Before coming to college, I remember someone telling me that I would only have two choices in terms of how I could live out my college life. I could a) study or b) party. However, it seems that Duke University has proven her wrong. The institution has offered a third alternative to how students can further enrich their lives while enrolled there.
Service through DukeEngage.
Sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DukeEngage allows more than 400 students like me to participate in civic engagement projects each summer. Each group works with various NGO’s on issues from education to microfinance. My project in particular will be traveling to Kaihura, Uganda to work with farmers on sustainable agriculture.
It’s an exciting prospect that I would’ve never even considered in the past. Who thinks of simply visiting a country bordering the Congo, Rwanda, and Sudan, not to mention actually living there for two months? We’ve been told that we’ll have no electricity or power in our town and little (if no) running water. We’re not to drink anything local unless we have already treated it and have been strictly instructed to take our medicine daily lest we end up with malaria or worse.
Such issues can only be expected from living in such a rural area in a third world country, but I know the trip will be worth it. I feel so lucky that Duke has chosen to give me a spot on an once-in-a-lifetime, all expenses paid volunteer expedition. The university covers airfare, health insurance, living and food cost, and even gives each participant an allocation to call home every once in a while to let our families know we haven’t been eaten by lions.
Sometimes when I think about how much money Duke has invested in me, my ego inflates a little.
In addition, I hope that my DukeEngage experience will tie closely with environmental engineering, the major that I’m pursing at school. Hopefully, it’ll give me firsthand insight and motivation to see what benefit I could possibly bring to struggling towns such as Kaihura. This past year I was a research assistant in a lab looking into implementing UASB (upflow anaerobic sludge blanket) digesters in third world countries. Where we will be staying will most likely have pit latrines. Some individuals still defecate in the open so we must wear close toed shoes while we’re there. It will be interesting to see how such an experience could relate to my research.
However, the most exciting aspect of DukeEngage has nothing to do with me at all. It’s more about Bringing Hope to the Family, our community partner, and working side-by-side in the fields with members of the community. It’s about how I’ll be able to share my experience with others when I return to the United States and see the differences between cultures. Traveling abroad will help me grow professionally as well as personally. Fittingly, DukeEngage’s slogan is “Challenge yourself. Change Your World.”
Well, challenge accepted.