We are workers. We are educators. We are activists. We are mothers. We are scholars. We are travelers. We are believers in a just world and we have a fierce vision to revolutionize the study abroad and international volunteering industry.
Nialena Ali and Brittni Howard created Star Service & Study Abroad in 2016. Through their many years of research and travel, they saw the positive impact that people can have on communities when given the right tools and opportunities. Conversely, they've seen the problems that can arise when people are not adequately prepared to work with people different than themselves. Witnessing the lack of diversity and ethics education in many programs, they were inspired to create SSSA.
SSSA believes in the importance of long-term relationships, respect, reciprocity, and reparations. Through partnerships with various grassroots organizations, SSSA participants have the opportunity to engage in service projects initiated by local community leaders (Service). By providing context through interactive learning curriculums, our partners receive more capable community stewards who are more adequately prepared to address the many challenges that our world faces (Study). SSSA's holistic approach maximizes the impact of our participants’ short-term trips.
SSSA takes a critical approach that enables participants to apply what they learn in the 'classroom' to various community projects. Through group activities, exploration, study, and cross-cultural engagement, we provide participants with an exciting and unforgettable experience abroad.
Goal, Mission, Vision
Star Service & Study Abroad's goal is to increase cultural competence amongst adults based in the U.S. and give them the skills to learn and work in international settings. Through applied learning modules & internship experience, we enable our participants to make meaningful contributions to grassroots projects in Central Ghana.
Our vision is to revolutionize the study abroad and international volunteering industries. We do this by interrupting, challenging, and calling-in the growing number of well-intentioned individuals, groups, and institutions attempting to provide service projects with little measure of the impact, exploitation, or sustainability of their projects. To change and revolutionize these trends, we provide a comprehensive hands-on program that teaches and practices with our participants and stakeholders.
Our mission is to expand our reach with the teaching and service that we provide to disrupt saviorism and exploitation using carefully and critically curated approaches to ethics, critical thinking, relationship building, and grassroots organizing.
Chief Executive Officer
I grew up in Bozeman, Montana with a diverse family heritage - African American, Irish, German, & Native American. Appreciating the realities of places & people different than myself, I studied abroad in South Africa where I interned with the Bergzicht Training Centre conducting trainings in health literacy & work skills. For my Master’s degree in applied anthropology at Northern Arizona University, I dove deeper into the complexities of systems of oppression & inequities in work and wellbeing through my ethnographic research on pest management with rice farmers in the Philippines at the International Rice Research Institute funded by the MHIRT scholarship. For my PhD work, I received a Fulbright (2018) to examine the intersectionality & political economy of childhood as a part of my research on childhood health & working experiences in Senya, Ghana. I approach my research through Photovoice & provide workshops through UMass Amherst's ISSR department. Through Star Service and Study Abroad, we collaborate with grassroots organizations that implement solutions to alleviating human suffering and inequality. My aim with SSSA is to train young people to contribute to coalition building & social justice through critical engagement & by disrupting exploitative volunteer & internship industries.
"I had a wonderful experience. Nia and Brittni balance each other well and between the two of them they had all the bases covered."
of Brittni and Nia, I loved the weekend activities and how they broke up any monotony in the week. It was a really nice balance."
I was raised in Oakland, California & am proud to call the San Francisco Bay Area home. I come from a very artistic & politically conscious community & issues of injustice & concerns for humanity have always been dinner time conversations in my family. My interest in multiculturalism & international politics was truly sparked when I traveled to Turkey as part of a U.S. Department of State initiative to improve citizen diplomacy between the U.S. & Muslim countries. I lived there for one year & was the first black person most locals had ever seen. My experience in Turkey & the relationships foraged showed me the profound impact that cultural exchange can have on individuals & communities. It also showed me the necessity for travel programs to address issues of race & difference. While at Mount Holyoke College I continued traveling & exploring such issues through my double major in International Relations & African Diasporic Studies. Passionate about racial justice & human rights, I studied at the School for International Training in South Africa. There I conducted feminist research & creative healing sessions for a woman of color who survived domestic abuse & apartheid. Following that, I worked to build community & promote positive coping skills in mens prisons throughout Massachusetts with the Alternatives to Violence Project. My work to address issues of injustice & advocate for the most vulnerable members of society continues through my teaching and co-founding of Star Service & Study Abroad.
2021-22 Social Media Intern
I grew up in Southeastern Connecticut to a religiously diverse family, ranging from Protestantism to Judaism. This diverse set of beliefs and heritage inspired my desire to learn and engage with perspectives and cultures different from my own. In May of 2020, I graduated from Smith College with a B.A in Anthropology and a minor in Art History. My undergraduate studies focused on the intersection of artistic expression and culture, specifically with cultures underrepresented in the mainstream art world (such as the Balkans post-breakup of Yugoslavia and the Global South). My interests in peacebuilding, post-conflict transformation, and the impacts of international intervention guided me to study abroad with the School for International Training in Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. While in the Balkans, I conducted journalistic research focusing on dance as artistic, cultural expression within Belgrade’s Roma community. Whereas my interests in decolonization, West African history, and deconstructing global power systems, led me to study abroad with SSSA during the summer of 2018. Interning on the Education Project with The Cheerful Hearts Foundation, enhanced my learning of Ghanaian policies on corporal punishment in public schools and anti-child labor trafficking NGO efforts within Ghana. Following these experiences, my passion for indigenous rights and centering of indigenous artists and voices within the art world, steered me to a six month internship in social media marketing for the GuataMaya Art and Culture Connection (GACC). My work with GACC focused on creating interactive, educational content which reflected and supported the artists’ and artisans’ perspectives who live and work in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. To date, all of these experiences have led me back to Star Service and Study Abroad. I’m excited to continue learning, working, and exploring with SSSA.
I was raised in Ghana. I live in Kasoa and teach English, Fante, and Twi at the secondary schools here. I am a colleague and friend of the Campaign for Learning Differences and work to provide excellent teaching and a positive classroom experience for my students. I enjoy teaching Twi to SSSA students during their summer trips.