Star Service & Study Abroad was founded by seasoned travelers and Five-College alumnae, Nialena Ali & Brittni Howard in 2016. Through our separate travels we have seen the positive impact that young people can have on the world when given education and international opportunities. Conversely, we have seen the problems that can arise when people are not adequately prepared to engage with other cultures respectfully. Having witnessed both a rise in volunteer tourism and a lack of diversity education in many study abroad programs, we were inspired to create SSSA.
SSSA takes a bimodal approach that enables participants to apply what they learn in the classroom to various community projects. We provide participants with the opportunity to work alongside a Ghanaian humanitarian organization on their public health, anti-child trafficking, and education campaigns, while also taking classes that shed light on the socio-political events that contribute to local problems. With our holistic approach, participants have an enhanced learning experience and the community has more capable and informed volunteers. Together we work to build meaningful relationships with our partner organization, the Cheerful Hearts Foundation, while inspiring personal growth and cultural awareness amongst our participants.
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.
I grew up in Bozeman, Montana with a diverse family heritage - African American, Irish, German, Norwegian, and Native American. Appreciating the realities of places and people different than myself, I studied abroad in South Africa where I volunteered with the Bergzicht Training Centre conducting trainings in health literacy and work skills. For my master’s degree in applied anthropology at Northern Arizona University, I dove deeper into the complexities of systems of oppression and global capitalism that perpetuate inequities in work, education, and health through my ethnographic research on pest management with rice farmers in the Philippines. Most recently, to examine the ways in which social, racial, gendered, and economic inequalities persist and how they can be thwarted, I started my dissertation research on childhood health and working experiences in Ghanaian fishing villages. In addition, I plan to explore the ways in which grassroots organizing and social justice efforts that center cultural practices and resilience make sustaining impacts on local systems and broader policies. I will continue applied anthropological work, and collaborating and accompanying grassroots organizations that implement solutions to alleviating human suffering and improving social, political, health, and economic systems.