Being part of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep program helped Ali Kukovich, class of 2017, prepare for her next journey.
Kukovich, who is from Harrison City, Pa., recently accepted a one-year fellowship with Touching Tiny Lives (TTL). The non-profit organization works in the Mokhotlong and Thaba-Tseka districts of Lesotho and has been dedicated to helping orphaned and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS and malnutrition since 2004.
While at Wittenberg, Kukovich was a founding member of the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative (LNI), which helped secure her connections with the non-profit. She graduated with majors in political science and international studies and a minor in African and diaspora studies.
“Through our original research we did for LNI, we discovered the Touching Tiny Lives organization and the amazing work they do," said Kukovich, who was also involved with the Student Alumni Board, the Cave Club, and the Rugby Club at Wittenberg. "I was fortunate enough to have a meeting with a few members of TTL through Skype, and that began our partnership with them. I have been able to research and work with them for the last two years in numerous ways.”
Being able to work for TTL is beyond exciting for Kukovich.
“This position with Touching Tiny Lives is my dream job, and it fits perfectly into what I want to do long term. Since TTL is one of LNI’s partners, I also am able to see our project through in its entirety. Hopefully, this can lead to other opportunities for me and continued growth for LNI.”
Developed as a class project by several students and Scott Rosenberg, professor of history and director of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Preparation Program, the LNI also partners with Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati-area schools and youth groups to host meal-packing events.
“Working with LNI and helping Dr. Rosenberg turn our organization into a non-profit allowed me to learn so much about Touching Tiny Lives, including its year-long fellowship program,” she said. “I will be working as a TTL fellow in Lesotho as an assistant to Nthabaleng, the managing director of Touching Tiny Lives. My role allows me to be involved in many aspects of the organization from helping with the children in our care to donor relations, social media and more.”
Through the Wittenberg in Lesotho program and the Lutheran College Washington Semester (LCWS) program in Washington, D.C., Kukovich was able to test out potential career paths and see where her skill sets and interests could be applied.
“The Lesotho Nutrition Initiative is what I believe really helped me with my career path,” she said. “Being at Wittenberg allowed the passion of a professor and a few students to create what is now a 501c3 non-profit. Our results are very encouraging, as LNI is currently on track to feed 1,500 malnourished people for the next three years. This opportunity allowed me to receive the education I needed along with priceless experience in my intended field that most college students would not be able to receive until after graduation. I will be in Lesotho for the next year where I will be able to have hands-on experience with global health. I wanted to have experience outside of Wittenberg, but I am hoping to go back to school for a master’s degree in global health when I return.”
Staffed and managed locally by Basotho, TTL supports clients in some of the most remote areas of the country. With national HIV rates hovering around 24 percent (the second highest in the world) and TB rates also soaring (fourth highest in the world), Lesotho is at the epicenter of the global HIV pandemic. The effects of these diseases are far-reaching, often resulting in health complications such as malnutrition and an impaired ability to fight off even common illnesses. These effects are most evident in the youngest generation – those under the age of five.
Basotho children are at the heart of the pandemic’s medical, economic and socio-cultural impact. AIDS is the leading cause of death in the country, and there are an estimated 36,000 children living with HIV in Lesotho. Another estimated 150,000 children are AIDS-related orphans. Even more face nutritional deficiencies as an indirect result of a family member’s illness. TTL responds to the crisis by providing holistic care to vulnerable Basotho children and their families.
Touching Tiny Lives employs a unique model consisting of two in-depth and integrated programs: Outreach – which includes a Village Health Worker training program – and the TTL Safe Home.