Inspired by Senegal

Inspired by Senegal

This summer Julia Steketee 18 FD (left) used her French and some Wolof to speak with Senegalese women about health issues in Dakar.

Over the summer, Furniture Design major Julia Steketee 18 FD explored the world of 2D half a world away, flexing her photography and graphic design muscles as an intern at Speak Up Africa in Dakar, Senegal. The organization focuses on advocacy and communication with an emphasis on health-related projects like Zero Malaria Starts with Me.

“A big part of the experience was being a woman on my own in West Africa,” says the native of Atlanta, GA, who learned some Wolof—the local language—while also speaking with locals in French. “People were really friendly and open and wanted to show me how wonderful their country is.”

Steketee’s father works in public health, so when she began looking for summer internships he helped connect her with Speak Up Africa. Through RISD Careers, she learned that she could apply for a Textron Award, which helped to finance the experience. “I wanted to use my design skills in an NGO environment,” Steketee explains, “to help people through design. And I like the fact that Speak Up Africa is run by Senegalese people, giving Africans a voice.”

Working directly with members of the local community in Dakar, Steketee drew both men and women together to talk about personal hygiene and other health issues. “Menstruation is a taboo subject in Senegal,” she says. “So we were trying to educate people on the topic, give women access to tampons and sanitary pads and provide a safe space for everyone to share their experiences.”

Steketee also worked as a photographer in the field, capturing images of daily life that Speak Up Africa will use on Facebook and Twitter and at a big fundraising event coming up in New York City. “They also need visuals for worldwide programs like Global Handwashing Day and World Toilet Day,” Steketee adds.

Steketee’s graphic design skills came in handy for internal projects like the organization’s annual report as well as public-facing promotional pieces. “I worked on a hardcover informational book Speak Up Africa representatives can hand out at events like the benefit in New York,” she explains. “It’s so hard to imagine what people are dealing with when you’re not actually working in the field.”

As she prepared to return to Providence and dive into her junior year, Steketee found herself thinking more about pursuing a career in social justice. “I want to keep working with people in developing countries,” she says. “I met some product and graphic designers there working for an international consultancy firm, and they’re collaborating with locals to diagnose problems in the community and then design creative solutions. That really interests me.”

Simone Solondz

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