Africa service learning opens students’ eyes

For 10 Marquette students, life has become more than class and parties; it has transformed into a firsthand glance at AIDS, poverty, abuse and other human rights issues plaguing South Africa.

The students studying in Capetown have begun the service learning component of the semester-long trip, and seven of them say they have had eye-opening experiences.

One such volunteer site is Bush Radio, where Leah Huff and Emily Iverson, College of Communication juniors, learn about the community through their producing positions.

Bush Radio features broadcast programs geared toward the Cape Flats, or the poorest of the poor, according to Iverson.

Huff worked with another aspect of the station called Community, Learners and Educators against Narcotics, which brings in rappers and musicians to local schools to try to steer children away from drugs.

"They know how to mix work and play together here without slacking," Iverson said. "Work at Bush Radio is like having recess all day and still managing to pass it off as school."

Huff and Iverson said the Bush Radio's grassroots approach brought them face-to-face with people dealing with AIDS/HIV and unemployment.

Kristen Wick, a College of Nursing senior, was exposed to similar problems at the Saartjie Baartman Center, a one-stop center for women and children.

Wick gives health workshops to women and evaluates local clinics to help open the site's own healthcare facility.

"They are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, yet they have lived such hard lives — through apartheid, poverty and abuse — and are not always able to see the beauty in things," she said. "I hope to give them that."

Courtney Hattan, a College of Arts & Sciences senior, has seen some of the effects of South Africa's history on its youngest citizens.

She volunteers at Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, where she cares for children before they are to testify against people who wronged them.

"Sometimes I feel like I am really influencing the children and helping them become more comfortable with the thought of facing their abusers, but other times it is hard to connect with the children either because they are so incredibly drawn back or because of the language barrier," Hattan said.

But those who live through affliction come in all ages, as College of Arts & Sciences sophomore Annaliese Koller discovered at her site, Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture.

Through her work with advocacy issues and the communication skills gathered here, Koller hopes to pursue medicine as her life's work.

"We need to be aware of what is going on in all corners of the world," she said. "I have run into people from all over the world and what goes on in one place affects another."

Maura Hagen, a College of Arts & Sciences junior, and Gabrielle Misfeldt, a College of Communication junior, have encountered cycles of poverty, marginalized communities and gender inequality.

Hagen is developing a life skills and sport program for local schools at Cape Town Child Welfare Society, and Misfeldt is drafting a newsletter for Gender Advocacy Programme.

Despite the sometimes-depressing obstacles they face, the students tend to embrace all that South Africa has to teach them.

"I feel like I was so ignorant before coming to Cape Town," Huff said. "There are so many people who need help in the world. I feel like I need to do something to better impoverished people's lives!"

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on April 5 2005.