Two UNT international studies students will spend part of their winter break visiting Sierra Leone in a Youth Ambassador trip sponsored by Global Youth Partnership for Africa.
The Global Youth Partnership for Africa, or GYPA, is a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that has a goal of fundamentally changing the way Americans understand and engage with Africa. GYPA accomplishes this by fostering relationships between accomplished and emerging youth leaders in Africa and the United States, taking American students to African nations in the summer and in January as Youth Ambassadors for Peace and Development.
During the trips, the students explore the political, economic and social successes as well as the challenges facing the nation they are visiting, meeting the nation's leaders in government and civil society as well as representatives from international non-governmental organizations who are experts in African development. Students must apply to be accepted in the Youth Ambassador program, with 15 students in the nation chosen for each trip. Each student must pay $3,000 to participate in the trip.
Lindsey Bengfort, a junior international studies major from Sanger, and Hanna Schwing, a junior international studies major from Spring, will travel to Sierra Leone on Africa's west coast Jan. 1-16 to examine the role of youth in post-conflict reconstruction. One of the world's poorest nations, Sierra Leone is recovering from a nine-year civil war that resulted in increased poverty, bad governance, corruption, massive unemployment and disillusioned youth.
During the trip, Bengfort, Schwing and the other 13 Youth Ambassadors will speak with specialists on post-conflict reconstruction, visit one of Sierra Leone's diamond mines, tour an HIV/AIDS clinic, participate in panel discussions with Sierra Leone natives at the nation's University of Freetown, and tour the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
Bengfort says she wanted to apply for the Youth Ambassador program to "experience the culture and spirit" of Sierra Leone's citizens.
"They've experienced so much destruction and pain, but they also have a unique ability to have hope for a better future," she says.
This semester, Bengfort and Schwing started a UNT student organization, Africanist United. The organization brings speakers to campus to discuss issues facing African nations.
"In Africanist United, we want to show that Africa is not a big scary place. The preconceived notion for many is that it is terrible, but in reality, most of its people are wonderful," Bengfort says.
Schwing says the organization, which has about 20 active members, "gets youth involved with what's going on in Africa."
In October, Bengfort and Schwing helped to organize the first GuluWalk in Dallas, which raises money to support children in northern Uganda. As many as 40,000 children walk from their rural villages into the town of Gulu and other urban centers each night to sleep in relative safety and avoiding abduction by the Lord's Resistance Army for use in the country's 20-year civil war. Gulu Walks now take place in 82 cities across the globe on a designated day.
Schwing, who is earning a minor in peace studies, says she's looking forward to not only learning about post-conflict resolution in Sierra Leone, but also "meeting other students and youth with similar goals and interests in Africa."
"I'm really interested in seeing a presentation on discrimination against women and the panel discussion on microfinance. I think many of Sierra Leone's economic problems can be traced to the fact that women have very little economic power," she says.
Bengfort is also a member of UNT's Model International Organization, which is dedicated to adding to students' knowledge about international relations, comparative politics, foreign affairs, diplomacy, global disputes, political economy and international organizations. The organization sponsors guest lecturers and cultural events, and members attend simulated international conferences.
After graduating from UNT in May 2009, Bengfort plans to work in Africa before moving to a U.S. governmental or United Nations job focusing on African development.
Schwing will graduate from UNT in December 2008. She plans to work for a nonprofit organization in the area of women's rights, HIV/AIDS or refugees, preferably in Africa.
UNT News Service Press Release
Nancy Kolsti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.