With ten days left until my flight to Kenya, I am spending a good amount of my time right now making sure I have everything together that I will need when I get set to pack early next week.
At the end of last week, Mama Hope sent us a document to prepare us for the trip to Kenya and Tanzania. There was a rather overwhelming amount of information in there regarding what we’ll need to get when we first get on the ground there and a long list of suggested items for us to pack.
The first time I looked at the list I flinched, and promptly closed the email.
The second time I looked at it I cringed, but scanned through its entirety, quickly cataloging what I need to procure before promptly ignoring it.
Today I printed the list out and went through it, bit by bit, notating what I already had on hand and what I needed to buy. Needless to say, there are a lot more things I need than what I have and quite a few that I’ll be going without entirely.
I have made no bones about my socioeconomic background. I own up to the fact that I am a working class girl, living in poverty while trying to do something good. I don’t have much money, and I generally think myself wealthier for it. I know the real worth of food and the importance of a quality coat. I value what really matters in this world.
My life has done nothing but prepare me to meet the people I want to help on an equal footing. It has been a bit more sparse in providing the means with which to do it.
This Global Advocate program is incredible. It provides a $10,000 scholarship to cover the flight to and from Africa, training and tuition in the US, as well as food, housing and transportation costs on the ground in Kenya. However, for myself and many others, the things it does not cover are extensive. Without the support of amazing friends and family (and a bit of help from my credit rating) this road would have been nigh unwalkable.
The flight to and from San Francisco for training, $600, was covered by my parents (thank you!!). The travel insurance, $160, was covered by a couple amazing people (you are incredible and I can’t thank you enough!). Since I have not had health care in nearly six years, the vaccinations went on a credit card, $225, and I’m not sure I want to know how much the visa is going to cost or the final bill for the stuff I need to pack.
Thank god I didn’t get placed in Tanzania. The volunteer visa there is $500.
But the truth is, without the amazing Mama Hope team I never would have been able to get into the field of international development. Because of the risks and the hardships inherent in the job, proving yourself is the only way in, but the outlay to get this experience would have been unreachable.
Does anybody else see the irony in this?
Here in New Orleans there is a rather wide income gap between ‘the wealthy’ and ‘the poor’. I have sat in the cafes around the Tulane and Loyola campuses, listening to students talk about their latest trip to Europe, or the month they spent in South-East Asia. I once asked a woman why she wasn’t traveling to yet another exotic locale for the summer, and she said it was because her parents refused to bank roll yet another trip to Africa or India.
In contrast, I have met many people who grew up here, usually in the Ninth Ward, and very few of them have left the city, never mind seeing another country. It simply costs too much.
There is a barrier here, a glass ceiling, for the working class and people in poverty. The costs of travel are just too heavy a burden for these families, and it results in fewer opportunities for their children.
So what does it mean when an entire field of work is only open to the wealthy and their children?
What does it mean when the richest are the only ones capable of helping the poorest?
I am grateful to my parents for the opportunity they provided me as a teenager to travel to Europe and I recognize that it was likely at great personal sacrifice. Seeing countries and cultures so different from my own opened up a whole new world for me and sparked my passion in working overseas. I am grateful to Mama Hope for providing me the opportunity to bridge the gap and obtain the coveted international experience needed for this field while also making a difference in the world.
Most of all, I am grateful for the difficulties I have had. They have taught me much and I will have a much better understanding of the people I will be working with and the barriers they strive to overcome.