Alumna Travels Through Africa with New York Times Columnist

Posted on July 9th, 2013 by

Erin Luhmann '08

Erin Luhmann ’08

Gustavus Adolphus College alumna Erin Luhmann ’08 has spent the past week traveling through parts of northern Africa with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Luhmann earned the right to join Kristof in Africa this summer when she won his annual Win-a-Trip Contest in February.

Every year since 2006, Kristof has selected someone to accompany him on a reporting trip to neglected areas of Africa. Kristof says that he started the contest to increase student interest in issues related to global poverty. Luhmann was chosen this year by Kristof out of more than 700 applicants.

Luhmann and Kristof have been blogging all week from various locations in Mali, Niger and Chad. In her blog post from July 2, Luhmann writes:

Driving into Timbuktu, we cleared multiple armed checkpoints. But more than insecurity, the thing really that caught my attention was the sense of abandonment. For a city that once thrived on Islamic scholarship and tourism, there was little in the way of market activity or functioning government buildings. Since the Islamist coup last year, not a single bank has reopened to support trade. This compounds the food security challenges residents will face during the upcoming lean season.

In another blog post from July 5, Luhmann writes about her experience talking to a group of women in southern Mali about sex, love, and female empowerment:

Niama’s father forced her to get married when she was just 14 years old. When I asked if she had been scared of getting pregnant at such a young age, she dismissed my concern and reminisced about a past love instead. She seemed more disappointed over losing her old boyfriend than she was about losing her youthful potential. Now she farms, cooks, and cares for her children. As for her girls, she thinks 15 or 16 is a more appropriate age for marriage because this would at least allow them to complete ninth grade. I think she may be underestimating the full power of female education.

In a more recent blog post on July 8 from Chad, Luhmann writes about malaria after a video journalist she had been traveling with was stricken with the disease:

Malaria scares are nothing to take lightly. Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable and treatment still doesn’t reach all of those who need it. We’ve talked with a lot of aid groups and locals about bed net distribution and usage in Mali, Niger and Chad – the issue is complex. Some families don’t have enough bed nets for everyone in their household, so they have to decide who will sleep safely under the bed net each night. Others struggle to adapt to using bed nets correctly. There are also counterfeit malaria treatment pills — a major problem in the developing world in general — that some parents end up buying at local markets for their children, only to find out they have been scammed once it is too late.

All of Luhmann’s blog posts can be read in their entirety at You can also follow Luhmann on Twitter at @erinluhmann.

Erin Luhmann earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Gustavus. She went on to serve 27 months in the Peace Corps teaching secondary English in the mountainous and landlocked country of Kyrgyzstan, located in Central Asia. Before embarking on the trip to Africa with Kristof, Luhmann earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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