Under the African Sun

Examples of what we can accomplish during time-off

Two student groups will be travelling to Africa this J-term, not only to re-heat from the bitter Boston winter, but also to implement projects they have been working on all semester. As J-term is becoming more established with each year, it is accompanied by an increasing number of opportunities to do service work abroad.

Dalumuzi Happy Mhlanga ’13, founded the organization Lead Us Today in 2010, which provides Zimbabwean youth with a leadership-training program, support to create sustainable community development projects, and an internship program. Since Mhlanga founded Lead Us Today in 2010, the organization has provided leadership training to 118 students from eight high schools in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. So far, the students have implemented 16 community development projects such as a fruit and vegetable garden benefiting HIV/AIDS patients with nutritional needs and sanitation campaigns orchestrated in partnership with corporations that have provided rubbish bins.

Though going back to Zimbabwe to work on Lead Us Today is like going home for Mhlanga, he was able to recruit a group of other dedicated Harvard students to travel with him and work with the organization this January. The group has been working on new projects to implement since the start of school.  One of the team members, Daniel M. Lobo ’14, plans on making a documentary on the organization’s work during his time there. Jayshlyn D. Acevedo ’14 has also been working on developing leadership curricula with professors from Harvard and will be implementing these new teaching techniques in an intensive three day leadership training course the group will be carrying out once in Zimbabwe. “I don’t want Lead Us Today to be another student group run by Harvard students,” notes Acevedo. “I want Lead Us Today to be an organization run by the students that are directly benefitting from it. We are simply a means to their success.” Mhlanga believes the J-term trip will be beneficial to both his fellow Harvard classmates and the Zimbabwean youth involved in Lead Us Today. “I definitely see this trip as a unique opportunity for the learning and growth of both Lead Us Today and Harvard students,” Mhlanga says. “It’s a great privilege to connect the next generation of socially responsible citizens of Zimbabwe to the one of the greatest places of education and innovation in the world, Harvard University.”

While Lead Us Today deals with providing promising Zimbabwean youth the leadership skills they will need to lead and contribute successfully to their country, Harvard’s Global Hunger Initiative is focused on providing healthcare in Uganda to impoverished areas that need it most. The Global Hunger Initiative has been sending students to Nyakibale Hospital since 2009. During the J-term trip in 2011, the students who went were able to do outreach to health centers in and around the district, agriculture initiatives, review and utilize the financial viability of the hospital canteens (small stores which fund the malnutrition ward), train the nursing staff on malnutrition protocol, and educate mothers on prevention and treatment methods for their children.

This coming trip, the group hopes to create and train a network of Village Health teams to visit, treat, and educate at health centers that extend beyond the district and on a more regular basis. It also hopes to continue agricultural efforts through the community gardens and maternal food baskets, for which they would work with a nutritionist here at Harvard to help develop before they leave. They will do an analysis of financial viability and how best to use the funds created by the canteen. They also plan to shift the focus of education to pre-natal and antenatal care to serve as more effective prevention tools for mothers. Four undergraduates make up the Board of Directors for the program: Christopher M. Goldstein ’13, Kristina L. Tester ’14, B. Marjorie Gullick ’13, and Katherine Lim ’13.

When asked why she decided to go to Uganda over J-term, Gullick admits “there may be little appeal in taking three weeks of your J-term to travel to a rural village in Uganda that has little to no access to running water and internet, when mosquito nets and beans and rice are a staple of your everyday life, but for me, it’s the first and greatest opportunity to put my education to use.” J-term is a great opportunity to use the time away from Harvard to utilize the skills one has acquired here and share them with people elsewhere, as Gullick elucidates: “The passion and skills that I cultivate in the classroom can come to fruition at Nyakibale Hospital, where it really is about giving back what you can and paying forward what you have been provided.”

Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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