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Botswana study abroad experience brings HIV/AIDS issues to life

Nov. 15, 2006
By Maria Gallucci

"When I say 'remoho' you say 'seboza'," calls Leslie Jo Shelton, as she bounds to the front of the room. "Remoho," she calls. "Seboza," the assembled students and faculty respond. She has just employed a greeting in the Setswana language to get the attention of a crowd gathered to hear about Ohio University's pilot HIV/AIDS field study in Gaborone, Botswana.

When most students think of study abroad they think of programs in England, France, Italy, or Spain. But a few students might think of a trip that enables them to learn more about and work on tough issues, volunteer for a social cause, and travel to a country they might never otherwise see. Last summer, 10 of these adventurous and committed Ohio University students had the opportunity to take their education off paper, out of the classroom and into the real world as part of the field study.

Directed by Mandi Chikombero, the four-week program had students listening to lectures from experts at the University of Botswana (UB), interning with community organizations engaged in awareness and prevention initiatives and expanding their networks with relevant people and groups.

Chikombero, an assistant professor of telecommunications, said the best way to learn about HIV/AIDS issues is not in a classroom, but rather through first-hand experiences. "We wanted (the students) to learn from the ordinary people that are working in this area every day and from people that are living with HIV/AIDS," not just professors or experts, she said.

As the creator and director of the field study, Chikombero served as a coordinator in Botswana and provided a link between students, UB and the organizations.

During the first week in Botswana, students attended lectures and seminars at UB as part of an orientation process. They also met with representatives from organizations dealing with issues such as youth empowerment, women and gender equality, law and ethics—all relating to HIV/AIDS. In the second week, students began their individual internships with community groups.

Sumi Kato, a second-year graduate student from Japan studying International Development, traveled around to area schools with the Youth Health Organization (YOHO) and helped set stages for dramas about gender issues and passion killings. She said that in Botswana, men no longer have the power to control women as they used to, so passion killings are ways a man can maintain power when, for example, his girlfriend ends their relationship. 

Leslie Jo Shelton, a second-year graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program, worked with Kato to help run YOHO's seboza soccer program in the schools. Seboza means "cool" in the local language, and the program combined soccer concepts with HIV/AIDS concepts. For example, different colored penalty cards used in a game would correlate with the danger or safety of certain sexual practices. 

With a player from Botswana's national soccer team, Shelton traveled around to different schools to teach facts about HIV/AIDS and safe sex practices. After the lesson, the children would go into the schoolyard to play games which took the concepts off paper and into real life, she said.

Runa Nagatomo, a second-year graduate student from Japan studying International Development, worked with Makgabeneng, a radio station that uses communications for behavioral changes towards HIV/AIDS issues. The station broadcasts dramas featuring positive and negative characters, and its objective is to make the listeners realize the consequences of their actions in regards to their health, she said.

Nagatomo's summer in Botswana showed her the complexities of the HIV/AIDS issue and how they affect every aspect of life, an experience she said she wouldn't have gained from inside the classroom.

Kato said that before the field study, her only knowledge on the HIV/AIDS issue was through articles or lectures, but since she has worked with an international organization she has gained more confidence and can now share her own experiences in her classes.

In addition to classes and internships, Ohio students also had to chance to take trips and excursions together outside the city, interact with local people and attend community events. The group took a river cruise to the point where Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia come together and had the opportunity to see of elephants, hippopotami and crocodiles along the way. They also traveled to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Sun City in South Africa.

Chikombero said about half of the students extended their stay in Botswana after Ohio's field study ended and worked with other organizations.

Kato remained in Botswana for another month and interned at the Botswana Council of Churches. She began writing a grant proposal to allocate money for office relocation and a program for street children, and she will continue writing the grant for her final graduate school project. Kato's second internship gave her a chance to see "real poverty" in the slums of an economically imbalanced capital city, she said.

The field study experience made it clear to her that in the future she wants to work for a non-governmental organization that works for African children, she said, adding that she continues to talk with the contacts she made while in Botswana.

Nagatomo also interned for an additional month with a micro-finance organization that gives small loans to low-income women without access to formal financial institutions. She said it helped her realize her interest in micro-finance as a future career. 

Chikombero said the trip was an overall success and that the group achieved all that it set out to do. For the next trip, she wants to provide students with more opportunities to socialize and relax during the field study. She also hopes to provide more opportunities for undergraduate students and students from other universities. 

Last summer, only one of the 10 students was undergraduates and all were from Ohio University. One student in the program was from Eritrea and another from Sudan. Kato and Nagatomo were the two other international students; the remaining six students were all from the United States.


Maria Gallucci is a junior studying journalism and Spanish in the Honors Tutorial College.

 

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Published: Jan 3, 2007 9:35:38 AM
 
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