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Worcester, MA, United States, 2009/11/09 - A service learning trip to Africa was a life-changing experience for a 20-year-old pre-veterinary student. She returned to give back at her college, in her community, and to the animal welfare clinic in Africa, where she worked - Becker.edu.
Imagine sharing a stage with one of the foremost experts in the field you are working hard to enter. That is exactly where Becker College senior pre-veterinary student Brittany de Wolf recently found herself, recounting her experiences with “Vets in the Wild” in Africa, following a lecture by renowned wildlife conservationist Dr. Wouter van Hoven.
De Wolf described arduous outings, including the week that she and 15 other veterinary students and their expedition leader had to forego soap and other toiletry products to successfully capture and relocate a herd of 100 impala.
Drawn to wildlife and zoo medicine, de Wolf made the trip to Africa to earn service learning credit with the rigorous EcoLife Expeditions program run by van Hoven, a professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Back in the classroom at Becker, de Wolf shares the knowledge she gained.
In addition to learning wildlife conservation, de Wolf spent several weeks in July and August tutoring poor children and helping to provide free pet care in rural African villages with the non-profit CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare). These encounters changed her life, she said.
“I realized how lucky we are, having the luxury to care for our animals the way we do. Some children walked eight miles for a new collar for their dog,” said de Wolf.
Upon returning home to Waterford, Conn. de Wolf said she was “disoriented.” She discovered that having opinions and making mistakes were also luxuries in African villages where people live on garbage dumps and unemployment is at 44 percent.
It was educating children, bringing them food and clothing, and developing a deeper appreciation for human and animal life that ignited in de Wolf a desire to make a difference back at home. Now in her senior year, she tutors young people enrolled in the African Community Education Program (ACE) three times a week. Based at Worcester’s Elm Park Community School, ACE provides academic tutoring, arts, athletics, and social experiences to children who are refugees or immigrants from Africa.
Many students in the ACE program come from war-torn countries and never had formal schooling before, according to co0founder and executive director Kaska Yawo. Children describe better lives in America where they play sports and dream of becoming a doctor, police officer, a lawyer, a writer. One young man said he just wanted to “help other people.”
Julia Kilgore, ACE office manager, said that de Wolf is providing much –needed administrative support (after recent budget cuts), as well as mentoring students. After her first week at ACE, Brittany successfully recruited another Becker student to join as a mentor.
In addition to tackling one of the most demanding degree programs at the college, de Wolf also works as a resident assistant and serves on the Presidential Search Committee at Becker. She is applying to veterinary and graduate schools.
As she navigates her last year of college, the lessons de Wolf learned in Africa are still vivid. She coordinated a recycling initiative in her dormitory and a campus dance to raise funds for CLAW. And on a late October evening, she found herself on a stage next to a renowned wildlife conservationist, with photos of elephants, zebras, dogs, and the happy faces of rural African village children looming behind her, fielding questions about her experiences.