Have you ever heard the phrase “step up to the plate?” It means to take action, bear responsibility, and do your part. When it comes to helping people in need, Cheyenne Summers steps up to the plate. She goes to crisis areas, places in the world where people are in need, to give aid and support to some of the most vulnerable among us.
Cheyenne’s commitment to helping others is combined with a deep interest in human culture and society. This interest led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee. Her education, her real-world experience, and willingness to take action make her a tremendous asset for Africa ELI.
I asked Cheyenne some questions about her interests and experiences, and about her plans while serving on the board of Africa ELI. Check out what she had to say.
Q: What led you to pursue an education in anthropology? What interests you most about human culture and society?
A: When I was around 12 years old, I went to a conference with my grandmother, which was attended by girls from around the world. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to learn more about the world and our diverse global community. Over the years I fell in love with stories. Whether they were posted outside a historical site, told by the checkout girl at the grocery store, or written in a news article. It was amazing to me how every thing and every person has a story. This initially led me to study physical anthropology, which deals with the evolutionary changes in human physiology. I quickly realized, however, that I was more intrigued with human cultures and societies. The way in which we grow up and the places we’re from shape us throughout our lives. The decisions we make, the actions we take, and the words we speak are all part of our culture. I find that beautiful.
Q: Can you describe your experience working in crisis areas? Where are some of the places you’ve been and what kind of work have you done?
A: Working in crisis areas you find yourself doing things you never thought you would, or that you didn’t realize were important — even small things, like washing walls. I have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean on the island of Hispaniola, which houses Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Much of my time was spent in Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, as it emerged from the destruction of the 2010 earthquake. Our main goal was helping dying children receive heart surgeries. We made sure all the correct testing was completed and government paperwork was done for crossing the border into the Dominican Republic where the surgeries were performed. Part of the time I spent in line at consulates with families, while other days were spent with the kids, keeping their spirits up. I also worked at a tent city where people affected by the earthquake lived. I spent the afternoons in a gutted-out school bus teaching English to roughly 76 kids. I loved every minute of what I did and the places I lived, but when working in crisis areas you are almost always met with obstacles. Some days there was no water or electricity. When disasters occur, in the beginning people mean well, but there is often little follow through. Or they try to make a place like their own country. That doesn’t work. Working in crisis areas that are not your home country and culture comes with acclimating to that way of life.
Q: What does Africa ELI’s mission mean to you? What are some of the things you do as a board member to support the mission?
A: The plight of marginalized people, especially children, is something close to my heart. We shouldn’t live in a world where people are treated as if they are unimportant, regardless of their circumstances. Children should not be raised to think they don’t matter and can’t make a difference. Africa ELI works to erase that mindset, to remind girls in South Sudan that they have an important role in their communities and families. As a board member, I strive to help support our students. Each decision we make and partnership we build is to ensure that they are getting what they need to be citizens and leaders.