Mary Beth Duda, Pomona, a student at the University of Kansas, is spending her summer abroad, but not just to see sights and enjoy new cultures. Her main objective: helping those in need through an internship with the international non-profit organization Self Help Africa in Dublin, Ireland.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly how to go about it,” Duda said, noting the novel “What is the What” by Dave Eggers brought Africa to the forefront of her thinking. “The book is a biography that follows the journey of a small African boy into adulthood, and on to America. The book disturbed me, because it made me feel powerless to help people like this boy.”
Duda jumped at the chance to work with Self Help Africa when the opportunity arose, she said.
“The mission of the organization is to provide the tools and education that families in Sub-Saharan Africa need in order to create a sustainable agricultural economy in their communities,” Duda said. “Essentially, Self Help Africa is helping the people to fight hunger and poverty, and change the future of Africa from the roots up.”
Duda said she will be serving as a communications intern and has just finished her first week with the organization and already has begun working on several projects.
Her favorite project so far has been dealing with raw footage taken by members of Self Help Africa when they conducted field work in Malawi, Zambia, and Ethiopia, she said.
“I get to watch the videos, and transcribe the interviews conducted with people from the villages,” Duda said. “Once in writing, the communications team can take those stories and implement them into the website or other publications by the organization. It is so powerful to peak into the lives of these individuals — to see where they live and who they love, and to hear how they laugh. It’s incredible.”
“I never imagined I would have the opportunity to help people who were this passionate about making a real difference in Africa,” Duda said. “But they are doing just that, and on a daily basis.”
FROM FRANKLIN COUNTY
Duda grew up in Pomona and graduated from West Franklin High School in 2009. She’s studying international and global studies at KU.
Her early years in Franklin County inspired her to seek to help others, she said.
“I grew up next to a narrow dirt road, in a small yellow house surrounded on three sides by Franklin County corn fields,” She said. “My parents always encouraged me to read stories, to spend time outside, and to dream. I loved the corn fields, but I dreamt of seeing the world.”
Duda loves her home back in Franklin County, she said, but she feels a need to help those outside of her comfort zone.
“Now I’m off seeing a new piece of the world, and it’s every bit as exciting as I imagined,” she said. “My experience has been full of surprises. Flying nine hours in an airplane to Ireland, and then seeing videos of corn fields in Africa that look just like the ones back home in Kansas, makes the world seem like a much smaller place than I originally envisioned. I love it.”
Although Duda will be working to help those in Africa, she currently is stationed in Dublin.
Duda previously left the United States once when she visited Palomas, a small city in Mexico one mile across the border, she said, but Dublin will be her first extended stay outside of the U.S.
The trip wasn’t as stressful as Duda imagined, and she was fortunate to meet one of her colleagues on the plane, she said.
“The flight from Chicago to Dublin was about nine and a half hours long,” she said. “The whole time I was just so excited to be on my way to Dublin. I made friends with the guy sitting next to me, who happened to also be a KU student headed to Dublin for the same reason I was.”
Duda is receiving a “double dose of cultural exposure” because of the work for people in Africa and her daily life in Dublin, she said.
“I’m seeing beautiful places in Ireland that until now only existed on postcards,” Duda said. “I’m meeting extremely kind Irish people who are always excited to tell me about their love for ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and I’m learning about their quirky way of life here on the Emerald Isle. At the same time, I’m studying the life stories of individuals in Africa — stories of their struggle, optimism, perseverance, and success. It’s safe to say that being in another country has already proven to be a fantastic learning experience for me. But I do miss chips and salsa.”
Duda noticed the cultural differences in Ireland immediately, she said.
“There are lots of little things that have confused me. The names of things, for instance. ‘chips’ are fries, and ‘crisps’ are chips. ‘Salad’ applies to any vegetable or pasta or concoction of both,” Duda said.
Although Duda already knew about differences in Irish driving, she still was shocked to see cars driving on an unfamiliar side of the road, she said.
But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t prepped on how the Irish conduct themselves.
“When I arrived in Dublin, I was briefed by an Irish lady on the fact that Irish people like to beat around the bush, and they don’t like to promote themselves in a direct manner,” she said. “I saw a great example of this when I passed a pizza parlor downtown that claimed it had ‘Probably the Best Pizza in Dublin.’”
She also was informed that some people in Ireland do not like having schedules.
“This became apparent at SHA, when I asked my supervisor at what time people generally took their lunch. He said, ‘At noon, or one, or two. Or half-past noon, half-past one, half-past two.’ Basically, do what you want,” she said.
Duda was surprised by the number of people who would help foreigners like herself if they appeared to be lost, she said.
“This didn’t happened to me, but I still loved the story: One of my friends was waiting at a bus stop when she got caught in a healthy Irish downpour,” Duda said. “She would have been drenched had it not been for an Irish girl who ran up and shared her umbrella. The Irish girl’s bus came first, and she insisted that my friend keep the umbrella. There are a lot of really nice people here.”
Duda is sharing her experience on Facebook, with a page called “Mary Beth’s Ireland Adventure,” for those back home who want to follow her along the way.
“I am so excited about this experience and I want to be able to share it with everyone,” she said. “Visit my page, like it, ask me questions, give me suggestions, everything.”