Jenny Benson (BA Hons'07, MA'09)

Approaching life with an open mind

It’s up to you to be always thinking, always inquisitive, always curious as to where you can take your skills and talents and apply them in a way that is going to change the world that you live in.

   

Shortly after graduation, Jenny Benson started to work as an executive assistant in the Nova Scotia Premier’s Office. Sounds great, right? What Jenny does in her spare time is even more interesting.

In 2009, she started a charity to fund the education of African girls called The Aninga Project, named after Aninga, the first girl she and her family helped send to school.

Aninga grew up within walking distance from the borders of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in one of the most dangerous corners of Africa. Few girls go to school there.

The project started when Jenny's friend Constance Shumba married a doctor from Northern Uganda and settled in Kampala. They began discussing possible charitable projects together, looking for places where a small amount of money would make a big difference.

Jenny’s degrees had little to do with international development work. Her research topics were rooted in the western world. Her honours thesis looked at the grieving process individuals go through after losing their pet dog and her master's thesis examined the influence of Facebook on people’s lives.

But that didn’t matter. Jenny credits her social anthropology degrees with giving her
the tools that equipped her for the task at hand.

“I went into it with an open mind. There was no theoretical track or developmental method I wanted to stick to. I just want to make life better for people.”

And she does. The Aninga Project sends seven girls to school and is now a federally registered charity. Their education is not only an achievable goal, it affects their lives on many levels: Schooling serves to educate, empower and protect them from everyday dangers.

When you look at Jenny’s career combined with her academic and charitable work, there’s an incredible openness and diversity to her life. She chalks it up to being something of an opportunist.

“I feel like it’s up to you to look for your opportunities to utilize your degree,” she says.
“It’s up to you to be always thinking, always inquisitive, always curious as to where you can take your skills and talents and apply them in a way that is going to change the world that you live in.”