Jen Vitello is one enterprising young woman! Studying at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning within the University of Cincinnati, she specializes in Graphic Design and has had five internships, one of which was print design for Christie’s Auction House in New York City. But this was not enough for Jen. She wanted to travel, to understand different living conditions and cultures, and to design in a way that would improve the lives of others. Enter Global Vision International, an organization specializing in conservation projects and critical humanitarian initiatives. Jen volunteered for an expedition in Kenya and spent three months (from October to December) working on environmental and community development programs in the villages of Shimoni, on the coast, Mkwiro, on Wasini Island, and Kidong, bordering Tsavo West National Park. In fact, on clear days in Kidong, she had a view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where I was a year ago.
Her team lived under all kinds of conditions (mostly rural and very elemental) and learned to respect the traditions of dress and the devotion to prayer in the Moslem communities. They worked with local men and women in their conservation efforts, educating them on the benefits of environmental sustainability. In the coastal Shimoni Forest, they conducted behavior studies on the Angolan Black and White Colobus Monkey and worked to develop forest walks that would promote eco-tourism and be run by the local community.
Through a partnership with Kenyan Wildlife Society, her team also did research on marine mammals (such as Bottlenose Dolphins, Humpback Whales and Green Turtles) in the surrounding Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Park. They studied the impact on marine life caused by the increase in tourism, helping to ensure that it does not become destructive to the dolphin population. This was an eye-opener to me, who thought it was OK to swim with the dolphins on my last trip to New Zealand. I now see the effect this can have on such marine animals.
Aside from working on the East African Coast, Jen got the opportunity to travel to Tsavo West National Park and work with elephant ex-poachers. The sustainable livelihood projects she assisted with revolved around the creation of a local cultural center, and included the design of large information panels, restaurant menus and packaging for handmade crafts.
The creativity that emerged when working alongside the local villagers was most inspiring to her as a designer, and made a lasting impact on her perception of the design process.
Having returned to Cincinnati to finish her last semester of school, Jen is eager to apply what she learned from her travels in her work. She has a new understanding of the Moslem communities where she lived, as well as the needs of the men and women in these communities. To supplement these observations, she’s taking classes in Swahili, as well as Conservation and Economic Development in the Third World.
Most importantly, however, her strongest ideas have been validated: that designers have the power to change the quality of life around them. Essentially, they are problem-solvers and can use their creative ingenuity to make sustainable designs, which are useful in the everyday lives of people everywhere.
To follow the progress of Global Vision International’s projects, check out their blog: http://gvikenya.blogspot.com
Enjoy these pictures from the three locations where Jen worked.
Walking to Funzi