Brittany Franck (MA 2015), a former Sié Fellow who received a two-year, full-tuition scholarship, exemplifies the high caliber student the Josef Korbel School attracts. Brittany completed the MA degree in international development and the graduate certificate in global health affairs.
Like many Josef Korbel School students, Brittany started her program shortly after working abroad. In her case, she completed a term of service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia where she worked at a school for the blind. “There were about 100 children living at the school,” explained Brittany. She discovered a passion for working with people with disabilities. “It just clicked; that was really the job I’m meant to do.”
One experience sticks out in Brittany’s mind. Along with a nurse and a leader from the local Women With Disabilities Association, Brittany paved the way for girls with disabilities to take part in an annual cultural ceremony. “In the region where I lived, they have this cultural ceremony called Ashenda,” Brittany said. “It’s basically a celebration of women. Once a year, the women go out in beautiful, traditional clothes with a particular hairdo, and they dance in the street for five days. But they never invited girls with disabilities to participate. They assumed that they wouldn’t be able to perform in a circle, and that they didn’t have the money to buy the proper dress.”
She added, “We asked for the girls with disabilities to be included in the official Ashenda program and were told the only way they can do it is if they have the proper dresses. We went around our community and collected money from everyone, and ended up having enough money to buy every girl their first traditional dress. A woman from the disabilities association donated her time to braid their hair. For the first time, these girls danced in the full performance, in front of the entire town. Everyone was amazed.”
After completing her service Brittany returned to Ethiopia and found that this community continued to include girls with disabilities. “This time there were 25 girls, deaf and blind, doing this together. Several local government representatives gave their own money to help them participate. This is really the way that change needs to be made, with the community investing their own resources and believing that these girls can do this. One of my fondest memories is dancing with these girls in this performance.”
Today, Brittany is completing a PhD degree in medical anthropology at the University of Arizona. She plans to return to Ethiopia to conduct her dissertation research, and she hopes to eventually move there to either teach or work with a health related nongovernmental organization.