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SPHIS supports service learning in Botswana

SPHIS supports service learning in Botswana

Image: Students and faculty in Botswana 2014

Contributor: A. Scott LaJoie, Associate Professor

For the last few springs, students and faculty from the Health Sciences Campus have traveled to the south-central African country of Botswana on an International Service Learning Project. Bordered by Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Botswana is culturally and environmentally diverse. Home to one of the few remaining tribes of hunter-gathers (Kung people of the Kalahari Desert), Botswana is, by African standards, a wealthy country due to its diamond, nickel and cattle exports. However, it also has among the world’s highest infection rates of HIV/AIDS: one in six in Botswana is infected. Governmental prioritization of public health initiatives and global funding has led to universal access to treatment and a reduction of vertical HIV transmission from mother to child to 4% from 40%.

The International Service Learning Program, directed by the University of Louisville’s Vice President of Student Affairs, is a semester-long immersive learning activity wherein students study the culture, history, politics and related factors of the country and develop a series of workshops pertaining to the country’s stated needs. With minimal faculty input, students develop discipline specific educational programs and cross-train with other disciplines to create fast-paced but comprehensive and engaging workshops delivered to middle-school-age children.

Students teach in three junior secondary schools in Botswana (two in the capital city of Gaborone and one in a rural village, Molepolole) on topics that have ranged from leadership, justice, anti-bullying, oral health, sports, cardiac pulmonary resuscitation, solar energy, and stress management. Students also spend time at Hope Mission, a rural, residential school for street kids and orphaned boys. Arts, crafts and sports, followed by fellowship and singing, forge lasting bonds between students of UofL and Botswana.

Three graduate students from SPHIS joined 42 other UofL students from communication, nursing, engineering, and sports administration on this year’s trip. SPHIS students Allison Siu, Amanda Smart and Katyln McGraw (mentored by Dr. Scott LaJoie) directed their fellow students in learning and teaching public health topics. These topics included preventing substance- and tobacco-use, environmental sustainability, and family planning. In total, seven students from various disciplines focused their workshops on public health.

The 10-day trip also included a safari at a South Africa game reserve, some shopping, pool-time and site seeing.

In 2013, the faculty and staff of the International Service Learning program were awarded the University of Louisville Community Engagement Award.

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