Local High School Students Talk Africa

HGSE students create Africa program for Boston-area high schools

Barefoot and assembled in a large circle singing “moto wayaka”—Swahili for “a fire has been lit,”—40 high school students from Boston-area schools concluded their day-long program on a wide range of issues affecting Africa run by students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Saturday.

In addition to attending panels and keynote speeches alongside University affiliates at the Harvard African Development Conference, the students participated in discussions and role-played nation-building with graduate students at the Ed School.

Julie M. Ficarra, one of the graduate students who began the initiative to incorporate local high school students into the conference, said the program’s curriculum would help fill in knowledge gaps about Africa that high schools do not teach. For example, in one discussion, a student asked what sub-Saharan Africa was and why the distinction between it and North Africa existed; another asked about the concept of a panel.

“It’s really important for high school students to be inspired by this program to know a little bit about Africa,” Ficarra said. “It’s not just movies like Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond. It’s a complicated place.”

However, Ficarra added that there were adjustments in the curriculum for students who already had previous knowledge of African culture and politics—students like Prospect Hill Academy senior Elias Estabrook, whose family worked for the UN in Niger. Estabrook said the main benefit of the program was meeting peers from multiple backgrounds and discussing the experiences of his graduate student leaders in Africa.

“We don’t want to be talked to the whole time but to be able to voice our opinions and build on our dreams and passions,” he said.

For Lawrence High School senior Kesy Delilo, whose great-great-grandmother was brought as a slave from Africa to Brazil, the most important lesson was about foreign aid on the continent.

“You learn the boundaries for knowing when you’re helping and when you’re just getting in the way,” she said. “You need to know your own limitations.”

Though the program was only a day long, Boston Latin Academy English teacher Lillian Marshall said she felt its lessons would be helpful for her students in the program.

“It could be that these students, because they have a respect for and knowledge of Africa, will have extra career opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before,” Marshall said.

—Staff writer Michelle M. Hu can be reached at michellehu@college.harvard.edu.

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