Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 35
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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Princeton Residents Work With NGOs in Three African Countries

Dilshanie Perera

Regarding refugee camps on the border between Tanzania and Burundi, Princeton resident Tim Callahan said, “You see flyers saying ‘donate this amount of money,’ and pictures that bring you so close, but you’re still so far away,” adding that the unidirectional gaze “sometimes makes you feel even more removed.

“I just wanted to see firsthand what’s really going on,” he confessed.

Mr. Callahan is one of three graduates of both Princeton High School (PHS) and Princeton University (PU) who have been awarded fellowships by the Princeton in Africa program to work with various non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ghana, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Having heard stories, seen pictures, and done reading about the pressures and dangers of life in refugee camps, Mr. Callahan remarked that his interest was indelibly piqued. Two of his younger brothers traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, after they graduated from high school, and their experience further fueled his excitement about East Africa. Currently Mr. Callahan is working with the International Rescue Committee and is stationed in the Kigoma Region near the border between Tanzania and Burundi.

PU class of 2008 graduate Carolina Danspeckgruber is paired with mothers2mothers (m2m), an organization in South Africa devoted to supporting HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers. “The program aims to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) by training HIV-positive women as peer educators to work in health care facilities supporting and enhancing PMTCT programs throughout the continent,” she wrote in an e-mail exchange.

Ms. Danspeckgruber began work in Cape Town in June. “Interestingly enough, m2m was started in 2001 by Mitch Besser, who is also from Princeton and went to PHS,” she reported, adding that Mr. Besser is the medical director of the organization and currently resides with his family in Cape Town.

Catherine Richardson is in Ghana working with Africare, a U.S.-based private, charitable organization that joins communities in various countries in Africa to broadly “promote health and productivity.” Africare cites itself as “the oldest and largest African-American led organization in the field” and their main areas of focus are health, food security, and emergency response.

In an interview before he left for the Kigoma region, Mr. Callahan said he would be working primarily with Burundian refugees who had been displaced by the 1994 genocide in their home country and neighboring Rwanda, and would also be working with refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“I’m going to be traveling to the camps to see how the various programs are going,” Mr. Callahan said of his responsibilities. Such programs include repatriation efforts and initiatives against gender-based violence.

“The Tanzanian government wants to consolidate two camps in the Kigoma region right now” Mr. Callahan reported, which means that “most people are going to be repatriated.” He envisioned that “it’s going to be an exciting year, with lots of people going back home.”

It is also a “very delicate situation,” since “a lot of the land that once belonged to the Burundian refugees has now been appropriated by the government or by others,” Mr. Callahan remarked, adding that he has to “keep a pretty practical mindset” since “most of the time I’ll be in the office writing reports for the U.S. government and U.N. on how the programs are faring.”

The day before his flight to Dar es Salaam for a briefing before being dispatched to western Tanzania, Mr. Callahan enthused, “I want to get over there and see everything. I’ve only read so much, and I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.”

Updates about the work and experience of Mr. Callahan, Ms. Danspeckgruber, and Ms. Richardson will be featured in the Town Topics over the coming months.

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