Windhoek, Republic of Namibia – In just a few short weeks in this nation in southern Africa, Gannon University student Lexie Mastro has witnessed extreme poverty, substandard living conditions and families who have been devastated by AIDS and HIV. In the class of 23 students she is teaching – the children are 4 and 5 years old – 19 have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. The staggering number of orphans has been “the most shocking, heartbreaking, life-altering” aspect of her experience in Namibia, Mastro says.
“These kids need more help than I can provide in one or even 100 class sessions; however, just a hug and a little bit of loving… will have to do,” Mastro wrote in her blog, which can be read here: http://lexieinnamibia.wordpress.com/.
Since late May, Mastro has been in Africa participating in an internship with Hope Initiatives SA – Namibia. Hope Initiatives is focused on intervention efforts for hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia’s squatter settlements, which are some of the hardest hit in the region in terms of HIV/AIDS.
And, for many in Namibia, basic needs such as food, housing and education are lacking in part or altogether. In her blog, Mastro noted how some of the children don’t have nearly enough to eat and lack necessities such as shoes and clothing beyond, perhaps, one outfit.
Spending time with the children, and witnessing their plight, has profoundly impacted her. “These kids have stolen my heart and are changing my life,” she blogged. “I am so thankful for this experience and what I am taking away from it. The experience has been heartwarming and wrenching and inspiring.”
Mastro is doing her part to make a difference. Her internship includes teaching English to the children.
Mastro will be in Namibia until early July. She is participating in the internship through the Social Change and Development in Southern Africa program offered through the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minn. Her internship, and a course she is taking, “The Development Process: Southern Africa,” also were coordinated by Gannon University’s International Student Office – Study Abroad program.
Mastro’s experience also was made possible by the Robert J. Christenson Study Abroad Quasi-Endowed Scholarship at Gannon University. The scholarship is designed to help students who participate in study abroad programs.
At Gannon, Mastro is a physician assistant major and a member of the women’s soccer team. She is the daughter of Debbi and Ray Mastro and is a graduate of Mars Area High School.
Students who want to embrace the Gannon University mission of service to one’s neighbor through an education abroad program should visit the University’s International Student Office or contact the office at 814-871-7015.