Twenty-four SNC students have returned from four weeks program working with communities in the Hoedspruit and Acornhoek areas, in the bush country of South Africa. The service-learning program was in collaboration with the Thornybush Reserve and Sabi Sands, well-known game reserves essential to the regional economy, and Hlokomela, a locally based NGO. At the Hanalani School the students worked with local residents to install windows and electricity, and tutored primary school children in math and English. They worked in the Hlokomela and Utah community gardens, where harvests help to feed co-op members, supply a school feeding program, and are sold to local safari camps to pay for co-op families’ school fees. Each participating student also contributed $400 in personal funds towards building materials for renovation projects, school supplies, and shoes and toys for local children.
The program was organized and led by veteran foreign service officers and SNC faculty members Mary Lewellen and Ted Morse, who have a combined 70-plus years of experience in economic and social development and project management in over 25 countries.
SNC President Lynn Gillette commented that “From a teaching and learning standpoint, time in another country – especially in a third world environment – creates a kind of cognitive disequilibrium. It gives students a fresh set of eyes for evaluating and examining what they think and believe. Great education is all about learning how to take in new information and experiences and make them your own. Our students say that their time in South Africa is life changing and literally it is – for them and for those they meet.”
Along with the service-learning component, students had formal course work in African politics and development economics. SNC Science Professor Chuck Levitan led an extended course at the South African Wildlife College in community-based natural resource management, essential to preserving the game in South African reserves and supporting eco-tourism.
“Students gain perspective on the challenges faced by local people and communities; they get outside of the classroom and understand first-hand the complexities of economic growth and development. Importantly, they learn to apply their entrepreneurial know-how and make a difference for others,” said Gillette.
The collaborating communities and organizations have already approached project leaders to suggest expansion of next year’s program. Nic Griffin, Chief Executive of The Thornybush Collection, wrote to Professor Lewellen, “I have always sought in relationships to have a ‘win, win’ outcome where both parties gain equal benefit . . . and I have to say this has been one of the finest examples. I find [these] students are far more disposed to giving up their own youthful times for others, working hard when they could be enjoying times with their friends and truly committed to helping those less fortunate.”