Distance learning:
Norwich team prepares for Tanzania © May 25, 2007 Norwich University Office of Communications

Photo of Pommern basket weaver.

photo by Moriah Gavrish ’08A Tanzanian basket weaver plies his craft in the village of Pommern.

African melodies and batik décor afforded the Norwich community a small taste of Tanzania on May 1 when The Sullivan Museum and History Center hosted a sendoff celebration for the NU VISIONS Abroad program’s upcoming second trip to the African nation.

This year the group of fourteen students and two staff will ship out from Boston on June 1 and return to Norwich three weeks later on the 25th. A similar-sized group from Norwich visited the Tanzanian village of Pommern, population 3,000, in 2005, and the experience gained then will allow this year’s volunteers to make a bigger impact, said Nicole DiDomenico, Norwich’s director of volunteer programs.

Moreover, along with Nursing major Kathleen Boylan ’07 and Architecture graduate student Moriah Gavrish ’08, DiDomenico visited Pommern to conduct a community needs assessment last December. Critical areas that the group will focus on in June include community health, education, environmental conservation, and sustainable economic development.

At the sendoff, attendees had the chance to see how the students will work with the community of Pommern during their time there.

“We hope to conduct different workshops for women’s groups and help them develop business programs to become sustainable and self-reliant,” said Gavrish, who will be working with the group focusing on sustainable economic development.

Karen Kimunya ’09, a native of Nairobi, Kenya,, and also a part of the economic development group said much of her service will come in the form of translation, as she is fluent in the native language of Kiswahili.

“I know what it felt like when Americans came to help when I was living there,” Kimunya said, “and I want to be able to help.”

And she hasn’t been waiting until boots are on the ground in Africa to start her service. Kimunya said she has already started helping the team prepare by teaching them the basics of the language.

Another issue that the delegation will address during their time in Tanzania is healthy living. Many communities in Africa don’t have preventive care systems in place nor even basic information about hygiene, sanitation, disease and infection.

“When we were there in December, the community was really interested in a question and answer session,” Boylan said. “So we’re planning to hold multiple general health forums to answer these types of questions.”

Along with those forums, the community health group will focus on teaching basic first aid and CPR to secondary school students. Rob Fabich ’07, said one of his group’s goals is to foster an interest in health care careers among the younger generation of Pommerns that they’ll be working with.

Photo of Kathleen Boylan ’07 working with Pommern children.

photo by Moriah Gavrish ’08Kathleen Boylan ’07 working with Pommern children in December 2006.

Teaching the concepts, logistics and benefits of composting, recycling and water sanitation is the stated goal of the team focusing on environmental conservation, said Evan Spaulding ’09. Increasing the awareness and usage of these practices in the region will promote a greater understanding of how humans can lessen the environmental impact through relatively simple lifestyle changes, he said.

The education group will spend most of its time working with children in the secondary schools. Although many Pommern students have a general understanding of the English language, the Norwich visitors will focus on helping them with more difficult pronunciation and words. A bigger task for the group will be helping the Pommern students gain a better understanding of computers and the digital world.

“The school has laptops that were donated, but they haven’t been able to use them because they don’t know how to,” said Stacey Pichardo ’08. “We want to teach them basic computing skills that they can use after we leave and teach them how to learn about the world around them through the Internet.”

During the December trip, the Pommern school also requested a historical lesson be created about The United States’ Great Depression. As such, the Norwich students have prepared an educational unit that will take Pommern students from the events leading up to Black Friday and through the end of America’s most disastrous financial crisis.

I am a firm believer in it being a two-way street while I am there; I will be teaching them, but I will be learning too.

—Moriah Gavrish ’08

Preparing for the trip has been a lengthy process for the students. Upon being chosen to to represent Norwich, the students were enrolled in a semester-long course taught by Professor Lewis Greenstein in which they learned about the culture of Africa and Pommern specifically. Students projects for the class ranged in topic from the culture of African women to ivory poaching to African sports.

“These students tackled their work with enthusiasm. It’s clear that everyone is excited about the trip,” said Greenstein. “The most important thing to come out of this process is that the students understand the culture and all of its complexities and can evaluate it as a culture equal to our own.”

Although the students have completed their class and are in the final days leading up to the departure date, they all realize that there’s still lots of learning to come over the next month.

“I am a firm believer in it being a two-way street while I am there,” Gavrish said, echoing the sentiments of her fellow travelers. “I will be teaching them, but I will be learning too.”