West Virginia University sophomore Shaniyah Jasper, a women’s and gender studies major with a minor in law and legal studies, aspires to help improve the everyday lives of women around the world. The Iselin, New Jersey native traveled to Uganda during the winter recess to advocate for women’s rights and teach about HIV/AIDS prevention. She talked with us about her volunteer experience and her plans for the future.
What was your experience like in Uganda?
I traveled to Uganda over the winter break to do women’s work. I taught women about HIV/AIDS prevention, along with other safe sex guidelines. I also helped women work on their financial independence and talked with them one-on-one about their personal life issues. The most memorable part of my trip was hearing the stories the women shared at my placement, Resilient Women. They shared their fears and their worries about the village they lived in, but they also shared their hopes, dreams and new year’s resolutions. It was bittersweet to hear, but it was also a learning lesson. They taught me so much more than I could ever teach them. I think that is a lesson anyone should know about going to volunteer abroad in an underdeveloped country – you are not the hero or the savior; you are there to learn and to teach. These women were more the teachers, and I am so grateful for an experience that allowed me to learn from other women. That was so empowering.
How did you learn about the opportunity?
I learned about this opportunity through a colleague. She started a nonprofit organization, True Thabo, and she works with children and aids in them having better access to clean water. She told me where she started to volunteer and what organization she went through, and I followed her guidance.
How did you choose your major?
I became interested in women's and gender studies in high school. I knew I wanted to work with and for women's rights and be an advocate in some way. I originally came to WVU as a biology major, but realized it was not something I would enjoy pursuing later as a career. During my first semester in college, I took the Women and Movies course and fell in love with the material, and I knew then that women's and gender studies was for me.
What other activities have you been involved in at WVU?
At WVU, I am in Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity and have recently been elected into the position of historian. I am also a student ambassador for the Eberly College and work for the Center for Black Culture and Research. These activities along with the leadership position have allowed me to grow and become more involved in my Morgantown community, my hometown community and other communities. I have also become more goal-oriented and continue to strive for more.
What is your most memorable or favorite WVU experience so far? Why?
My most memorable experience at WVU so far was being given the opportunity to become a student ambassador. I get to attend the welcome events and talk with the families of future Mountaineers. I learn so much from the questions they ask, and I have become more engaged with WVU through this opportunity. I love being able to meet new people and explain all the reasons why WVU should be their first choice.
What are your future career goals?
Traveling to Uganda gave me another perspective for my future goals. After graduation, I aspire to work in law and women’s right advocacy. This opportunity has expanded my worldview and allowed me to continue to striving for greater opportunities for women everywhere.