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Coupeville alum makes a difference
Jessica Boling is making a difference in Africa.
Boling, who is a 2003 graduate from Coupeville High School, recently visited Cameroon as part of a research project under the auspices of a Fulbright Fellowship.
She spent months in the Central African country trying to answer one question — why do community organizations tasked with treating patients with HIV/AIDS have such a tough time raising money needed to provide crucial services?
Boling was sharing her research and experiences in front of a small crowd Monday night at the Coupeville Public Library.
She has come a long way since she graduated from high school. She said she did what other students at Coupeville High did at the time — sports. She competed in tennis and volleyball while she excelled academically to where she was a member of National Honor Society.
She rattled off a list of facts about the current situation in Cameroon; 600,000 people, about 4.3 percent of the population have the virus. Of that amount, twice as many women as men have contracted the disease and the infected populations are concentrated in urban areas of the country that has 20 million people.
Her days in Africa were spent interviewing people, supervising volunteers from other countries, website development and grant writing, as well as dealing with the everyday facets of live in Cameroon, from the humid and rainy days to the adventurous commutes that could last anywhere between 15 minutes to four hours.
She worked with a collective of a dozen organizations that help with treatment for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS. She said Cameroon has been working to fight the disease. Treatments are being offered, leaders re-vamped the health system, signed UN pledges to improve services and are competing for grants to improve funding.
There are challenges organizations face to run a sustainable program, Boling said. Grant money often comes with conditions, or requires an entity to provide matching money or make funds available only after conditions are met. Grants are often short-term and the availability of such sources of money is inconsistent.
She also noted other challenges in Cameroon such as a lack of training on assessment tools and report writing; a lack of infrastructure in the country, and a lack of available operational dollars to pay for such things as rent.
Once Boling graduated from Coupeville High School, she attended Seattle University and majored in social work.
She said she was attracted to the Jesuit university’s focus on social justice.
While studying as an undergraduate, she completed an internship in Gambia, which is an English-speaking country in Western Africa.
Following her graduation, she attended graduate school at Boston College, where she earned her masters degree in social work. Following her graduate degree, she moved to Paris to improve her foreign-language skills.
In 2011, Boling made her first visit to Cameroon, which is French speaking, for another three-month internship.
It was during her first visit to Cameroon, that she saw the struggle nongovernmental organizations have raising money and she began to form her research plan.
“I didn’t have an answer and I couldn’t say anything,” Boling told the crowd of about a dozen people Monday night.
With the help of the Seattle University Alumni Association, she applied for a research fellowship through Fulbright. Her proposal was originally placed on a waiting list. Boling was in Korea teaching English when she learned that her project had been approved.
Boling highlighted some of the food and culture of Cameroon. She also visited mountains and beaches in the country.
Now that she is back home in Coupeville, Boling is planning her next steps. She will soon be moving to Milwaukee. She wants work by helping non-governmental organizations become economically sustainable.