by: Ashley Rodman
Even though I had only traveled outside of the United States one other time before studying abroad in Mozambique, I developed the notorious sickness known as the “travel bug” somewhere along the way. After my experiences with the University of Arkansas’ (U of A) Faculty-Led Community Development in Mozambique Program, my desire to travel has not only grown, but shaped into a longing to experience new cultures while using my scientific background and expertise to aid those in need. The program allowed me to delve deeper into my academic interests by leading a month-long water quality testing project, all while working alongside other U of A students who also put their specialized academic skills to use and learning about a successful sustainable business model in a developing country.
The choice to study abroad with the U of A was something that I had wanted to pursue since transferring into the Bumpers College in 2012; however, the vast array of program choices were overwhelming until I became acquainted with the Faculty-Led Community Development in Mozambique Program. When I initially learned about this particular study abroad opportunity, I was under the impression that my major, Environmental, Soil, and Water Science, would not be openly accepted into the program. Soon after speaking to one of the faculty advisors, I found out that the opposite was true. In fact, the faculty encouraged me to apply. I learned that the program was open to all majors, and the faculty enthusiastically supported personalized student projects. Furthermore, the program would take place during the summer, allowing me to receive the last credits needed for me to graduate with my Bachelor of Science degree and return to the U of A in time to begin my graduate studies.
A few other students and I spent the spring semester organizing the water quality project that we would be doing while in Mozambique. We met multiple times as a group and with U of A faculty throughout the semester to gain expert opinions about how to plan our project and to purchase materials. The experience of developing a project allowed me to hone my organizational and leadership skills, as well as gain valuable contacts. Before long our group was boarding a plane to Africa to begin our summer abroad in Mozambique.
I did some light reading about the history of the country and its people before departing, but I was still unsure about what to expect when we arrived in Mozambique. I was soon immersed into the Mozambican culture as my peers and I hit the ground running working on our designated projects. Unique to the program, we worked with a sustainable poultry operation, known as New Horizons. Our water quality project was geared at testing different water quality parameters in the water sources used by New Horizons and by the company’s poultry outgrowers. While conducted our project, I learned about the hard work ethic and strong family and community values that Mozambicans cherish. It was easy to see that even when many of the outgrowers had little physical property, they were rich in pride for what they did have. It was inspiring to see the pleasure that the outgrowers took in their jobs and the respect they had for New Horizons. I realized the true meaning of “giving a hand up, not a hand out.” The outgrowers are improving their lives by their own wills, not by foreign aid or government assistance.
Learning how to cope with challenges that arose gave me insight into many of the things we take for granted in the United States. To start things off, a piece of equipment necessary to perform one of the water quality tests was lost in transit and was not available to purchase in Mozambique. Unlike in the United States, we did not have the option of using a laboratory or any sort of electronic technology to conduct our tests in or with. We had to carry all of our equipment to each water source—sometimes spaced long distances apart. We also discovered that purchasing water testing supplies, such as deionized water, was not an option. Within the second week we had used all of the deionized water I had brought to clean the water testing instruments, so we had to devise an alternate solution. Time management was another important skill that we soon found to be a challenge, as many Mozambicans do not hold time and the thought of deadlines as high as most Americans.
I realized the value of my education and educational opportunities in general while studying abroad. The importance of my education soon dawned on me when I saw that people were looking to me for advice about improving water quality in their areas. Many children and adults I met and saw were not given opportunities to attend school, let alone pursue higher degrees at a university level. It saddened me that there were so few educational opportunities, leading to a huge loss in potential human capital for the country of Mozambique. I will remember this as I pursue my master’s degree and draw on these memories to study harder and persevere in my field.
From traveling in Mozambique, I was educated about the historical background of the country and its past as a Portuguese colony fraught with ills of the slave trade. I interacting with locals in different regions of Mozambique when we haggled with venders at local markets, toured the streets of Mozambique Island, and visited an orphanage in Nampula. Our travels in South Africa allowed me to see the vast economic disparities found in many parts of Africa.
Overall, I am certain that the study abroad trip in Mozambique has shaped me more than I realize. It is my hope that my work in Mozambique was beneficial to New Horizons, the outgrowers, and the outgrower’s families. I hope that my work inspires future students to expand the water quality project that I initiated. Not only did my time studying abroad in Africa allow me the opportunity to be immersed in another culture while having a multidisciplinary learning experience, it helped me realize the importance of education and sustainable approaches to lifting people out of poverty.