Saturday, May 2, 2009

Out of Africa, by Journal Inquirer Reporter Ms. Connie Yan, Published May 2, 2009

Out of Africa
Somers students ‘Skype’ with volunteer in Mozambique
By Connie Yan
Journal Inquirer
Published: Saturday, May 2, 2009 1:15 AM EDT
SOMERS — Without leaving the Somers Elementary School auditorium on Wednesday students were able to take a peek at life in Mozambique, a country in southeastern Africa.

Fourth- and fifth-graders participated in a video conference call with former Ellington resident Elizabeth Walker, 24, who is a volunteer in Mozambique. It was all made possible through Skype, a computer software application that allows users to make telephone calls and have videoconferences over the Internet for free.

Students in both grades prepared questions for Walker to answer about living in Africa. The questions touched upon everything from sports to government.

Walker, a former student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a volunteer business consultant with TechnoServe, a company headquartered in Washington, D.C., that helps people in developing countries build businesses.

As soon as Walker’s image popped up on the large screen set up in the auditorium for the videoconference call, students were quiet and listened carefully.

Many students were curious about how the culture in Mozambique differs from that of the U.S. Walker said there is more emphasis on family and community. People often live in multigenerational households, with grandparents and even cousins, she said.

“You will most likely have the same job as your father,” she added.

When it comes to sports in Mozambique soccer — referred to as football — is by far the most popular, and residents are excited about the World Cup 2010 coming to South Africa, she said. People often gather in the streets and watch TV or listen to the radio for game updates.

Walker sounded like a resident of Mozambique when she excitedly bragged about how the local team, the Mambas, beat the Nigerian team.

Walker has been sharing highlights of her work in Mozambique through a blog linked to fourth-grade teacher Mark Maciolek’s Web site. Walker has posted photos and updates for the students.

Claire Savage, 9, a fourth-grader, said she was surprised when Walker told how children as young as five or six years old are often seen begging for food.

Fourth-grader Elliott Scott, 9, said when he pictured Mozambique, he thought of cities and lots of people. He was surprised to discover it has a lot of farms.

While the country does have cities, houses in the rural areas are often made of mud, coconut shells, leaves and sticks, Walker told students.

She also told them she chose Mozambique as a place to volunteer because she “wanted to see something completely different.”

On Friday students started participating in Snackrifice, a fundraiser where students will be donating the money they would have spent on snacks toward purchasing malaria nets for Africa.

Walker said the nets are important because children often catch malaria several times a year. Medical care is also scarce because there are very few doctors and nurses, she said. There are only about 600 doctors for a population of 20 million in Mozambique, she added.

Some students asked about how they could someday volunteer in Africa just like Walker. She said there are many programs that enable volunteering in Africa, such as companies like hers and programs like the Peace Corps.

It is a “great, great experience,” she said. “Hopefully, some of you can come someday … Think about what you love and how can that help other people.”

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