Saturday, September 11, 2010

The PULSE of Africa

This year, PULSE opportunities are found on six of the seven continents, with Antarctica being the (somewhat obvious) exception.  With the range of places I could have landed, one may wonder how I ended up in Ghana for my upcoming assignment.  The background starts from 2006, when I tagged along with LJ on his work trip to South Africa.

We spent two weeks in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Kruger National Park.  On our travels throughout the country, I was stunned by the level of poverty I saw. Outside Cape Town, there were literally miles of shantytown, built from corrugated metal sheets and anything else that could be cobbled together as housing.  Electricity was strung from shack to shack with whatever wires were available.  The people there were missing the basic infrastructure that most of us take for granted in the US: clean water, always-on electricity, easy access to stores and jobs, and the like.

It's not hyperbole to say that the seeing  the shantytowns changed my life.  I took a significant interest in all things South African, from reading books such as John Carlin's Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation (the basis for last year's film "Invictus") to listening to any news story with "South Africa" mentioned.  As I learned more about South Africa, I found myself growing interested in the African continent in general.

Sheer luck of the assignments available this year led to my match with Ghana. When I first read the assignment description, this opportunity to assist with using the Internet to support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching spoke to me.  Given my involvement in supporting STEM teaching and mentoring throughout the last decade, this assignment seemed like a match made in heaven.  The specific African country of the assignment was an afterthought, at least at first.  But the more I learn about Ghana through my reading and my conversations with my co-worker, I can't wait to spend time in the African nation known as the "island of peace" in West Africa.

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