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Making an impact in Tanzania

Becca Naurath ’16, Danni Baxter ’14, Danielle Hanes ’15, Katie MacLachlan ’16 and Aakash Phulwani ’17 take a break while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro during a recent outreach trip to Tanzania.

A group of students and faculty spent 10 days in the East African nation of Tanzania recently restoring a schoolhouse and giving presentations on sustainability, emotional and behavioral issues, special education, and HIV and AIDS.

The group was led by Brandon Knettel, a Ph.D. candidate in counseling psychology in the College of Education, and Jill Sperandio, associate professor of education and human services.

“You can put your education to work there,” said Knettel, who taught Tanzanian teachers methods on how to recognize and help students with learning disabilities.

“Part of it is the great need. Part of it is the lack of institutional resistance to change. There is a hunger to learn how things are done elsewhere and to incorporate it and use it.”

The Lehigh group visited Tanzania from May 23 to June 2. They presented a dozen educational lectures and found time to seal the walls of a dirt-floor schoolhouse.

Five undergraduate students made the trip as part of Sustainable Development Solutions, a course taught by Mark Orrs, director of Lehigh’s sustainable development program and professor of practice in the department of political science. The course is part of Lehigh’s sustainable development program (SDP) curriculum, which focuses on economic development that is socially equitable and does not come at the expense of the environment.

Taking advice from Hippocrates

“Lehigh’s sustainable development program emphasizes the ‘Hippocratic oath’ mentality of ‘first do no harm’,” said Orrs. “The coursework prepares students for work in these settings and educates them about all of the cultural, ethical, socioeconomic, and logistical dimensions that go into doing no harm and maximizing impact on the communities themselves.”

The students in the Sustainable Development Solutions class were Danielle Hanes ’15, a global studies major, Becca Naurath ’16 (environmental engineering), Tanzania native Aakash Phulwani ’17 (electrical engineering), Danni Baxter ’14 (finance and business information systems), and Katie MacLachlan ’16 (global studies).

The students joined Sperandio and two other professionals in Tanzania: Christine Knettel, Brandon’s wife, and Nancy Horstmann. Christine, an emergency medicine resident at Temple University, provided education on health care and nutrition. Horstmann is a special education advocate. Both, along with Sperandio, have experience living or working in East Africa.

The trip was sponsored by the sustainable development program. Sperandio, the project adviser, led presentations on educational leadership and strategic planning.

“The students chose which of the lectures they wanted to help with,” said Horstmann, who speaks Swahili. “We met weekly at Lehigh during the spring semester. We honed our projects to meet the needs of our hosts—the students, teachers and administrators of Tanzania. We also prepped the Lehigh students with knowledge of the Tanzanian culture.”

Emphasizing existing strengths

Workshops and presentations were held at Mount Meru University, the Baraa Government School and the Gracious Primary School. All are located near Arusha, a city in northern Tanzania not far from the border with Kenya.

“We used our previous training and a great deal of research to consider ways that Tanzanian teachers could incorporate low tech or ‘no tech’ learning tools to improve their classrooms,” said Brandon Knettel. “Since electricity is limited and computers are rare in the schools, we introduced several simple activities and tools that would emphasize the students’ strengths and not deficiencies.”

At the Gracious Primary School, the team plastered and whitewashed two red brick buildings and painted educational murals to decorate the outer walls of the classrooms.

“We also painted the Lehigh shield,” said Knettel.

Knettel and Horstmann wrote the proposal for the SDP grant, which subsidized the expenses of the five undergraduate students. Horstmann and her husband, Theodor Horstmann, a 1958 Lehigh business administration alumnus, provided a generous donation to support the educational component of the trip and to purchase the building supplies for Gracious.

“I can’t say enough about the Horstmanns’ generosity. It was remarkable for them to come into a program and see the potential for it,” said Knettel. “Plus, Nancy was the most energetic and enthusiastic person on the trip. The Lehigh students called her their energy bar.”

The Horstmanns are members of the Asa Packer Society, Lehigh’s leadership giving society.

“I think we are in the infancy stage of reaching out,” said Nancy. “I can see that Lehigh is becoming a leader in sustainable development projects throughout the world.”

Before traveling to Tanzania, the Lehigh team held a laptop drive and received 20 donations. Working with Labdoo and Ubuntu, two humanitarian organizations, the students wiped the computers of information and installed free operating systems and educational software. Airplane restrictions allowed only 10 donated laptops to be transported, so the team delivered that many to The Network Against Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania. The other 10 will be donated soon.

Story by Dawn Thren

Posted on Thursday, June 26, 2014

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