Alumni Interview — Becky Oberg (’01)

With each year that passes there are more and more BIC graduates doing great work all over the world. At least once each year we hope to publish brief “Alumni Updates” where our alumni can tell us some about their post-BIC lives. In addition to these annual updates, we are posting interviews with some of our alumni. This month we are excited to post an interview with Becky Oberg (’01). We hope you enjoy, and if you are interested in being interviewed for a future blog post, email us at BIC@baylor.edu.

Becky and BikeTell us some about your journey since graduating from Baylor. What are you currently doing for your work/career?

I graduated from Baylor in 2001. During my time there, I majored in journalism and minored in religion, with the hopes of becoming a religion reporter at a daily newspaper. After graduation, I took a job at a small newspaper in Crawfordsville, Indiana, but they got hit with an age discrimination lawsuit a few weeks after they hired me, so I was let go to pay for said lawsuit. After a brief stint in the Army (I was medically discharged during Basic after becoming severely ill with post-traumatic stress disorder and ruled disabled), I started freelancing for an alternative weekly newspaper in Indianapolis. In 2003, I won first prize for features in the Society of Professional Journalists Indiana Chapter Mark of Excellence Awards. I was also nominated for the Indiana Courage in Journalism Award for exposing corruption in military recruiting. In 2004, I landed a book deal with Chamberlain Brothers, a Penguin imprint. The book, “Freedom Underground: Protesting the Iraq War in America”, is about an underground network dedicated to helping suicidal military members desert and go to Canada. In 2009, I won a Web Health Award for my work with HealthyPlace.com, the nation’s largest mental health consumer website. In 2009, I had a poem printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association. I live in Indianapolis and run my own freelance writing business, which is basically a fancy way of saying I’m an independent contractor.

Tell us about your upcoming trip to Kenya.

Despite my PTSD, I’m active in volunteering and I often write about the efforts of volunteers (my story “Biloxi Blues” is an example).  In keeping with this love, I’m planning to go to Kenya in June. I will provide physical support to IMANI Workshops, which helps people with HIV/AIDS get jobs, and the Umoja Project, which helps children who’ve lost one or both parents to the virus–that’s about 20 percent in the area I’ll be in. I’ve queried several magazines to see if they’re interested in articles that might develop.

I will leave Indianapolis on June 13th and arrive in Nairobi on June 14th. On June 15th, I’ll travel by plane to Eldoret, which is 163 miles to the west. I’ll stay in Kenya for two weeks, leaving Nairobi on the 27th and returning to Indy on the 28th. Once in Eldoret, home of Moi University, I will work with IMANI Workshops. IMANI is an offshoot of the Indiana University-Moi University’s Academic Model for the Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), which serves 100,000 HIV+ Kenyans. HIV+ adults in Kenya often face discrimination, and are unable to find jobs or secure loans. IMANI teaches them how to make and sell handcrafted goods, which are then sold at fair trade prices in the United States. 

I will also meet with representatives of the Umoja Project in Chulaimbo. The Umoja Project ministers to children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, which is at least 20 percent of the children in Chulaimbo and up to 50 percent in other parts of Kenya. HIV/AIDS has surpassed bubonic plague as the world’s most deadly health crisis. As of 2011, 6,000 sub-Saharan Africans die from the disease every day.

How has your BIC education influenced your work?

The BIC taught me how to adapt to foreign cultures very quickly by asking questions such as “What is community?” and “What is language?” I also learned how to analyze a culture by researching not only the language, but the games children play and their artwork. That was just from one class, World Cultures I.  My Social World I and II classes got me out of the Baylor Bubble and into some of the poorer parts of Waco. My experience talking to people in poverty and seeing for myself the obstacles they faced woke me up and taught me I didn’t know as much about the world as I thought. That experience, plus a week of mission work in Haiti, galvanized me into doing what I can to fight injustice, whether it’s limited access to medical treatment in Waco, racism in Indianapolis or imprisoned free speech advocates in Saudi Arabia. Going to Kenya is a logical extension of that passion. One person can do so much.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

To raise funds to go to Kenya, I’m selling T-shirts, which you can view here. The front features a traditional Christian Easter greeting, while the back features one of my original poems. I’ve put down $500 of my own money and challenge anyone to prayerfully consider matching it; if you want to donate but don’t want a shirt, you can go to my fundraising site.

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