Out of the classroom and into Africa for SNC students

Sierra Nevada College students studied in AfricaNorth Lake Tahoe Bonanza:  Out of the classroom and across the world, six Sierra Nevada College students discovered in Africa that being there is education at its best. Accompanied this spring by SNC professors Mary Lewellen and Ted Morse, students Amanda Ford, Andrea Vazquez, Anthony Ratto, Maia Rowland, Martin Stocker, and Leo Pareti traveled for three weeks to places they had studied in the classroom.

Out of Africa came unforgettable experiences, insights, and new understanding that will stay with them a lifetime.

Thanks to the support of generous donor Toni Neubauer of Myths and Mountains, Sierra Nevada College, and the students’ parents, the group traveled by van throughout South Africa and flew between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe.

"The students came away with a greater appreciation of life in the "third world," the impact of hyper-inflation in a country, the adjustments one must make when traveling/living in third-world countries, the history of South Africa and its fight for independence from the Boer, Zulu, British, and most recently the struggle against apartheid," said Lewellen.

"They learned of the tactics used by the Afrikaan government to retain power and the laws used to try and restrict people.

"Perhaps, most important, was the realization that they come from a privileged nation and cannot take the rights and freedoms they have for granted," she said.

"People tell you that you’re fortunate, but having an experience such as going to Africa, lets you evaluate your life in a new way. It spurs us to give back, even if it starts on a local basis," said Amanda Ford.

"You think you know about things from studying books, but seeing things first hand you learn what it’s really like, the difference between my life here and the people there is huge, almost incomprehensible," said Andrea Vazquez.

A walk through the Soweto township in Johannesburg was eye-opening for Andrea.

"The black guide spoke good English and lived in a one-room shack with five other people.

"She really has nothing, but she sends her kids to school and is making something of her life.

"People in America, if they were at that level of poverty, would be sitting around not knowing what to do and probably doing nothing," she said.

The Apartheid Museum in Pretoria was one of the most intense experiences for Anthony Ratto. "

Andrea and I turned a corner and entered a large video room. Real life footage of the apartheid protests was being played – large riots, police brutality, children being hit, the blacks being attacked. We were stunned. Then we felt all these eyes on us. In the same room was a tour group from another African country. The hostile actions of the Afrikaners in this video were devastating and to be the only white people in the room was a real tough experience. While I am not responsible for the apartheid period, just being a white American in that room made me cringe," he said.

Both Ratto and another student, Martin Stocker, were keenly aware of how much respect most people treated each other, despite the differences in race.

"I’ve traveled a lot and never been treated with as much respect and hospitality as I was in South Africa and Zimbabwe," said Ratto who is considering a career in international service or economic development as a result of the trip.

Seeing first hand the results of the HIV-AIDS epidemic was disturbing to all the students. "It appears that the government of South Africa is not (will not) do anything to stop it," said Vazquez.

"But, we learned of several agencies that are trying to help such as Mothers-to-Mothers-to-be, mothers who have AIDS helping pregnant girls who also have AIDS."

Vazquez as moved to help where she can on a local level here at home. "Amanda and I talked about collecting school supplies in our home towns and here in Incline and sending them for the children who have nothing in the little schools," she said.

Professor Mary Lewellen finds teaching at Sierra Nevada College and traveling with students rewarding, "if we can inspire students to challenge themselves and to think a bit about the world and the people beyond a college town," she said.

Mary retired after a distinguished career with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Among many foreign assignments, she served as the Mission Director for Ethiopia and, following retirement, has served as acting Mission Director in Eritrea, Namibia, South Africa and most recently for seven months in Malawi.

Also a CPA, Mary earned undergraduate and MBA degrees from Arizona State University and an M.S. in National Security Strategy from the National War College.

She and husband Ted Morse team-teach four classes in the International Relations Department at SNC: a National Security Seminar that focuses on U.S. foreign policy and national security interests in East and Southern Africa, Comparative Politics, Regional Economic-Political Geography and International Terrorism which looks at the nature and strategies of insurgencies and peacemaking methods that can be used to quell the conflicts.

Ted compliments Mary’s management and training background with more than forty years of experience in international peace building and reconstruction in Nicaragua, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Grenada. Mary and Ted make their home in Galena Forest in South Reno.

The two professors would love to take another group of students to South Africa or even to other parts of the continent. For more information on Africa or classes in international studies at Sierra Nevada College, contact Mary Lewellen at mllafrica@aol.com.

If you would like to help with a school supply drive, contact Andrea at avazquez@sierranevada.edu.

Marnie MacArthur
Special to the Bonanza