The 19 year old Rebecca Kuntz from Chicago is in love with Africa. She spent her summer after graduating high school in Ghana, West Africa volunteering with Light for Children, a non profit focused on vulnerable and HIV positive children in the area. In spring 2012 she spent 3 months in Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania living with families, volunteering and learning Swahili during a college study with Carpe Diem education. Rebecca also worked as an intership for What Took You so Long Foundation, a team dedicated to filming grassroots NGO’s , untold stories and unsung heroes in some of the most remote corners of the globe. Right now she’s working on an education center with Light for Children in Ghana. She loves kids and she wants to create a safe and fun environment for kids to be kids.
I spoke with Rebecca about her experiences in Africa and the major problem of hunger in the area.
– How did you become an activist in Africa?
People always ask me how I got involved with Africa and I always tell them «One day I took a leap…a big leap, and I haven’t looked back ever since.» I decided to spend my summer after graduating high school in Ghana, West Africa volunteering with Light for Children, a non profit focused on vulnerable and HIV positive children in the area. I spent 3 months in Ghana living with a local host family, running a sexual assault prevention program, teaching at a free summer school, working in orphanages, seeking sponsorship for HIV positive children, filming and photographing, producing my own documentary, and most of all, falling in love with Africa. I fell in love with the people, culture, stories, struggles, smiles, laughs, and especially some very special children. When I stepped onto the plane leaving Ghana I felt as if I was flying back to some strange and unknown place. I was leaving home. I was leaving my precious children and the country I loved. I flew back to the US and started college and decided the school I was at wasn’t the right one for me. I decided I wanted to transfer to a new school in the fall but didn’t want to waste a semester doing nothing. My heart needed to be back in Africa, so I decided to do a college gap semester trip with Carpe Diem Education. I spent 3 months in Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania living with families, volunteering, learning Swahili, and solidifying my passion and love for Africa. I always knew Africa was my forever home after the trip to Ghana. Right now I’m working on an education center with Light for Children in Ghana. It will be a computer/internet lab, library, and community center. I want to create a safe and fun environment for kids to be kids. They need a space where they can grow, learn, develop, create, and have a space to come and relax. I also am an intern for the Pan-African Association in Chicago which is an organization which aids African refugees who are resettled to Chicago. Africa encompasses almost every aspect of my life and is something I know I will love for the rest of my life.
– Tell me about the most powerful experience during your internship for What Took You So Long
An internship with the WTYSL team is nothing like a 9-5 internship in a cubicle with overhead lighting and loud coworkers. I started interning at WTYSL during the summer of my junior year of high school at a time I was just learning about the documentary film world as well as the humanitarian and social issues that shake our earth. They welcomed me onto their small but growing team and we grew from there. At the time they were working on a documentary about camels and camel cheese and I helped research, solidify travel plans, find accommodation, and learn just how amazing camels are. I think the most powerful experience was just simply seeing everything come together. I was based in the US and still in high school while they were traveling all over Europe, Asia, and Africa having amazing experiences. Although I really wanted to be traveling with them I loved being the go to person when things needed to get done. One day I could be researching a camel festival in India and the next day they were getting on a bus on their way there. I know one day I’ll travel and have adventures with the team, but until then we’ll have Skype meetings, texts from around the globe, and constant emails back and forth about whats to come next.
– What would you say was your greatest achievement during that time?
My internship never really had an end date. I still am technically «interning» to this date, but now its less of an internship and more of a relationship. When I’m really busy with school or traveling in Africa, I do a little less work with WTYSL, but when times are slow, I say «bring on the work» and they will send over some things to do. I think my greatest achievement has been simply the friendship we’ve created. I always say that WTYSL started my love of doc films, Africa, and travel. Sebastian Lindstrom, co-producer of WTYSL, also founded Light for Children Ghana. He told me about the opportunity and the trip, and my passion for Africa ensued. Everything ebbed and flowed from there and beautiful friendships, connections, journeys, and adventures have happened and I know will happen in the future.
– Starvation is a major problem in Africa. For decades now, the so called developed countries are sending help. What do you think is done incorrectly and people in Africa are still starving?
I think a lot of the problem is with the aid being sent to Africa. Countries are dumping food aid all over because they see the «starving African children». This food aid being dumped undercuts local farmers who cannot compete and are driven out of their jobs and into poverty. People see free food and don’t think they have to grow their own food anymore. It creates a dependency and the hand out mentality. Why work if they’re going to give it to me? The food is shipped from the US and brought on cargo over to Africa. If you want to feed the starving why not buy locally and support the economy and the people there? I believe in empowering the locals by providing them with the skills and trainings to help them succeed. This doesn’t mean giving them an expensive piece of equipment that they don’t know how to use and will frequently break, its about teaching them sustainable farming methods to help set them up for the future.
– Do you believe that hunger is finally a solvable problem?
Hunger is at the root of a lot of problems. How is a child supposed to learn if their belly isn’t full? How are they supposed to focus in a classroom if they are constantly thinking how hungry they are? How are they supposed to run and play if they’re worried where their next meal will come from? Hunger is a huge, overwhelming problem in our world. But small steps and achievable goals can make it happen. Let’s work from the ground up.
Read more stories about Rebecca on her personal website http://www.together-we-are.com/