Student:

Brenna Bangs.

School:

Cabrini College in Radnor, where she is a senior.

What she has done:

As a Catholic Relief Services intern, Bangs, 22, traveled to Ethiopia for nine weeks this summer to research the progress of a Nike Foundation program aimed at empowering adolescent girls in the Tigray and Oromia regions.

Question:

Did you choose Ethiopia for your internship?

Answer:

When you apply for the internship, you're applying with the knowledge that you could be placed by Catholic Relief Services in any of the 99 countries that they work in, based on your interests, what programs are available and language abilities.

I wanted to work with children and education in some way and, most importantly, have a chance to interact with the residents of the country on a daily basis, so Ethiopia's program fit this perfectly.

Q:

What is the program's goal?

A:

By means of working with 6,000 impoverished girls, ages 10 to 19, the project will empower in the areas of education, economic opportunity, leadership, voice and rights, health and security, and social opportunity.

Q:

Why do Ethiopian girls particularly need help?

A:

Ethiopia is a modest country, driven by tradition and culture. Many young girls outside of the city have a strong role in the domestic household. They are in charge of making the coffee in the morning and afternoon, which is a long, ceremonial process, as well as the meals and cleaning.

Although diminishing in many areas, early marriage is practiced with girls getting married as young as 8 years old, sometimes even proposed to marriage at infancy. The families who do not make enough money to send all of their children to school give priority to their sons because they feel as though their daughters would not benefit from an education. These are all factors that prevent a girl from attending school, or reaching her academic potential.

Q:

What were your responsibilities as an intern?

A:

I was based in Addis Ababa, where I stayed with the family and worked in the [Catholic Relief Services] office daily. I also took trips into the field for weeks at a time to interview girls regarding their education. I attended social events, hosted by schools that educated the community about equal opportunities for girls and boys. I documented everything and, in the end, submitted a report to CRS and Nike. The report gave them an indication as to which of their implemented factors are working so far, as well as suggestions from the girls.

Q:

How has the program been successful?

A:

They offer tutorial classes, which give extra help in certain classes, knowing that, due to household chores, the girls have little to no time to study. Gender clubs that host social events have been a major success, as well as incentives, such as dictionaries for successful girls. While I was there, water pumps, gardens and latrines were being built to assist in the area of economic opportunity, sanitation and travel time to collect water.

Q:

What did you learn from the girls?

A:

I noticed, especially in the Tigray region, that their families' support plays a major role in their success in school. All of the girls who have been performing well have parents who are fully supportive of their education and do everything they can to get them the books they need.

The factor that was difficult, however, was that, as supportive as parents were, they were still encouraging their daughters to be helpful in the home, as well. They didn't seem to understand that this is where the problems lie, and there needs to be a balance with their children, boys and girls.

Q:

What impressed you about the girls? What shocked you?

A:

I was impressed after my interviews in the Tigray region with how open the girls were with me during the interviews. I was told after the first interview by the translator that she was shocked that a young girl would express her concern about menstruation with me as she did because they are such a modest culture and such things are not talked about. After this, I found that in every interview in that region, girls would tell me about this particular problem that is preventing them from attending school. I believe the girls were just reaching out for someone to help them with this problem, something I have never even thought about before.

In the Oromia region, however, where they are much further behind developmentally, none of this was expressed, and it was much harder to get information from an interview.

Q:

What have you taken away from this experience?

A:

I have now seen how hard it is for some people to even attend school past sixth grade, or sometimes less. Being an education major, this is knowledge I will always have with me and will be able to share it with my future students.

Q:

Will you go back?

A:

I would love to go back and visit my host family. It is a beautiful country, with a great culture, and hopefully some day soon, I will be able to.

- Shannon Hallamyer