Founded in 1999, the Princeton in Africa Fellowship (PiAF) offers emerging young leaders the opportunity to spend one year embedded at one of a variety of organizations across the African continent. Fellows work in fields such as business and economic development, education and youth capacity building, community health, and environmental conservation, among many others. The program is open to graduating seniors and young alumni from any accredited college or university in the U.S. The Fellowship provides housing, a living stipend, medical insurance, a pre-departure orientation, and a mid-year retreat in Africa.
We talked to Samantha Mendoza, a 2017-2018 Princeton in Africa Fellow with the Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania in Monduli, Tanzania, to learn more about the program and get some application tips.
1. What inspired you to apply for the Princeton in Africa Fellowship?
As a journalism student passionate about global education equality, I was interested in contributing my multimedia storytelling skills to the growth of an international education non-profit. I had previously spent a summer studying sustainable development in East Africa, and a Princeton in Africa Fellowship seemed like the perfect post-graduate opportunity for me to continue exploring some of the questions I had grappled with about the rhetoric of aid organizations on the continent while immersing myself in a community-based development model. I was also looking for a really hands-on experience that would allow me to grow professionally and meaningfully contribute to advancing the mission of an NGO.
2. What have been some of the most eye-opening moments during your fellowship?
Working at a school in rural Tanzania that had a strong emphasis on girls empowerment allowed me to witness firsthand the societal road blocks so many young women around the globe face when trying to pursue an education. The girls in our community had to overcome significant challenges in their daily lives – like the expectation to get married right after primary school – in order to follow their dreams and attend secondary school. Seeing them then use their education to become mentors and role models in their communities, challenging expectations of what girls can and should accomplish and taking the time to conduct workshops and trainings with youth in their villages, proved the power of community-based, community-collaborative development.
One of my most rewarding projects in my time as a fellow was working as a Life Skills facilitator for 8th grade girls. In weekly small-group sessions, I provided a supportive and open environment to discuss topics affecting their daily lives, including domestic violence, female genital mutilation, sexual and reprodutive health, and body autonomy. These dialogues allowed them to feel comfortable discussing taboo subjects in order to best keep themselves and their communities safe. I was so proud to see so many of them express how discussing these issues made them feel more confident and capable of creating community-wide change.
3. What tips would you give others applying to the Princeton in Africa Fellowship?
In my experience, PiAf is looking for someone with concrete, transferable skills who is willing and able to dive headfirst into a fast-paced professional environment. When applying, be sure to really thoroughly read through the list of placement sites and the roles they have available. Be ready to make an argument for why your background and experience makes you the perfect candidate to fill the position. For example, my background in journalism made me a perfect candidate for communications roles at a number of PiAf placement sites because I would be able to jump into social media, photo, video, and storytelling projects in order to advance the mission of the organization. If selected for an interview, be ready with your Top 3 placement site picks with a strong argument for each one!
Samantha Mendoza was a 2017-2018 Princeton in Africa Fellow with the Indigenous Education Foundation of Tanzania in Monduli, Tanzania. During her fellowship, she managed a communications calendar, led a communications team, and spearheaded all donor relations projects. She regularly photographed and interviewed all 250+ students on campus to share their stories with donors and supporters and eventually became the school volleyball coach and EFL instructor. Samantha continued working for her host organization for another two years after the completion of her fellowship. She is currently the Storyteller in Residence at Building Tomorrow, a locally-led education NGO in Uganda, and was previously a Fulbright Scholar in Chennai, India. She has a BA in English from St. Edward’s University and an MA in Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism from Syracuse University.
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