In the Sena language, one of many tongues spoken in the Great African Rift Valley, the phrase ‘Pita uko’ roughly translates as “go in that direction.” Mistakenly interpreted by non-native listeners as a command, the phrase is actually closer in meaning to “Let’s go together” — an invitation to pool each others’ talents and efforts to reach a shared goal.
Such is the spirit of a trip a Utah State University team of students and faculty will undertake to Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park July 1-14. College of Science Dean Mary Hubbard and Wildland Resources Department Head Johan du Toit, accompanied by undergraduates and recent graduates Sam Abbott (environmental engineering), Chris Bowen (biochemistry and biology), Krista Eames (speech communication), Anamarie Lamb (environmental studies), Scott Payne (international business) and Natali Zollinger (geology and geoarcheology), will meet with USU alum and philanthropist Greg Carr, who is conducting an ambitious 20-year project to restore the 1,500-square mile wildlife reserve and surrounding communities.
The interdisciplinary team’s trip, initiated and funded by the USU Provost’s Office, is a beginning step in the formation of a long-term partnership between Utah State, the Carr Foundation and Mozambican partners to involve USU students and faculty in a variety of efforts to advance sustainable development in an area ravaged by decades of civil war, economic instability, environmental havoc and disease.
“We’re looking at how to organize projects led by students and faculty from diverse disciplines around a central question,” says du Toit, a wildlife biologist and native of Zimbabwe. “How can sustainable improvements in human livelihoods be achieved while also conserving biodiversity and environmental services in a country recovering from years of upheaval?”
Carr’s vision includes not only restoration of the once-stunning tourist destination that teemed with varied wildlife but development of human communities capable of simultaneously sustaining the park and fostering better lives for their residents.
“Communities surrounding Gorongosa need help with primary education, public health, water supplies, small business development, sustainable agriculture and appropriate technology for engineering and building projects,” du Toit says. “These are all areas in which USU can provide expertise.”
In turn, the project could offer USU scholars invaluable opportunities to engage in crafting and carrying out solutions for real-life, on-the-ground issues in a developing country.
“We hope to lay the groundwork for a program that allows students to immerse themselves in a life-changing experience beyond the confines of classroom and campus,” Hubbard says. “This project has the potential to greatly enhance students’ learning experiences, regardless of the major they’re pursuing.”
Bowen, who graduated from USU in May and plans to attend medical school, says he looks forward to meeting with local physicians, nurses, traditional healers and other healthcare professionals during his visit to Mozambique.
“As a representative of USU’s College of Science and pre-health programs, I’ll be looking at ways pre-health students can get involved with Mozambicans to provide health care services and outreach programs,” he says.
His effort is a tall order. Malaria, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition are rampant in the southeast African country, where average life expectancy barely reaches 40 years. Access to health care is severely limited and an inflated population of amputees, the legacy of landmines, lacks sufficient orthopedic and rehabilitative services.
“I appreciate the opportunity to represent the eyes, ears and gentle touch of our science and pre-health students to the Mozambican people,” Bowen says. “USU President Stan Albrecht and Provost Raymond Coward are invested in this project because they believe in the importance of international service learning and that our students can make a lasting difference — one person at a time.”