Mary Templeton keeps a pink scrapbook filled with pictures, letters, plane tickets and newspaper clippings to remind her of her first summer after college. She didn’t take a memorable vacation or go on a carefree weekend getaway. Instead, she spent eight weeks in an internship in rural Africa teaching English to high school students.
Looking through it reminds her that she can’t wait to go back.
Templeton, who graduated from Ohio State in the spring with a degree in international studies, was chosen last month for a fellowship with Think Impact, an international non-profit organization that places recent college graduates in development internships in Africa.
Templeton will journey to Dixie, South Africa, in June to help build a youth center that has been designed to offer educational and recreational resources to local villagers. With a project manager and help from the locals, Templeton will help create a sustainable center that will bring income into the community and raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“Governments will give countries in Africa a bunch of money and then the dictators will come in and take what they want. [Think Impact] looked at working with the community continuously. Not just looking at the community saying ‘oh, hey I helped you, we’re done, see you later,'” Templeton said.
Think Impact’s executive director, Saul Garlick, has a vision for the future of America.
“With the situation in Africa only getting worse, we need to invest in the next generation of change makers,” Garlick said in a press release. “Think Impact’s philosophy is to develop America’s next generation of CEOs, policy makers, international entrepreneurs and philanthropists who personally understand the potential for development from within local communities and can create and support new solutions to reduce poverty.”
Templeton completed her eight-week internship and began her love affair with Africa over the summer in Uta, South Africa where she taught in the village’s high school. She found the internship through connections she made with the John Glenn School of Public Affairs with the Washington Academic Internship Program.
“I love to teach in high schools in South Africa,” she said. “Kids, youth in the United States feel like they’re entitled to be taught, where a lot of kids in South Africa are like, ‘I want to learn. Help us make ourselves better.'”
Before she returns to work with the South African youth, Templeton must raise $12,000 by May through fundraising efforts and grants. Having only recently been awarded the fellowship, Templeton, who works three jobs, has not had much time to brainstorm.
“I’ll make it work. I have faith in the fact that I’m following my heart, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, then it will work out,” she said.
Templeton said her first time visiting South Africa was a culture shock.
“The homestead I stayed in was really nice; they were considered upper-class. It was a three bedroom house. They had satellite TV. However, the compound next to us was cooking over an open fire, sharing a tiny hut with five people,” she said. “Most of Africa is like this. People who have jobs are lucky. Seventy percent of Africa is unemployed.”
However, she also said that it was a bigger culture shock to return to the United States.
“You go in expecting to see those things. It’s when you come back that you see that wow, we’re really lucky and really fortunate. The other side of the coin is that they’re much happier than we are. Because they don’t have [the abundance of wealth],” Templeton said. “A lot of them attend church. Their faith is amazing. They put faith before anything else. Before they do something they think about whether or not this going to be good for the community.”
Some of the challenges Templeton will face with “Think Dixie” include communication issues, winning over the trust of the community and overcoming her “American” work ethic.
Sometimes, she said, it is hard to get things done without being “pushy.”
“Being an outsider, being from the United States, you know how quickly you can get things done,” she said. “That’s the cultural differences. You have to be sensitive to that. You don’t want to impose. You don’t want to change them, per se.”
The youth center was constructed before Think Impact became involved with Dixie, but because of corruption with local officials, a struggle for ownership of the land of the community arose, pushing the project to the background. Think Impact is only continuing what the local community had already started.
“I’m basically just there just to guide them,” Templeton said. “In reality, it’s their dream. I’m just there to kind of guide their thinking about what would be best for the youth center. All in all, it’s owned by that community.”
Templeton advises students who wish to get involved to check out the Web site, thinkimpact.org, and fill out the online application. She said she is also available to speak about Think Impact to anyone who wants to listen. Individuals interested in learning more or contributing to “Think Dixie” can reach Templeton directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting involved with Think Impact helped her discover where she wants to go in life, Templeton said. She is coming to terms with the fact that a career in development is not always a financially lucrative path, but it certainly is satisfying.
“Granted it is important that I can pay my bills,” she said. “[But] my heart is really is in this.”