My wife, Nancy Taylor who teaches in the Art Department at Earlham, and I have led 8 semester-long programs to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania), beginning in 1988 and totaling over 150 students. There we teach three courses. I teach a course in Animal Ecology and Behavior, Nancy teaches a course called Comparative Cultures, and we team-teach a course we call Human Demography and Environmental Sustainability, plus students take intensive Kiswahili, definitely not a course WE teach!
In the behavior/ecology course we start early in the semester with students learning how to identify (e.g., birds and antelopes) and study the behavior of reptiles, birds and mammals in four Tanzanian National Parks, all world famous: Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Students become “experts” on one or two mammals, by reading ahead in our behavior text, then when an elephant, baboon, zebra, lion, impala, warthog, etc. are seen they tell other students in their Land Rovers what they know. It is a nice way to start our study of the amazing fauna of the African savanna! Later in the program we initiate our first research project, our so-called mini-project, this time in the intertidal zone of the Indian Ocean in Kenya. Working in small teams of 3 or 4 students, the group finds something interesting to investigate and spends 3 days designing and implementing their research, writing up their results in a short scientific paper. Near the end, we camp at a private game ranch for 2.5 weeks at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and do our big research project. Small groups pick an animal, and, in the accompaniment of an armed askari (guard), collect data in the field, ultimately writing a larger scientific paper. Students have chosen to study elephants, dung beetles, zebra, baboons, acacia ants, green woodhoopoes (a bird), and green vervet monkeys. Many of these research projects have been presented at scientific meetings once back home. These projects will be long remembered by the student researchers.
Nancy’s class in Comparative Cultures consistently has the most impact on students because of the closeness with which our students interact with Tanzanians and Kenyans by means of 5 homestays in very different circumstances: 2 long (3 week) homestays with middle class families, one week-long stay in a Muslim home in Lamu, a very traditional Swahili fishing and trade center on the Kenyan coast. All three of these families have at least one member who speaks English well. The other two are shorter and more challenging, one 5-day stay with subsistence farmers (the Waluguru) in the Uluguru Mountains of central Tanzania, and the other a 3-day stay with the Maasai, the famous pastoralists and picture postcard group in East Africa where students are dressed as Maasai (the Maasai prefer this) and live in very dark, smoky dung huts. These experiences are not for the faint hearted! With some of these families, plus in many other parts of these two countries, our students see societies with very different values than their own, and see a level of poverty that simply does not exist in America. A highlight of Nancy’s course is her 3-week long “practicum” where students study some aspect of the culture of people living in a small western city in Tanzania called Iringa. Students have volunteered as teachers of science in high schools, worked in orphanages (mostly AIDS orphans), or as teachers of new weaving techniques in a cooperative for the handicapped.
The Human Demography and Environmental Sustainability course is designed to be an effective window that views a struggling developing country, one of the poorest economically (but NOT culturally!) in the world. Sub Saharan Africa, and more specifically, Kenyan and Tanzanian ethnic groups, have both high fertility and a high incidence of HIV/AIDS. In this course we explore their cultural causes of both, impacts both calamities have on families and the society at large, and the assessing the solutions governments and NGOs are implementing to curb those impacts. We talk to family planning associations, and we visit a grass roots HIV/AIDS counseling clinic, led by its founder, the famous Theresa Kaijage, who has visited Earlham at our invitation and given a college-wide convocation. We participate in a community day at the clinic, then visit the families of AIDS victims in their homes, a very powerful experience. When visiting the Waluguru people we see how rapidly growing populations (the average woman has 5.8 children) have led to rapid deforestation and degradation of the landscape. When visiting the Maasai, we learn from the people themselves how their own rapid growth has led to land-use change from grazing pastoralists to farming so they can grow enough food to escape famine, only to massively increase human-wildlife conflict. Why? Because during the wet season wildlife migrate out of Tarangire to the short grass arid areas where the grass is more nutritious only to eat and trample maize fields and vegetable gardens. At the same time there is just a trickle of compensation from the $ millions earned by the government from foreign tourists visiting the park. These are enormously complex problems that are a challenge for students to study both emotionally and intellectually.
Our goal in this program is to orchestrate experiences that are meant to challenge our student’s own values to their core, changing their world view. It works beautifully for virtually every student who has gone with us. It is these profound teaching and learning experiences that keep Nancy and I coming back to East Africa time and time again.