Get To Know UCT Alumna Elizabeth Moran, BA Social Science 2010

During our gathering in April at Madiba in Brooklyn, we got to chatting with alumna Liz Moran. Originally from New Canaan, CT, she fell in love with Africa at a young age and has devoted her life to working in the continent. We asked her to answer a few questions, and are delighted to share them with you below.

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1. What did you study at UCT?

I studied Social Anthropology and Gender Studies. I initially planned to study Public Policy and Administration but as soon as I took an Anthropology elective in my first year I knew that it was much more attuned to my interests and worldview. Gender Studies was a natural second major for me as I have always been very passionate about women’s rights. Both subjects have contributed heavily to the way that I engage with communities.

2. How did you know you wanted to live and work in Africa as opposed to elsewhere?

I have been interested in the African continent for as long as I can remember. I would tell people in preschool that I wanted to go on safari for vacation rather than to Disney World. I started reading a lot about different African countries and listening to a lot of African music growing up and continued to develop my knowledge.

Then when I was sixteen I finally convinced my parents to let me spend my summer holiday volunteering in Tanzania. From my first morning there I knew that I wanted to base my life in East Africa. When it came time to apply to colleges, I decided that rather than doing African Studies in the US it made a lot of sense to study in Africa itself so I did some research and decided to aim to go the best university on the continent.

3. What are your favorite memories of your time at UCT?

I have loads! Cape Town was a truly amazing place to study! I loved meeting people from all over Africa and the world. I always loved Sundays at Mzolis or Saturdays at Old Biscuit Mill – and of course all of Cape Town’s beaches. My involvement with SHAWCO over my three years at UCT was a definite highlight of my time at UCT and really cemented my belief in the power of education and mentorship.

My all-time favourite memory at UCT is probably when I managed to get Graca Machel to attend the Women’s Day brunch that I organised at my dorm, Graca Machel Hall. She was, unsurprisingly, incredibly inspiring but I really loved how down-to-earth she was. I remember frantically trying to get all of the girls to put down their champagne glasses to come downstairs to greet her and when I apologised for our disorganisation she very casually told me that she would have been happy to have had her driver take another lap around the block so we didn’t have to rush.

4. Tell us a little about your past work in Africa.

I always tried to use my holidays productively so I spent some time volunteering in Rwanda and Uganda and was able to travel to visit a lot of my friends in different countries in Southern Africa. After graduating from UCT, I spent six months teaching at an organisation called New Light in Calcutta, India. I then rejoined the academic world and received my MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London which was a great experience but I was always anxious to get back into the field.

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I moved to Kenya after graduation where I initially interned at Ujamaa-Africa and focused on youth apprenticeship and empowerment programs for teenagers in Nairobi slums. I later served as the Lead Field Officer for SOKO, a start-up that helps to connect Kenyan artisans (particularly female entrepreneurs) to the global market. Finally, I joined the Women’s Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER) and relocated to Muhuru Bay, a village in rural Western Kenya.

I initially led WISER’s primary school program where I worked with over 80 local teachers and 600 Class 8 students to help increase the educational standard in the community. I was later promoted to serve as WISER’s Director of Development and Communications where I concentrated on fundraising and partnership development as well as raising our regional and international profile. WISER’s flagship program is an entirely free girls’ secondary school and the organization has made major strides in shifting community values on girls’ education.

Prior to WISER’s establishment, most girls were dropping out of school to get married (with their dowries commonly used to fund their brothers’ education) or risking their lives by engaging in transactional sex to pay their school fees (HIV prevalence in the community is estimated at 38%). Only one woman from the village had qualified to attend university in the 30 years before WISER started so being part of the first graduation was truly inspiring. All 28 Form 4 girls passed their national exams and over seventeen qualified for university!

5. Tell us about your current work in Ethiopia.

I have moved to Adama, Ethiopia to serve as the Education Program Manager for Seeds of Africa. I am working to build capacity within the amazingly dedicated local staff, improve upon the existent curriculum and educational model and manage the day-to-day operations as we move toward an exciting period of expansion. Seeds of Africa is creating a very holistic and locally-driven model of education and community development that we believe can eventually be utilized in other African communities.

The curriculum is a major departure from the rote learning that is common in the government schools (and oftentimes private schools) in many African countries. We really focus on developing the creative thinking skills and real-world experience for young learners that will enable them to find meaningful employment and become change makers in their communities.

We are currently gearing up for our major ‘Dream School campaign’ where we will create a new state-of-the art campus and community centre that serve over 600 fully-sponsored students from pre-K to Grade 12. I actually taught English for five months in Adama in 2007 prior to joining UCT so it will be really exciting to see how the town has evolved.

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