By the end of her first week in the remote village of Tabora on the broad plains of Northwestern Tanzania, Hailey Chalhoub ’13 had already been invited to a wedding and a funeral and knew then that this post-graduate service experience wasn’t going to be like wading slowly into water.
It was going to be like parachuting from a plane.
“We had no other choice than to immerse ourselves into these situations that were potentially awkward and embarrassing,” Hailey says, adding that only after leaping in did she realize that she could handle it. “When we push ourselves just outside our comfort zone, that is when we learn,” both about others and ourselves.
It’s a philosophy Hailey lived at Stonehill College, where she also dove in – quickly joining campus organizations that included the Student Government Association and ALANA-A Brothers and Sisters Leadership Program – and further challenging herself by creating her own major, which led in 2013 to a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in International Development.
Fearless Exploration Can Mean Finding Your Passion
“I started my Stonehill career as a Neuroscience Major [but] after my first semester I realized I wanted to re-connect with my passion for service and interest in international affairs,” she said. From there other doors opened, including the opportunity to study health and community development in Nairobi, Kenya. For Hailey, her studies and experiences were helping her to define herself. “[It] helped me find a sense of purpose as I was able to intentionally string together my interests of health, women’s empowerment, international affairs, environmental sustainability and social justice into an academic program.”
Now the Plymouth, Mass., native is finishing a year in Tabora as part of 2Seeds Network, a small non-profit dedicated to food and income security in Tanzanian villages. In August she will become a senior project coordinator with 2Seeds, working again in Tanzania as a member of the group's ground team. It's a nice transition considering the emotional connections she has developed there. From the moment she arrived, she and her teammate Eliza felt welcomed by the people of Tabora. “They took us into their homes and their farms and introduced us to their friends and their children,” she said. “We spent our first night eating potatoes even Eliza’s Irish grandmother would be jealous of [and laying] under a blanket stars we had never been able to see before.”
Inspiration Derived from the Success of Others
Together, Hailey and Eliza are helping women in the community run a packaged food business that began with potato chips and is now expanding to include sweet popcorn and dried fruits. The project, which is now in its third year, has helped the women develop a business plan, build the kitchen, master recipes and seek out new markets for their products. “Our motto with the 2Seeds Tabora group is ‘wanawake wanaweza,’ which means ‘women are able,’” Hailey writes in a blog she keeps about her experience. “It has been inspiring to see our group come together every week to learn how to cook a new product or participate in a sample day in the nearby town and, at the end of the day, say ‘wanawake wanaweza.’”
Lessons in Versatility and Strategic Thinking
Hailey says the project has been rewarding not only for the women but also for her, allowing her to gain valuable experience toward her desire for a career in international development. In addition, it has contributed to her personal growth. “This experience has strengthened my ability to be versatile, think on my toes and make strategic decisions,” she says. She also likes the added benefit of helping her to improve her Swahili and indulge her passion for hiking.
A year of post-graduate service is something Hailey said she wanted from the minute she arrived at Stonehill and the desire grew with her service experiences, which included participation in Stonehill’s HOPE Alternative Spring Break program, volunteering in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and serving as a HOPE student leader in Camden, N.J. “For me service is about working with and learning from people in a way that builds their capacity so that they can be agents of change in their own lives.”
“The culture at Stonehill encourages students to think critically about how they can use their education of both heart and mind for the betterment of humanity,” says MaryAnne Cappelleri, campus minister for Service Immersion Programs, who Hailey credits with playing a major role in shaping her interest in service. “Hailey is truly an example of our mission; a living testament to who we hope our students to become in the world”
Challenging Self-Imposed Limits Leads to Growth
Already Hailey is seeing how her efforts benefit her and those she endeavors to help. “They have already created opportunities for us to learn about ourselves, without even trying or meaning to do so,” she said. At the same time they are gaining a sense of self-worth and confidence for themselves. “Sometimes simply being in someone else’s life is enough to push the bounds of what they think they can do.”
It’s something she says can happen for anyone, whether they grow up in a remote African village or are simply doing service work in one.
“We just need to find the opportunities for ourselves to do great things.”