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2008 Africa Foreign Study Program

Students

Bryan Block '10
Kelly Bogaert '10 
Roopa Chari '09                 
Laura Coolidge '10
Kathryn Fay '09
Andy Ferrera '10
Katie Hirsch '08
Joe Indvik '10
Nick Lomanto '10
Jensen Lowe '10
Nathan Mazonson '09
Katie Moerlein '08
Carrie Rosenblum '10
Zoe Shtasel-Gottlieb '10
Deirdre Sutula '10
Laura Tabor '10
Tara Wohlgemuth '09

 

Faculty

Professor Bill Roebuck
Research Assistant Professor David Mbora
Adjunct Instructor Scott Stokoe

 

 

First Letter from Africa

19 October 2008

Dear parents, families, and friends,

I arrived in Africa on 15 October, shortly before the students and Professor David Mbora returned from the first 20-day field trip on 17 October.  All were happy, healthy, and looking forward to a shower and settling into their urban home-stays.  We celebrated with pizza at the Backpacker Lodge where they spent the night.

On Saturday, 18 October, Ms. Mary-Anne Makgoka, our home-stay coordinator, held a Home-stay Introduction Ceremony.  I introduced the students one at a time, Professor Mbora added personal comments, and Ms. Makgoka introduced each host family.  It was a wonderful event, which took place in a small restaurant in a city park surrounded by people selling crafts at the weekend market. 

Today, Monday, there was a real "buzz" as students arrived to compare experiences and Sunday events.  We reviewed for the mid-term exam to be given on Tuesday, 21 October.  I also reviewed my expectations for their ENVS 84 paper, and helped the students focus on possible topics related to environmental health issues in southern Africa. 

The biggest event of the day was a discussion and preparation for a visit by four administrators from Dartmouth.  Dean of the Faculty, Carol Folt; Associate Dean of the Faculty for International and Interdisciplinary Studies, Lindsay Whaley; Executive Director of Off-Campus Programs, John Tansey; and Public Affairs Officer, Steve Smith, arrive on the early British Air flight from London.  They are visiting off-campus programs in London, Barcelona, and South Africa.  We are honored and delighted that they are traveling so far to visit us.  They are particularly interested in interacting with the 17 students on this year’s Africa Foreign Studies Program, while also learning more about how the Environmental Studies Program operates this FSP. 

Professor Mbora is busy grading field reports and quizzes, and tomorrow will start the mid-term.  When he finishes, he’ll be writing up comments and highlights from the first half of the students’ trip. Stay tuned for more.

Sincerely,

Bill Roebuck

 

 

Second Letter from Africa

28 October 2008

Dear parents, families and friends,

Greetings from Africa!  As I write, my bags are packed and I am looking forward to flying home to the US tonight.  I am also a little sad though to be leaving so soon.  We have an amazing group of students on the FSP this year.  They are curious, extremely engaged and obviously highly intelligent and I have had a great time exploring and learning with them. 

After my arrival to South Africa to prepare for the program on September 14, I was joined by the students on September 22, 2008.  Following four days of orientation and introductory lectures at the University of Pretoria, we headed out on our first 20-day field trip.  Our first stop on the field trip was a major success.  We spent a week in a rural setting in Limpopo province, to the northeast of South Africa.  Here, the students had a glimpse of rural life in Africa, including two days and two nights spent with a rural host family.  This rural life experience definitely made an impression on all the students.  Following the home-stays, we had a debriefing session where students shared their impressions of the rural home-stays; our conversations went late into the night.  The following day, we had a scheduled group discussion based on a reading entitled “Cross-cultural research: issues of power, positionality and ‘race’.”  As it turned out this was the perfect timing to be discussing this paper because the students deftly applied their experiences in the home-stays to the concepts explored in this reading.  Although the discussion was scheduled to last 40 minutes, I had to bring it to a close after two hours of animated conversation.

This is the first time we have ever done rural home stays on the FSP and I am confident that this is a great addition to the program.

After the Limpopo rural setting, we travelled to Timbavati game reserve.  This is the eighth year that our program has visited Timbavati.  As usual, our academic program there focused on the ecology and the natural history of the African savanna.  We also took time to enjoy game viewing at sunset, and for the first time in a many years, our group was able to see all the “BIG FIVE.”  Do you know what the big five of the African savanna are?  Also, for the first time ever, I gave the natural history quiz in the field; I wrote the questions on a white board hanged under a Marula tree.  One of the questions on the natural history quiz was this “List two differences and two similarities between African grassland ecosystems (e.g. The Serengeti, Timbavati) and North American grassland ecosystems (e.g. Yellowstone National Park). 

Following our Timbavati experiences, we had a two day break at Skukuza; Skukuza is a town within the Kruger National Park.  At Skukuza we did laundry, caught up on e-mail and on sleep (our days at Timbavati started at 5 am), and also enjoyed some soccer.

Our field trip’s final six days were spent on the southeastern part of South Africa at the border with Mozambique, in northern KwaZulu Natal Province.  Here, we did another first.  At Tembe Elephant Park, we collected the first data set, in a planned long-term study, that will use the abundance of dung beetles to measure if elephants are converting the endemic sand forest habitat into woodland habitat.  Dung beetles are most abundant in woodland habitat where elephants and other ungulates mostly feed.  Our plan is that subsequent groups of this FSP will collect data to contribute to this long-term project.  We set up the dung beetle traps, sorted the beetles from by-catch and analyzed the preliminary data.  We found that fenced-in, undisturbed, sand forest has a lower abundance of dung beetles than disturbed sand forests and woodland habitat.

As Professor Roebuck mentioned in his first letter, I have been busy grading field reports and the mid-term exam since our return to Pretoria.  I can say that I am very impressed with the students’ work. 

In case you were wondering here is a sampling of the questions that I asked on the mid-term exam.  For ENVS 40: Natural Resources and Environmental Issues in Southern Africa:  In lectures, readings and discussions we explored how environmental change (habitat change, climate change, etc.) may impact the health and well being of animals and humans across the globe.  Drawing on your experiences on our just concluded field trip, discuss the likely challenges posed by environmental change to health and well being of animals and humans in South Africa.

And for, ENVS 42: Social and Political Aspects of Development Conservation in Southern Africa: You learned about the variety of ways in which conservation and rural development are being pursued jointly.  The umbrella term “community-based conservation (CBC)” is often used to refer to these efforts.  Draw upon the conceptual approaches that were presented, or alluded to, in readings, lectures and discussions to contrast CBC as practiced at haMakuya, Timabavati, Tembe Elephant Reserve, and Phinda game reserve.  From the readings, your own lecture notes and observations, propose three criteria by which to evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches.  Two of your criteria should emphasize the social dimensions of CBC and one should emphasize conservation and ecological objectives.  You should choose criteria that, in your view, capture the essence of what CBC should accomplish in the social and ecological realms.  Briefly defend your choice of criteria by discussing the relative strengths and weaknesses of each the three approaches.

All the students are happy, healthy and thoroughly enjoying their new urban homes stay experiences.

Sincerely,

David N. M. Mbora

 

 

Third Letter from Africa 

26 November 2008

Dear parents, families, and friends,

As many of you already know from personal communications, we have returned from the Namibian field trip, finished the finals in two courses, and are completing the final paper in the third course.

From an educational perspective, Namibia is a dream as the infrastructure is easily seen, and the landscape and climate explains clearly both human and animal activities.  I will not describe the entire 20-day trip, but rather focus on three major locations and activities.

However, before I do that I should describe the logistics and personnel of this trip.  Scott Stokoe, Dartmouth Organic Farm Manager and Adjunct Instructor, joined us in Pretoria on Friday, 31 October.  We flew to Windhoek, Namibia on 2 November and were met by Lyn Mair, a naturalist from Cape Town, South Africa. For the sixth year in a row, Wild Dog Safaris provided our transportation, camping equipment, and fed the 20 of us.  We traveled in two vehicles. 

At Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), we spent two days learning and studying the issues revolving about cheetahs. The world’s largest free-living population of cheetah resides on commercial cattle, sheep, and goat farms in Namibia.  The fate of the cheetah may depend upon this particular population, and, in turn, the habitat of the cheetah.

Over one hundred years of cattle grazing and fencing has allowed the thornbush to transform the savannah into thick bush.  This is neither good for grass production nor for the cattle and prey of the cheetah.  The CCF has used the cheetah’s charismatic megafauna status to sell various products made from the removal of the encroaching bush.  For example, marketing Bushblok (a compacted fuel log made from cleared bush), beef from farms that are “cheetah-friendly,” and chipped wood for the generation of lumber and electricity are some of the schemes that have been undertaken.  All of these approaches aim to encourage better habitat for the small game upon which cheetah normally prey, while at the same time discouraging the predation of cattle.

We visited Cape Cross, one location where the South African (also known as Cape and Brown) fur seals come ashore to deliver their pups.  Here the students were given assignments that focused on the breeding strategies and behaviors of the seals.  However, from an environmental studies perspective, the real issue is the harvest of seals for the benefit of Namibians.  This right or obligation to use natural resources for the citizens of Namibia is written into the constitution.  We examined sustainable harvest quotas, natural cycles of the seal, consumption of commercial fish stock by seals, ethical issues surrounding the killing of seals, as well as the very real economic benefit of seal hunting for a sizable number of people who for generations have harvested seal.  

Gobabab Desert Research and Training Centre is the third location that I wish to highlight.  Gobabab is in the heart of the Namib Desert, which is one of the world’s oldest and driest deserts.  While there is much to say of Gobabab, the highlight for many was the fact that three very different ecosystems are seen clearly within 100 meters of each other.  A "linear oasis" of an ephemeral riverbed divides a sand sea and a gravel plain.  This ephemeral river, the Kuiseb, runs east to west for over 300 km, with visible surface water only once or twice a year for a few days to up to a month.  Because of the sand’s ability to store water, the area can sustain much life over the course of the year.  The sand sea is composed of red sand dunes running south for hundreds of miles to the South African border; to the north the gravel plain stretches an equal distance to the Angola border.  Management of this valuable water source for animals, plants, and humans is a challenge.

Early this week we held the finals in ENVS 40 and 42.  You might be interested in two of the questions asked:

1.  Take a position either for or against gardening in the Kuiseb River basin.  List the key considerations and provide support for your position.  [This is a tough question for water is critically short, and the gardeners are farming is a most unlikely location and are a small minority population (the Topnaar people).]

2.  Due to limited resources of money and technical support, the government of Namibia might need to emphasize either tourism or mining.  Argue in favor of one of these two options.  Explain your reasoning using examples from the Namibian field trip.

Tomorrow morning at 5am, we leave for Lesotho . . . a 7-hour drive.  Lesotho is very different from any other location we have visited.  It exports both water and labor to South Africa.  The students are all well and excited to finish their paper and go to our final location.

Sincerely,

Bill Roebuck

 

 

Fourth Letter from Africa

3 December 2008 

Dear parents, family, and friends,

The 2008 AfricaFSP has come to an end, and the students have scattered—heading for the States, Cape Town, and with family members across the parks of South Africa.  Scott Stokoe left Africa last night bound for the Upper Valley.  It is absolutely clear that he, like the students this year and in years past, will forever have a bit of Africa in his head and heart.

We finished the AFricaFSP in a new location this year.  On 28 November we drove to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, where we stayed at Malealea Lodge.  We worked for a day and a half for the Malealea Trust, helping an area village begin construction on a road suitable for lorries to access their village.  The work was "pick and shovel" stuff, but the best part was working along side the villagers.  Some could speak English, and many of the children could translate.  In exchange for our work, the village fed us a large lunch meal.  On the third day in Lesotho, the students had a chance to simply enjoy and explore the unique countryside.

All activities outside the Malealea Lodge required a hired guide as an escort.  In this way the Lodge transfers money back to the community, while providing guests a valuable interpretation of the local culture and countryside.  Malealea lies beyond the Gates of Paradise Pass . . . yes, indeed!  The name is most appropriate, as the country of Malealea is a patchwork of tilled fields of maize, wheat, potatoes, and vegetables on the flatter hillsides, with terraced fields working their way up the steep hills onto the mountainsides.  The entire valley is surrounded by peaks, perhaps a thousand feet higher than the valley floor.  Think Tibet without the monasteries and snow-covered peaks, and you get the picture.  There is one dirt track into the Valley of Paradise, and most transportation is by foot, pony, or donkey.  Oxen provide the power for tilling the land.

In the evening at Malealea Lodge, the students and I had many conversations regarding their African experiences, their feelings about returning to the States, and how the AfricaFSP might serve as a point of reference in their future plans.

It was a privilege to be in Africa with 17 exceptional students, two of whom actually "graduated in Lesotho."  They are the first to complete the academic requirements for graduation in Lesotho! 

Sincerely,

Bill Roebuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated: 11/19/10