Tag Archives: Education

University of Cape Town

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We spent two days with University of Cape Town (UCT) students, “dropping in” on their service learning course. The course is a 3-week elective open to multiple majors, but predominantly made up of engineering students. A group from Providence College (PC) in Rhode Island also joined the course for about two of the three weeks.

On Monday, our Rutgers groups (11 graduate students) were divided up among four groups of UCT and PC students. Each group went to a different site in the townships to learn more about a community organization and the struggle in the townships for residents to have their rights granted after Apartheid actually recognized. Several of the groups went to visit informal settlements (shacks that may or may not have water/electricity) or “backyarders” (shacks located in others’ backyards and rented by the tenant).

My group went to the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) to visit an activist group known as the PHA Food and Farming Campaign. This community group is made of farmers in a traditionally “colored” area. “Colored” is one of the four official recognized races during Apartheid–colored individuals were not allowed the full privileges of white citizens, but had more privileges than black South Africans.

South Africa is currently going through a very severe drought, but the PHA is located on an aquifer, making the farmlands there nearly drought resistant–which is fortunate, since the PHA supplys half of the produce sold and consumed in Cape Town.

What’s the problem? Most of the farmers are black or colored and most of the land (90%) is owned by white South Africans with large-scale farming operations. The issue here is two-fold: many of these white landowners are removed from the local community and some have sold their property off to major developers who want to built shopping centers, high-end housing (unaffordable to current residents), and a private prison.

These developers have to get the land re-zoned to use it for that purpose, but by law, it’s supposed to be used as farming land until it’s re-zoned. It’s currently sitting empty. The locals are trying with great difficulty to prevent these areas from being re-zoned. If this area is redeveloped, farming will have to move further out from the city and to less farm-able land. The increased transportation costs and the vulnerability to drought will increase the cost of the produce.

The second issue is that the PHA includes land that was promised to be redistributed after Apartheid. The process, however, includes so many road blocks that it is difficult for these local farmers to receive the land allotments that were promised to them as part of retribution for the horrors and forced removals during Apartheid.

The Food and Farming Campaign is fighting for a few things:

-Using due process to protest the re-zoning and development of farmland

-Making the city do the required environmental study of the aquifer and the impact of development on the environment

-Advocating that each farming family get 2 hectares of land to produce food for their own family and to sell the produce

-Get the PHA designated as preserved agricultural land

In addition to their goals above, the Food and Farming Campaign provides education and best practices support to fellow farmers. The PHA is teaming up with UCT to create a community soil lab so that farmers can organically maintain nutrient-rich soil and sustainable farms. The community also has an informal settlement and would like to be able to build permanent housing for its residents, as a community-driven effort.

On Wednesday, we joined the UCT and PC students for an on campus session of their course. We broke into groups that had a student who had gone to each of the different sites and talked about what we saw and learned. Many students in my group were international students (Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mauritius) and several mentioned that they had never been to a township or knew that Cape Town also had poverty like they’d seen at home. UCT is the top ranked African university, so students come from all over Africa and are mostly graduates private schools.

After our group discussion, a synthesis of our “take aways,” and a brief presentation to the other groups, we reassembled as a large group and discussed a reading about border crossing, based on the U.S.-Mexico border experience in Tijuana. We talked about other ways you can cross borders without leaving your country–sometimes just by going to a rural area or an inner-city.

All in all, the extended experience with Cape Town students was an interesting way to learn more not only about poverty in the townships, but also about higher education in South Africa. Our group made a few friends from UCT who came to join us at our B-n-B last night for one of our groupmate’s birthdays.

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And Away We Go!

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She’s at it again, they’ll say! Will she ever settle down?

Yes, I am at it again. And no, other than the whole got married part, I doubt my incurable wanderlust will dissipate.

This summer, I will be heading to South Africa, as part of Rutgers University South Africa Initiative.

We will be meeting with universities, schools, community organizations, government officials, and change agents. How do schools and education more broadly lead to social change? In post-Apartheid Africa, I will learn more about how schools educate and communities transform through major social changes.

One of the things I am interested in is how social change, reconciliation, and forgiveness have and continue to shape a community marked by violence and racism. How have students help lead that change? What lessons or observations will I learn/make during my visit that will relate to some of the struggles we face in our own country?

We had our first of a handful of orientations last night where I met the other 8 or so participants–who are PhD students (like me), current teachers, masters students, or education and community leaders.

I hope you will join me in this journey by:

  • Reading the book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past by Jonathan D. Jansen and/or Social justice and transformative learning: Culture and identity in the United States & South Africa by Darren Clarke and Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke with me and sharing your insights
  • Following my blog
  • Suggesting other reading or giving me travel recommendations

Fair warning: True to my previous entries about my travels to India, Nepal, and Thailand, these posts (as demonstrated) will not be short entries. Sorry not sorry.

Why South Africa?

Listen to the Day of Affirmation speech Robert F. Kennedy gave at the University of Capetown during his 1966 trip–even just the first minute and 15 seconds is enlightening.

Solidarity, Sister

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Today, I went to one of the best panel I’ve ever attended (and definitely better than any I’ve planned/hosted/moderated). And, I have been to many panels in my day. This particular event was entitled White House Women in Foreign Policy, a part of the White House’s celebration of Women’s History month. Aside from the yearbook’s worth of photos I took of the East Wing, the even itself was just spectacular.

What about this event was so spectacular? Was it an audience of predominantly women listening to some of the most powerful women in foreign affairs? Was it all the cute professional clothes and shoes I now feel inspired (compelled) to go out and buy?

These were all wonderful accidents of the amazing substance. Hearing four accomplished women talking about their mid-20s was like having them read my mind. I ran into a friend from grad school in line for security and we ended up sitting next to each other. We kept glancing at each other with looks that said, this is down right creepy–it’s like they’re reading our minds.

These well-educated, poised women were up here talking about the fear and uncertainty of their 20s and onward–of their careers, of their families, of their first boss, and of their first jobs. What it’s like to be a minority in the field as a woman. They discussed work-life balance and whether or not it was realistic to “have it all.” Everything that has been on my mind–working abroad, working in government, working outside of government, careers, relationships, plans for a family, all of that were accounted for in the wonderful accounts these women gave of the ups and downs of their lives.

To say the least, it was encouraging. These women worried and planned. They got degrees and went through job searches. They had jobs and bosses they didn’t like. They got opportunities that changed their plans and careers. They sought out mentors. They worked their butts off. They failed. And they succeeded.

There is something immensely encouraging about knowing you’re not alone. And there is something immensely inspiring about knowing these women have trodden the path before me–that many of them blazed the trail. I find that there are few things more valuable in life than being an attentive listener to those that have walked before you and those that walk with you. There is a comfort in knowing that even if we don’t always know the answer, we’re not alone.

White House Women in Foreign Policy Panel

Linda Etim-Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID; Caitlin Hayden-Spokesperson, National Security Council, White House; Maria Otero-Under Secretary, Dept of State; Michele Flournoy-Under Secretary, Dept of Defense

“Live the life you have imagined.”

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Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.
—Henry David Thoreau

Do you ever just “feel” a blog post coming on? Well I do. I actually have another post written—a story from last week. It’s a good one too, though it rambles a bit. I also have a collection of pictures from the impromptu photo shoot we had last week at the office. Ah, well…sometimes you just need to write. I don’t consider myself a “writer” or an “artist” by any means, but I do love to create—something new and totally my own.

Today I woke up and came to work, continuing typing up the report on my study. As I was typing, I realized a few things. First off, I care way more about layout than I should…I like aesthetics, so sue me. (I will not get off into a discussion of the Beautiful right now.) But more importantly, I am much better at asking questions than answering them. I also really only have some interest in the answer.

My report so far is full of far more questions and suggestions for future studies than actually analysis (I know…I’m working on it!!). I noticed at the museum here, I turned into that six year old—constantly asking my host, What about this? How did this come about? Why? (Who are we kidding? I WAS that six year old and probably never grew out of it. Thank you, Mom, for putting up with me.) But my interest lies in the possibilities of a problem or an issue, rather than implementing the concrete solution. Now if only I can find a job that requires me to be an ideas woman…

The quote which fixed itself into my brain this morning sometime between breakfast and morning tea time was the Thoreau quote above. Admission. I am part transcendentalist at heart. I know this quote is a perennial of every high school yearbook ad and commencement speech—every spring without fail, someone somewhere is looking out at bright, young, optimistic graduates spouting this call to action.

How is this relevant to India? Like a broken record, the second part of this phrase is spinning in my brain. Is this the life I have imagined? (There I go again with the questions…) I don’t think I would have in 1,000 years have imagined coming halfway across the world to India. I don’t think I would have dared to dream of India. And yet, going confidently, doggedly, in the direction of my dreams is something I’m well-practiced at (notice I didn’t say “always succeed at”, because I don’t!). I have dreamed of going to Nepal after a particularly awesome Tulsa Town Hall Lecture years ago…it was never a someday sort of dream, however. It was an I AM going to Nepal—even if it was qualified by an ambiguous “someday.” In 3 weeks, I am going to Nepal.

I think the point of this blog post is two-fold…first, I am constantly amazed at the opportunities I have. My Grandmother once told me, “Molly, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. You are lucky.” I would like to think my indomitable spirit—and my ability to submit as many scholarship, grant, trip, graduate school, etc. applications as necessary (until someone says YES!)—has some to do with it. But I know every step of the way that I am blessed and that others have sacrificed so that I can have these opportunities (my mother and grandmother just to name a few!).

Second, I am in the middle of trying to figure out what to pursue upon completion of my master’s degree. And while I decided as a middle schooler that my dream was to travel the world and meet new people (and I am well on my way there)…I am faced with the question, what is the life that I imagine?

Nine years ago I read a quote from Ben Stein that haunts me to this very day. “The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.”

Going confidently? Done. Living the life I’ve imagined? Damn, I wish I was better at answering questions.

Now back to get back to the study I’m conducting…