Branch Out Alternative Breaks

Creating a community of active & educated individuals dedicated to the pursuit of social justice

Just the Beginning

by Casey Douma

“If you think you’re too small to make a difference try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito” –African Proverb.

I discovered this proverb before my trip with AIDSTanzania and it really came to light for me during this experience. Sometimes you feel so small and so ineffectual in the face of such grave challenges. In these moments you just have to force yourself to reflect and understand that huge, sweeping changes are unrealistic and that these trips are just the beginning.

Dr. Seuss in the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” These trips are a part of our journeys to become active and global citizens, sometimes it’s not always about the first trip. It’s being able to look forward to the next trips, and creating sustainable change.

Something I thought about a lot during my first trip with AIDSTanzania was how to define the root causes of HIV within the Imbaseni village. It is so difficult to isolate this disease, which is often swept under the rug. It can be difficult to bring HIV into the light because it is not widely discussed. Individuals who are HIV positive are still blamed and cannot discuss these health issues in the public arena. Something that became painfully obvious to me was the differential in women and men, even with how they learn about HIV. Men can ask questions and not be judged but women have to fight to ask questions. It is difficult because HIV, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, predominately affects women, so shouldn’t women be the ones asking the questions? This has created a new focus for me that I hope we can continue with the next few trips; how can HIV/AIDs education empower women?

This trip has created an entirely new academic focus for me, I have always been interested in public health and health related topics but through this trip I have been able to see how many things make up a health crisis. And HIV within this community is a health crisis; everyone is either infected or affected by HIV/AIDs. It is so interesting to discover how health is interconnected with everything.

Of course I loved this trip for so many reasons, my awesome team, and the wonderful community I got to experience; but for me this trip was so valuable because I knew it was just the beginning. I have the next three years to refine the trip and plan with the community to create a more lasting and sustainable change.



Author: Melody Porter

Hello blogosphere! I am a long-time fan of human connection. I used to say that my major in college (above my actual political science & religion double major) was in friendships. Conversations over long meals or late nights on dorm hallway floors have been transformative in my life, and it only makes sense to me to dip my toe into new ways of opening up conversation here. I have worked at William and Mary since August 2008, and am Associate Director in the Office of Community Engagement. I spend my time fostering student leadership through alternative breaks. Doing so lets me fulfill what I understand my calling to be about: working for social justice in the world, and equipping others to do so with skill, sensitivity and great love. I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Religion from Emory University, and then served as a long-term volunteer for three years, beginning a job development program in Philadelphia and working with preschool children in Johannesburg, South Africa. I earned a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology in 2001, with a focus in religious education. I managed a nonprofit family literacy program with immigrant and refugee families, and then served as Associate Minister at First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, working in areas of social justice and community development, and directing an after school program that served more than 100 high school students. Then, I returned to Emory to serve for three years as director of Volunteer Emory, a student-led department for community service. I believe in the power of mutual connection and service to transform lives and create social change. I also love cheese fries.

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