Global engagement and service learning are two central themes of the Houghton College experience. Beyond the lectures, papers and examinations, many Houghton professors are striving to provide opportunities for students to truly connect with and assist global organizations. The needs of the global economy are both prevalent and relevant to classroom study, and not outside the realm of student influence. Students enrolled in Dr. Ndunge Kiiti’s ’88 Communication for Development and Issues in Development courses have been given the opportunity to engage in real-world issues such as peace-building projects, recovery programs for refugees, and HIV/AIDS community awareness.
Over 20 Houghton students connected with and conducted research for global organizations, including Making Africa Work (MAW) (Kenya and Sudan), Hillside Green Growers & Exporters (Kenya), Scenarios from Africa (West Africa), World Vision International, MAP International (Bolivia), African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM) (Rwanda), Jericho Road Ministries (Buffalo, N.Y.), and Washington D.C.-based organizations National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), CORE Group, Bread for the World, and Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH).
Senior Audrey Gillette ’11 was enrolled in both of Dr. Kiiti’s courses and focused her study on providing economic development advice to African government leaders using the Making Africa Work (MAW) organizational model. She has assisted Pete Ondeng, founder and president of MAW, in conducting research for his new book entitled “Making Africa Work” and for his various projects in South Sudan. Gillette shared, “It was a true privilege to meet Mr. Ondeng when he visited Houghton in February and to discuss his book and how my research could be of help. This is an awesome opportunity to put what we learn in the classroom—whether it is in political science, economics, international relations, intercultural studies, or development—into practice in a very practical way. It is refreshing to do more than just another research paper.”
Ondeng returned the appreciation in stating, “The research carried out by Audrey will help us in framing the strategy for a long term economic development project in South Sudan. In that regard, it will also inform part of the justifications for the intended approach and methodology that we will put forward to donors with whom we will seek to partner…The process has been an eye opener to a cost effective way to assemble useful information, which also provides a student with a good opportunity to learn, earn credits and have the opportunity to contribute to a project that will affect the lives of people many miles away.”
This research project was also multidisciplinary. Bethany Cheney ’12, an intercultural studies major, and Brian Presher ’11, a communication major collaborated with Scenarios from Africa, a continent-wide HIV awareness-raising project, to research the media as a cultural communication device in Africa. Cheney collected information concerning social stigmatizations and its relationship to gender, health, and development, whereas Presher executed a website component for the organization.
Dan Enger, co-founder and director of Scenarios from Africa was profoundly grateful for the support of Houghton students, and commented, “We presently find ourselves at a moment of challenge and opportunity in our AIDS-related work in Africa. Among the challenges is a bleak funding environment, so assistance in the form of in-kind support is precious and highly appreciated. One of the great opportunities is that of emergent web-based approaches to HIV education. When it comes to making effective use of the internet, we have a lot to learn, and Houghton’s web-savvy students are helping us more than we could ever have dreamed.”
Sarah Mast ’11 and Brittany Libby ’14 partnered with African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), to research foundations and funding agencies for peace building and development in various African nations including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Mast studied the impact of genocide on women in Rwanda and Darfur, whereas Libby examined the relationship between poverty and sex slavery in Africa. Finding herself humbled, perturbed, and awakened to the pervasiveness of all forms of poverty and sexual exploitation, Libby reflected on her change in perspective. “I have been challenged to change the personal ideas I hold towards gender and sexuality in today’s globalized world, specifically ensuring I hold the purity and equality of God’s word in my heart thus shown through my actions.”
Founder and President of ALARM, Celestin Musekura, shared his intention to fully utilize the work done by Houghton students. “ALARM will use this research to develop resources and funding from those organizations that are interested in areas of our programs (leadership development, peacebuilding, women economic empowerment) in our geographic areas of focus (east and central Africa).”
Alyssa Rassman ’12, Erika Gokcen ’12, and Stephanie Hudson ’11 teamed up with Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) under Houghton alumnus and Student Outreach Coordinator Sophie Huber ’10 to research existing international health issues including HIV prevention and behavior, community health, Christian hospitals, and orphans and vulnerable children. Grateful for the work done by these research assistants, Huber commented, “It is extremely challenging to find resources demonstrating specific faith-based approaches to health issues. Having information specifically for and about Christian work in health is essential to our organization.”
Hannah Vardy ’13 explored transformational community development for MAP International (Bolivia). Her research has focused on reform of organizational cultures, the role of communication in consensus building, advocacy, and public policies. She shared, “It was incredible to think that I could help MAP as an organization run more efficiently through my research efforts, which will in turn help those that they impact. It was a daunting task, but I feel much better prepared for when I reach the place where I will be working for a non-profit organization or a faith-based organization. It was a blessing to be able to take part in this research assignment, and I hope it will be a blessing for MAP International as well.”
Chris Way ’12 focused his research on agriculture and development, specifically honing in on supply chains and corporate social responsibility. He was introduced to Hillside Green Growers, a successful firm in Nairobi, Kenya, which has established niche markets in Europe and the Middle East for their high grade, certified and tested, quality fruits and vegetables. Conducting valuable development research for the firm, he commented, “A lot of my research will hold them accountable to social and local issues, seeking to strike up a balance between economic development (support of local farmers who supply Hillside) while at the same time conducting a successful business.”
Sarah Wangai ’12 researched for a network organization called CORE Group, which works to eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop global partnership and development. Her research zeroed in on the integration of TB/HIV community programs and mobile health technology. She reflected, “It is a great learning process that integrates my interest in global and public health and brings in development and communication skills. I have to think about how development and communication come together to bring harmonious success in global health through TB/HIV community programs and the emerging mobile health sector.”
The purpose of these development courses was to introduce students to key theories, issues, opportunities, and challenges in the current development field. The greater mission of the Department of Intercultural Studies has been to prepare Christian students to think critically and respond to key issues of global concern in culturally relevant ways and guided by Christian principles.
Dr. Kiiti reflected on the mutual advantage for both students’ experience and organizations’ growth. “The process of having students focus their research on real problems and issues, affecting development organizations, proved to be one of experiential learning with mutual benefit. The students learn how to more effectively link theory and praxis, and the organizations gain a resource base that can be used to inform and shape their policies, programs, and practice.”