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.



Gapper Video Profile: Steffen K., Friendship Village

Check out our full feature on the Friendship village here!

Full Interview Transcript

GYG: So first, can you introduce yourself for us?
SK: My name is Steffen K. I am 26 years old, I am from Germany, and I am a volunteer here at the Friendship Village.

GYG: What do you do here at the Friendship Village?
SK: In my project here I have two activities: working with disabled children and teaching them Photoshop. So one side is teaching them numbers (1,2,3) and writing, and the other side is teaching them Photoshop. It depends on their disabilities.

GYG: And what are some of the other things volunteers can do here?
SK: They can work in the garden or the hospital. In the hospital they can work with Physical Therapy, and the in garden, well they work in the garden.

GYG: Why did you come here to volunteer?
SK: Actually, I decided to do something else in making the perfect line of working in Germany, so I decided to leave Germany for one year. There’s a special project to help volunteers without money. I decided to come to Vietnam because I like the history and the mentality of the people. I came here because my organization said it would be the best place for me, and actually, I’d have to say that it is.

GYG: What’s your favorite part of volunteering here?
SK: My favorite thing about volunteering here is seeing the children smile. Because it’s the best thing you can have. They smile, you smile a lot; you’re very happy.

GYG: Why should other people volunteer here?
SK: If you want to volunteer, it’s your decision. I cannot tell why they are doing that. Everybody has his own reason for doing that. But volunteering here is a really good place, because you have a lot of things you can do. You are really free – you can decide what you want to do. So you don’t have to stay to class 3 or 2 or 1 all the time. If you want to go to the garden, you can go to the garden; you just have to tell the gardener. Everyone here is very friendly. The teachers really like the volunteers and they also are able to speak a little bit of English, so communication is possible. And the children are lovely and very nice. This is the main reason to come here- to see the children and play with them.

GYG: Do you like Hanoi?
SK: No. I actually do not like Hanoi. Hanoi is crowded- a lot of people. It’s very good for making party. I have to say, very good for making party. But for living, it’s not the best place. My living place is around 2 km away from here and it’s next to a main street. You have a lot of trucks passing by. You have a lot of dust- it’s very dirty. But actually I have to say, it’s something you have to cope with if you go to Vietnam. Because Vietnam somehow never sleeps.

GYG: Do you like living in Vietnam?
SK: Yes. I like it very much. Because I’m volunteering for one year, I decided to buy a motorbike and to drive around and visit and explore all the places. This is really nice. Vietnam is very very nice country- we have really lovely places.

GYG: What does the Friendship Village do?
SK: It’s a really big place for a lot of disabled children. I’d say about 80 children and 40 veterans. It’s a place where the children can learn for the future. They get teached things like embroidery and tailoring. After Friendship Village they have education to do something in their life. I have to say it’s a very good place.


RKVM – Calcutta, India


Megan Leatherman, Kayan-Feminist Organization

gyg-logo-teal-transparent1Name: Megan Leatherman
School: University of Oregon
Type of Work: Community Development, Human Rights
Region: Middle East
Length of stay: 6 months – 1 year

Megan and a friend on a trip to Nablus, Palestine

Tell us about the organization you work for and what you do for them.
I work for Kayan-Feminist Organization, which is a non-profit, politically unaffiliated Arab women’s organization in Israel. I volunteered with Kayan in 2009, and worked primarily on public relations and outreach. After I began working on my Master’s degree in Conflict Resolution, I teamed up with Kayan again to work on developing a program that empowers women to do peacebuilding work within Arab communities in Israel. In addition to helping to develop this program, I work on fundraising and development. An average day is usually spent at the office editing grant proposals and reports, or meeting with colleagues to talk about the upcoming Conflict Transformation training that we are planning.

Share a favorite memory.
One thing that has stuck out to me in my second time with Kayan was when I went to a meeting of the Forum of Arab Women Leaders, which is a network of community organizers that Kayan supports and facilitates. This was my first time out “in the field” since I’d come back, and it was really touching to see familiar faces, some of whom even remembered me. It was as if I was being transported back two years, except that the Forum has grown and is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its research and interventions.

What have you learned from your experience? How has it affected your long-term goals?
Well, obviously I’ve learned more than I’d ever imagined about issues of women and conflict transformation, fundraising, and development. More generally, however, I’ve learned that it takes a very long time as a volunteer to actually contribute in a meaningful way – unless you are with an organization for a significant amount of time, the gift is primarily theirs to give, not yours. This idea that Americans can descend upon international organizations and improve them is largely unfounded, and I think it’s important to remain humble in the work that we do. As far as my long-term goals, they have totally shifted since I came back to Kayan this summer. When I arrived, I wanted to work for international women’s organizations in conflict zones. After getting more involved in the community-level work that Kayan does, I realized that I actually want to give back in that way to my own community in the Pacific Northwest. The grassroots work that this staff does is immensely powerful, and I feel convicted to work to improve the quality of life for disadvantaged members of my community in America.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job has been keeping up with all the various aspects that go into program planning: donors, grant proposals, logical frameworks, activity planning, target group, etc. Having never done this before, I have had to learn quickly what it takes to orchestrate programming in an organization like Kayan.

Do you have any advice for prospective gappers?
I would suggest that gappers learn as much as they can about the context they will be working in, remain humble and openminded, and connect as much as they can with the people that they are working with.

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.

Earth Hasassri

Me with Dr. Tareq and another doctor at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency that serves Palestinian refugees. My work surrounded chronic diseases of hypertension and diabetes.

Name, Age: Earth Hasassri, 21
University, Major: UC San Diego, Physiology & Neuroscience, and Psychology
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Infrastructure (building houses, roads, wells), Community Development, Childcare, Human Rights
Region: North America
Length of stay: Less than one month

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
ProWorld, Urubamba, Peru (http://www.proworldvolunteers.org/) – My experience here wasn’t a very great one. The volunteer project was good, but the logistics and organizational structure lacked experience and expertise. They need to work on more strategic planning before I would give them another shot.

Working in Urubamba, Peru in school 712, teaching these children math, arts and crafts, and environmental sustainability.

Cross-Cultural Solutions, Puriscal, Costa Rica (http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/) – Overall good, but very pricey. I can understand because they have a great structure and good communication. However, they are definitely a little more voluntourist-y than I would like. The community interaction was very minimal and it’s very difficult to see the sustainability in their work.

Damar Services, Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (http://www.damar.org/) – One of the best organizations I worked with. They work with children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities, and I strongly believe in their mission and vision. They have a very high success rate (96%) of helping children with Autism live more independent lives and I can clearly see how they work with the public system to make what they do sustainable in terms of policy change.

Casa Familiar, San Diego, California, USA (http://www.casafamiliar.org/) – They work with migrant and border issues. I really enjoy their organization and how much they try to outreach resources to their target population.

How did you find your position?
School resource and personal connections

What’s your typical day like?
4 – 6 hours of work per day, doing various tasks

Working in Santiago de Puriscal, Costa Rica on construction of a soccer court at an elementary school with limited resources.

What kind of people do you work with?
ProWorld – Young orphans and victims of domestic violence local to Peru. I want to warn people against working with orphans unless it’s a longer term commitment since orphans already have issues surrounding attachment and separation. If a short term volunteer were to make an orphan happy, they would relive the same pains when the volunteer leaves.
Cross-Cultural Solutions – Younger, elementary school children who were Costa Rican.
Damar – Children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities who come from all over the US.
Casa Familiar – Migrant and refugee populations, mainly from Mexico.

What are your living accommodations? 
Hostel with ProWorld, volunteer house with CCS, hotel with Damar

What do you do in your free time?

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience! 

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that? 
Wanderlust and active citizenship

How are you financing your time?
crowd-sourced fundraising, scholarship from school

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

Prom Clothing for Children with Disabilities: orking in a residential facility of Damar Services in sorting out Prom Clothing for children with disabilities, providing opportunities for these children to have a social rite of passage.

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
Only with Damar I was. I feel that it’s very difficult when working with non-profits to make a positive, sustainable change unless both top-down policies from the public sector as well as bottom-up efforts in social movements or behavioral changes are pushed for.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
That change mostly happens on an individual level, and that can turn into a collective social movement if organized well enough.

Do you think you make a unique contribution to your organization as a young person? Is your perspective or approach different from others? 
Yes, and I hope so.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Made me more understanding of how social issues are intertwined and permeate within each other.

What’s next?
Medical school

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?


Joeva Rock, Abusua Foundation

Name, Age: Joeva Rock, 23
University, Major: UCSD– International Studies
Region: Africa
Length of stay: 6 months – 1 year
Type of Work: Community Development, Human Rights, Youth capacity and capability building

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
I spent the last year working for Abusua Foundation (AF) in Cape Coast, Ghana. Abusua was started ten years ago by a then University of Cape Coast student, and works on youth capacity and capability building and community development. AF has been engaged in a variety of projects including HIV/AIDS outreach, debate in the schools and an online youth magazine.

How did you find your position?

What’s your typical day like?
While with Abusua I was the Volunteer Coordinator and oversaw an international volunteer program. I placed skilled interns at different sites in the community including a local TV station, hospitals and a human-rights commission. The funds generated by the volunteer program go directly into supporting the projects and staff that Abusua oversees.

What kind of people do you work with?
Staff at Abusua were all Ghanaian, in their 20s and 30s. Interns were from the US, UK and Australia and were usually in their early 20s. Almost everyone I worked with had a college or professional degree.

What are your living accommodations?
I lived in our volunteer house that was located in a village on the University of Cape Coast campus. We had regular electricity, but no running water. Chickens, goats and the local mosque and church were my alarm clocks.

What do you do in your free time? 
Went to the beach, read books, traveled, went dancing, shopped at local markets.

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience! 
Monthly BBQ and dance parties with all the interns and our neighbors!

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that? 
I had studied abroad in Ghana and knew I wanted to go back, so after I graduated from UCSD and couldn’t find a job in the US I knew I had to look to work overseas and get first-hand experience in the development field.

How are you financing your time?
I was paid.

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job?
Writing, Social media

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
Yes, meeting and engaging with people different than you is always positive :)

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
Running a successful nonprofit is hard! It’s non-stop work: meetings, travel, grant writing, etc., but the outcomes are super rewarding.

Do you think you make a unique contribution to your organization as a young person? Is your perspective or approach different from others?
The whole organization was young people working together, which creates a culture of high energy and innovation that’s hard to find other places.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Working locally on the ground allowed me to discover what I want to study in grad school and the type of work I want to do professionally ie working with youth.

What’s next?
Grad school (cross your fingers)!

Do you have any advice for prospective gap-givers?
Research your program and other options in the area just in case you need a backup. Be open-minded and talk to as many people as you can!

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?