In Nairobi, Kenya, Amelia Vogler has dealt with spotty internet connections, missed holidays at home and a mugging at knifepoint. But there was one thing that particularly bothered her: missing out on March Madness.
Vogler, WC '11, is working on communications projects at the regional office of Christian World Services in Nairobi, Kenya. CWS is a non-governmental organization that works to end poverty and injustice throughout the world by supporting communities, humanitarian relief and by campaigning against the causes of global poverty, according to the CWS website.
Vogler is more than halfway through her year of volunteering, during which she has been reporting, taking photographs, writing and interviewing. She hopes to also begin working on documentaries.
Vogler focused on sports journalism during her time at Richmond, including two years as the sports editor for The Collegian. She had considered working for the Washington Post or ESPN, but she was open to working for newspapers, magazines or television.
"I guess I have always just liked meeting new people ... it kind of came natural to me to do something that involves people all the time," Vogler said.
But she knew she didn't want to start a nine-to-five job right after college. She considered the Peace Corps, but was hesitant about the two-year commitment. Vogler found her one-year opportunity with CWS more appealing. She said she had now realized that a year goes by really fast, which was bittersweet.
Vogler was comfortable with volunteering in Africa because she considers travel to be one of her hobbies.
"I guess I've always been into travel, and I think that comes from just being exposed to travel at a very young age," she said.
When Vogler was young, her mother worked for US Airways, which allowed the family to fly stand-by for free. Her childhood bedroom decor included National Geographic covers collaged on the door. And during college, she studied abroad at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
Her friend Lauren Camuso, a senior, said that when Vogler first told her she was going to Africa, she was really proud of her for doing something different and meaningful, as well as having an adventure.
Vogler said she most enjoyed being able to see and show other people a different side of Kenya and East Africa.
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"Most people just kind of think my life is like 'The Lion King' and sometimes it is, but it's not like 'The Lion King' at all when I'm at work," she said.
Vogler has been out on safari, but she also enjoys the local transportation, or matatus. She said the 14-passenger vans were similar to really scary clown cars with rap music blaring, packed with a variety of people and sometimes animals.
Along with the moments she enjoys, she said Nairobi could be dangerous and difficult. Vogler said being white was difficult in certain situations, especially when street children came up to her and asked for money. As a volunteer, Vogler only receives a stipend for living expenses. She tries to carry snacks to give the kids instead.
"It's frustrating because just because I'm white doesn't mean I have money. I have a very strict budget and am living within my means," she said.
Life in Nairobi is not without its dangers, especially for westerners, including kidnappings, bombings and muggings, but Vogler chooses to continue on with her daily work and activities.
Although the differences between her lifestyle in the U.S. and in Kenya are significant, she said she did not miss America a lot because she could get many of the things she would miss from America in Nairobi, including shopping, movie theaters and restaurants.
She said she did miss being able to attend Homecoming, but she and her friends back home knew that Africa was the right place for her to be.
Camuso said many of Vogler's friends were in the Washington, D.C. area and Vogler might have initially been nervous about the time commitment, especially because at Richmond there was pressure to get a good job right out of school and start making money.
"[Vogler's volunteer work] is just so alternative and not focused on the monetary aspects, but just really getting out there and helping other people, and being able to gain life experiences and personal growth," Camuso said.
Vogler will leave Kenya in August or September 2012. She said she would like to continue doing communications for an NGO or living abroad, preferably in east Africa. She would also look for openings at National Geographic or a large sports news outlet. Her current job made her interested in continuing NGO work, but she said if there was an opening at ESPN tomorrow, she would have to take it.
"Because as much as I love the Barclay's Premier Football League, I need my March Madness, and I need my American football," she said.
Contact reporter Christine Wengloski at firstname.lastname@example.org
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