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Research and aid in Africa

Service-learning opportunities in Africa give students a chance to help others a world away
Jan 18, 2010
By Colleen Kiphart

This is the second installment of a four-part series on service learning at Ohio University.

Africa is the second most populous continent. According to 2008 estimates by the CIA, nine of the world?s 10 poorest nations are found in Africa. As disease, famine and wars ravage their population, aid is more necessary than ever.

Many Ohio University students respond to this call and participate in service-learning trips to Africa. OHIO has many links to African universities and aid groups through close relationships that have been fostered by the Center for International Studies, College of Education and many others.

OHIO offers many options for students with an interest in learning more about African cultures and community service. Some of them are discussed below, but visit the Office of Education Abroad for information about trips not listed here.

The Ohio University-based Empower Campaign* is starting its own service-learning program in Uganda this summer. Empower supports villages in Africa through the sale of jewelry. The organization purchases paper beads and jewelry local Ugandan artisans. All profits from the sale of the jewelry are reinvested into Ugandan communities to send children to school and to repair schools.

Participants will live and work with the communities they have assisted from Athens. Students will receive course credit for their studies while in Uganda, but they will also receive something more. "This is going to be an extension of Empower?s mission," Sherrow said. "We are taking our students to see where their hard work is going."

Engineers Without Borders is an international organization that encourages engineers and engineering students to use their skills in underserved communities around the world. Jeff Giesey, an associate professor at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, is the faculty adviser for the Ohio University chapter.

Working with the village of Maase-Ofinso, the team, composed of engineering students and Giesey, has focused on building structures for the community. This year they will be working on creating a simple, reliable water pump for the village. Maase-Ofinso?s naturally clean water is a source of income for the village, but their current pump constantly breaks down.

"With a project like this there is a place for every engineering discipline to help," Giesey said. "But joining in also offers a practical engineering experience that many students can?t get in the classroom. It really enhances their education."

Participants stay at a combination of host-family homes and guesthouses, and everyone eats their meals with a Ghanaian family. The trip is two weeks long and takes place at the end of November.

Teach in Ghana is a program that is designed for those with teaching experience or experience with younger children and an interest in African culture. Participants will teach in primary, middle and high schools. Students fully learn about the Ghanaian culture by staying with host families and taking weekend excursions with their cohorts.

Acacia Nikoi, assistant director of African studies, has been involved with the program since 1998. "It is a great teaching opportunity," she said. "Combine that with getting to experience another country and culture, and students get an invaluable life experience."

The 14-week program takes place in the fall and works with a number of schools in Cape Coast, Ghana, the nation?s third-largest city. English is the official language, but Akan is also widely spoken. Language classes are offered.

Students will arrive at their service site well-prepared. "We do four or five orientation sessions in the spring to help prepare them," Nikoi said. "And, because a lot of parents balk at their children studying in Africa, we have a parental orientation too."

SHARE Kenya-Ohio is a program through the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine for fourth-year medical students, faculty, clinicians, journalists and photographers. It has been at OHIO since 1997. Participants spend their days seeing patients in Kenya?s western region.

"This multidisciplinary group can see 3,000 to 5,000 patients during the three weeks they?re there," said Gillian Ice, director of international programs at OU-COM. "A few years ago we saw 8,000 people."

Serving this rural Kenyan community, participants have the chance to treat diseases or manifestations of disease that are not normally seen in the United States, including leprosy, malaria and typhoid.

There is also time to appreciate the beauty of Kenya?s countryside. Participants will attend a safari and go sightseeing regularly. The program takes place during OHIO's winter break. For medical students, SHARE Kenya can be counted as a clinical rotation.

Growing out of SHARE Kenya-Ohio is the Kenyan Grandparents Project. The research study, overseen by Ice, looks at the health and stress of Luo elders who care for their orphaned grandchildren in western Kenya. The length of the program varies from four to 12 weeks, depending on available funding. First- and second-year medical students are encouraged to apply.

"It is a great situation," Ice said. "We get assistants through the Kenyan Grandparents Project and the students get research experience."

And, while the program is research based, the students spend most of their days among the Kenyan villages and their people.

"It has been really enjoyable taking students and facilitating change," Ice said. "It may sound cliched, but these trips can change lives. It is great to see the process. The students can become better doctors from it."

The AIDS in Botswana program is suspended until summer 2011 due to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which borders Botswana. Graduate students who are interested in participating should contact the Office of Study Abroad for more information about this program.


* Following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site.


Published: Jan 18, 2010 8:00 AM

mother and child

A mother and her child wait outside of one of SHARE Kenya's clinics in rural western Kenya.

McGrew and Fidel

Sarah McGrew, director of pre-doctoral education at the College of Medicine, holds a Kenyan infant named Fidel during one of SHARE Kenya's clinics.

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