Posted by: Katherine Primus | January 18, 2010

Supporting Service In Africa

Two years ago we began working on what we know today as the Open Mind for Africa in honor of Dr. Louise Shoemaker, Dean Emerita of the University of Pennsylvania School Of Social Work.  Dr. Shoemaker has spent a significant part of her life working on behalf of the people of Africa.  Working for systemic change, she guided the University of Ibadan in Nigeria as it established its social work degree program.  She also lived out her ideals by opening her home to two Sudanese refugees who became part of her family.  A long-time supporter of the Christian Association, she is a wonderful example of someone who has lived with an open mind and working faith.

This program, named in her honor, builds on the Christian Association’s foundation of promoting open minds and working faith by supporting experiential learning opportunities for University of Pennsylvania Masters of Social Work (MSW) students and Penn upperclassmen by providing travel grants in Africa.

In our inaugural year, 2009, we received over ten applications from interested students.  Applicants submitted reference letters, resumes, and were interviewed by members of the Open Mind for Africa Advisory Board.  In addition, applicants were asked to share what promoting open minds and working faith meant to them and how their proposed African experience would relate to these ideas.

We awarded four grants to the following students who answered this question in this way:

  • Heather Curl (EdD ’12), who traveled to Zambia to work in both a community and government school providing professional development to teachers, believes that “Central to this [promoting open minds and working faith] is a respect of others’ lived experiences, and the understanding that much personal growth can happen from learning from another’s life through engaged listening and direct ction in response to learning.
  • Edouard Faustin (Design ’11) traveled to Ghana to work with the Yonso Project.  Eddie shared from Romans 8:28 and stated he “firmly believe[s] that we are called to use our talents and gifts that have been bestowed upon us by our creator to do things that promote goodwill in the world and to be a blessing to others.
  • George Werner (MSW ’09) returned to his home country of Liberia to be of service to the social work students at the Mother Pattern School of Nursing and Social Work in Monrovia.  He believes “that the quality of one’s presence promotes open minds and working faith” as well as “allow[ing] and enabl[ing] learners to reflect and consider the implications of what they are learning.
  • Nse-Abasi Umoh (C’09, Design ’11), who is currently in Nigeria to work with Social and Economic Rights Action Center (SERAC) shared the scripture from the book of James about faith with no deeds.  She believes “as someone who strives to be a Christian in the fullest sense, it is imperative that I submit to this mandate to accompany my faith with action and respond to, what I believe is my calling to spend this year in Nigeria working with SERAC.”

Look for reports from each of the recipients on their experiences in the coming issues of the InProgress.  We will be releasing the application for the 2010 cycle of travel grants shortly.  Please check our website to download the application when it is available.

In addition to the travel grants we will have another series of African dinners in the spring.  These dinners called Eat Your Way Through Africa, raise awareness of Africa, her culture and her issues.  We will feature the cuisine, performing arts, culture, and contemporary issues of Zambia (Heather Curl will be presenting), Cameroon and Sudan on the first Thursday of February, March, and April, respectively.  Please rsvp at


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