Kathleen Diina (FCLC ’02) is going to the other side of the world to make a point: There are still Americans committed to social service. She is one of a handful of volunteers selected by the competitive Jesuit Volunteers International program to teach high school in Tanzania for two years. “Going to Tanzania to teach is more of a graduate experience than taking a class to learn about the world,” said Diina, an international/intercultural studies major. “I thought it would be the best thing for two years to live in solidarity with the people I want to be serving.” Diina began her Fordham career as a political science major bound for law school, but was lured into international/intercultural studies by her penchant for social justice, travel and child advocacy.
International/intercultural studies is an interdisciplinary program that offers a concentration in a geographical or cultural area and focuses on understanding international and intercultural relations from historical and comparative perspectives. “Freshman year, I decided I liked traveling, service work and learning about other cultures,” Diina said. “I knew I wanted to do something with world social justice issues.” During her sophomore year, while reading a campus bulletin board, she discovered Fordham’s Global Outreach program, which provides students an opportunity to travel domestically and internationally to perform service work for various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). In 2000, Diina spent two weeks in Kingston, Jamaica, working with the Sisters of Charity in a home for the destitute and dying.
While there, she also tutored children at St. Peter Claver School. “It was a very powerful experience. I didn’t realize the problems that existed there and it made me really angry. I felt I had to do something about this,” said Diina, who learned that 75 percent of the blind hospice patients where she volunteered had lost their sight to cataracts. “That wouldn’t have happened here.” Upon her return from Jamaica, Diina switched her major to international/intercultural studies and began pursuing other opportunities for travel and service. Through Global Outreach, she traveled to Romania to work with orphans, to Pennsylvania to build homes with Habitat for Humanity and to Guyana to serve in an orphanage and a government home for the elderly.
But it was her trip to Jamaica that really inspired her to apply for a spot with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “[Jamaica] was the springboard,” Diina said. “It was there that I learned more about the IMF, World Bank. I learned there was a whole other aspect of service work. To not be politically aware of your surroundings was to be stupid.” One of the chaperones for the Jamaica trip had been in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and encouraged Diina to explore opportunities there. She applied in January and was accepted. “I wanted to do extended service work because I’d gotten so much from the short-term trips, and I wanted to do this as a career,” Diina said.
She will be one of 10 volunteers in Mwanza, located in northeast Tanzania, a 20-hour drive from Nairobi, Kenya. There, she will teach math and English at Loretta High School, an all-girl’s Jesuit school where most of the students happen to be Muslim. “The educational system is underdeveloped so people will send their kids where they’ll have the best opportunities, despite religion,” said Diina, who will be required to speak Swahili fluently by the end of the first year. Life in Tanzania will be worlds apart from her experience in America. Diina will live with another volunteer in hut near a lake without most modern conveniences. To make the water safe for drinking, she will have to perform an extensive water purification process and will receive electricity only sporadically.
In addition, she will have to ride her bike about a mile to the nearest market and will cook all of her meals. But Diina is inspired by the challenge. “I like to travel and I want to go places, it’s my duty,” said Diina, who will leave for Tanzania in September. “[There are] a lot of negative views of Americans out there, but it’s important that we’re not all stereotyped as cold and heartless multinational organizations. There are people out here who care.”