WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Henry Musa Kpaka ’09 has been awarded a prestigious fellowship to attend the Public Policy & International Affairs Program at Princeton University this summer. The stated goal of the summer program is to help prepare students for graduate study and then careers in public policy and international affairs. The program achieves this by providing a mix of academic course work, lectures and off-site visits. In the seven weeks he will spend at the Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, Kpaka said he hopes to gain insight that will help him to realize his career goal of continuing to help people in developing countries.

Kpaka, a Davis UCW scholar from Sierra Leone who attended school in Singapore , already has a working knowledge of programming in developing countries. With a $10,000 grant he received from the 2007 Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace, he created the “Youth Empowerment in Sierra Leone,” project, a three-day national empowerment workshop for young people in his home country.

“My long-term focus is on development,” said Kpaka. “I’m really focused on helping people in developing countries and I got that by growing up in Sierra Leone and seeing how the affect of the war eroded any developments that would have helped my household and the nation as a whole.” Rounding out his perspective, he said, were the experiences he had volunteering at a hospital in Singapore and with a youth group in Kenya before attending Whitman.

The civil war that wracked Sierra Leone for 11 years and ended in 2002 had a devastating influence on the young people of the country, leaving them without hope or direction, said Kpaka. With his 2007 summer project he wanted to instill in young people that they had the ability and the responsibility to make positive changes in their country. The success of his youth empowerment program showed him the possibilities.

The 167 youths that attended were each encouraged to create a community service project, with funding going to the winning project. The summer 2007 winning initiative was for a malaria prevention project, but there were many more projects that Kpaka would like to finance in the future, including plans for road safety programs and education for girls in Sierra Leone .

Toward that end, he created the campus “Youth Development Initiative” group which now consists of a core group of Whitman students who are raising money for a return trip to Sierra Leone this summer where they plan to finance another 14 projects. Long-term plans for the YDI at Whitman include a continuing and growing presence on campus that creates more programs in Sierra Leone and possibly in other developing countries, said Kpaka.

“I would like to show young people in Sierra Leone that they can make a difference in their own communities,” said Kpaka, who added that although he knows that the YDI is a substantial and important program, “I still need to get a firmer grasp in order to continue doing this work effectively. That’s what I’m really hoping to get at the PPIA.” He is considering returning to Princeton for graduate school and earning perhaps an advanced degree in international relations, or a masters in development combined with a law degree.

In the mean time, he’s not slowing down. The seven-week Princeton program ends Aug. 1. He and several YDI members will fly to Sierra Leone on Aug. 4, continue the work of last summer’s project and award 14 grants of $500 each to youth-inspired projects before returning on Aug. 24 in time to begin classes at Whitman on Sept. 1. The YDI is continuing fundraising efforts, in order to fund its ambitious plan.

Lenel Parish
Whitman College News Service
(509) 527-5156