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Archive for Monday, July 24, 2006

FSHS grad spends summer improving services in African refugee camp

July 24, 2006

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Ellie Ott, a Lawrence native who visited Africa for two months this summer, sits with a child named Kianda at a refugee camp in Zambia. Kianda and other children at the camp were curious about Ott, her camera and other college students who traveled to the camp to improve the library, Ott said.

Ellie Ott, a Lawrence native who visited Africa for two months this summer, sits with a child named Kianda at a refugee camp in Zambia. Kianda and other children at the camp were curious about Ott, her camera and other college students who traveled to the camp to improve the library, Ott said.

The challenge when she arrived in Zambia was a little bit different than Ellie Ott, a 2004 Free State High School valedictorian, expected.

When the University of Pittsburgh junior arrived at the Kala Refugee Camp for her two months of work in early May, she discovered that only one person really knew how to use a computer and very few refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo knew that United Nations-run camp had a library.

"The refugees have a different culture," Ott said. "The kids still like to play. They are still kids; they have extended bellies (from hunger), but they are still kids, and the adults - they still want to learn, they want to better their way in life, but they just don't have the same opportunities."

After she finished her spring semester at the Pennsylvania school, Ott left for Kala - which houses more than 20,000 refugees - with six other American college students through the student-founded nongovernmental organization Facilitating Opportunities for Refugee Growth and Empowerment, or FORGE. Friends and family members donated $4,500 for Ott's trip.

When they arrived, Ott and the other Americans had to get the word out about the camp's library.

"That was part of my project that I really liked because when I arrived, there were only about five people using the library every day," Ott said. "But by the time we left, there were about 70 people of all ages."

The Americans also brought five more laptop computers to add to the four already in the camp. After about six computer classes, more refugees had learned the basics. The FORGE volunteers also set up the first newspaper and staff for Kala.

One rocky road leads to the relatively remote camp.

"I'd say it's pretty safe. It's a pretty stabilized camp," Ott said. "A hyena stole one of our goatskins that we had out back, but there was nothing really dangerous that happened."

She lived with the volunteers near the Zambian police officers in a primitive mud and brick structure that had no electricity.

They had water for showers, and they hired refugees as night guards and cooks, Ott said. They ate sheema - a ground corn dish - and also bought fresh fruits and vegetables from the camp's market, which is more than most of the residents could afford, she said.

"They normally don't feel full. They definitely have problems getting enough to eat," Ott said.

The volunteers conversed with most of the refugees through translators, who spoke Swahili or other tribal languages. Ott also could speak French with some of the African students.

"What really touched me the most was the people that I became friends with - our translator and the librarian," Ott said. "I had the opportunity to further my education. I was busy, but the pace of life I actually liked better. Things took longer; it was more relaxed, and you had to spend time greeting people."

Ott also helped organize a winter-reading program for girl students. If they complete it, they will get a new outfit for school.

Many of the refugees also shared horrific stories, including rape and forced labor, during political turmoil in their former country.

"People became my friends. Then I heard their stories. It's amazing to me what they have done with what few resources they have," she said.

Ott returned to the United States on July 12, and she will spend the fall semester in Europe. She hopes to return to Zambia with FORGE next summer to continue education work. The organization's Web site is www.forgeprogram.org.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," she said. "I think it's important because as American citizens, we have a lot of resources that we use, and we need to keep in mind people through the world and continue to pressure the government to take action and to not forget these people."

Comments

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"Friends and family members donated $4,500 for Ott's trip."

As King said in Platoon, "[censored], you've gotta be rich in the first place to think like that."

Still, nice work Ellie.

Marion, don't you know travelling halfway around the world to help poor people is the hip way to show your compassion. Personally, I'd just mail a bunch of condoms since our government isn't doing it.

Ken Miller 8 years, 5 months ago

Ellie:

Did you see any fraternity or sorority members helping out over there?

jayhawkster 8 years, 5 months ago

Wow: lambasted for helping refugees... tough crowd. Last time I looked, I didn't see too many kids with distended bellies in Lawrence. And I have to wait like 45 minutes every time I want to use the library's computers - no shortage of computer savvy folks in Larryville.

Awesome job, Ellie. Puts a whole new perspective on poverty, doesn't it...

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"Yes, the Libs have been doing this sort of thing for years and that is how we got into our disastrous "Foreign Aid" programs!"

Sorry to contradict your generalization, but I am a Lib.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

My guess is she has no perspective on poverty here at home and it wouldn't have cost her a dime.

Having volunteered at the Jubilee Cafe a few times, I always found it amusing that KU students would sit on their ass doing homework if there were too many volunteers. It's a resume booster don't ya know. It happened more often than you'd think. Oh ya, and they rarely actually talked to the patrons of the cafe either.

Confrontation 8 years, 5 months ago

The children in Africa have a whole different level of appreciation than the children in Lawrence. Nothing will ever be enough for the kids here, but the African children are extremely delighted to receive even the smallest token of generosity. Haven't you seen the little brats freaking out on Mass Street when mommy doesn't buy the biggest toy or the newest trendy clothes? Even the poor children in this town behave this way. The African kids are never guaranteed a meal or housing. Just get on some foodstamps or call the housing authority to get your fix in Lawrence.

Kelly Powell 8 years, 5 months ago

KU students try to get away with that crap at paying jobs.......

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

a chance to travel to a place she might not be able to other wise and see first hand life in a far away place and learn about that country and you people complain?? Do something your own selves here in the US and let this girl have her chance at education and chance to be young it just might help her to do something great when she get back home.

fletch 8 years, 5 months ago

Wow, somebody selflessly gives themselves to a wonderful cause, and some of you still find room to complain. I don't even know how to respond to such cold hearted behavior.

Feverpitch 8 years, 5 months ago

What makes some of you think she's never done anything for the Lawrence community? Just because she's doing something [amazing] in Africa doesn't mean she doesn't care about her hometown. People CAN make a difference in more than one place. Maybe you should take notes.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 5 months ago

I have a friends who's working in Zambia right now. I don't ever want to go. I hear that the experience is completely captivating, and I don't want that baggage right now!

Seriously, this is great. My wife's cousin did some outreach work in Mexico on his spring break a couple of years ago. Everyone who does this sort of thing finds it amazingly life changing, which is the value of her $4500. Well worth it.

But... when I think back to Mazlow's heirarchy of needs... I find it odd that money was invested in a library when the kids don't have enough food.

kujeeper 8 years, 5 months ago

Why travel so far, she could have commuted to Kansas City or Topeka to help people. Or even stay in Lawrence and do the same thing. But I guess getting a resume builder like a helping refugees is much more important than helping your fellow American.....

Confrontation 8 years, 5 months ago

OldEnuf: I completely see your point on this one. Donated books and donated time to teach them how to read would be a good deal. Teaching them skills on donated computers could help a few get jobs. Spending money for these resources does seem a bit wasteful when people are hungry.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"Wow, somebody selflessly gives themselves to a wonderful cause, and some of you still find room to complain. I don't even know how to respond to such cold hearted behavior."

Gimme a break. That $4500 dollars would have helped a helluva lot more than her presence. I'm sure she's concerned, as we all should be. But I call a paying $4500 for a 2 month trip to do volunteer work an act of arrogance, intended or not.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"Wow, somebody selflessly gives themselves to a wonderful cause, and some of you still find room to complain. I don't even know how to respond to such cold hearted behavior."

Cold-hearted? Where'd that come from? I'm as compassionate as anyone. I've volunteered here at the Jubilee Cafe, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the Adult Learning Center. Even as far as reading goes, one of my favorite recent reads was "Blue Clay People" about an NGO worker in Liberia. My problem is that this girl is too self-absorbed in having an "experience" that she went halfway around the world to point out the library when the $4500 would have actually helped the poor bastards more with a stamp and an envelop. Cold-hearted? Whatever.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

so because nothing she might have done here in this country is not mentioned you all think she has not done anything to help people here. How is it possible to assume just because of ommision? At least she has the balls to go to a place most people are trying to get the h**l out of. Any takers to follow her? No than stop making such a big deal.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

Zambia ain't the Congo. It's called a refugee camp for a reason. Apparently my point went way over your head while you were having a we are the world moment. She has no job skills, at least according to the article. Is she an engineer building a bridge or a hydrologist siting a well? No. She's a damn college kid preaching about the West's excesses while she spends $4500 and a few gallons of fuel to travel half way around the world to do something that the locals could be taught to do. Is there not a black African that can point out the library or is that only a job white Europeans are capable of. Same crap that keeps poor folks, black and white, down in this country. Don't worry, I'll do it for you. You're here with your bloated gut so I can feel important and self-satisfied that I'm leaving the world a better place. At least if she was part of the Peace Corp, she could accept (hopefully) that her main role is as an ambassador for the US.

I'd like to buy the world a kick in the ass. Wake up people. Good intentions don't necessarily make good deeds.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"so because nothing she might have done here in this country is not mentioned you all think she has not done anything to help people here. How is it possible to assume just because of ommision?"

14 years of personal experience living in a college town. Idealists minus the brains, generally speaking.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

I notice there's not one iota of info in the article about WHY these people are refugees, which backs up my point.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

well jhawk you have it all figured out don't you. Tell me when was the last time you went to Africa much less anywhere near the congo, which does border Zambia, And what skills are needed for compassion, and caring?

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

No skills needed, that's the point. I'm sure there's plenty of black Africans that can point to the library and set up a newspaper. Don't dismiss my opinion by saying I'm a know-it-all. That's a cop out. So is your point about whether I personally have been to Africa, much less the Congo. Debate 101: Attack the argument, not the arguer. If you see a flaw in my reasoning, please point it out. And none of this stuff like her contribution is immeasurable. Sure it is. BTW, I have a degree in Geography from KU but thanks anyway for the geography lesson.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

The flaw is to belittle her for her effort. To assume she has done nothing to help people here because it was not stated in the article, the flaw is intolerence of a another persons choice. I see no bad coming from her trip and only positive things can happen now that she has returned. She may not end up an ambassador but she will know what she can never let happen here.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

By the way no geo. lesson was intended, i assumed you knew where is was or you would have never wrote what you did.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

First of all, I didn't say that she doesn't do anything here. I'm sure she has. I said I doubt she has any perspective on poverty here at home. They're two different things.

Please indicate where I belittled her. I complimented her on the effort and the intent, misguided as I think it is. Making a practical contribution is where she falls short. Once she realizes that and does charity for the people rather than for it's own sake, I'm sure she will be an excellent humanitarian.

I notice you still haven't challenged my argument or offered any tangible explanation for why a Westerner is needed to find the library and start a newspaper.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

Full disclaimer - I worked low- or no-skill labor for 14 years.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

fear of death, lack of information, no one willing to let refugees know what is there for them.

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

4500 is a bargin don't ya know, that a joke by the way. I hope she saw and learned alot, and will do something incrdible with her life, nothing wrong with grunt jobs they pay bill and buy food, kinda.

Charles L Bloss Jr 8 years, 5 months ago

We should take care of our own citizens first! We wouldn't be in debt as far as we are if we stopped being sugar daddy or policemen for the entire planet. We have lots of needy Americans, help them! Another thing, there is no reason why we should have been asleep at the switch and let 12 million illegal immegrants into our country. We certainly do not owe them any of the things American citizens get. We should find them and send them back home. Once that is done, a guest worker program that is carefully controlled and administered should be established. It should allow some people who want to work here, and work toward American citizenship the right to do so. English is the language of the United States and if they want to live here and be citizens they should learn it! Thank you, Lynn

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

wow and here I thought she was a volunteer...and gave of her time heart not her money.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"fear of death, lack of information, no one willing to let refugees know what is there for them."

A refugee camp with an NGO organization implies some degree of safety and organization. Why couldn't black Africans solve the last two problems? I don't buy your argument.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

BTW momma, thanks for being a good sport in this sparring match. I know my writing style can come off as a bit aggressive at times. Sometimes my limbic system beats my frontal lobe into submission. Can't be helped I'm afraid.....Well, a prefrontal labotamy would do the trick but I'd rather not. :)

Christine Pennewell Davis 8 years, 5 months ago

lol don't beat your head to hard. Some degree but not total the bad guys always lay in wait. Oh well I tred take two tylenol then in two hour take to motrin will take care of the pounding inside your head. Labotamy not recomended. :)

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"We should take care of our own citizens first! We wouldn't be in debt as far as we are if we stopped being sugar daddy or policemen for the entire planet. We have lots of needy Americans, help them! Another thing, there is no reason why we should have been asleep at the switch and let 12 million illegal immegrants into our country. We certainly do not owe them any of the things American citizens get. We should find them and send them back home. Once that is done, a guest worker program that is carefully controlled and administered should be established. It should allow some people who want to work here, and work toward American citizenship the right to do so. English is the language of the United States and if they want to live here and be citizens they should learn it! Thank you, Lynn"

Whoa! I detect some oUtRAge!! First of all, the poor aren't being left behind due to our benevolence overseas. Check the Bush tax cuts for that. All horse, no cattle is giving the middle and lower class the shaft while experimenting for real in Iraq for $$$$ while Afghanistan is falling apart again, not to mention the crappy bills he's passed that benefit big business and subsidize farmers. Guess what shrub does when big business sends their profits overseas. He kisses ass and begs them to bring it back to the US tax free.

Second, the 12 mil already here are staying. Spend the money on the dam, not the fish net. As for guest workers, funny how Bush likes a free market when it benefits his fat cat buddies but wants to change the rules when it doesn't work in his favor. No citizen wants to bake in the hot sun of California or risk sawing their arm off at a meat packing plant for the money they pay, so rather than pay the going rate, they want to import cheap labor. And you want it that way. Sheesh.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

First, you're putting words in my mouth. I didn't judge her intentions. Nor did I say she was abandoning Americans that need help. Nor did I say I knew she didn't do anything back in Pittsburg.

I beg to differ with you about the value of human life however. Although I do value all human life, I'm an American, rather a US citizen, so my 1st allegiance is to my fellow citizens. After that, I'd like to help as many other folks as possible.

Don't you people see anything wrong with the practical aspect of this situation?

No, I didn't know of this particular refugee camp, but I know the UN's largest peacekeeping operation is in the Congo. Same thing I'd say. If you could, please point out where in the article it talks about why the refugees were displaced to begin with. Granted, the story is about her experience but surely they'd offer at least one sentence explaining why they're there. No, this story isn't at all interested in the refugees. It's all about the benevolent Westerner. How can it raise awareness without giving information? If it's all about awareness, make a documentary following a young child from birth to a young death. I say it'd do more good.

Still don't see any real challenges to my argument though. Thanks for

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

I guess the simplest form of my argument goes like this. Did she do $4500 worth of work in the two months she was there? If not, she could have done more good with a stamp and envelope.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

"You can't solve anyone's problems by writing a check and mailing it."

Nobody gets a free lunch. Compassion doesn't pay the bills or feed the needy. Logic and work do. Since you know otherwise, could you please handle the bills for my recent ACL surgery. Money's tight right now.

"It's not about self-fulfillment. It's about gaining personal experience and putting your life in perspective by seeing something like this for ourselves."

Man, that sounds horrible. A variation of charity for charity's sake? I hope they don't explain it that way to the refugees.

I wonder what expertise and local knowledge $4500 would get you?

"And why can't a stranger's life be worth the same as an American? We should think about the global picture and not value someone's life based on what country they're from."

Well like I said, I'm an American first, and a member of the global community second. If you think otherwise, do you want completely open borders and no quotas on immigration? If not for other Americans, why do we fight wars.....at least WW2. We fight for Americans first.

Since no one else has mentioned it, the various conflicts around Lake Victoria, including Congo, has been and continues to be the greatest human tragedy since WW2. That deserved a sentence, at least.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

Just so I don't forget, thanks for indulging me in this debate bloom.

pinkshoes 8 years, 5 months ago

I say, "Way to go, Ellie!" You are doing something that makes a difference in the lives of others AND you are experiencing things that will forever affect how you look at life.

On a side note, if picking on college students via opinionated posts could somehow translate into humanitarian good, some of you on this message board could end all poverty in America. Jeez. Give the kid a break.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

I'm just totally befuddled as to how an attempted good deed is automatically considered a good deed de facto.

I'm equally puzzled that my POV is criticized as picking on the kid.

She wants to make a difference. The experience is secondary. Which would do more good: a warm body or $4500 US? The "experience" doesn't do the Africans any good at all.

If that rubs people the wrong way, I don't know what to tell ya. Later.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

Since Ellie went for the experience, I'd like to thank the refugees for being caught in the middle of a human tragedy so that Ellie could gain some perspective. We don't have that kind of opportunity over here at the moment. Thank you.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

Ya, that's been my general impression of sub-Saharan Africans. I knew some folks from The Gambia, Senegal, Zambia, Nigeria, and Cameroon. They were all cool folks to hang out with. Great soccer players too.

Jersey_Girl 8 years, 5 months ago

Just to poke the bear a little more....jhawk - what do you have to say about Ellie now that she's had that experience is off to Europe for the fall semester?

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

It's about as typical as ad hominem and strawman arguments on a message board. Very.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

My guess is most here couldn't spot Congo on a map, let alone have a vague notion of the conflict/s that likely led to this mess before, during, or after reading the article. A warm, fuzzy fealing was acquired however and that's so much more rewarding than wisdom. Interesting that there were zero posts talking about the plight of the refugees. Just xoxos for dear Ellie and boooos for the poster wearing the black hat. Sheesh. Anybody at all interested in why they're refugees in the first place? No wonder the otherwise waste of space Brownback is getting nowhere on Darfur. In the end, we collectively could care less.

jhawk0097 8 years, 5 months ago

I'd say there's a fair amount of exploitation of those tribal differences by corrupt governments to encourage instability, like the current situation in Ituri.

pinkshoes 8 years, 5 months ago

jh97, i think the poster wearing the black hat is being booed not only because we disagree with your opinion but also because some of what you have said about this young lady seems rather mean-spirited. "this girl is too self-absorbed having an 'experience,'" "the hip way to show your compassion," "my guess is she has no perspective on poverty here at home," "an act of arrogance, intended or not," "she's a damn college kid preaching about the West's excesses" --(I didn't notice her doing that in the article)--etc. Maybe if your comments had not sounded like you were making unkind assumptions about why she was there then maybe other posters wouldn't have cast you in the role of black hat.

I am not trying to attack you, I'm just trying to answer your question of why people are saying that you're picking on a kid. I'm sure you're a very nice person and wouldn't intentionally do such a thing. You seem to know a lot about the region and its politics and seem to feel that her efforts were misguided. That's okay--you may be right. But unless you know her personally or have talked with her at length, please don't belittle her or her work in Africa. You don't know why she went there and you don't know whether or not her work made a difference or what great things she may do with her new knowledge. I don't know either, but I'm choosing to give her the benefit of the doubt. And I still say "Way to go, Ellie!"

eleanor_ott 8 years, 5 months ago

Probably few people will read this, but let me straighten out the fiction floating around in these comments. Feel free to contact me at ellieott@hotmail.com.
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As a group, my FORGE team set out to make as great of an impact as we could in the refugee camp structure. The money we fund raised (or, for some of my team members, the last dimes they earned) would not have gone far in feeding the refugees. Plus, the UNHCR in conjunction with WFP provides them with food for substance. Still, they lack opportunities and proper nutrition. As part of one of our projects, the Women's Health Initiative, we fed meat to women who participated in focus groups, surveys, and workshops. After identifying health problems, we had camp leaders teach the women about gaps in their health knowledge. The women learned that malaria was not caused by dirty water or eating too much beans, how to use a mosquito net, about reproductive health, why their children are given half-does of pills in the clinic, how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and other health concerns.

My project was designed to provide skills and hope for the future. I hope that they will shape the future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many of the refugees are intelligent, ambitious, and bored. They want to learn through books, magazines, and computers. The girls I chose for the Winter Reading Project said that they want to be teachers, doctors, nurses, Catholic nuns, and the future president of the Congo. Many girls just like them drop out of school without the proper clothes. There are about 280 girls in Grade 5, 140 in Grade 6, 70 in Grade 7, 35 in Grade 8, and 7 in Grade 11. I did none of this for my resume, but to try to make the world a better place. We are all humans, both in Kala and in Lawrence. I have volunteered extensively in Lawrence (including with Hospice patients and homeless). I continue to volunteer in Pittsburgh. Yes, I am selfish. I find the most satisfaction in my life from helping others, and I hope to make a profession out of it. I am going to France, covered by my scholarship, for enjoyment and to learn French fluently to help these Congolese and others. I am not a perfect person. I just hope that I have made a positive impact in Lawrence and in Kala.

None of the money I fun-raised went to tourism. Much went directly to the refugees unlike other corrupt organizations in the camp. We lived humbly with the refugees in the camp. The conflicts and conditions that they have survived so far are complex; many countries and groups caused the conflict in the Congo. The refugees have felt the consequences. One friend was forced to wash the bodies of women the rebels raped. One watched his mother shot in front of him. Another one watched as his wife died from consequences of her time being held by rebels. They fled at night on foot. They have lost almost everything: their homes, their professions, their families. Still, my friends have hope.

pinkshoes 8 years, 5 months ago

Wow. I hope some of the snotty posters feel a deep sense of shame over their earlier comments.

It sounds like you did some amazing work, Ellie.

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