BHSU students travel to Africa for international service-learning program

By Mark Watson Black Hills Pioneer

13 Black Hills State University students and staff members traveled to South Africa and Botswana to participate in an international service-learning program — teaching at a high school.

The program is a three-credit course offered by BHSU. Students begin meeting in classes to plan their trip. Faculty members traveled to Africa before the students to identify the needs of African students.

They brought back that information, and BHSU students were required to formulate a curriculum to teach the African students in Gaborone, Botswana that would benefit both the high school and BHSU students.

“We got to know the students on a more personal level even though it was for a short amount of time,” said Allysa Burggraf, a sophomore majoring in elementary and special education at BHSU. “We started teaching the curriculum and we gave a lot of time for questions and answers.”

Burggraf said much of the curriculum was based around good decisions, healthy relationships, drugs and alcohol abuse, anti-bullying, and more.

Burggraf said they also taught the high school students about the power of education.

She said the Africans took those lessons and then in turn taught the rest of their classmates.

Dr. Lois Flagstad, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said this is the third year that BHSU has participated in the program. The local students travel to Africa in the spring, and Sudlon, Philippines, in the fall.

In that short amount of time, Flagstad said, the educational scores of the high school students have improved markedly.

“Last year, every single person in their graduating class went on to the university,” Flagstad said of the small mountain school in Sudlon. “One of the factors that they attribute to that is our involvement at their school.”

A similar story is also found at the Botswana school.

“They, for years, have struggled to have passing test scores for their student body,” she said. “Three years ago they were ranked No. 15 in their school district. They have now moved up to the seventh position. … I asked their ministry of education rep, ‘Why is that,’ And he said, ‘Because you keep coming back.’”

The Africans peppered the BHSU students with questions dealing with the teachings. But they also fired question after question of a humorous nature, such as, “How often do you see Kim Kardashian?”

They’d ask about elections, pop culture, other things they heard on the news, and those of a more personal nature, Burggraf said.

“They get to the point where they ask, ‘Are you sexually active?’ ‘do you sleep with your boyfriend before you’re married? It gets personal, said Dr. Jane Klug, dean of students at BHSU.

“We talk about sex to our students in both (service-learning sites),” Burggraf said. “But when we are in the Philippines, when I brought it up, the topic got shot down immediately. The students were not open about talking about it.”

She said she believes this was due to the heavily Catholic influence in the Philippines.

However, in Africa, the students were asking questions about sexual relationships before it was brought up in the curriculum.

Flagstad said this may have been due to the regional focus on HIV/AIDS prevention.

She said that the government in Botswana has made the topic a priority and that condoms are available in many places – gas stations, grocery stores, and even museums. And in many places, they are free.

According to UNAIDS, an organization leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat, nearly 23 percent of adults, 15 to 49 years old, have HIV in Botswana.

“When we talk about sex in our curriculum, it’s really about respect and healthy relationships, domestic violence and abuse,” Klug said.

Burggraf said they students were asked to write questions on a piece of paper and hand them in so they were not singled out.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to come into school, too, and ask these questions where they may not be able to ask their parents at home or might be embarrassed to,” Burggraf said.

The African students spoke fluent English as well as the language of their various tribes.

During the trip students of both locations learned more about each other. Where some BHSU students were under the initial impression that the African students would perhaps live in huts rather than the actual city they called home, the high schoolers thought of American farming practices as hand-harvesting individual plants rather than running massive combines in large fields.

The BHSU students also received a shock in the temperature change they experienced. It was -13F the morning they left Spearfish, and when they arrived in Africa, it was more than 100º F.

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