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Students embrace ND’s mission in Africa

Marcela Berrios | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Following the Notre Dame Forum on global health in the fall and University President Father John Jenkins’ recent trip to Uganda, students across campus have become caught up in the fervor to lend a helping hand to Africa.

Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative (NDMDI) Assistant Director Tim Lyden pitched a series of forums to the Student Senate and the Hall Presidents’ Council last week to facilitate dialogue between the Initiative and intrigued students.

Representatives from the NDMDI student advisory council will visit residence halls this semester for round-table conversations that will introduce students to the NDMDI and also enable them to make propositions.

Lyden said the student advisory council – a team of 21 students well-informed in Sub-Saharan African affairs – will present the Initiative’s skeleton and Notre Dame’s partner village, Nindye, in central Uganda.

Once those formalities are tackled, Lyden said he hoped questions would lead to arguments exploring economic development in Africa, the importance of empowerment over imposition in service interventions and the roles of faculty members and students in the NDMDI, among others.

“We’re not expecting to find definitive answers at once but rather to encourage students to ask more questions and start a campus-wide dialogue,” he said.

Senior Nicole Steele – a member of the NDMDI student advisory council – echoed Lyden’s words, urging students to learn more about the development of Africa and then take action.

“Everybody has talents and specific areas of interest which could be beneficial to the NDMDI, from graphic design to marketing the project to prayer groups for solidarity with our Ugandan brothers and sisters,” Steele said.

Besides her efforts in the advisory council, Steele contributed to the development of the African continent when she taught English at various primary schools in Uganda last summer through the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Fellow senior and student advisory council member Jimmy Bettcher also traveled to Africa through the Kellogg Institute to develop sustainable income-generating projects with a non-governmental organization in Uganda.

He encouraged his peers to jump on the African wagon and explore the service options available the Kellogg Institute and the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

Bettcher, however, recognized that not every student may feel compelled to travel to Africa and forsake running water – but there are ways in which students can contribute to the relief efforts without leaving their hometowns, he said.

“Simple steps such as giving ten dollars to buy a bed net for an African child or discussing the crises in Northern Uganda or in Darfur with friends can have a much greater impact than you could ever imagine,” he said.

Senior Colleen Mallahan, another member of the student advisory council, had an encounter with malaria during her 11 months in Uganda last year.

“One of my little homestay sisters nearly died of malaria when I lived with her and that was absolutely terrifying,” Mallahan said. “Fortunately my family was relatively ‘middle class’ so my mom could go and find the drugs she needed to bring the fever down. But many people in rural areas aren’t as lucky.”

The incident – and the deaths of more than 3,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa every day – could have been prevented with a bed net to shield infants from the malaria mosquito, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Web site reported.

Mallahan said she would address the threat of malaria when she moderates some of the residence hall forums.

Mallahan’s fellow advisory council member, junior Patrick Reidy, may share with his audience his admiration of the Ugandan people’s generosity and optimism despite adverse circumstances.

“I visited numerous homes of students and teachers who could afford no more than two or three chickens and a small patch of earth to farm,” Reidy said, remembering the eight weeks he spent in Africa through the CSC’s Summer Service Learning Program. “And these families would slaughter a chicken to feed me.”

Steele, Bettcher, Mallahan and Reidy – among other members of the student advisory council – will be visiting residence halls in the latter half of February, Lyden said.

SIBC joins the effort

Business students have started their own initiative to foster progress in Africa, through the Student International Business Council’s (SIBC) Global Development division.

The director of global development for the SIBC, sophomore Lupe Pineda, said there are ventures on track in Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda.

“The Uganda project in particular will be research-based, using the Internet and our partnership with people that have visited the region, including Tim Lyden and

Father Bob Dowd, the director of the NDMDI,” Pineda said. “Tim will be a valuable advisor on this project.”

Once the team of investigators design models and strategies that can contribute to the NDMDI goals, an SIBC representative will be selected to travel to Uganda this summer and help implement the proposals, Pineda said.

“The Council looks forwards to sponsoring a project that will pursue research in line with its vision of ‘Peace through commerce’ and the broader goals of the NDMDI,” Pineda said.

MDG Task Force

In its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty, the Notre Dame’s Millennium Development Goals task force also rallied troops to support the African relief movement.

Sophomore Joella Bitter, president of the task force, said the group successfully collected more than $10,000 last December for the organization Malaria No More.

To combat the threat of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa, the money was donated to purchase 1,000 insecticide-treated bed nets in Nigeria, Bitter said.