Entebbe and Kampala

Our first stop after arriving was Entebbe, Uganda, on shore of picturesque Lake Victoria. We then traveled through a commercial corridor filled with small retail shops, roadside vendors, and heavy traffic into the capital city of Kampala. The small businesses observed included skilled artisans working on metal or woodworking, women’s shops displaying clothes, bags, and jewelry. Competition among the vendors was high since many sell the same products. The ability to attract and keep buyers depends on the superior customer service skills. Moreover, some of these businesses rely largely on extending credit, which requires a lot of trust between buyers and sellers. We were impressed with the size of this business sector, which was a mix of formal and informal enterprises.

When we finally reached Kampala through streets congested with automobiles, commuter minibuses, and “boda boda” scooters, our host Prof. Jimrex Byamugisha brought us to Makerere University. We had a lecture and discussion on the human geography of Uganda by Dr. Mukwaya, followed by a tour of the campus and the surroundings.  We learned that Kampala is comprised of twenty-one hills, with the wealthy residents generally residing at higher elevations and the poorer residents in the valleys below. The value of real estate increased with elevation and the socioeconomic stratification was evident.

Our last main event for the day was dinner at our host’s home, where we enjoyed lavishly prepared and displayed Ugandan food prepared by his family. Many extended family members where present and the bond between them was undeniably strong.  They welcomed us warmly and we ended the evening with goodbyes and participating in a traditional dance.

Flight change! We were only supposed to have a 3 hour layover in Istanbul, but it we ended up staying 29 hours. We landed in the evening, still having time to go out and have a great dinner at a local steak house before going to bed at our hotel. The next day was jam-packed with activities, starting with visiting the Hagia Sophia Museum. The present building was the third edition of a church built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. It was turned into a mosque soon after the Ottoman conquest of the area, and then into a museum when the Turkish republic came into being after World War I. While walking around the museum, we could see both the Christian and Muslim aspects throughout the structure. The Christian mosaics were covered after the church became a mosque, but in the 1930’s restoration began, so people today can see the worship artwork of both religions in one building, reflecting the ideal of two religions coexisting in peace.

After the museum, we went to carpet business, where we learned about carpet making. We started off by observing a master weaver in the process of making the famous Turkish styled carpet. What makes them special is the double knot technique used, which makes the carpets lasts longer. Their durability and aesthetic appeal makes them an investment asset. They warned us of a common scam of removing silk tassels and putting on cotton ones in order to trick a customers into spending more money. We learned how to outsmart the scammers because silk does not release dust if the carpet is rubbed with a coin. By comparison, other fabrics release particles into the air.

Everyone Is Welcome Here: Supporting Our International Students

February 27, 2017

By Judi Nitsch

Two Thursdays ago, faculty, students, and staff gathered in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center to welcome international students to our campus. Though a yearly event, this reception had particular importance in light of the anti-immigrant stance taken by the Trump administration. Faculty planners Kelly Coronado, Rich Johnson, and I invited colleagues to bring a dish to pass to demonstrate our commitment to welcoming all students. We believe these sorts of small gestures are crucial to maintaining a positive, supportive environment for our more vulnerable students. Telling the stories of the day, as I will do in a moment, underscores the shared humanity across Harper’s different populations. And yet, the stories also reveal the distinct cultural experiences that enrich these interactions native- and non-native born members of our community. This sameness-difference dialectic, echoed through the stories below, is a precious gift of living in an immigrant nation and working at an open-admissions institution, and we should not take it for granted.

As promised, some stories from the reception:

Faculty, staff, and members of the international students club formed conversation clusters quickly, asking each other questions and chatting about lighter subjects. An Iranian student, Ellie, asked me about the hair product I used. At first, I didn’t understand the question as I wasn’t prepared to think or talk about myself, let alone my body (professors rarely do that). When I realized what she was asking about, I laughed heartily and explained my morning hair routine. I whipped out my cell phone to show her the name of the hair mousse that I use, and she snapped a picture with her smart phone. Then, we commiserated about the difficulties of having thin, curly hair. Kathy Hanahan noted with relief that she was at an age where she didn’t have to care about such things, and I quipped back that having a head of lovely white hair, rather than my numerous white streaks, was an instant, refined look in itself.

As I entered another conversation circle, I heard Kelly chatting about her adorable twin toddlers with Kathleen Reynolds and a group of students. I complimented Kathy on her chocolate chip cookies—which she deflected in true Midwestern style—and began talking with a Moldavian student about French. She was eager to learn English, but since her mother had been a French teacher, she has studied that language from childhood. After I told her I was a novice French speaker on a very good day, she gave me some pronunciation tips involving tongue position. We then chatted about English, and I revealed myself to be an English professor. I was surprised to learn that she had only been speaking and studying English for several years, but then I am always impressed and shamed by how multi-lingual the rest of the world is. Her eagerness to learn a third language was palpable!

Over the course of the two hours, faculty and staff came and went, entering in and out of conversation clusters. I was struck by how welcoming the students were to my colleagues and me, despite this event’s inviting us to welcome the students. The international students were comfortable asking faculty questions and sharing their knowledge on subjects; indeed, they even seemed comfortable noting the cultural differences between the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and their home countries. I found this ease comforting myself as it suggested that Harper is, to some degree, a safe space for these students – or, at least, the international student club is a safe space. I suspect my colleagues and I took some comfort in that sense ourselves. Now, the work begins to protect that space.

That said, the reception wasn’t the space for political discussions regarding the latest promulgation from the Trump administration; rather, it was a space for making basic human connections over the most quotidian of topics. Those relationships and those moments, it seems, are more critical than ever if Harper seeks to be a safe space for international students. With the board’s refusal to deem Harper a sanctuary campus, the faculty, staff, and students must use their interactions with international students—in our clubs, classrooms, and offices—to offer that sanctuary. I believe the reception marked a space of welcome and safety, during which we all shared those most human of things: food, drink, and conversation. I know more events of this sort will follow, and I urge everyone who can to attend them.


Worlding Topics: International Education and Service Learning

Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: Engaging the World through Service Learning

By: Richard F. Johnson, Ph.D.Director, Office of International Education

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In higher education, it has almost become a cliché to say that we need to educate our students for a global future. In fact, it was nearly ten years ago that the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) identified global competencies and intercultural skills as essential components of a 21st century college education. And yet the nation’s nearly 1200 community colleges have lagged behind 4-year institutions in acknowledging the vital importance of global education in their mission statements, curricula, faculty development agendas, declared learning outcomes, and global education programs including education abroad.  As community colleges are charged with graduating students able to participate effectively in a global workforce, they will need to prepare them to function in an interdependent, highly diverse, and fast-changing world, one that is increasingly marked by volatile differences. As an educator, I can think of no more effective way to prepare a young person for these global realities than by having them engage in an impactful service-learning opportunity.

In the spring of 2015, the Office of International Education at Harper College and Unearth the World entered a partnership that offers Harper students the opportunity to participate in service projects in both Latin America and Africa. The goal of this initiative is to incorporate service-learning curricula in Harper College classrooms and provide international service-learning projects to all students interested in studying abroad. In August 2015, I travelled to three of Unearth the World’s Latin American partner organizations where I participated in service learning projects and documented the process.

I began my travels at Light and Leadership Initiative’s supplemental education program that works with women, children and teens in the Huaycán community on the outskirts of Lima to offer free afterschool and weekend education programs. Service learners work with children and teens through workshops and classes teaching English, Math, Science, and Art. I then travelled to Nicaragua where I first visited Project Bona Fide, an educational organic farm, which uses permaculture design and agroforestry to support the rural economy and environment on the Isle of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. Typically, students work in the gardens or tree nursery; they might plant trees, harvest fruit and vegetables, or even take on larger building projects, such as constructing a biodegradable outhouse out of local natural resources.  I ended my trip at La Mariposa Spanish School and Eco-hotel in San Juan de la Concepción, Nicaragua. While there I witnessed visiting students and families learning Spanish from local professional teachers and engaging in service projects overseen by La Mariposa, including working at a local organic farm, with special needs children in afterschool programs, and at a women’s cooperative bakery.

At each location, I was struck by how intentional and grounded in the local communities their missions are. Each partner project strives to respond to the needs of their community, whether it’s assisting women and children through educational workshops and programs, promoting food security and production through sustainable agriculture, or bringing responsible tourism, jobs, and sustained income into the local community. Immersing students in service projects with this level of intentional design is what service-learning should be about. All too often, programs promoted as “service” are in fact little more than “feel-good” volunteer opportunities. And while there’s nothing wrong with volunteering, its long-term impact on the participant is far less significant than true service-learning, which entails not only action in and among a community based on its needs, but also involves structured learning outcomes and critical reflection. Intentional service-learning programs are a dynamic way to engage our students in meaningful learning and growth in an international setting. They afford students the opportunity to serve another person, another community. Through this service, students acquire linguistic and intercultural skills highly prized in the global workforce. But perhaps most importantly, global service-learning fosters compassion, empathy, and cultural-sensitivity.  In the present climate of global violence and political unrest, the world could use a whole lot more of all of these qualities. We owe it to our students, our families, our countries, and the world to instill the next generation of leaders with life-affirming values that embrace differences.

For more information about global education at Harper College, visit our website.

Originally published on Unearth the World’s blog.



Saturday, March 26, 2016: Museum of Human Sciences

The Museum of Human Sciences is the former Queen Victoria Museum, which was dedicated when Zimbabwe was the British Colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1962, according to a bronze plate installed at the front of the building. It is a natural history museum with the first exhibit telling the story of Charwe, a Shona woman who played an instrumental in the fight against colonialism during the First Chimurenga, 1896-7. After refusing to convert to Christianity, and leading the fight against the British until her execution, she became a symbol of resistance against colonialism. Charwe was also the inspiration for those who fought against the Second Chimurenga as well, which was the fight for Zimbabwean independence against the Rhodesian government.

Human evolution exhibits connected the journey of brain growth with the associated ability to advance in life skill – albiet without recent discoveries in human archeology and anthropology. For example, after walking upright, the ability evolved to make tools in the Iron Age, starting with crude weapons such as pebbles as the ball of a hammer leading to pointed weapons that were more useful.

The San People and Rock Art exhibit connected us with the Domboshava Petroglyphs and was a sobering reminder that this art is “in danger of disappearing altogether” over the next hundred years due to natural weathering, mineral compositions in the rock breaking down, running water obscuring the painting, and human carelessness/vandalism.

Because music defines Zimbabwe in so many ways, it was interesting to see the exhibits of early musical instruments: the renditions of drums, mbira, marimbas with mallets, guitars and tambourines. All were quite old yet very close to today’s basic musical instrument design. There was also an exhibit of an innovative amplification technique of placing the mbira inside a pot.

A favorite exhibit was the replica of the Shona Village of the past, because it provided insights into the probable history of some of the rural communities observed during the trip. The walls of the huts were made of clay and mud, similar to the structures built by the people of Kufunda Village. Inside the kitchen was a pot shelf and a pile of wood (bakwa), along with a fiber rug for sleeping (gudza). This diorama of a historical Shona household conjured images of a way of life that was eternally disturbed by colonization. The tidy museum exhibits, although significantly out of date in some sections, were informative and left us with long-lasting impressions.

Friday, March 25, 2016: Domboshava Petroglyphs

In the mid-afternoon the group left Harare for the archeological site at Domboshava, about 20 miles from the city. Domboshava, meaning red rock in Shona, is the name given to an exfoliated igneous dome that takes the shape of a slightly concave hill northeast of the town with the same name.  Next to the hill was a former sacred forest known as “Ndambakurima” which means “land that refused to be cultivated.” The area was inhabited by San hunter gatherers more than 6,000 years ago who left their mark in the form of rock paintings on Domboshava and numerous other sites around Zimbabwe. The San were driven out by Bantu migrants after the first millennium. The San were given the derogatory name “bushmen” by European settlers in South Africa in the late 1700s.

A shallow cave near top of Domboshava, protected by an overhanging ledge of rock was the main attraction because of its petroglyphs. There were drawings of animals which were painted using animal blood, charcoal, and plant resins. It was speculated that the scenes depicted either past hunting scenes or were a part of rituals to ensure the success of future hunts. The paintings had been damaged before the area was protected. We learned that after the San were driven away the cave was a sacred site for the Shona people, where the smoke from a black goat was sent through the cavity that runs from the cave to the top of the Domboshava dome as part of rain rituals which are no longer practiced. The view from the top of Domboshava was stunning with the setting sun, the distant granite hill of Ngomakurira visible in the distance, bronzed fields, villages and kopjes surrounding the hill, and groups of fellow hikers enjoying the sunset. The wonderful scene masked the mixed fortunes of those who lived in the surrounding rural countryside.

Friday, March 25, 2016: Kufunda Village

We rose up early for our drive to Kufunda Village in the Ruwa area, about 20 miles from Harare. The contrast between urban and rural infrastructure was evident as the roads changed from double lane tar roads, to single lane roads of steadily deteriorating quality, to stony gravel roads. Upon arrival we were greeted by the communications manager at Kufunda, Steven and a community workshop facilitator Fidelis. Kufunda Village is a non profit program and site that promotes self-sufficiency and local environmentally friendly solutions through workshops. The community around the village, which has a significant number of people left without work after the controversial land reforms of the early 2000s, is a major beneficiary of the village’s projects. The word Kufunda means “learning” in Shona.

Our visit began with a tour of the programs hosted at the village. Our first stop was a permaculture garden where tires and various plastic containers were turned into pots for various fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Bottles were used to hold water and for aesthetic purposes. This particular garden had yams, onions, peppers, eggplants, green pumpkins, guava, avocados among others. As we walked to our next stop, the village preschool, we learned about the village’s use of solar power for heating water and generating electricity. We learned about a cooperative program between the Zimbabwean and Indian governments that sent women from the surrounding area, regardless of literacy level, to learn small scale solar development in India. Upon return the women were provided with the resources necessary to implement the projects in their neighborhoods. Other signs of sustainable practices included an insulated clay stove and the use of biogas for cooking.

Our next stop was the preschool made of hardened clay with a durable thatch roof and concrete floor. We learned that the choice of building material for the school was part of an effort to promote the use of local material and sustainable building methods. It was interesting to learn the thatched roofs could last up to 25 years. The school’s half-day curriculum followed the Waldorf method which emphasized nurturing the student’s gifts and inclinations. The school had about 15 children between the ages of two to five years old. The school struggles to cater for the needs of the students, some of whom need meals at school because of their poor socio-economic status. Educational materials, such as drawing supplies, were expensive to obtain because most are imported into Zimbabwe, putting them out of the reach of the poor, especially in rural communities like Ruwa.

Our next stop took us to a herb processing program. The herbs are packaged and sold as food supplements or cures. One interesting supplement was moringa (Moringa oleifera), which found use as a supplement for people with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from AIDS/HIV. Free workshops were available for the community on the uses of various herbs and tinctures.

One of Kufunda’s main programs is to facilitate discussions that generate actionable ideas for a group of participants. We were provided with an overview of this process in the rondavel building that serves as the center for these discussions. The format entailed sitting in a circle with a talking piece, in this case a small smooth stone that was held by the speaker and passed on to the next speaker. The circle symbolized equality during the meeting. A bell was used to refocus the discussions when required.  We also learned of self-improvement programs at Kufunda, such as the vision quest, where a person spends time in the bush alone for reflection with the aim of letting go of the past and charting a way forward by connecting mind, body, and spirit.