Rams Abroad: Impact In Africa

This is Africa. Livingstone, Zambia, population: less than 140,000. You are immersed in the exotic sights and sounds of this historic British colonial city ...

Breathtaking Victoria Falls untouched by human development; a herd of elephants marching ahead on a very distant plain; giraffes, lions, zebras, and ... Colorado State University students.

It was the summer of 2015. Ellen Brinks, professor and recently appointed Peace Corps Master’s International Program liaison for the CSU English department, was leading a group of 12 CSU students on a three-week service-learning trip.

The students, representing various College of Liberal Arts departments, had filled out piles of paperwork, received malaria and yellow fever vaccinations, and done intensive study of the local culture before embarking on the 9,000-mile journey to the cradle of civilization.

Upon arrival, African Impact, the volunteer organization that supported the program, put the students to work. Their focus: community education and public health.

We Want to Learn!

In Livingstone, there is no government funding for schooling. Instead, education is entirely community supported. In order to attend school, Zambian children pay the equivalent of $7 each trimester to attend school. Without tuition, they are dismissed from class.

CSU students learned of the plight. A class of 40 students easily drops to four when students are unable to pay their fees. In the meantime, children kept out of school would still arrive daily to stand outside the windows chanting, "we want to learn," and pleading to be allowed back in. "These kids would do anything for the opportunity to learn," said Jo Buckley, a sophomore international studies major. "Education is a privilege there, and they have to pay for it, so anything you offered they were happy to soak up."

CSU students helped fill the void by teaching math and science, and created meaningful bonds in the process.

Learning Through Service

Zambia sits landlocked in the center of southern Africa and, in 2010, was named one of the world's fastest economically reformed countries by the World Bank in 2010. Although rapidly developing, it still lacks key resources that most industrialized nations take for granted.

Rams experienced this firsthand. CSU students visited clinics in surrounding communities where nearly 100 people waited each day to see a doctor.

"In most of these clinics, there is running water, but no electricity or medical equipment we would recognize," Brinks said.

Without adequate staffing, the clinics turned to CSU students for temporary relief and support – checking in patients, taking vitals, and, in one surprising instance, even assisting to deliver a baby. Students visited the sick and poor through home-based care programs and supported staff providing HIV education to the community.

Brinks has estimated that more than 250 community health recipients and 500 local students were touched by the CSU program, a remarkable number considering the short period of the visit and the small size of the CSU group.

“There’s a seismic shift that happens after really experiencing Africa for all that it is, which I think is the point of the whole program," said Brinks. "It’s about enriching students in ways they cannot get in a classroom and allowing them to imagine possible futures for themselves.”

Planning is already in the works for the 2016 trip, and the program will once again be led by Brinks. In 2015, students paid for the bulk of expenses, including travel, but funding opportunities are available to help lessen the financial burden for students and make the program ongoing.

Click here to support the Zambia service-learning program. Every gift will make an impact in providing hands-on learning experiences for CSU students that change lives. To learn more about the Zambia service-learning program, please contact Ellen Brinks at ellen.brinks@colostate.edu.

Waste to Walls

In addition to their education and health work, CSU students worked on a pilot project called eco-bricking. The project for African Impact was to build a compost bin, putting plastic waste (such as 300 plastic bags) into plastic bottles to create bricks. The process made the bricks dense enough for building and insulation.

"The waste in Livingstone is a huge issue, as there is no good waste-management system that the people can afford," said Katie Wybenga, senior natural sciences major. "This results in waste lining the streets and waste being burned. Eco-bricks can reduce the waste and then can be used by communities to build things that can be useful for them. African Impact has been educating communities, especially children, on the process, and the kids love to get involved."

Click here to support the Zambia program. Every gift will make an impact in providing hands-on learning experiences for CSU students that change lives. To learn more about the Zambia service-learning program, please contact Ellen Brinks at ellen.brinks@colostate.edu.