A personal connection with a disinherited people

War, violence and poverty are driving hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes in sub-Saharan Africa and head north. Europe is the destination of choice for these migrants, but many end up in North Africa living in squalid conditions, often at the mercy of drug dealers and sex traffickers.

Raven Gaddy ’15, a double major in Global Studies and Africana Studies, knew little of this mass migration when she traveled last fall to Rabat, Morocco, to study at the School for International Training (SIT). But she had spent two years at Lehigh studying Arabic, the national language of Morocco. And being African-American, she discovered, would give her at least a superficial connection with many of the people she would meet.

In Rabat, Gaddy took up residence with a host family in the medina—the city’s walled, historic central district. Her family did not speak English, and Gaddy quickly learned that the Moroccan dialect of Arabic differed significantly from what she had studied.

“There was a lot of give and take,” she says, “but we managed.”

At school, Gaddy and the other students were given a choice of topics for their independent study project. Gaddy and a classmate from Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, picked Sub-Saharan Migration. They discovered communities of Africans from Cameroon, Guinea and Nigeria not far from the medina and they spent several weeks talking with them.

Communication was difficult. French, which Gaddy does not speak, was the closest thing to a common language. The students were not allowed to enter the migrant communities at night. During the day, they had to be accompanied by a male guide.

Hoping for a “distant dream”

Gaddy and her classmate completed their independent study project and wrote a report that they have submitted to the online English version of Al-Jazeera, an Arabic language news network based in Qatar.

“The people that we talked to opened up to us,” says Gaddy. “Being black gave us an in with them. And being American helped; the people aspired to be like us.

“We heard horrible stories of rape, forced prostitution, sex trafficking. It seemed these people had left one violent situation only to go on to another violent situation in hopes of getting to a distant dream.”

Many migrant people had left their children with family members in hopes of sending for them after they found a job. But some immigrants ended up staying years in Morocco and were reduced to begging. There were few jobs to be had in the country. Doctors Without Borders, one or two small nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and an organization called The Welcome Center for Migrants provide some support, and the migrants have created several associations of their own.

Gaddy and her classmate heard of many teenage children, both girls and boys, who were being forced into prostitution, but they were not allowed to speak with them. They did interview one migrant woman who had left her child and had become pregnant again after being raped.

“It really is a desperate situation,” says Gaddy. “It’s very hard to hear stories and not be able to do something. Our goal is to make people in the West understand what these people are going through. We have become friends with some of the activists we met there, and we plan to keep tabs on this.”

Gardens for the righteous

Gaddy is no stranger to international travel. While attending Choate Rosemary Hall, a preparatory school in Wallingford, Connecticut, she studied at St. Stephens School in Rome and completed two summer service projects, one in Fiji and one in Costa Rica through a company called Rustic Pathways. At Lehigh, she has traveled twice to Kenya through the Sustainable Development Program, in which she minors.

Last summer, Gaddy worked in Milan, Italy, for Gariwo, an educational charity that is part of a network called Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide. The group organizes educational programs for children and plants gardens based on the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to commemorate victims of genocides and human-rights violations.

“Gariwo tries to create awareness and recognize people who stood up for victims of genocide and who have not been honored before,” says Gaddy. “When I arrived in Milan, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I had to explore and find out what the expectations were. I ended up editing English-language documents, helping with press releases and even teaching an English class.”

Gaddy confesses to feeling overwhelmed in her first semester at Lehigh. She was placed on academic probation and changed majors. Jack Lule, professor of journalism and director of Global Studies, became her academic adviser and helped her gain her footing.

“Professor Lule told me not to get discouraged,” Gaddy says. “He motivated me to become more involved and find out what my passions were. I looked inside myself and asked, ‘Why am I here? What do I want to do at Lehigh?’”

A UN youth representative

One change Gaddy made was to begin reading the large volume of emails she was receiving each day. A message from Lehigh’s United Nations Partnership of the Office of International Affairs intrigued her; it invited students to consider working as a Youth Representative for a nongovernmental organization (NGO). Lehigh, one of six universities recognized as an NGO by the UN, created the world’s first UN NGO Youth Representative Program in 2006.

Gaddy investigated the program and secured an internship in 2013 and 2014 with African Citizens Development Foundation (ADCF), an NGO based in Lagos, Nigeria.

“I went every Friday to New York to attend UN conferences and NGO meetings that pertained to youth development and other African topics,” she says, “and I sent synopses to the NGO director in Lagos.”

Next fall, Gaddy will enroll at the American University of Paris in a one-year graduate program in international affairs. After that, she hopes to attend law school.

Gaddy says she owes much of the credit for her success to her mother, who has raised her and her younger brother.

“My mother has sacrificed a lot for my brother and me. She has helped me see life as how much you do for others, not for yourself.”