Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

LACIS Holofote: Interdisciplinary Student Erin Johnson Discusses her Recent Abroad Experience and Future Plans

The “LACIS Holofote (oh-lo-fo-chee),” or LACIS spotlight (holofote=spotlight in Portuguese), is a new blog series we are trying out. We will select a current or recently graduated LACIS student and train the spotlight, so to speak, on their current activities and how they are putting their LACIS education to good use both in the United States and abroad.

Here at LACIS, we are firm believers in interdisciplinarity. Without this concept, LACIS would not be. Through our program, we offer over 250 courses in 45 different departments. Making connections between departments here on campus and between different schools of thought is extremely important, and ultimately enriches discussion and research.

Erin Johnson, a soon-to-be graduated LACIS undergrad, epitomizes the interdisciplinary spirit. She discussed her recent study abroad experience in Kenya with LACIS and how she feels her volunteer work there might take her to the LACIS region in the future.



My name is Erin Johnson and I will graduate from the UW this month with a double major in Art and Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies, with a certificate in African Studies.

During the Fall Semester of 2012, I participated in a study abroad program in Kenya.  For six weeks of the program, I had an internship in a town called Kajiado, at the Kajiado Adventist Rehabilitation and Educational Center.  The center is for girls who have been forced into either female genital mutilation (FGM) or early marriage.  The girls who come to the center live in the dorms on the property, and go to primary school at the center.  When they graduate from primary school, the center funds their secondary school through international donors or sponsorship programs.
Erin and Students
I was very impressed with the way the center was run.  However, the center is very dependent on aid from well-wishers.  The staff has proposals for income-generating activities, but they need start-up money.  Since I am a Studio Art major at the UW, I am making a book of the stories and portraits of the girls at the center.  When finished, I would like to sell copies of the book in order to raise money to help the center start their income-generating activities, so that they will no longer be so dependent on donations.
Erin portraiting
I want to support the center because I really believe in what they’re doing.  The girls who come to the center range in age from about eight to eighteen.   These girls come from one of the 43 ethnic groups of Kenya, the Maasai.  When a Maasai girl is married, the husband pays a dowry to the family of the bride.  The dowry comes in the form of cows, and cows are highly valued in Maasai culture. Most of the girls at the center have already been circumcised and married off to men who are sometimes old enough to be their grandfathers.  Once Maasai girls are married, they are treated as adult women and assume the role of a wife and/or mother.  They are no longer sent to school.

Many of the girls still suffer physical and mental pain stemming from these practices.  Some of the girls ran away from home, and walked many miles to get to the center.  I want to make this book not only to help raise money for the center, but also to raise awareness of what these girls go through.  Many of them fight very hard for the right to an education, and the center provides that for them.
Erin, students and grandma

My experience in Kenya was my first time going to Africa.  Prior to last semester, I spent three summers in Latin America, one in Nicaragua, one in Honduras, and one in Ecuador.  I absolutely love Latin American culture and the Spanish language.  In Kenya, I was able to find a way to combine my interest in education and women’s rights with my love of art.  In the future, I am hoping to continue this intersection while working in Latin America.


Many thanks, muchas gracias, and muito obrigado to Erin Johnson for taking the time during the hecticness of her last finals week as an undergradute student to share her experiences with the greater LACIS community! Keep up the great work, Erin!

Do you know an exceptional LACIS undergrad? Are you one yourself? Let us know at