My One Cent: Kiley Shields

"Foreign assistance advocacy and funding are integral parts of who America is... we want to be a force of good that deals with problems at their roots, not after they’ve already happened."

January 24, 2018

Kiley Shields is CARE’s policy communications intern in Washington, D.C. She came to CARE after serving two years in the Peace Corps in Ghana and the motorcycle ride of her life. This is Kiley’s My One Cent story.

2017 was a pretty significant year for me. I finished the Peace Corps in November of 2016, then immediately went to Greece to volunteer in a refugee camp for a month. I came home for Christmas, then flew back to Ghana in February, where my friend and I headed out on motorcycles – traveling through 13 countries and then arriving to England at the end of July. At the beginning of September, I started my internship with CARE, where I get to write and work with the communications and advocacy teams. I also have a part-time waitressing job in Annapolis, MD. I’m a swimmer, a novice-runner and I’m currently reading my way through the New York Times Best Fiction list for 2017.

I’ve always loved reading. I studied philosophy and Middle Eastern history at Barnard College and spent a year abroad in England studying philosophy, politics and economics, which inspired my interests in the world and current events. I was born in Kenya because my parents were stationed there as journalists and grew up hearing their stories about living and traveling in Africa. My aunt was in the Peace Corps too. I always knew I wanted to travel, and joining the Peace Corps was always something I wanted to do.

I didn’t realize I was passionate about international development work until I worked in Ghana in West Africa as an agri-business Peace Corps volunteer and spent my two years there living in a small community of about 1,000 people. There was no electricity or running water. I didn’t speak the local language, Dagbanli, which is only spoken by about 800,000 people in Northern Ghana. I spent my first six months just getting used to life there, fetching water, learning Dagbanli, dealing with the 120-degree weather and sleeping outside. It was difficult at first, but the projects I worked on cemented my interest in international development.

Many of my main projects focused on the processing of shea butter– you know, the stuff that is in a lot of the lotions and hair products available in U.S. There were a lot of shea butter producers in the area and I worked with women to establish a new processing facility and attract the attention of international buyers. We also planted a different type of tree, in addition to the shea tree, so they wouldn’t have to burn shea for fuel. These helped to improve their economic outlooks and prospects. My small part in empowering these women, who all held up their families financially, emotionally and in every way, made me want to continue in the international development field.

I saw this on a personal basis. For the duration of my two years in northern Ghana, I lived with a family – a husband, his two wives and their eight children. When these two moms were able to bring home a little bit more money and when things on the farm that we planted together were going well, it made such a difference. Everyone was so much happier and the well-being of this family in turn positively impacted the community.

Working on those projects was challenging, but it was mainly enriching and fulfilling. I realized it was something I never wanted to stop doing. It completely changed what I wanted to do with my life and who I want to be. You’re really lucky if you can devote your life to helping other people and that’s what I realized wanted to do. So, when I came back to the U.S. after the road trip, I applied to international development graduate programs. I’m happy to say I’ve just been accepted to the London School of Economics to study international development and humanitarian emergencies. It’s amazing and it’s all because of my experience in Ghana and the Peace Corps.

Advocacy is a crucial part of development work in every country. In Ghana, a lot of the people I worked with were advocates for their families, friends and communities because they could speak English and had access to motorbikes, which enabled them to go to larger towns. It wasn’t a burden or responsibility that was placed on them by outside forces. Advocating for their community was something they simply realized that they had to do. They used their voices to raise awareness about problems they addressed on a daily basis and they made sure that their voices were heard.

In America right now, it’s more important than ever that we hear different voices and perspectives on America’s standing in the world, where America should be going in the future and what role America should take in international development. Foreign assistance advocacy and funding are integral parts of who America is... we want to be a force of good that deals with problems at their roots, not after they’ve already happened. Ultimately, I’m optimistic about foreign assistance and America’s role in development programs around the world.

During my motorcycle trip from Ghana to England, I met tons of people and I can honestly say that the people in West Africa were the happiest, most optimistic, positive, friendliest people I’ve ever met. Everywhere we went we were welcomed and hosted graciously. Whenever we had a breakdown, tons of people from the area who would ride their motorcycles up to see what was wrong. Then they’d ride off, buy an inner tube, come back, fix the bike for us, refuse any money or gifts and tell us, ‘Have a great trip. Enjoy!’ That’s what true generosity looks like. We can all learn a lot from that.