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ND students plan Nigerian trip

Laura Vilim | Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Several students from Notre Dame will travel to Nigeria this year as part of the “Call to Solidarity with Africa” conference approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2001.

The trip to Nigeria by Notre Dame students, a program unique to this university, is a major step toward Theology professor Father Paulinus Odozor and assistant professor Father Paul Kollman’s goal of keeping the continent of Africa and its successes and failures in constant view.

“[One goal for the conference] is that we would grow in our awareness of Africa and learn ways that the educational mission of [Notre Dame] might include Africa more directly, and that African peoples and issues might serve our mission, too,” said Kollman.

In order to be eligible to participate in the Nigerian conference, applicants were required to write an essay detailing what they believe is most important aspect of solidarity with Africa as well as what they will contribute individually to the conference. In addition, each student must have two recommendations.

Shawtina Ferguson, a junior who is pursing a major in American Studies and a minor in African-American studies, is one of the Notre Dame students who has been chosen to participate. She is thrilled about the prospect of traveling to Africa after having studied the continent and its people in depth for the past two years.

“The more I learn, the more I want to know about Africa, the world, and more specifically my heritage,” Ferguson said. “I am certain that this conference is going to be simply fascinating.”

Once the students arrive in Nigeria, they will participate in a conference that will introduce them to the African nation’s people, culture, and government. Some of the students from Notre Dame will be selected to give a presentation to those at the conference as well. While this structured portion of the conference will certainly be educational for Nigerians and Americans alike, Odozor said he believes the students will gain the most by simply meeting Africans and being met by Africans.

“The program is devoted to United States and Nigerian young people” Odozor said.

As a result, students from both sides of the Atlantic will have the unique chance to interact with each other as well as listen to speeches given by adults. It is this ability to interact with Nigerians that excites Ferguson.

“I am most looking forward to embracing the Nigerian culture, meeting other students and learning about different perspectives on issues of solidarity with Africa,” Ferguson said.

The country of Nigeria was chosen out of the 54 African countries to host the conference in part because one out of every five Africans is a Nigerian. Thus, while there are significant regional differences from country to country, Nigeria represents more of the African population than any other country.

Nigeria’s central location within the continent also makes it a prime candidate, since little of the United States’ attention has been focused on that region.

Odozor and Kollman, however, said that they know that forming ties with Nigeria is only one step in the process of understanding the people and governments of Africa.

“By bringing a large group of Notre Dame staff, students, and faculty to Nigeria for a church-related conference, we hope to deepen our understanding and commitment to Africa in general,” Kollman said. “This is a step in what we whole is a deeper relationship.”

When the Notre Dame students return to campus, Odozor hopes they will have the opportunity to share their experiences with the Notre Dame community at large as a means of getting the student body “involved and engaged” in the events on the African continent. As of now, there are no specific plans for the returning students to discuss their experiences. Odozor says this task will be left up to the students to decide.

“I am a great believer in the creativity of young people. I have no fears about that,” Odozor said.

When asked about future plans to continue the relationship Notre Dame and Nigeria have forged, Odozor said that he has high hopes of being able to continue fostering relationships between young Americans and Nigerians.

“Our next great project is to find ways to keep these issues alive and make them bear fruit,” Odozor said.