Interview with CFK Volunteer Liz Hall October 8, 2013  by      

Liz volunteered in Kibera during the summer of 2009. She worked with Taka ni Pato (Trash is Cash), a community-managed solid waste management and recycling program. She worked with women’s and youth groups specifically to create small businesses that reuse and recycle material found locally in Kibera. After volunteering with CFK, she spent a year in the Republic of Congo where she researched gorillas and elephants for the Wildlife Conservation Society. This fall, she will start a Ph.D. program in Anthropology at Purdue University. We reached out to her about the time she spent in Kibera and received a response that was so wonderfully detailed that we wanted to share all of it.

CFK: How did you get involved with CFK?

Liz: I found out about Carolina for Kibera through the Duke Global Health website while I was looking for a summer internship to fulfill my Global Health certificate requirement. CFK’s mission seemed to share the exact sentiment I felt toward development and its relationship with conservation and public health. I really appreciated CFK’s approach toward and dedication to community development. I also loved how involved and dedicated CFK remained with the community; it definitely wasn’t a suitcase NGO like so many people complain about in developing nations.

CFK:  Why did you get involved with CFK?

Liz: I got involved with CFK because of my strong interest in the interface between conservation and development, particularly in developing nations in Africa. I realized in college that conservation is so much broader than just preserving forests and protecting animals. Multidisciplinary and cooperative approaches to conservation and development have recently been promoted and encouraged by NGOs, government programs, and academic institutions, but at the time it felt like wildlife conservation and urban development were thought of as two separate, non-intersecting disciplines. I wanted to shift my focus toward how the two interacted and how researchers could promote both development and conservation together, improving both in tandem and using strategic approaches to solve issues on one side without thwarting efforts on the other. In addition, I felt that the relationship between the two had an incredible impact on public health and wanted an opportunity to learn more about the interactions between the environment, human health and behavior, and urban development.

CFK:  What projects did you work on while you were in Kibera?

Liz: I worked with Taka ni Pato, a branch of CFK that supports community members who are trying to create sustainable job opportunities through the promotion of recycling and environmentalism. Specifically, I worked with women’s and youth groups in Kibera to create small businesses that reused and recycled locally-available materials (i.e. paper, beads, string). Most of the women’s groups I spent time with were developing business plans to create and sell greeting cards made from recyclable paper. The youth groups were modeling a business to make and market briquettes, an alternative fuel source to charcoal made out of recycled materials. My role was to help provide any support the groups needed, whether it was conducting small courses on business management or helping promote the businesses by speaking to local organizations and other businesses that might have been interested in investing in or purchasing the products.

CFK: What was the most meaningful thing that you took away from your time in Kibera?

Liz: My experience working with CFK and in Kibera in general was my first real exposure to cross-cultural exchange. I had studied abroad in South Africa the previous semester, but it was an American program and did not challenge me to work outside the context of my own cultural norms and comfort zone. I think one of the greatest things I got out of my time with CFK was a better understanding of what it means to collaborate with people in a sustainable way and effective way. I still grapple with how to respectfully embrace a culture while remaining true to myself and completing whatever tasks are at hand effectively, but most of the time I return to the lessons Carolina for Kibera taught me about being patient and truly listening to the needs of the locals. I often try to remember the importance of participatory development in sustainable nonprofit work.

CFK: What did you do after you worked with CFK?

Liz: I’ve continued my work with conservation and development since my participation with CFK. I recently returned from a year in the Republic of the Congo, researching gorillas and elephants for Wildlife Conservation Society. This work required a lot of participation from local Congolese researchers and forest tribes, which proved sometimes incredibly difficult as I was often the only woman. I had to learn to work within the cultural confines of the region and navigate social norms while still holding true to my purpose for being there, skills that I started to develop while in Kibera.

CFK: What are you doing now?

Liz: I start a PhD program in Anthropology this fall at Purdue University. My main research focus is disease transmission between humans and wildlife (particularly between nonhuman apes and humans) in Central/West Africa and how it shapes conservation and development efforts in the area. My work is very sensitive because I’ll be living with a very small forest tribe in Central Africa Republic that thrives on bushmeat and is very distrusting of white people due to most scientists’ efforts to stop the bushmeat trade and many American/European business plans to log the forest and take many resources. (They’re also mistrusting due to the history of the area, of course.) I’m sure I’ll continue to develop the skills I learned through CFK as I try to transcend in a way the cultural boundaries and help improve public health and promote sustainable development in the area.

You can read about our current and past volunteers here.

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