other international organizations that come in to help as well. Most people speak English to one degree or another, so language is usually not a barrier.

What are your living accommodations?
We lived in a hostel on the campus that was fairly decent considering that Anandwan is smack dab in rural India. It had its own bathroom, shower, four beds, a sink, and a fan in one room. By the standards of living I have seen in most poverty-stricken rural areas, I felt that we lived in the lap of luxury at this hostel. Barring the occasional gigantic exotic bug scare, living in this hostel was enjoyable. Three simple, yet tasty, meals were provided everyday and slow internet was available at a single central computer for a fee. Our group of eleven lived in four side-by-side rooms, so we were never alone and spent a lot of our time laughing nights away.

What do you do in your free time?
We explored the surrounding wilderness, enjoyed local fare, played intense games of hacky sack, joked around for hours, and spent time in deep philosophical contemplation. It was a great experience bonding with these volunteers and I definitely made some new life-long friends.

One of the self-sufficient textile industries Anandwan has.

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience!
I feel that my experience was enhanced due to the fact that I speak Marathi, the local dialect in Maharashtra. Because of this language skill (Thank you Mom and Dad!) I was able to communicate with patients directly as I wrapped their wounds in the 5 AM clinic. Listening to the stories of these patients who had been displaced from their homes and expunged from their former lives had a lasting impact on me. It made me realize how much I take for granted here in the U.S. and just how much change needs to occur abroad. The positive effects of just one volunteer making a difference is amplified in places like rural India. This experience served to formulate the basis of my future career – to help the under served populations of the world.

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that?
When I was investigating nonprofits to join, I wanted the opportunity to not only make a difference but undergo some self-exploration as well. I believe part of volunteerism is not only making positive changes for others, but creating positive changes in oneself as well. For that to happen, one needs to find a cause worthy of one’s energy and investment.

I realized that an aspect of nonprofit work that really appealed to me was hands-on volunteerism – volunteerism in which I could really get involved in not only the implementation of projects but the planning stages as well. Though there were a good amount of clubs at UCSD with that kind of hands-on volunteerism, the critical aspect of self-exploration was missing from many of them. For example, one could go to South America and aid critical volunteer efforts, but all the activities were already prescribed and scheduled. I needed the opportunity to not only complete such volunteer efforts, but to find them in my own time and devote myself to them because I wanted to, not because a schedule told me to.

UCSD Project RISHI, as a relatively new club, offered the hands-on volunteerism and the self-exploration aspect that I was searching for. It was the perfect fit for me and I have never regretted choosing RISHI since.

How are you financing your time?
All work done for Project RISHI is on a volunteer basis so no one received any kind of financial compensation for their efforts. Furthermore all members who go on the trip to India pay their own way there. That means paying for round trip tickets, lodging, and food to and from Anandwan. Though it sounds like a lot, the trip’s total cost is no more than $1,500, a fairly manageable sum.

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job?

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community?
The entire reason I joined UCSD Project RISHI was to make a positive and critical impact in a community. So, yes, of course I feel like I am making a positive contribution to this rural Indian community. That feeling was further reinforced by the gratitude I received from lepers and staff alike when volunteering in the field.

Furthermore, UCSD Project RISHI’s focus on sustainability as an integral part of any project it undertakes is unique amongst nonprofits today. When we design our projects, we want to make sure that even in our absence the projects we design will continue to have their desired effect. As our projects come to fruition, I have every confidence that we will make a positive and lasting impact in Anandwan and rural areas beyond.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
Effective nonprofit work is slow and steady, despite the unrelenting vision of motivated individuals. To make a truly lasting impact, the nonprofit needs to scout the problems, come up with various solutions, and ensure that the solution it chooses is sustainable, low-cost, and, most importantly, effective. This process takes a while, but once it gets going it’s hard to not be enthusiastic about it.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Volunteering for Project RISHI on campus and in Anandwan solidified my choice of career. Caring for lepers made me realize how important medicine is to the under served populations here at home and abroad. As such, I hope to enter a field where I can care for such disadvantaged populations in a medical capacity. My ideal choice is to be a physician and make a concrete difference in such patients’ lives.

Moreover, handling lepers’ wounds served as a litmus test for medicine. I figured if I could stomach the sight of severely disfigured limbs, then I may be able to handle some of the sights in medicine. When I began treating the lepers who came into the clinic, I found myself engrossed with their histories more so than their wounds, which made me believe that perhaps medicine would work for me.

What’s next?
I hope to go onto medical school after graduating from college. In medical school, I want to help expand Project RISHI’s vision and perhaps even recruit medical school students and physicians to help out. They could be an invaluable asset to implementing projects in Anandwan and beyond.

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?
UCSD Project RISHI, or even the Project RISHI at your local college, is a great option for volunteerism. From the start you can get involved in everything about the club, from planning events to staffing them. Every effort on your part can be directly translated into increased fundraising and better projects for the target site your local RISHI chapter has in mind. Project RISHI needs all the help it can get, and you can be the one to make the critical difference. If Project RISHI doesn’t seem to be something you’d be interested in, then there are plenty of other nonprofits with equally valuable work waiting to be accomplished. Get out there and get involved. It’ll be worth your time and you’ll feel better for it.

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?
Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/ucsdprojectrishi or on Twitter @SDProjectRISHI for more information! We also had a travel blog you can find at projectrishi.wordpress.com, though it was sparsely updated due to the shaky internet connection.

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?


Mugdha Golwalkar, Project RISHI

Name, Age:Mugdha Golwalkar, 20
University, Major:UC San Diego, Human Biology
Length of stay:Flexible
Type of Work:Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation , Education, Community Development, Arts, Childcare

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
Project RISHI (Rural Indian Social and Healthcare Improvement) is a student-run organization that works during the year to raise funds for several sustainable projects, which we then carry out on a two-week trip to a leprosy colony in rural Maharastra, India. We have chapters at UC San Diego, UCLA, Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, and Northwestern University currently, but we’re always looking to expand! You can check out the website at www.projectrishi.org or specifically the UCSD chapter at www.facebook.com/groups/ucsdprojectrishi or follow us on Twitter @SDProjectRISHI for updates!

How did you find your position?
I heard about the first GBM through another organization on the UCSD campus called Sangam, and went from there!

What’s your typical day like?
When we visit, we have a fair amount of flexibility with the kinds of work we can help with there. I woke up every day at 5 am to wrap leprosy wounds in the hospital, and then spent most of the day either working on our projects, teaching dance lessons to disabled girls, teaching/helping out at the kindergarten and nursery, meeting with officials to assess the kind of project that the colony and neighboring villages still need that we could help with, and working in the pathology lab taking blood samples from patients and testing them for malaria. There are tons of opportunities if you take the initiative to ask about them.


What kind of people do you work with?
This colony does get other organizations that visit it, so you will be working with natives as well as international people most of the time. The majority of the administration speaks English, so language is not a big problem. The ages of people we worked with varied a lot depending on what each person chose get involved in in the community. Most people in the colony are minimally educated, but often knowledgable in the specific trades they have learned.

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1What are your living accommodations?
The colony has a guest house, which is generally a small room with several cots and an attached bathroom with western style toilet and eastern style baths (out of buckets). They aren’t the most comfortable accommodations, and sometimes there are bugs, but they do provide all the meals and the experience more than makes up for the adjustment. Internet is available at a central location, but it’s pretty slow and limited as this is an extremely rural area.

What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, we learned sign language form some of the locals, we went hiking and biking around the area. Sometimes we would go out into the main city to the market or to little local restaurants.

Most of these girls are either partially blind or deaf or were affected in some way by leprosy, but most of them already danced in the orchestra! Teaching them was an honor.

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience!
I got to teach Indian classical dance to girls affected by disabilities or leprosy! Honestly, they were so sweet, and they welcomed me with open arms and called me their “older sister” even though I was younger than some of them! They wanted us to teach them some western dance, but then spent the whole time making fun of me and my other friend who taught them when we tried to show them a latin dance to Shakira. They’re definitely friends I’m never going to forget, and they’re a big part of why I want to go back.

How are you financing your time?
I’m paying for the trip mainly out of my own funds, but with some help from my parents. The trip we take through Project RISHI generally costs $1500 and lasts for 2 weeks, but the leprosy colony we stay at would gladly welcome volunteers who want to stay longer, and it wouldn’t be too much more expensive.

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job?

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community?
Yes, I do. I feel like outside the trip, I’m spreading awareness about leprosy, which for a completely curable disease that 95% of the population is immune to, is IMMENSELY stigmatized. And on the trip itself, I can tell I’m really helping by volunteering around the community, because they really need the manpower.

Sunset at Somnath

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
I have always wanted to work in public health, preferably in a rural community as a career, but my biggest problem was that I wasn’t sure if I could handle the conditions. I’m applying to Masters in Public Health programs right now, and I’m thinking about medical school afterward, so this experience really solidified my future goals and showed me that I can handle an experience like this, and probably can handle rural medicine, more long-term.

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?
Take the initiative! Most communities you will work in are really open to having volunteers. Ask what you can do, and it doesn’t have to be overt work, like in a hospital or a school. Teaching the locals a new game or babysitting for someone for a night so they can have a night off can be just as rewarding!

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?
Our blog is at projectrishi.wordpress.com but as we didn’t have very stable internet there, our blogging was a little limited. Feel free to comment and ask questions though!

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?