Botswana Internships Gives Penn Students Opportunities to Learn About, Lend a Hand to World Issues

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Media Contact:Julie McWilliams | juliemcw@upenn.edu | 215-898-1422September 28, 2012

The Botswana-UPenn Partnership can trace its roots back 11 years to a collaboration of medical professionals recruited to help stem the tide of AIDS infections in that southern African country. Over time, however, this health-care partnership expanded to include non-clinical summer internships for students from other University of Pennsylvania schools.

This past summer, 10 Penn graduate and undergraduate students completed 10-week internships at organizations in and around Gaborone, the capital: at a preschool day-care center, an after-school program and orphanage, a human-rights group and a governmental agency as well as at private businesses marketing handmade baskets and quilts.  

Afreina Noor, a Fulbright scholar studying for her master’s degree in public administration at Penn’s Fels Institute of Government, and Christian Husby, a student in the Graduate School of Education, were assigned to the Kamogelo Daycare Centre.  Each weekday, the pair traveled by combi, or small van, to Kamogelo, which cares for some 90 children ages 2-6 in the village of Mogoditshane, about 20 kilometers from Gaborone.

“The families are very poor, and many parents are suffering with HIV/AIDS,” Noor said.  “The center gives the children a safe and healthy environment –- a bit more normal life -– five days a week.”

Noor said the children are taught the alphabet, counting, colors, rhymes, art and reading in English. They also have breakfast and lunch, which are cooked on the premises and made with vegetables from the center’s garden.  

While there, Noor compiled an annual report for the center to submit to potential funders and helped to redesign its brochure and Web site, including posting new video.

Husby taught in the classroom and worked with the local teachers. He also helped with administrative work and daily tasks such as cleaning the rooms.

Together, they also held a teacher-training session. Noor taught them how to use Excel and to create and save Word documents.

“They were happy to learn Excel to track the children’s heights and weights,” Noor said. “Previously, they had to hand-write the reports. Now, they use a template.”

Husby made budget sheets and taught Sister Margaret, Kamogelo’s director, how to use them, saving her hours of manual calculations. 

“She was thrilled,” Noor said.

For Noor, it was a sort of homecoming. A native of Pakistan, she lived in Botswana until she was 7 years old, when her father died and her mother moved the family back to Islamabad.  

“I hadn’t been back [to Botswana] in all those years until now,” she said. “I was able to visit my father’s grave.”

Another intern, Wharton sophomore Meghan Bethel, worked at Botswanacraft Marketing. Her experience included a 16-hour bus trip to the Etsha villages to see first hand how the renowned Botswana baskets are made.

“The baskets are extraordinary, and it takes true skill and craftsmanship to produce such high quality,” she wrote in her internship report.

Noor and Bethel used their personal networks to help their internship sites financially. Noor sought donations for field trips and supplies for the children at Kamogelo, and Bethel to create new markets for the baskets.  

Concerned about the weavers’ wages and living conditions, Bethel used family connections at the United Nations in an effort to get the Etsha Weavers Group endorsed by UNESCO. 

“This endorsement would make fundraising for the group easier,” she said, “and would quell some of the hesitations that foreign companies have with doing business with an African-based business.”

A Bahamian, Bethel said she was often mistaken for a Motswana -- a native of Botswana -- and people would approach her speaking rapidly in Setswana, the native language.

SAS junior Aran Park was one of two interns who worked at SOS Children’s Villages orphanage. Besides working with the children in their classrooms, she and fellow Penn student Aliza Stone transformed an unused building into a library, cleaning the building of dirt and debris before organizing and shelving the books.

Muchi “Molly” He, interned at Botswana’s Competition Authority, which, as its name suggests, monitors and investigates market and business practices to ensure fair competition. As part of her experience, she accompanied the analysts on site visits, but her most recent project, in tandem with SAS senior and fellow intern Guanyuan Chung, involved categorizing industry sectors for the Botswana economy.

“We were told this would be a long-term strategy plan,” she wrote in a report. “It was exciting to know that what we were working on would have lasting impact for an entire country!”

It wasn’t all work, though. The interns lived together on the University of Botswana campus with UB student mentors who helped them to learn their way around Gaborone and nearby Phakalane.  The mentors also helped them raise their awareness of cultural nuances and master key Setswana words and phrases. They all dined together most evenings, either taking turns making dinner or going out for fast food or restaurants for special occasions. Most students noted the difference in the pace of life there.

With its current mission -- “Sharing the expertise of a world-class university with our partners in Botswana to build capacity and excellence in clinical care, education and research” -- the Botswana-UPenn Partnership remains true to its origins. Penn staff work to strengthen medical education at the University of Botswana School of Medicine, provide technical advisors for clinical care and develop research collaborations. The BUP also provides a global health experience for students from Penn’s schools of Dental Medicine, Medicine and Nursing through clinical rotations.

In fact, Doreen Ramogola-Masire, country director for the Botswana-UPenn Partnership, and Kolaatamo C.S. Malefho, the permanent secretary of Botswana’s Ministry of Health, will be on campus Thursday, Sept. 13, to meet with members of the Penn community who are interested in the work of the BUP.  A short program will begin at 3 p.m. in the 14th floor lounge of the Biomedical Research Building, 421 Curie Boulevard, followed by a reception at 3:25.   

Students interested in pursuing a BUP summer internship may contact Cara Bonnington, who oversees Penn’s International Internship Program, at carab@pobox.upenn.edu or 215-898-9073.

More information on Botswana and other international internships will be available during the Penn Abroad Fair being held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 25, in Hall of Flags of Houston Hall.

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