Gap Africa explores the majesty, cultures, and challenges of three East African nations: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. We take advantage of our unparalleled access and gain a unique education on this fascinating expanse of Africa. Seeing the eager smiling faces in a Masai primary school while teaching English in an overcrowded classroom with limited school supplies, we feel the scarcity of education. Tromping through the equatorial rainforest with wildlife biologists, surveying habitat for endangered species, we witness the environmental struggle. Sitting down to interview leaders from an all woman's community co-op set up to bring personal and financial independence, we see a solution. Building a soccer field hand in hand with local players, converting an old dirt lot into a community centerpiece, we feel the power of service. Witnessing a family of elephants trek through the savanna of the Masai Mara at sunrise, we experience one of life’s unforgettable moments. Never again will you look at education in quite the same way!
“Taking a gap year with ARCC and getting a chance to work hands-on with the community gave me a sense of hope and made me feel like I was actually doing something to help.”
— Morgan Y., Gap Africa Student, Dedham, MA
Introduction to ARCC Gap Semester and Raft the Nile River
We begin our semester in New York and fly together to Entebbe, Uganda where we start our orientation to African culture and customs. Here we spend time coming together as a travelling community, setting both individual and group goals for the duration of the program. Our preparation includes mapping out our itinerary, introducing our curriculum, identifying milestone projects in conjunction with our five essential themes and brainstorming ideas for our individual capstone project. Our first section comes to a close with a celebratory whitewater raft down the exhilarating Nile River.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation
Traveling north from Jinja, we head to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Due to poaching and fierce competition of natural resources for the last three decades, rhino have been extinct in the state of Uganda since 1982. We join biologists and rangers to go behind the scenes to help in the efforts to reintroduce and build a sustainable rhino population through their breeding program. We learn to track and monitor the animals day and night, help with animal rehabilitation efforts and take part in community outreach educating local youth about conservation efforts. This opportunity not only provides us with an intimate look at the real environmental issues facing East Africa, but also allows us to be apart of the solutions.
Uganda Rural Community Support Foundation and Economic Growth
Our journey continues to the rural town of Masaka, a stones throw from picturesque Lake Victoria. Known for its fertile soils, this part of Uganda is an agricultural haven. With a growing number of the rural community relying on subsistence agricultural, the Uganda Rural Community Support Foundation (URSCSF) encourages traditional farming methods and techniques with regard to planting, harvesting and distribution of important seeds. By supporting the local farmers through training and vocational studies, families are able to successfully feed themselves and build a sustainable farm. We join US non-profit Groundwork Opportunities and URCSF to go behind the scenes and experience the strategic learning taking place. We meet and work with urban youth who have come to the farm seeking a better life and are now the facilitators running the training program. Living amongst community members who were once extremely impoverished, we learn and understand each step of the process of finding economic independence.
Daraja Academy and Educational Community Project
Only 55% of students who finish primary school in Kenya move on to secondary school. Women make up a small number of that 55%. According to International Food Policy Research Institute, Women’s education is the single most contributing factor to decreasing levels of hunger and malnutrition. According to the International Aid Organization UNICEF, every year of schooling raises a women’s income by 10%. Set in the Shadow of Mt. Kenya, the Daraja Academy, East Africa’s first free all female secondary school in Kenya, provides a stimulating and challenging educational experience aimed at readying the students for occupational interests. For three weeks we call Daraja home as we get to know and befriend the girls who come from varying areas throughout the country. In the comforts of Daraja, we break into small groups and develop projects aimed to help specific students and the educational institution as a whole.
Karen Community Orphanage Program
Our semester continues to the quiet community of Karen, a suburban haven outside the hustle and bustle of city life in Nairobi. It is also home to a warm and welcoming orphanage run by Sister Mary who has dedicated her life to taking care of street kids and orphans from the surrounding area. Many of the street kids have come to the center as one or both parents are unable to care for their children due to HIV and AIDS. Sister Mary is determined to provide a healthy and safe home. She teaches occupational and life skills to these young people so they can grow up with self confidence, drive, ingenuity, and overall have a positive influence on their society in the future. While at St Vincent Maisha Bora Center our work includes looking after young orphans, helping the older kids with homework, playing with the kids, and assisting with the day to day running of the orphanage. We also have the opportunity to help out in general refurbishing projects at the orphanage bringing much needed upkeep.
Safari: Masai Mara National Park
One cannot visit East Africa without a true safari. Waking up this morning, we are beckoned to the famed plains of the ‘Mara’. We trade our overland vehicles for smaller, more manageable 4x4 land cruisers and depart for an adventure of a lifetime. We venture through Masai Mara National Park one of the most documented game parks in the world. In search of the coveted “Big Five” - rhino, lion, elephant, water buffalo and leopard - we are sure to see our fair share of animals in this geographic masterpiece.
Masai Village Cultural Exchange and Public Health Study
Next we journey to Amboseli National Park, tucked into the northern plains of Mt. Kilimanjaro. For centuries the indigenous Masai people have followed a semi-nomadic pastoral lifestyle on this landscape. With the recent advent of global warming, the competition for water and habitat has become fierce and consequences dire. This past year, a number of lions who wandered onto native pasture land in search of water were killed by the Masai defending their livestock. We join the Borne Free Foundation and the Kenyan Wildlife Service who are making great efforts to understand and solve these issues. We have the chance to meet and interview local people in the surrounding area and see the day-to-day survival issues they face. We examine how communities, NGO’s and government are working together to build harmony between traditional life and wildlife conservation. With an opportunity to help out in the remediation efforts, we work with community members and build a Manyatta or Masai cattle enclosure.
Our cultural exchange with the Maasai continues as we travel into Tanzania to live in the town of Meserani, a small indigenous Maasai community in the rural lands of Northern Tanzania. In cooperation with community leaders we work in Meserani learning about the struggle for health care in the region due to the lack of government support. In a country where one doctor cares for up to 25,000 people in any given rural area, Meserani is an exception to the rule. Funded by eco-tourism and donations, the Meserani clinic provides up to date health care to individuals who would normally have nothing. During our stay in Meserani, we are provided with an up close view at the efforts being made to protect the local people from disease and sickness. We conduct important research interviewing community members and witness the positive effects of small non-profits making a difference.
Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba Island Habitat Study and SCUBA Certification
Traveling on to the port capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam, we board a ferry and motor out to the small island of Pemba. Home to a diverse island ecosystem that includes endangered species, coral reefs, mangrove forests, and a rising human population, Pemba is on the front lines of conservation issues. During our week long field study we investigate the issues, meet with researchers and do active coursework on specific keystone species, such as the endemic and endangered Flying Fox. Continuing on our field exercises we are able to educate the local population on the conservation efforts, and participate in discussions with community leaders.
After an engaging three months of learning, we relish the opportunity for a well deserved celebration on the white sand beaches of Zanzibar. We have the opportunity to take part in a PADI Open Water SCUBA Dive course, while also relaxing in paradise. With our semester coming to a close, we have the special opportunity to present our capstone projects to our community. Sharing our new perspectives with the group, there is no question our learning and living during these three months will prepare us for the rest of our lives. As we savor our last week together, we are excited to head home to share our newly gained knowledge and insights from our firsthand look at the global issues facing East Africa.