As a native of Zimbabwe, Jacquelin Kataneksza was, more or less, accustomed to seeing extreme scenes of poverty and desperation before going on the Bucknell Brigade to Nicaragua in January 2007.
So she imagined she would be a source of support for fellow Bucknell University students who were visiting a third-world country for the first time.
"There were so many parallels with my life and home and life in Nicaragua," Kataneksza, now 22, said. "I went there with the idea I would be very helpful to my peers and a rock (of support). While I wasn't an emotional wreck, the fact that I had been living for over a year in the United States, seeing people live in such abject poverty pointed it out to me more. What struck me was the dignity of the people despite the conditions they were living in."
The Brigade inspired Kataneksza, who left Zimbabwe in 2005 to pursue her education and play field hockey at Bucknell, to raise awareness about the political and social struggles in her home country, such as nearly universal unemployment and a lack of health care to control infectious diseases. Zimbabwe is considered "a failed state" that has not done any commercial cash crop development since the beginning of the decade, she said.
"It's not as though I've never seen children running around with no shoes or with open sores," she said. "What made the conditions in Nicaragua so shocking was to see my peers see it as so stark and different to what they knew. I still haven't grown comfortable with excess and this kind of lifestyle in the United States. To see people live in that kind of way, to not have to rely on themselves but to have to rely on the goodness of others. They were still so dignified, and their spirits were still so irrepressible. "
Kataneksza, an economics and international relations double major, grew up in northwest Zimbabwe before the government redistributed land and her family had to move to the capital city. Her parents make their living as fishermen in Mozambique.
"Once we moved to Harare, everything in the country started to go wrong," she said. "People can't afford to pay for water, so they steal it. They grow vegetables in the back yard to sell for grocery money. There are varying degrees of poverty, but everybody experiences it."
Kataneksza participated in a Clinton Global Initiative conference in Austin, Texas, that focused on grassroots empowerment. She is considering pursuing graduate studies in Europe. She returned on the Brigade this month. She has been back to Zimbabwe just three times since she came to Bucknell.
"Even when I go home now, it's hard when it's time to come back," she said. "But being an educated Zimbabwe woman has consequences not only for me but for my country. So, for me not to take advantage of it is selfish."