Tag Archive for botswana

Maru-a-Pula Scholars in the U.S.


Edward “Ned” Hall founded the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula in 1974, just two years after Maru-a-Pula itself opened its doors in Gaborone, Botswana. In the 40 years since, AFMAP has helped Maru-a-Pula develop into one of the best secondary schools in southern Africa. The school’s role in the region has also changed beyond its original purpose of racial justice to now include top academic performance and education for social responsibility. In recent years, MAP has extended the gift of world-class education to dozens of orphan scholars who lost their parents.

Since 1981, AFMAP has quietly played another key role in the lives of Maru-a-Pula students. A recent article from Taft Bulletin tells the story of the MAP Scholar program. Since 1981, deserving MAP IGCSE graduates have been selected to spend a senior year in top U.S. independent schools. On average, seven MAP students become U.S. scholars each year. While these schools have underwritten tuition and boarding fees, AFMAP has provided these students with a familiar face and, when needed, a helping hand.

MAP Scholars have startled and impressed their U.S. hosts with their academic preparation, leadership skills, humility, and sense of social purpose. Our students have not only completed the rigorous programs of top U.S. independent schools but have also become leaders and proceeded to top colleges and graduate programs at institutions such as Harvard, Williams, MIT, and Stanford. A number of MAP Scholars previously received Orphans and Vulnerable Children scholarships at MAP. The outstanding support of AFMAP donors has changed these deserving students’ lives.

It should not surprise you that many MAP Scholars have dedicated their lives to helping others. They have become experts in global health, medicine, finance, and East Asian studies. Four serve on the AFMAP board, including president and secretary. In my time, I have been privileged to know MAP scholars Neo, Portia, Thomas, Ernest, Urban, Lollise, MK, Kush, Mmaserame, Tumisang, and others.

I had the incredibly good luck to start my teaching career at Taft in 1991, in the company of former Maru-a-Pula teachers Emily and Gordon Jones and MAP Scholars Tebogo Phiri, Thomas Lukoma, and Urban Dabutha. I then traveled to Botswana and joined the Maru-a-Pula staff for two years. MAP has remained a vital part of my life and career to this day.


Botswana Trip Recap

13 students and two teachers visited Botswana from 19 June to 7 July. The trip achieved its goal of providing direct service to HIV/AIDS organizations, introducing students to Botswana culture, and strengthening the relationship between Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula schools. The trip blog chronicles the day-by-day details. This post summarizes some of the trip themes.

Exchange Students
Five Batswana students have attended both Maru-a-Pula and Catlin Gabel through an exchange program. Three of them were actively involved in the Catlin Gabel trip. They provided some of the most personal experiences of the trip, describing their difficulties integrating into U.S. culture and providing a unique look into their families’ lives in Botswana. MK took us to her family’s cattlepost (ranch) for a sleepover, traditional meal, and stargazing. Mmaserame took us to both her father’s village for a thorough traditional village experience and to her mother’s family’s house in Gaborone for lunch and an amazing oral history telling. Our students also met next year’s Maru-a-Pula exchange student for Catlin Gabel, which should greatly ease her transition into the school.

HIV/AIDS Service Work
We had some difficulty planning service activities in detail before the trip, but a lot fell into place once we arrived there. The Botswana-Baylor Centre was great. Peace Corps volunteer Peter took especially linked us up with a number of activities — painting a mural for the teen center (visited by Michelle Obama), designing math activities for pre-appointment playtimes, and supporting the Saturday teen club gathering. Maru-a-Pula hosted an evening with Dr. Ava Avalos from the Ministry of Health and Thobo Mogojwe from PING (Positive Innovation for the Next Generation). We also grew to appreciate the presence of HIV in everyday life across the country, from talk of the new medical school to village trainings for HIV+ people. We toured a new health clinic in Thabala distributed NikeRED laces to youth in Gumare.

Some students wished that we could have provided more meaningful support to HIV organizations than playing with students and painting murals. We concluded that the organizations’ volunteers and staff had far more expertise providing counseling and treatment than did our group, and we were best placed supporting ancillary services instead. We did wish that we could have had more informal conversations with teen peers about HIV and AIDS in Botswana — they may have been instructive to both our students and the youth in Botswana.

A Cross-section of Life in Botswana
Our students got to experience a non-touristic cross-section of ordinary life in Botswana, pretty rare for a visiting group. In two weeks’ time, we visited independent and government schools, internationally-funded health clinics and government hospitals and clinics, cities and villages, the capital city and very remote villages, the edge of the Kalahari and part of the Okavango swamps, a basket weaver co-op, and of course a classic African wildlife experience. We owe this comprehensive tour of the country to our NGO and alumni contacts.

Student Development and Global Service
This was a little tougher. All of our students got so much out of this trip, but sometimes we saw students miss a great opportunity to learn even more. Students were reticent to initiate conversations without ample support structures. The “Catlin bubble” became portable, and students talked about life back home as much as they immersed themselves in Botswana life. We trip leaders were caught between recognizing the students’ development as adolescents and wanting to see them fully engage with the local culture.

This global trip accomplished so much for our school within a short period of time. Perhaps we will move a step closer to fully celebrating our international students and our school’s relationship with a school in Botswana as a result.

Botswana Trip Curricular Goals

Source: cordelia_persen on Flickr

We leave for Botswana in two weeks. What curricular goals have we realized so far, and what remains to accomplish?

Collaborations with discipline-based classes
We (the two trip leaders) proposed to invite teachers to include the topic of HIV/AIDS in Botswana in their classes. Our method was simple: we raised the opportunity with teachers by email and impromptu, in-person conversations. To our pleasure, a half-dozen teachers responded with interest.

Pathogens and Parasites students wrote a guide to malaria and HIV/AIDS in Botswana for trip families. I presented some basic facts about the country and then organized the students into groups to co-write this document.

Statistics students analyzed data on AIDS prevalence in Botswana.

Second grade students wrote introductory letters (w/photos) to primary students in Gumare, in support of the yearlong theme of global awareness.

Media Arts students created short films from poems that Maru-a-Pula students wrote.

Advanced Biology students studied the intricacies of the immune system, or viruses and on the specifics of the HIV virus and it’s effect on infected humans.

Collaborations with co-curricular programs
We hold an annual diversity conference, planned and led by students. One trip participant shared excerpts from a book on HIV and AIDS in Botswana and shared clips from a film then facilitated a discussion of both.

Two teachers work with students in the Global Citizens Club to offer a series of film viewings throughout the year. The Viewfinder Global Film Series included the film Miss HIV, introduced and facilitated by two trip participants.

Non-collaborative activities with curricular links
While the curriculum of trip preparation remains firmly embedded in the school’s co-curricular program, some conversations demonstrated links with the school’s curricular program.

Trip participants spoke with various HIV/AIDS experts about Botswana.

Cascade AIDS Project
Botswana-Harvard AIDS Partnership
Médecins Sans Frontières
Providence Health
Botswana-Baylor Pediatric AIDS Initiative.

The trip group organized and delivered a presentation at Upper School assembly, including dramatic role play.

Trip participants organized on-campus fundraising events to benefit support organizations in Botswana.

Trip group read and discussed Saturday Is for Funerals.

Miss HIV

On the one hand, Miss HIV provides detailed insight into the personal side of HIV/AIDS in Botswana and Uganda. Interview subjects describe their journeys through testing, illness, treatment, and publicly revealing their status. The filmmakers share footage of funerals, burials, church ceremonies, and the 2006 International AIDS Conference. We have found it valuable to gain insight into the personal dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana.

On the other hand, the film is also a fascinating study in how to make a propaganda vehicle. It begins as a “balanced” presentation of competing western ideological views of how to best fight HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. On one side, we have local policy created in Uganda and based on abstinence, faithfulness, and use of condoms. On the other, we have a liberal, western policy based on the San Francisco gay experience, emphasizing human rights, and implemented in Botswana. The stigma of being HIV+ is presented as a key obstacle to overcome. The film is pretty clear so far.

The middle of the film is confusing (deliberately?), presenting several contradictory ideas in quick succession. Western policy does not support abstinence education, but then here is a shot of George W. Bush signing for millions for abstinence. Bill Gates is booed for supporting abstinence and then cheered for acknowledging the limits of abstinence policy. One speaker bemoans the lack of support for women’s rights organizations, then another speaker chides Mr. Gates for (somehow) supporting prostitution. The Miss HIV Stigma-free Pageant is alternately celebrated for battling stigma and criticized for sexualizing a public heath crisis.

Near the end, the film suddenly crystallizes its argument, “saving” viewers from their confused state. Abstinence education has worked in Uganda, and sexually permissive policies have failed in Botswana. A church minister and two individuals who cherish abstinence are the key figures in this part of the film.

This tidy conclusion overlooks some key facts:

  • The ABC approach was popularized in Botswana in the 1990’s. (source)
  • Uganda’s success resulted from a number of factors, not just abstinence. (source)
  • Uganda has a mixture of substrains HIV-1A, 1C, and 1D (source). In Botswana, HIV-1C is responsible for nearly all infections (source). It is more difficult to prevent new infections with HIV-1C.

For each powerful voice that Miss HIV shares in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it leaves out another.

  • Human rights organizations have expressed concern about President Museveni’s restrictions on homosexuals and democratic processes. (source)
  • Social engineering is extremely difficult and certainly not formulaic.
  • The film does not include interviews with ministry of health officials in either country.

Miss HIV shares rare, first-hand footage of HIV and AIDS in Uganda and Botswana but ultimately presents a one-sided conclusion.


Global Trips: Student Leadership

A number of us are working to make this year’s global trips a whole-community experience. Previously, we made a strong push for teachers to include Botswana and HIV/AIDS in their course curricula. Now, we turn our attention to community events.

Botswana trip participants planned and presented an assembly to Upper School students last week. It was such a pleasure to sit in the audience and absorb the accuracy, significance, organization, and style of their presentation while playing no direct role except capturing it on video. This was for me the first realization of our ultimate goal of conferring as much trip planning responsibility as possible to the students. There is no need for the two adults to act as tour guides. This trip is for the students, and they will benefit so much more when the trip is also set up by the students.

The assembly included:

  • “Stand-up” activity for audience members to learn some key metrics about the effect of HIV and AIDS on the Botswana population. For example, the number of people living with AIDS is increasing, since antiretroviral treatment is now widely available, but the rate of new infections has not decreased significantly.
  • Skit adapted from a chapter of Saturday Is For Funerals (“the driver”), with a short introduction about the role of stigma in the AIDS crisis. I was so impressed with how two students selected a scene, memorized, and rehearsed the skit in a week’s time!
  • Presentation about the basic structure and activities of the trip. Without a comment from the adults, they did not at all mention the recreational portions of the trip — kept the presentation focused on the business.
  • Explanation of how students can help raise funds and send school supplies to villages that need it.

At least seven of the 13 trip participants got up on stage, and they completed all of this within 15 minutes. Transitions were very crisp, and for the most part, students avoided digressing while on stage.

Next up in our month of community presentations:


Saturday Is for Funerals

In preparation for our service trip to Botswana, I recently read Saturday Is for Funerals. We continue to find resources perfectly matched to our trip objectives, including a guest speaker from the Cascade AIDS Project, a Peace Corps correspondence match, and now this book.

Unity Dow and Max Essex present a series of vignettes that cover the spectrum of HIV+ and AIDS cases in Botswana. From newlyweds to newborns, no one escapes this cruel disease. Despite depressing tales of demise, the book is mainly hopeful, since any Motswana can now gain ARV treatment and survive the disease. Saturdays are no longer just for funerals anymore.

We will ask all of our trip participants to read this book, since it presents social, cultural, medical, economic, and political dimensions of AIDS. It will be a terrific introduction for our students.

Read Danielle Friedman’s review of Saturday Is for Funerals.

Global Ed Across the Curriculum

As a follow-up to our presentations on global education, I am guest teaching in our Pathogens and Parasites classes this week, part of a broader effort to broadly integrate global education across the curriculum. Students have studied infectious diseases from the perspectives of science and public health, and now a series of guest speakers have been relating first-hand stories and posing authentic problems to the students. Consistently, students are spending class time researching real-world topics and brainstorming possible solutions. Is it safe to drink the water in Haiti? What precautions should we take when working with HIV+ youth in Botswana? Why have AIDS treatment efforts been so much more successful than HIV prevention efforts?

Authentic problems are complex and difficult to solve, compared with highly specific problems normally assigned during academic coursework. AIDS in Botswana involves principles of biology, public health, sociology, anthropology, politics, and economics. Students, so well trained as logical thinkers, are surprised to find that rational explanations are usually insufficient when they do not take all contributing factors into account. Why is it a bad idea to conduct saliva HIV tests in Botswana? Why would a doctor reasonably acquiesce to a HIV+ mother’s wish to breastfeed a newborn?

School technologists work every day to identify and support authentic uses of technology across the curriculum. The methods for integrating global education are not all that different. Communicate with enthusiasm, focus on the positive effects on student learning, work the most with those who respond with equal enthusiasm, focus learning activities on authentic applications. Use technological tools to facilitate research, group work, communication, and public presentation. Take advantage of the many wonderful electronic resources that exist out there on most topics.

Where are you finding synergy between global education, teaching and learning, and technology?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What I learned about technology from a Botswana marimba band

Every kid there is on Facebook, like here.

Many of the kids bought phones just for the two week stay — lots of texting.

Our Facebook page helped engage fans at the rate of 50 interactions per week. The students, however, didn’t post on our wall.

All of the electronic event bulletin boards in the world still cannot turn people out like a single Arts section headline article in the local paper.

Two of the group bought computers to take back home, one of them a netbook.

I had regular, real-time email exchanges with Botswana in the morning and at night.

Our touring vans had wireless Internet and a xbox (when running).

Google Maps Mobile was absolutely indispensable when driving from place to place.

I found it easy to set up advance ticket sales within just a few minutes per event.

It was equally easy and inexpensive to lay out programs, posters, business cards, and even a six-foot vinyl banner in InDesign and send to a copy shop for production.

It was even easier to produce hundreds of t-shirts but much harder to sell them.

Recording from a theater’s sound board straight into GarageBand was more effective than using a portable audio recorder (thank you Overlake theater tech!).

The CD replication shop accepted MP3 files by FTP and replicated the CD in two days! They printed the CD surface and sleeve a few days ahead of time.

Our small Canon videocamera captured much higher quality video than our Flip, at under double the price.

I feel like I witnessed the launch of the iPad in slow-motion across three states, as I encountered people who had just received their orders.

I saw a surprising number of cracked iPhone screens in various people’s homes, all of the devices still in use.

Obsessing about music, Botswana, and schools for two weeks helps put educational technology in proper perspective.

    Maru-a-Pula Website To Drupal

    Just two months ago, I wrote how I was still using Website Baker successfully for two sites. Well, it’s down to one now! I have migrated the Maru-a-Pula website from Website Baker to Drupal. Maru-a-Pula is an amazing school in Botswana that I have worked from the U.S. to assist since teaching there from 1994-96.

    Nothing went wrong with Website Baker. The school had just outgrown the basic CMS for its needs. The principal had started to write a news column, and while Website Baker does support news, the Drupal module is much easier to use. We now have several new features the school or I had wanted: RSS feeds sitewide, a blog for any author, actual calendar functionality, and all sorts of future possibilities using modules from the Drupal community.

    For the sake of a smooth user transition, I built a new Drupal theme (sub-theme of Zen) to copy almost exactly the old Website Baker theme. The two sites look nearly identical. I have to re-theme the Search form. I have done enough theme work in the last year that I felt very comfortable manipulating template and CSS files to create the desired look.

    The site is designed so that local tech staff in Botswana may take over as much administration as they wish. The site has no custom module code whatsoever, and all dynamic content is presented through content types, views and blocks (e.g., main home page photo and three feature columns).

    New site
    new site

    Old site
    old site

    Contributed Modules
    Menu breadcrumb
    Site map

    African connected

    Catlin Gabel hosts one exchange student from Maru-a-Pula School in Botswana each year. Yesterday, our new student arrived in the States for the first time, but he had been in touch with his host family for weeks … through Facebook. He also asked where to pick up a SIM card for his phone. This is the first time I have welcomed such a well-connected student from Botswana to the States! Now, if only we could find him a Euro-to-U.S. power adapter …