Global Activism: Long Grove native advocates for sex education in Africa

April 24, 2014

Photo by Jillian Powers
Dana deGrazia:"One of my earliest exposures to the roots of African parenting and family planning was being invited to attend a wedding deep in the Masai Mara in an area called the Loita Highlands. This clearly showed me some of the deep rooted traditions and barriers to discussing sexual and family planning issues."

Dana deGrazia was so inspired by the work of her sister and Global Activist, Aliya deGrazia (Small Planet, Big Plans), that she started her own NGO, “Afreaka." It came from two experiences in Dana’s life: her less than adequate experience with sex education in junior high school; and her time as a student in Kenya, where she was “shocked” from “the lack of factual information in all areas of sex education.” Afreaka’s goal is to “provide accurate and unbiased knowledge about sexual health, parenthood and contraception choices to teens and young adults across African generations through urban art and music...” Dana joins us to discuss her work.Dana is passioante about her cause:

I got my first sex education in junior high school and I realized even then that we had a problem. It was full of generalized points and lots of giggling and laughing but not a lot of practical information. I also realized that I was more comfortable than the average person addressing the issues. I took this into other areas in high school such as becoming president of the Gay Straight Alliance and working to have straight and clear conversations about the choices young people are considering. The older I got, the more disappointed I became in the quantity and quality of information, but I was really blown away when I went to Africa.

Initially I went to Africa to peruse a degree in International Relations. I have always believed if you are going to work in that field you should spend more than a semester in Spain drinking Sangria. So I moved in with my sister who had an apartment there and was working on her degree. I am now majoring in Criminal Justice and minoring in International Relations. I intend on pursuing a career in international anti-corruption investigations.

Living in the community and talking to my peers I was shocked and concerned by the lack of factual information in all areas of sex education. A healthy understanding of both sex and intimacy should not be an oddity for anyone, especially not someone my age. The longer I lived in Kenya, the more I realized that it was an oddity for people. I traced this not only to a lack of unbiased information but to people, even health care professionals, providing sometimes outlandishly inaccurate information.

When I first came up with the concept for Afreaka it was actually because I was drawing and I drew a design that I liked and would wear on a piece of clothing, but then I decided I liked a lot of my designs and that if I were going to do something like a clothing line I wanted it to mean more to the world and to make a difference to people. From there the ideas just kept flowing. Although I was born and raised in Illinois I consider Kenya my home as I have lived there since I was 17. Seeing people in the U.S., and in Kenya struggle with conversations about sex and intimacy made me decide that something needed to be done but it needed to be done differently as what we were doing was not working for my generation.

My Parents and my sister Aliya, who has been on Worldview twice discussing her work in rural Kenya, are an inspirational and driving force to keep me pushing forward. With their encouragement and support I know Afreaka can break through the walls that separate the generations from having real communication.

With a background as the former president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at a top high school, a senior graduate of a world renowned communications program and extensive traveling around Africa I am confident I can, along with a team of committed and energetic musicians, artists and designers, create lasting and revolutionary change in the way sex and intimacy is looked at and talked about with young people today. Afreaka may be a young organization now but with time I believe it will become a leader in changing the way the world treats the conversation about sex and intimacy and it will put Africa at the head of forward and open thinking about one of the most personal topics people face.

Afreaka to me is the possibility of knowledge, full self-expression and communication world-wide.