Meetings with Officials, Students, and Organizations Show Potential Connections for Women's Empowerment and Leadership in Cape Verde

August 15, 2013
Laili Maparyan looks out on Cape Verdean beach

Six Wellesley faculty and staff recently traveled to Cape Verde for an extensive partnership-building trip where they met with high-ranking government officials, NGOs as well as Wellesley student interns, and witnessed the signing of a historic document.

Visiting Lecturer in Engineering Amy Banzaert, Health Service Director Vanessa Britto, Director of the Center for Work & Service and of the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs Joanne Murray, Katherine Stone Kaufmann ‘67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women Layli Maparyan, CWS Director of Internships Salwa Muhammad, and Assistant Professor of Africana Studies Donna Patterson arrived in Cape Verde on July 27.

“My perspective about Cape Verde, Wellesley's partnership with Cape Verde, and the opportunities that deepening this partnership has and will create for Wellesley students, as well as the College as an institution, are deeply personal for me,” said Britto, who initiated the trip. “As a second-generation Cape Verdean-American, I have long known that Cape Verde's story, whether we are considering its past, present, or its future, is an inspiring one. The reason for trip was to have my colleagues see, hear, and understand that in ways that were important for them as educators, professionals, and world citizens.”

During their packed seven-day schedule, the delegation met with two mayors, the minister of higher education, the minister of communities, presidents of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), leaders and professors at the University of Cape Verde, members of the U.S. Embassy, the women representatives in Parliament, and the first lady of Cape Verde. U.S. Ambassador to Cape Verde Adrienne O’Neal hosted a dinner in the group’s honor at her home.

“This initiative by Wellesley College is one that demonstrates how U.S. institutions can get involved and go beyond the limits of government-to-government diplomacy,” wrote the Ambassador in a welcome letter.

The Wellesley travelers had different interests and questions to explore during their visit.

“When I first moved to the greater Boston area, I was struck by the strength of African-descended communities, particularly those from Cape Verde and Haiti,” said Donna Patterson, a historian of Africa who has traveled and worked extensively in West Africa. “The Cape Verdean diaspora is especially entrenched in New England and this community was established in the antebellum era. Many of the early Cape Verdean immigrants came as maritime workers but they are now a diverse group that includes journalists, doctors, musicians, students, etc. When Vanessa Britto first told me of her interests in creating more synergy between the College and the Cape Verdean diaspora, I was excited about the possibilities.” Some of those include incorporating Cape Verde into Patterson’s next book project and her teaching, in classes like Introduction to the Black Experience and Health, Medical Professionals & the Body in the African Diaspora, as well as new courses.

Salwa Muhammad sought to connect with the Wellesley interns and explore further opportunities for Wellesley students to spend time in Cape Verde. Through the Anchor Point Internships in Global Leadership program, donor and trustee Amy Batchelor '88 has made it possible for twenty interns to complete global internships (ten of which were in Cape Verde) over the last five years. Muhammad visited the two current Wellesley students in Fogo, while also meeting with the mayor, police officials and visiting a shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. Ending gender-based violence is a top priority for the community and Muhammad said it was "inspirational" to see different groups in Fogo work together to solve this issue.

Amy Banzaert came to Cape Verde to understand the potential for We-Lab, the new Wellesley Engineering Laboratory program, to partner with governmental agencies, NGOs and individuals. “We-Lab emphasizes the role of engineering and technology in humanitarian endeavors,” said Banzaert. “As an island nation, Cape Verde needs to develop sustainable infrastructure in the areas of energy and water, in particular. While those challenges were apparent prior to the trip, the scope of the challenge and the clarity of the opportunities were both made clear thanks to our visit.”

Toward the end of the trip, the Wellesley delegation witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the governments of United States and Cape Verde, in which both governments pledged to promote gender equality in the islands. Ambassador O'Neal remarked that the United States had as priority in its foreign policy to back all issues linked to women, adding that Cape Verde showed it was a “good exemplary partner” because of the “strong participation” of women in the government, among other points.

Banzaert commented, “I was struck by how far the country has come in the past decades even with very few natural resources, thanks to phenomenal energy, vision, and commitment evident in everyone we met in the country. There is great interest in working together collaboratively in order to address these needs.”

“In my mind,” said Britto, “Cape Verde's place in the world's history and the narrative it represents with regard to how a country emerges from being a colonial entity to an emerging, exemplary democracy with aspirations for a transformative future are extraordinary opportunities for student learning, growth, and understanding.”