From Geography Bee Contestant to Well-Traveled Student

Morales with group of students from UPenn and Ghanaian chief

Morales with group of students from UPenn and Ghanaian chief

Kyle Morales has spent enough time in Africa to refine his approach to working on the continent: “You have to get used to things not going to plan,” he said. “It’s the African way”. While Morales may not always know what to expect when he’s there, he knows that his life will revolve around his efforts to be a part of Africa and play a role in its future.

During his junior year in high school, prior to embarking on a service/exploration trip to South Africa during the World Cup, he set up an organization called Jerseys for Africa to collect soccer jerseys from soccer clubs around the area to bring to children in South Africa. As Morales stated, “soccer fervor on the continent was at an all time high, and as an avid soccer supporter and player, starting Jerseys for Africa was the perfect way to align my passion for football with development”. He described his trip to South Africa as “a journey of dichotomies” and remarks on his experience as being great exposure for him at a relatively young age.

Morales in South Africa

Morales in South Africa

Now a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, Morales explicates his interest in foreign affairs daily through his involvement in non-profit organizations such as Power Up Gambia that works to better the living conditions in Africa. He began working with Power Up Gambia last year and he was inspired by the measures they take to provide solar energy to hospitals in Gambia.

Realizing the number of small things that people in Africa do not have access to, Morales set up a partnership, through Power Up Gambia, with a clothing company called Serengetee that supports the economies of other countries by using their fabrics in the clothing and donating money back to the communities.

Starting with trips to Mexico to visit family, Morales was exposed to the different ways of living around the world. In fourth grade, he participated in the Geography Bee at Del Paso Manor Elementary School in Sacramento, CA. His dedication while preparing for the Bee was a clear sign that his interest in the world was more than a mere phase.

Morales stated that through this fascination with traveling and geography, he “saw Latin America and Africa as the two regions of the world with the most potential for awesome development that could truly make sustainable impacts”. With this in mind, he focused his extracurricular activities around that premise.

His early exposure to life in Africa greatly sparked his interest and led him to eventually be a part of a program through Penn called International Development Summer Institute and travel to Ghana. Through this program, he met the man in the middle of the picture at the top who serves part time as the chief of the village and the other part as a doctor in NYC.

This man told Morales that he had to prove himself by drinking a 40 faster than him. The stakes were set high as the chief said that if Morales didn’t finish before him, he was going to charge him by the hour for each minute longer. As Morales said, “he makes 500 an hour while working as a doctor, so I didn’t want to do that”. Luckily, his college training did him well and he didn’t find himself in debt to a Ghanaian chief.

While in this town, Morales was part of an internship with the goal to have him learn about the education system in a rural community. He recounted that when the teachers found out he was coming, they didn’t show up to work and he was forced to teach the classes by alone.

But, when the teachers came back to check on the kids, he had to helplessly witness them punish the children for not doing their homework. While Morales is able to look back on the trip as a learning experience, he admits that the program was faulty and it was very difficult to preserve throughout his stay.

When he was younger, his father thought he would do something with traveling, possibly being a photographer for National Geographic. Now, Morales hopes to move to Africa after graduation and pictures himself working in ecological development policy later on in life. As his affinity for Africa grows, one can be certain that he will do all that he can to bring about change for the beautiful, yet struggling continent.

-Alyssa Morales

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