Kenya Hero


From troubled teen to international intern

Jessica Ripley lands an internship in Kenya, inspired by her own struggles.

Jessica Ripley has had an “urgent” need to help others for a long time. “Maybe because I myself was often left to my own devices when I was younger,” suggests the Justice Studies Diploma graduate. Jessica was born into a working-class family whose focus was on survival, and education wasn’t a priority. Jessica left home at 14, dropped out of high school at 17, and even after achieving her high school diploma at Bow Valley College (what she says she is most proud of), she struggled with her mental health and eventually found herself divorced and broke. 

Having since persevered and finished her diploma with a Youth Justice Specialization, she is now in Kenya doing an internship. “Africa became the place where I could make the biggest impact and affect the most people,” she says of her mission to help others. 

Four months ago, Jessica never expected she’d be in Kenya, let alone abroad. “I wanted to help youth in Calgary,” she says. But when the College’s International department emailed all learners to tell them about the International Youth Internship Program, she applied for the positions in Africa right away. By early April, she learned she had secured the Learner Wellness and Success Officer role at an institution in Kenya, a position she will work in from June to November 2018.

Though Jessica only recently started her internship, she is looking forward to being an advocate for change for the local students. She is responsible for researching the barriers they face while they pursue secondary education, and she plans to incorporate her own experiences with overcoming hardship into the dialogue. She is grateful that this internship will expand her outlook on the barriers that youth face in a different part of the world. In Kenya, poverty and meeting basic needs are common struggles for youth, whereas for some youth in Canada, it tends to be trauma and addiction. 

After seizing the opportunity to work abroad on short notice, Jessica is open to where her career will go next. “Maybe I’ll want to work internationally and help youth get education. I'm open to all possibilities at this point,” she says.

At some point on her journey, Jessica knows she wants to earn a PhD in criminology. “I’ve always wanted more,” she says. “Despite childhood trauma, bouts of mental illness, poverty, hunger, homelessness, I have never succumbed. I found hope in my tragedies, strength in my illness, and the capacity to take care of myself. I do not accept my place in life but strive to be the best I can be.”

Graduates of Bow Valley College and all Canadian post-secondary institutions can participate in the International Youth Internship Program. Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) recently selected Bow Valley College as the Gold Recipient of the CiCan Internationalization Excellence Award. Read more about the recognition here

Posted on July 3, 2018 

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