Bridgette Zohner has never stepped foot on an airplane, but in April she'll leave her comfort zone and travel to Africa to fight poverty.
Zohner, a first-year Nursing student at Malaspina University-College, is one of four students selected to participate in a month-long field school in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. “It's going to be an amazing educational experience,” she said.
The field school, led by Tourism and Recreation Management professors Dr. Ken Hammer and Dr. Rick Rollins, is the start of a five-year project developed by Malaspina faculty and Malaspina's International Education department to help alleviate poverty in Sunyani, Ghana.
“The project involves a multi-disciplinary team of students and faculty in Tourism, Forestry, Health and Human Services and International Education working together with partners in Sunyani, and has received $400,000 in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through the Association of Canadian Community Colleges (ACCC),” said Sheila Swanson, Director of English as a Second Language programs and International Education at Malaspina.
“Our primary objective is to work with two post-secondary institutions - the Sunyani Polytechnic and the Faculty of Forest Resources Technology at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science - to develop new curricula to improve living conditions in rural Ghana. Eventually, the new curricula will be offered by the institutional partners in Sunyani, Ghana, a municipality of about 61,000 people.”
Malaspina faculty and students will help develop four community development projects aimed at reducing household waste, reducing HIV/AIDS, improving forest fire management and developing ecotourism.
“The project is about sharing knowledge and expertise between institutions, and connecting with communityleaders in Ghana to affect positive change,” explained Rollins. “Over the life of this project we want to help reduce poverty in Ghana, build capacity at Malaspina for participating in international projects, provide students with meaningful experiences working in the developing world, and increase international awareness at Malaspina and in the Nanaimo region.
In April, the Malaspina team will meet with Sunyani partners to determine roles and working relationships, identify target communities in the Sunyani area, and develop strategies aimed at reducing poverty. “We'll interact with non-government organizations, and other groups doing similar work in Ghana, to build potential partnerships and opportunities to collaborate, and prepare a work plan for subsequent years of the project,” said Rollins.
Malaspina students from across all disciplines were invited to apply for the Ghana field school and Zohner is thrilled to have been selected. “As a Nursing student, I’m interested in seeing what health means to the people of Ghana, what resources are available to them and how their environment is affecting their health,” said the Powell River native. “I’m particularly interested in creating strategies to reduce AIDS/HIV and to find out more on the topic of gender awareness.”
Tourism and Recreation Management student Amanda Moore, originally from Red Deer, Alberta, said participating in the field school “is an incredible way to provide the people in Ghana with the necessary tools to promote positive change. “I want to return with new eyes to see the world and a deeper passion to fight poverty locally and globally,” she said.
Andrea Jancicka from Prince George is currently enrolled in Malaspina’s Forestry Resources Technology program, and works as a seasonal forest firefighter in the South East Fire Centre in Revelstoke during the summer months. “Going to Africa has always been on my travel itinerary. I like the prospect of being able to contribute to community development.”
Karla Duarte, born in Mexico and raised in Nanaimo, is another Tourism Management student selected to participate. “My parents emigrated from a third world country and I have heard about their struggles and reliance on foreign aid to be able to get to where they are now,” she said. “ So going to Ghana is a very personal experience for me. I hope to see the impact of foreign aid, learn about the culture, and gain personal growth and a better understanding of international community development.”
Tourism professor Dr. Ken Hammer added that the trip is perfect opportunity for students and faculty to learn together in an applied environment. He’s looking forward to working with other collaborators, including the Regional District of Nanaimo, which has been involved with its own CIDA funded project in Ghana for the past few years. The RDN is helping to develop capacity for waste management.
As well, Hammer looks forward to reconnecting with George Addai, a resident of Ghana who came to Malaspina five years ago to study tourism. Nanaimo Rotary Clubs are also exploring ways to get involved to help alleviate poverty in Ghana.
The Malaspina team is accepting donations of school supplies, hygiene products, recreation equipment or cash for the people in Sunyani. Donations over $20 will receive a tax receipt, and can be sent to the Malaspina University-College Foundation, 114 – 59 Wharf Street, Nanaimo BC, V9R 2X3.