July 13, 2012

Students watch the sun rise from atop Lion's Head above Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Madison Lane, Class of '14.)

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By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. — On their last morning in South Africa, the 19 Bucknell University students woke up before dawn and hiked to the top of Lion's Head, one of the mountains above Cape Town. As they sat at the summit, the rising sun revealed a panorama of the city and its harbor.

The beautiful scenery contrasted with some of the sights the students had witnessed earlier in their three-week trip: makeshift shacks with no plumbing, homeless people begging for food, and the former maximum security prison at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent many of his 27 years held captive for leading the fight against apartheid.

"People often go and experience the touristy stuff — and South Africa is a beautiful place — but they don't really experience the cultural and social aspects that would make the trip an academic experience," said Geoffrey Schneider, professor of economics and co-leader of the summer study abroad course, Bucknell in Cape Town, South Africa.

Schneider, along with co-leader Associate Professor of Psychology Kimberly Daubman and Associate Professor of Management Tammy Hiller, developed the course to teach students about the legacy of apartheid and efforts to assuage the inequalities that remain since the system ended in 1994.

"It's the world's most unequal country," said Schneider, who cited the unemployment rate at about 40 percent. "There are millions of people living in shacks in the townships outside Cape Town and the vestiges of apartheid are still there."

The course, however, didn't focus solely on the dark side of life in Cape Town. The students also participated in community development and social entrepreneurship projects in the impoverished townships skirting the city. Community service organization SHAWCO connected the students with internships in township businesses and free health clinics.

Two groups of students interned at butcheries that were also restaurants. Management major Elizabeth Pullman, Class of '13, worked alongside the township residents at Maphindi's.

"The person that really touched me most was Liza, the bookkeeper," said Pullman. "She told us that her son lives 12 hours away from her, and she is only able to see him twice a year when she can take a break from work and save enough money. She has a college degree and is an incredibly hard worker, yet she still doesn't feel as though she can give her son what she would hope."

Accounting major Passion Artis, Class of '14, worked at Mzoli's butchery, serving raw meat, helping to braai — or barbecue — it, and washing dishes.

"There were some people standing outside of the butchery, begging for food because they were homeless and had not eaten in days," she said. "Then there were others who came in wearing crisp suits and name-brand clothing like Louis Vuitton, Burberry and BOSS."

"The students saw a slice of life that many South Africans don't see," said Schneider.

Emma Growney, Class of '15, took patient histories and blood pressure readings at SHAWCO's free health clinics, which are run by medical students from the University of Cape Town. "Their medical motto was 'See one, do one, teach one,' and they expected me to step in and help them right away," said Growney.

Accounting major Sean Sharkey, Class of '14, worked with township craftswomen who were attempting to start their own small businesses. He and his classmates visited local markets and houses to observe working conditions and selling environments and offered a list of suggestions they felt could help improve the businesses over time.

"It was a great feeling being able to use my Bucknell education where most had little to no form of education at all," said Sharkey. "With the small craft businesses, I found myself thinking back to my Management 101 company, and the experiences that I gained from that class. My main hope is that more Bucknell students will be able to go back and continue to help improve the lives of these women by developing their businesses."

Other groups of students interned at a childcare center and enhanced the social media presence of Monkeybiz, a nonprofit organization that purchases and sells beaded items made by 450 craftswomen, thus providing them with sustainable incomes. || Monkeybiz Facebook page and Pinterest board

In the mornings, lecturers at the University of Cape Town talked with the students about topics including social entrepreneurship, poverty and land reform. The group also toured wine country, went shark cage diving, enjoyed dinners in the city and visited sites including Cape Point and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

"The students really made connections between what they learned ahead of time and what they saw while they were there," said Daubman.

Theatre and psychology major Madison Lane, Class of '14, said her biggest takeaway from the experience was the value of family and community.

"Everywhere we went, we saw people helping each other, supporting each other, loving each other," she said. "Despite the corruption, pain, poverty and everything that is working against them, if the people of South Africa continue to stick together, they can triumph."

Contact: Division of Communications


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