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Introducing Instructor Zach Witkin

Dear Dragons Friends and Family,

We are delighted to introduce instructor Zach Witkin, who joined the group on July 14 and will be accompanying the group (along with Babacar, Samba, and Claire), for about 10 days including through their time in Dakar. Please enjoy reading a bit more about Zach below!

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Salaam Alekum samay xaarit (Peace be upon you, my friends). I’m Zach (him/him/his) and I’m excited to have joined the 2021 Senegal Summer program as an instructor. I call many communities home, as home can be both a physical location, as much as a feeling of connectedness to community and loved ones — this is a reoccurring theme throughout Dragons courses: What makes a home? What does it mean to belong? What traditions or rituals do you practice in a home? I grew up in a suburb of Boston, MA and have also called Washington DC, Dakar, Senegal, Providence RI and soon, Carrboro, NC home.

Dragons has been part of my life for quite a while. I became oriented to a life of learning about cultural identity and expression, and cross-cultural communication as a Dragons student in Senegal in the fall of 2013. I can trace my passion for the intersection between education, public health, identity and equity to conversations I had with communities about their own education and health care journeys in Senegal, when I was a Dragons student myself.

Senegal, and it’s culture of Teranga (a deep caring for one another that’s often characterized as hospitality), has called me back a few times since. In 2017, I worked for Africare, a community health focused NGO based in Dakar. I conducted qualitative research on a maternal health project they were implementing, looking at the impact of digital health technologies and maternal health support groups on the quality of care in rural communities. In 2020, I came back as a Peace Corps Volunteer, but was sadly evacuated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since graduating university a few years ago, until recently (punctuated by my abbreviated Peace Corps service), I worked for a global health NGO called Population Services International (PSI). I supported programming in West and Central Africa that focused on consumer and market based approaches to community health — mainly around sexual and reproductive health, WASH, malaria and HIV/TB. I also spent time working with the Strategic Partnerships team on multi sectorial partnerships, bringing the public and private sector together to bring innovative opportunities to the PSI network.

Since I’ve been with this Dragons course, I have been, once again, reminded of the depth at which we can engage in community, in rituals, and in exploration of how our own identities intersect with our presence in and with the communities we join.