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Off to Africa

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    Alyson Youngpeter

Graduating senior about to embark on trip she has been planning since middle school

May will bring several transitions for senior English major and Georgetown native Alyson Youngpeter. Not only is she graduating from Southwestern, but she also is planning to leave the country for two years to do volunteer work in Malawi, Africa.

“This has been a long process of getting ready,” Youngpeter said. “In many ways, I’ve been preparing for this trip since middle school. When I was 12, I watched a program on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ that was in Africa. The crew was giving out Christmas gifts and basic provisions to children. Because it was my first exposure to poverty, I was very impacted by the images. I began questioning inequality and the differences between my life and those of the children on the television screen. At Southwestern, I was able to take courses that helped me understand Africa in general and the structural reasons for inequality in the world.

Youngpeter will travel with the Marianist Volunteer Program, which will allow her to combine her passion for Africa with her educational skills as an English major. This faith-based organization will provide her transportation and living expenses. Her work will be focused in a division of the organization called the Miracle Center, a women’s empowerment program. The center, managed and staffed by local Malawian women, acts as a trade school for young women who were unable to finish their public education, have lost at least one parent to AIDS and are qualified as poor by organizational standards. The center helps the women be successful by equipping them with skills to find work or by providing loans to start their own businesses. 

“My position will be to act as a representative of the Miracle Center,” Youngpeter said. “This will consist of traveling to villages near the center to check up on the loan recipients’ businesses. I will make sure that everything’s going okay and help the women through any obstacles. The staff members at the center believe that if the women feel that they have a personal support system, they are more likely to pay back their loans on time and will also have a more positive and fruitful experience, which benefits both parties.” 

According to Youngpeter, former and current volunteers found that the work as a representative allows time for additional projects and have begun a school newspaper, volunteered at the local orphanage, and created a permaculture garden that is patterned off the local environment. In her extra time, she plans to create a library within the community, either in the local school or orphanage. 

“As an English major, literature is a passion of mine, so I’m very excited about this project,” she said. 

Youngpeter has been busy raising funds to support this project. In a recent fundraiser, she made about $1,000 selling t-shirts and an additional $1,000 in donations. She will continue to fundraise in churches and community clubs before leaving for Malawi Aug. 2. 

After she returns to the United States, Youngpeter plans to attend graduate school to earn a master’s degree in library science. Her goal is to then combine this education-based knowledge with the practical experience she gains in Malawi to create a permanent literacy outreach program in Africa.

“The current volunteers in Malawi have mentioned that there is approximately only one textbook for each 50 students,” Youngpeter said. “Such limited access to resources obviously makes their teaching task much more difficult. I’d like to help change this by setting up programs that would bring these needed schoolbooks, as well as entertaining reads, to Africa.”