SNC students, faculty work with South African communities | SierraSun.com

SNC students, faculty work with South African communities

Special to the Bonanza

SNC students gather with area children to celebrate International Play Day.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Twenty-four college students from Sierra Nevada College have returned from a four-week program in the bush country of South Africa, where they worked with communities in the Hoedspruit and Acornhoek areas.

The service-learning program was in collaboration with the Thornybush Reserve and Sabi Sands, well-known area game reserves essential to the regional economy, and Hlokomela, a locally based non-governmental organization.

The program was organized and led by veteran foreign service officers and SNC faculty members Mary Lewellen and Ted Morse, who have a combined 70-plus years of experience in economic and social development, as well as project management, in over 25 countries.

"From a teaching and learning standpoint, time in another country — especially in a third world environment — creates a kind of cognitive disequilibrium," said SNC President Lynn Gillette. "It gives students a fresh set of eyes for evaluating and examining what they think and believe. Great education is all about learning how to take in new information and experiences and make them your own."

Among their projects, SNC students worked with local residents to install windows and electricity in buildings at the Hanalani School and to tutor primary school children in math and English.

They applied their physical labor to the Hlokomela and Utah community gardens where harvests help to feed co-op members, supply a school feeding program, and are sold to local safari camps to earn income so that co-op families can pay for their children to attend school.

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As an element of the program, each participating SNC student contributes $400 in personal funds for the purchase of building materials for renovation projects, school supplies for area teachers, and shoes and toys for local children.

Along with the service-learning component, students had formal course work in African politics and development economics.

SNC Science Professor Chuck Levitan led an extended course at the South African Wildlife College in community-based natural resource management, essential to preserving the game in South African reserves and supporting eco-tourism.

"Students gain perspective on the challenges faced by local people and communities; they get outside of the classroom and understand first-hand the complexities of economic growth and development," Gillette said. "Importantly, they learn to apply their entrepreneurial know-how and make a difference for others."

The collaborating communities and organizations have already approached project leaders to suggest expansion of next year's program.

Nic Griffin, Chief Executive of The Thornybush Collection, wrote to Professor Lewellen: "I have always sought in relationships to have a 'win-win' outcome where both parties gain equal benefit … and I have to say this has been one of the finest examples. I find (these) students are far more disposed to giving up their own youthful times for others, working hard when they could be enjoying times with their friends and truly committed to helping those less fortunate."