In his senior year of high school, Will Cragin, ’09, wanted to do some traveling. At the time, he had no idea that the one-month AIDS prevention volunteer program he chose in Tanzania would spark a passion for public health in Africa, and that the trip would be the first of many to that country over the next several years.

While volunteering at the nongovernment organization (NGO) during that influential month, Cragin participated in AIDS prevention and treatment work. When he enrolled at Richmond the following fall, he immediately looked for a course of study that would further his new interests.

“I loved the experience — the country, the work, the exposure to public health organizations, everything,” said Cragin, who is an international studies major with a concentration in Africa.

The major was an obvious fit for Cragin. As soon as he could, he enrolled in an independent study course in Swahili with French professor Kasango Kapanga. With an academic plan that now matched his ambitions, Cragin decided to take six months off and return to Tanzania to work with another local NGO.

During his second visit to Tanzania, Cragin continued to work in AIDS awareness and education, as well as AIDS treatment through the organization’s home-based care program. Through his continued contact with Kapanga and his immersion in the language, Cragin became nearly fluent in Swahili. That summer, he returned to Richmond and immediately put his new language proficiency to use, volunteering for the Virginia Council of Churches' refugee resettlement program.

In his sophomore year at Richmond, Cragin took a more traditional approach to studying Africa — he went back to class. On the side, he began privately teachng Swahili and preparing for his third trip to Tanzania, scheduled for summer 2007. That trip would extend into the following semester since Cragin had applied to study abroad at the University of Dar Es Salaam, the largest and old university in Tanzania. He also landed an internship at Family Health International, an organization that does U.S.-based public health work.

“FHI is funded by USAID, so through my internship I was able to see the kind of projects USAID is involved in,” said Cragin. “I did some work with pediatric AIDS awareness and even had the opportunity to write some brochures in Swahili for health services. I knew that if I wanted to continue with this kind of work, getting an internship with USAID would be really ideal when I got back to the States.”

Cragin applied for an internship with USAID the following spring and was accepted in April for a position in the Washington Africa Bureau Office of Sustainable Development, where he would work with the health team. As a college senior with experience and interest in public health, landing an internship with a globally-recognized organization dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance was the perfect opportunity. But in order to begin work, Cragin needed a security clearance, which took a frustrating four months to complete.

While he waited for the security clearance to come through Cragin focused on the refugee resettlement work he'd been doing in Richmond, working as a part-time caseworker, wondering each week if he'd be heading to Washington. He was assigned refugee families and assisted them with everything from introducing them to necessary social services to setting them up in apartments.

“I’ve shown families how to use sheets, toilets and even lights,” said Cragin. “Things that seem very basic to us, living in the U.S., are very new and sometimes daunting to the refugee families that come here. I’m glad to be able to communicate with them in their language.”

When Cragin’s clearance finally came through, it was almost time for him to begin his senior year at Richmond, which meant juggling his 16-week internship with classes, not to mention a three-hour, twice-a-week commute to Washington, D.C. But after so many months of waiting, he readily accepted the unique challenge of balancing a full academic schedule in Richmond with an internship 90 miles north.

“The coolest part is being able to attend meetings with U.S. government agencies and other organizations like the World Bank and the World Health Organization,” he said. So far, Cragin has worked with the AIDS team and assisted with inter-agency projects to coordinate government activities. He is currently helping to coordinate the players in a project that will give 50 billion dollars to HIV and AIDS programs around the world.

With graduation looming, Cragin plans to apply for the Peace Corps and a Fulbright scholarship to Tanzania. His research interests range from international development to anthropology to the geography of economic development. If awarded the Fulbright, Cragin is considering a project on culturally appropriate public health interventions in Muslim communities, inspired by his travel experiences along the coast of Zanzibar.

“I have an idea of what I’d like to do because I’ve been fortunate enough to have the experiences in Tanzania already,” said Cragin. “The first two times I was there I was in a rural environment, living with a family. The work I was doing was in villages, so my interest really started when I saw the impact on people firsthand. The third time, I was working in an office building in the capital city. Now I have a pretty good idea of the spectrum of life in a poor country and saw how public health works on a few different levels. At this point, I’m keeping my options open.”