Humans of EPAfrica – March 2017

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HoEPAfrica March 2017: Maciej Mańka & Emily Fox

As a second instalment of Humans of EPAfrica, we interviewed two prospective project workers who are venturing out this summer to Kenya and Uganda. Maciej Mańka is a first year UCL student studying neuroscience, and Emily Fox is a first year studying Development Studies & Geography at SOAS. Both of them had never heard of EPAfrica before they came to university, so we decided to see what they thought about the charity:

So how did you become involved with EPAfrica?

Maciej: I found out just through flyers. And I actually didn’t think about working with EPAfrica in the first place, but then my room-mate convinced me to apply. I really wanted to do some kind of volunteering abroad, but I wanted something that actually makes sense, instead of giving out t-shirts or something. I think EPAfrica is one of the few opportunities where you can actually go and do some proper volunteering, not just take a holiday. Its actual work, and you can actually invest it something and have an impact: it’s very rewarding.
Emily: I heard of it from an email that was circulating around, and I applied really late and was really surprised when it all came through. A couple of months before I found out about EPAfrica, I had seen this thing at King’s that was this Mount-Kilimanjaro-AIDS/orphan thing, and so I was quite disappointed because it was only climbing the mountain. It was all so hypothetical, and I didn’t know where the money raised was really going. EPAfrica raised less money for a much longer period of time. Also living at minimum conditions, at what’s sort of the norm there, was really exciting for me. I love that so little is spent on ensuring our comfort, so that it can be put into the schools.

The pair both have previous experience with charity work before coming to university. Emily worked with a Slovenian group which are raising funds and awareness for the people of the Nuba mountains who are trapped on the frontline of the conflict between North and South Sudan. Maciej worked with a company called Revitalise, who care for severely disabled people as respite for their family and day-to-day carers. This often involved 13 hour shifts, and so the pair are both used to hard work, and its rewards. And they had some thoughts about the current state of volunteering in Africa:

Emily: I saw this thing on Instagram the other day, in the ads part. It was like “volunteer in” some African country or something, and it was just these videos of this group of white people working in a field, constructing an irrigation system. But it was so fake. What I like about EPAfrica is that they send only two or three workers to each area, so it’s all less… invasive, and the relationship is a lot more co-dependent. My struggle is kind of asking ‘Do I really want to intervene?’ Whereas having the opportunity to just observe is good for the future of us understanding Africa not through ads of a black child weeping with a fly on his head, and all those clichés, but as peoples and societies just as complex as ours.
Maciej: Companies can make pretty good business doing volunteering somewhere. So I had a friend whose volunteering trip was basically about going to South Africa or something, where they worked for like two or three hours a day with the children, and then they drunk every single night. That was pretty much the work of it, so I think EPAfrica is our closest shot at doing actual volunteering and making actual change.

So is there anything you’re really looking forward to about the trip?

Maciej: : I think that, what I’m actually looking most forward to is the actual work, and realising how much we can do, and what we can do.
Emily: And our limits.
Maciej: Exactly. We’ve got to be realistic, and with 10 weeks we can get a lot done but we can’t get everything done. I’m just looking forward to getting things completed, and seeing them have an immediate impact.

And is there anything you’re not looking forward to?

Emily: Maybe the accommodation in a way, but I think it’s really exciting because you don’t have showers or anything, you just have a water pump. A girl told me she got her hair braided in the ‘way’, so you don’t have to wash your hair that often because it’s really tricky to get the water. I’m apprehensive but I’m really looking forward to getting involved with that side of the culture.

Emily and Maciej are currently in the process of fundraising for their first 10 week trip out to Mbarare and Kakamega, respectively. We wish them the best of luck in getting together the funds, and for their projects in Africa.
Humans of EPAfrica will be back in April with a page of the PWs from Cambridge’s committees, so stay tuned.