Bethany Bell, MA candidate at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, traveled to Ghana to work in that nation’s Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection.
“I stand before you as a proud American, I also stand before you as the son of an African,” he said.
Obama spoke about democracy and warned African leaders that “nobody should be president for life.” That’s a sore point in a number of African nations, where leaders in their 80s and 90s continue to hold power.
The African Union may be the only body in a position to influence those leaders. The African Union was established in 2001 to replace a dysfunctional organization known as The Organization of African Unity. The body focuses in continent-wide human rights, conflict resolution and economic development, says Don Connell, a visiting scholar at Boston University’s African Studies Center.
“I wasn’t learning how to order food from a restaurant,” says Zak Gersten (CAS ’11, MPH ’15). “I was learning how to actually hold a conversation with somebody about some specific area of public health.”
Public health doesn’t often make it onto a language curriculum, unless the class is small, and public health work is why the students are learning the language. That was the case for Zak, who has studied Wolof for five years, at BU and in Senegal, as an undergraduate biology major and as a Master’s in Public Health candidate.
TAPACHULA, MEXICO—It is not hard to find the Eritreans in this low-key town near the Pacific coast a few miles north of the Guatemalan border. They gather on the front steps of the Palafox Hotel with the only other Africans here—Somalis, Ethiopians, a handful of Ghanaians, all of them migrants—or they crowd into the bustling Internet café across the street.
On a recent afternoon, I met two who had been released from a maximum-security detention center here the night before. They were surprisingly at ease, giddy at the thought that they had passed over the last major hurdle to reaching the United States. All they had to do now was fly to northern Mexico and walk across a bridge. But it had been a long, arduous journey, and I could see they were still jumpy.
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Issoufou Mahamadou, President of the Republic of Niger, visited the African Studies Library at Boston University on April 3 to officially dedicate a new archive of Nigerien research materials.
What Big Data Won’t Tell You
The science of global health is propelled by statistics. The larger a research study’s sample size, the more accurately researchers can map trends in health issues from infant mortality to the spread of HIV. But it’s not always about the numbers. That’s what Jennifer Beard, a School of Public Health assistant professor of global health and a principal investigator in the BU Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD), found when she and several University colleagues teamed with leading HIV scientists from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) to conduct a series of small-scale qualitative studies of high-risk populations in the city of Kumasi. Boston University global health researchers, internationally respected for their HIV assessments in Kenya, South Africa, and Vietnam, are now helping Ghana point its HIV treatment and prevention in new directions.
The African Studies Center, an affiliated center of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, is growing its robust African language program, adding Twi, the spoken launguage of Ghana, in 2015, with a planned 2016 study abroad experience in Ghana to reinforce scholarship in the African nation’s culture.
“Ghana is a very successful democracy and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. In some ways, it’s one of the easier nations in Africa to travel to,” said Tim Longman,director of the African Studies Center. “There are many opportunities for students, particularly in the field of public health, in Ghana, and a grounding in the language is a wonderful opportunity we are happy to provide.”
Twi is the newest addition to the African Studies Center’s roster of tongues offered through their African language program. Since the 1970s, students have been afforded the chance to study Zulu, Xhosa, Wolof, Hausa, and other African languages.
Innovative African language program boosted by federal grant
The daughter of missionaries, Beth Restrick grew up in South Africa, Swaziland, and Mozambique, where she learned to speak miscellaneous words in a swirl of native languages as well as colonial Portuguese. But it wasn’t until she arrived at BU as full-time director of the African Studies Library that she learned to converse properly in Zulu. Restrick, who completed four consecutive Zulu courses, is one of a growing number of students, staff, and BU community members participating in the College of Arts & Sciences African Studies Center’s innovative African languages program, which since the late 1970s has offered a growing number of classes in a variety of native African tongues including Zulu, Hausa, Swahili, Wolof, Amharic, Mdeble, Igbo, and Xhosa.
After a spell of federal cutbacks put the program in peril, the US Department of Education (DoE), through its National Resource Centers (NRC) Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) grants, recently provided $2.3 million to the African Studies Center (ASC) to offer fellowships for students and support Africa-focused education, particularly African language instruction. The NRC and FLAS four-year grants, part of the Title VI program of the DoE Office of International and Foreign Language Education, promotes greater understanding of countries and regions across the globe through foreign language, cultural immersion, and research.
“When I lived in Africa I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have an opportunity to learn Zulu halfway around the world in frigid New England,” says Restrick. “And not only that—I was learning from a trained linguist. While immersion is always best, rarely do you find someone who knows how to teach a language—and that was the benefit I had here.”