By Sydney Collins, '20

When Tomi Jegede, ‘18, visited the University of Richmond as a high school student, she came away inspired by the student body. 

“I got to meet students who told me about how excited they were for their experiences, the courses they were taking, and their individual projects and experiments,” said Jegede. “I really liked the fact that all the students got to pursue their own path of different interests.”

Jegede’s time at Richmond has been spent pursuing her passions for global health through a healthcare studies major, and music, as principal flutist in the UR Symphony Orchestra.

When Jegede was researching internship opportunities for the summer before her senior year, she stumbled across an article in The New York Times titled “The Voluntourist’s Dilemma.” She hopes to becoming an infectious disease physician working with international populations, and was intrigued by article’s perspective.

“The article talked about the voluntourism industry, which we had discussed in my global health classes,” she said. Many individuals go to third-world countries on mission trips and volunteer programs, and while those who volunteer are well intentioned, the article questioned whether the short-term engagement those programs offer is beneficial to those they aim to serve. “As someone who wants to go into the global health field, after reading the article I wondered if we are actually doing what we set out to do or if we are causing more harm than really truly helping people,” Jegede said. 

When she was scrolling through the comments of the article, Jegede came across one that piqued her interest. “It was this woman who led an organization who said, ‘We really do try to correct these common issues we see in volunteer programs and nonprofits. We work with vulnerable children and help sponsor the local orphanage in the area. Here’s our website.’,” Jegede said. She clicked on the link and began reading about The Small Things (TST), a non-profit in Tanzania, and was so excited by the work they were doing, she applied for a summer internship.

Many Tanzanian children are separated from their families and placed in orphanages because their parents cannot support them. TST supports a local orphanage that houses these children and is dedicated to reuniting the children with their families by providing financial structure. 

Teams from TST may work with a social worker or through other organizations to provide job training microloans to Tanzanian families so they can build their own small businesses in order to support themselves and be reunited with their children. If there is a case that a child cannot be reunified with family, TST places him or her in their residential family unit, Happy Family Children’s Village, where the child can stay for as long as necessary. Jegede described the village as more of a family rather than something that is institutionalized, such as in other orphanages.

Jegede worked in supporting the TST staff by helping them improve their English skills and teaching them different computer programs such as Gmail and PowerPoint. Most of the Tanzanians wanted help in these two fields so that they would be able to run the organization by themselves. “And that’s the ultimate goal, for the organization to be self-sustained by Tanzanian staff members,” Jegede said.

Volunteering with TST, a small non-profit with limited resources, Jegede had to learn to navigate on her own and work independently, an experience that she thinks will be valuable for her chosen career path in the global health field.   

Her Tanzanian internship wasn’t the only international travel Jegede took on this past summer. After hearing about open auditions for the International Chamber Music Institute, a summer ensemble assembled by UR’s orchestra’s director Alexander Kordzaia and his wife Lynnelle Ediger, she decided to pursue the opportunity.

She was accepted into the Institute, and after returning from Tanzania, Jegede spent two weeks at UR rehearsing with the ensemble before spending 10 days touring throughout the United Kingdom performing at different cathedrals and concert venues.

“We played at Cardigan Castle which is this gorgeous castle in Wales, and they have this music festival every single year where they invite some well-known acts,” said Jegede. “It was a whirlwind of different city stops and different cathedrals then quickly having to prepare for the next performance.”

While spending so much of her summer traveling was hectic, Jegede was grateful for both international experiences. “My summer taught me to always go for the things that scare you most,” she said. “And I think going into the future, I understand a lot more about myself and what type of person I want to be, what type of people I like to surround myself with, and what types of environments I thrive in. I think the experience made me a well-rounded and grounded person.”