Local Teen Travels to Namibia and South Africa as Youth Ambassador

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

2008 HERO Youth Ambassadors, including Chopticon graduate Christina Dawson, work on a playground at the Sinegugu Primary School in South Africa. (Photo Courtesy of HERO Youth Ambassador Program)
2008 HERO Youth Ambassadors, including Chopticon graduate Christina Dawson, work on a playground at the Sinegugu Primary School in South Africa. (Photo Courtesy of HERO Youth Ambassador Program)

Chopticon graduate Christina Dawson worked on a humanitarian project this summer in Africa. (Photo Courtesy of HERO Youth Ambassador Program)
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Sept. 11, 2008)—Christina Dawson said she was thumbing through an issue of CosmoGirl magazine one day last year when she ran across an ad for the HERO Youth Ambassador program. When she inquired about it, she was given an application to fill out and instructed to send it in with a short essay.

Christina said she was rather surprised later to learn that she had been selected as one of 20 young students who would travel to Africa for the summer as Youth Ambassadors, taking part in a program in conjunction with the Protecting Futures program, which is set up to help young girls in Africa stay in school. Webisodes of Dawson’s work with others in Africa will be posted on beinggirl.com this fall.

As a youth ambassador, Christina said she participated in activities including classroom construction, installing kitchens for inschool feeding programs, and classroom and recreational activities.

“In Namibia I worked at the Eenhana Youth Resource Center, and in South Africa I was at the Sinegugu Primary School,” she said, adding that she had spent many of her days engaged in physical labor, but that every drop of sweat had been worth it.

“We worked on projects, building houses…and we even taught some classes,” Christina said. When asked about her interaction with children in the region, she said, “the kids were really receptive, and it was really fun to work with them.”

Christina said that there was a language barrier, but she had had interpreters, and she had also learned to communicate with small phrases and hand gestures. “There was a language barrier, but there are gestures that are universal,” she noted.

Christina’s experience in Africa will likely help her as she shapes her career. After graduating from Chopticon High School in 2008, she chose to go to New York after her stint overseas. She is currently studying at Bard College in Upstate New York. “I love it…I’m hoping to study global and international studies with a minor in human rights,” she said.

Such a curriculum may be well informed by her experiences in Africa, but Christina said she is still toying around with different career options as she completes her freshman year in college. “Everything right now is still up in the air though,” she said, laughing.

Christina said that she learned a lot about other cultures while working in Africa, but the most important lesson she learned was about gratitude. “The children there love to share with each other. I’ve never seen anything like it. One kid will come up to a play area and have a chocolate bar and break it into 20 little pieces so everyone can have some,” she said.

“One of the most vivid memories I have was when I was in Sinegugu and we were building a playground,” Christina said, adding that the children in that area had been overjoyed as they watched the project progress. Their reaction to something so commonplace in the United States had moved her. “I learned not to take things for granted,” she said.

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