Tag: Sierra Leone

A view from inside the campaign: Professor Timothy Troy offers up-close look at Sierra Leone’s presidential election

Bonds between students and faculty members that last well beyond commencement and graduation congratulations have long been a hallmark of a Lawrence University education.

One such example recently played out in Sierra Leone, where theatre arts professor Timothy X. Troy reunited with former student Momodu Maligi for two weeks on the campaign trail of the country’s upcoming national presidential election.

Professor Tim Troy and Momodu Magligi
Timothy Troy, Hurvis Professor of Theatre Arts, spent two weeks in Sierra Leone on the presidential campaign trail with his former student and 2004 Lawrence graduate Momodu Maligi.

Troy traveled to the west African nation at the invitation of Maligi, a Sierra Leonean native who graduated from Lawrence in 2004. He returned to his homeland, where he now serves as the country’s Minister of Water Resources. He serves in the cabinet for the All People’s Congress (APC) party currently in power.

“I went purposefully to accompany Momodu during campaign activities leading up to the (March 7) election,” said Troy, Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama at Lawrence. “I was able to be with him for a variety of campaign activities as well as some of his ministerial activities.”

Taking a step outside of his normal role, Troy created a podcast reflecting on his first-hand experiences in Sierra Leone on the eve of the country’s historic presidential election.

Troy hopes listeners of his podcast come away with a clear view of his world into Maligi’s world.

“I want them to know why it’s important and to know that the stakes are high,” Troy explained. “Although I don’t get at it directly, if you listen carefully, you’ll see that there is civil discord underneath the surface. There is the possibility for violence and the hope that this next transition can happen peacefully is dearly felt by everyone I talked to.

Momodu Magligi sitting in his office
Momodu Maligi ’04 currently holds the cabinet post of Minister of Water Resources in the Sierra Leonean government.

“They all want their guy to win, but ultimately the specter of the civil war is still in living memory. Momodu was at Lawrence because of the Civil War. We’re honored that he’s bringing the perspectives of the kind of education we offer to his work there. Not everyone there shares that kind of perspective. It’s a country that’s rebuilding. It’s not stable. What they’re hoping for is stability. That’s certainly Momodou’s point of view. His candidate (Samura Kamara) is the continuity candidate. We’ll see if that point of view, that hope, prevails.”

While it might seem strange that a government major who took one class — voice and diction — with a theatre professor would develop such a bond, Troy says “that’s part of the beauty of this thing.”

“I never lost track of Momodu and our relationship has continued since he was a student,” said Troy, who traveled to Sierra Leone in December 2016 with Lawrence students to lead a series of Shakespeare workshops at various schools. “I have so much respect for Momodu’s efforts in helping rebuild his country and he feels so warmly about his Lawrence experience that my presence there was just a continuation of that ongoing relationship.”

Momodu Magligi giving a speech on a campaign stop
On the presidential campaign trail, Momodu Maligi engages with members of the All People’s Congress party during a stop in Bo District.

In traveling with Maligi on the campaign trail, Troy says he could see the lessons Maligi learned from having lived in America for a time. There are core values about fair governance and the public good he brought back to his homeland.

“Momodu learned what it’s like to have good social services, what it means to have clean running water in every household. He experienced that firsthand and it’s very clear that’s the goal. I was able to witness, through him and his ministerial and party colleagues, the fact they have a clear vision of where they would like to go. The water main that brings water into my house was laid 100 years ago. That kind of infrastructure is still waiting to be built in Sierra Leone. It’s a big task, but it’s clear goal for someone like Momodu and his colleagues.”

“I have so much respect for Momodu’s efforts in helping rebuild his country and he feels so warmly about his Lawrence experience that my presence there was just a continuation of that ongoing relationship.”
— Professor Timothy X. Troy

The major issues in the presidential campaign, according to Troy, are tied to the history of the Sierra Leone Civil War that lasted nearly 11 years (1991-2002), the Ebola crisis in 2014 and the attempts of a poor nation trying to establish a middle class.

“That’s really the national agenda,” says Troy, who spent four days at West Point prior to leaving for Sierra Leone, visiting with members of the academy’s geography department and talking to Africa-area experts there. “They haven’t had a stable raise of a middle class through the 20th century, so they have a very different starting point.”

A billboard for Sierra Leone presidential candiddate Samura Kamara
A billboard at Lumley Beach in the capital city of Freetown promotes the presidential candidacy of All People’s Congress party candidate Sumara Kamara.

As the country’s current foreign minister and someone who has served under three very different regimes, Kamara is seen as many as the favorite to win the election. But Troy calls the outcome “a huge unknown.”

“That’s one of the compelling things here. We look at Kamara and think ‘okay, in so far is how Sierra Leone stands in the world internationally, he is the best candidate. It’s so clear,’” said Troy, who met Kamara several times during his trip.

“But no one really knows,” Troy added. “There is no reliable international polling. There’s no credible equivalent of the BBC or of NPR that is recognized as a neutral observer that can help sort the various points of view. This is such a poor country you couldn’t even establish a credible telephone polling sample. Literally nobody knows who will win.”

Lawrence’s connections to Sierra Leone and Momodu Maligi include a visit he made to campus last spring to deliver a talk for the Povolny Lecture Series.

Government professor Claudena Skran has been extensively engaged with Sierra Leone for more than a decade. After spending time there conducting research on the role of NGOs in refugee resettlement, she founded KidsGive, a Lawrence-based nonprofit organization that provides scholarships for students in Sierra Leone and works to educate U.S. students about Sierra Leonean life and culture.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.”  Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Road Trip: Student volunteers visit Philadelphia for collaborative public health project

A seven-person team of multi-national Lawrence University students are accompanying government professor Claudena Skran to Philadelphia to work on a public health-related project the second week of February.

KidsGive_Philly-Trip
Student volunteers in Lawrence’s KidsGive program will travel to Philadelphia to work with Healthy NewsWorks elementary school journalists in a video project. Among the participants in the project are Tierney Duffy, Alex Kurki, Professor Claudena Skran, Delina Abadi, Tamanna Akram and Wesley Varughese.

The students, members of KidsGive, a Lawrence-based scholarship program for children in Sierra Leone, will collaborate with Healthy NewsWorks, a health-focused student media program, to produce two educational videos on water and sanitation that will be shown at Conforti Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

KidsGive members are cooperating partners in a project that will build a new well and water system for the Calaba Town section of Freetown, an area on the outskirts of the capital city that is not currently served by piped water. When completed, the well will provide a water-tap system for the 500 children at Conforti Primary School and their families.

The video project will enable Healthy NewsWorks student reporters from two Philadelphia elementary schools to work with Lawrence KidsGive volunteers to engage in peer-to-peer public health education with students their own age in Sierra Leone. The videos will focus on health facts about water hygiene and hand washing. The Healthy NewsWorks students also will participate in face-to-face videoconference discussions about health with their counterparts in Sierra Leone.

Skran called the KidsGive engagement with Healthy NewsWorks “a very exciting collaboration.”

“We are pleased that we can contribute in its important mission to train young journalists and promote better health,” said Skran. “Working with student journalists will enable us to better reach children in Sierra Leone with important messages about sanitation and hygiene, which is especially important in the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”

Marian Uhlman, director of Healthy NewsWorks, said her student journalists are looking forward to working with the KidsGive volunteers.

“It’s a great opportunity for our students to broaden their understanding of the world and to see how the health communication skills they’re learning can make a real difference in improving lives,” said Uhlman.

KidsGive volunteers participating in the video project will be senior Wesley Varughese, Lake Villa, Ill., project coordinator; junior Delina Abadi, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, elementary school coordinator; senior Tierney Duffy, Riverside, Ill., middle school coordinator; senior Joe Pegorsch, Waupaca, videographer; junior Andres Capous, San Jose, Costa Rica, Spanish language coordinator; junior Alex Kurki, Helena, Mont., financial manager; sophomore Tamanna Akram, Dhaka, Bangladesh, water project liaison.

While on the trip, the students also will meet with Lawrence alumni in Philadelphia and New York City.

Prior to the video project, Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and Professor of Government, will present “Stories of Loss and Resilience” Tuesday, Feb. 9 at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The public lecture will examine the impact of the Ebola epidemic on the children of Sierra Leone. Skran will share first-hand accounts of children who lost homes, parents and months of schooling while enduring quarantines and hospitalizations during the epidemic and discuss international efforts to assist in the nation’s recovery.

“Working with student journalists will enable us to better reach children in Sierra Leone with important messages about sanitation and hygiene, which is especially important in the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.”
    — Government professor Claudena Skran

Skran was the first U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Sierra Leone after its 1991–2002 civil war and has visited the country 17 times, including three times during the Ebola epidemic. She is currently writing a book, “Ebola Time,” on the children, schools and the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

KidsGive, founded by Skran, is part of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. It strives to educate U.S. students about African life and cultures and to promote informed giving while providing children in Sierra Leone with learning opportunities. The student-run organization maintains active partnerships with schools in all four regions of Sierra Leone by providing scholarships and general school support and by sponsoring volunteer missions by American university students.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College” and Fiske’s Guide to Colleges 2016. Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Stepping Up: Professor Skran delivers student-raised funds to Sierra Leone Ebola victims

After delivering an invited talk at Oxford University on the causes and consequences of the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic on April 20, Lawrence University political scientist Claudena Skran took a trip to ground zero of the disease — Sierra Leone.

Skran’s visit to the West African nation that has suffered nearly 3,900 deaths since the outbreak began last spring, was as much as goodwill ambassador as it was as scholar on refugees and humanitarian aid.KidsGive-Poster_newsblog

At the top of Skran’s itinerary was presenting a donation for more than $5,000 to the Calaba Town Community Aid Organization to assist children orphaned as a result of Ebola. The money was raised earlier this year through the collective efforts of numerous Lawrence student organizations on behalf of KidsGive, an organization founded by Skran to educate U.S. students about African life and cultures. It promotes informed giving effort while providing Sierra Leone children with opportunities to learn and become the country’s next generation of leaders.

In total, students raised more than $6,000, some of which was donated to other schools and programs in Sierra Leone.

“I’m so proud of the way Lawrence students responded to the Eblola outbreak,” said Skran, professor of government and Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science. “While others just stepped away, our students stepped up and reached out to those in need.

Claudena-Skran_newsblog
Professor of Government Claudena Skran

“What really makes this effort special in my view is the way in which it was accomplished,” Skran added. “We have a campus that is known for individual achievement and for distinction by smaller groups, especially in music and athletics, but we had more than 30 different student organizations working together, showing true collaboration on this effort. This is a such a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when groups of students unite in action for a common cause.”

In February, student members of the KidsGive on-campus board — Liz Barthels, Anna Bolgrien, Kobe Lewin, Kara Vance and Wesley Varughese — organized a “Help Ebola Orphans” campaign. Reaching out to campus organization with which they were connected, the board members asked each group to set a goal of raising $100, a sum that would enable a student in Sierra Leone to attend school, have food and water and be able to participate in any scholarship opportunities while in school. Organizers also reached out to faculty members and the athletic department in the hope of getting some of Lawrence’s varsity teams involved.

The response, according to Varughese, KidsGive president, far exceeded expectations.

Wesley-Varughese_newsblog
KidsGive President Wesley Varughese

“Most board members thought we would only get one or two thousand dollars and we would have to push just to get that amount,” said Varughese, a junior from La Villa, Ill., who was elected president of LUCC in January. “In the first week alone, we collected more than $3,000.”

The student organizations groups raised funds through a variety of methods. Members of the Wriston Art Collective created art pieces and sold them through an art bazaar. Some of the bartenders in the Viking Room donated all of their tips to the cause. A sorority held a bake sale in the library. One board member reached out back home, resulting in a $400 donation from the Greendale Community Church. Several of the coaches in the athletic department promised to match whatever their teams raised, helping the swim team, fencing team and track team finish as the top three groups, respectively, that raised the most money.

“I’m so proud of the way Lawrence students responded to the Eblola outbreak. While others just stepped away, our students stepped up and reached out to those in need.”
— Professor Claudena Skran

“We’ve been talking at LUCC about what can we do to provide for collaborative efforts and I think it just took one student organization to take the initiative and show that cooperation is really possible with just a few people,” said Varughese.

As other students saw how passionate the KidsGive members were in reaching out to all facets of the Lawrence community, Varughese said that inspired them to come together.

“I got the feeling the student organizations were like, ‘If they took their time to reach out and do all this, why don’t we do it together,’” said Varughese. “In the end it became a really good collaborative effort.”

Claudena-Skran-at-Oxford_Ebola
Government Professor Claudena Skran delivered the address “Setting the Stage for Ebola: War, Peace and Refugee Policy” at Oxford University’s Rhodes House on April 20.

Skran’s latest trip to Sierra Leone — she has visited the country nearly 20 times since joining the faculty in 1990 — came just two days after delivering the address “Setting the Stage for Ebola: War, Peace and Refugee Policy” at Oxford University’s Rhodes House.

In her address, Skran, a 1983 Rhodes Scholar herself, discussed why Ebola in West Africa spread so far, so fast and why more attention needs to be given to health care before epidemics break out, especially in post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone. Both the country’s 10-year civil war (1991-2001) and the post-conflict peace-building contributed to the creation of a weak and vulnerable health system in the country.

Skran first visit to Sierra Leone after the civil war was in 2005 as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. She has taken dozens of students with her over the years to Sierra Leone to assist with her on-going refugee research and provide students with their own hands-on research projects.

She serves as a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post last December about the impact of Ebola on the medical profession in Sierra Leone and is in the process of writing a book about the Ebola epidemic.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

Lawrence University Political Scientist Awarded Fulbright Grant to Study Role of NGOs in Refugee Resettlement in War-Torn Sierra Leone

For more than 20 years, political scientist Claudena Skran has held an intense interest in refugee issues. This fall, she will embark on a research project in Africa that will put her in the middle of an ongoing struggle to rebuild lives and resettle refugees in a country ravaged by war.

An associate professor of government at Lawrence University, Skran has been awarded a $60,000 grant by the Fulbright Scholar Program to conduct a study on the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in refugee resettlement in post-civil war Sierra Leone.

Arguably the poorest country in the world, Sierra Leone is dealing with the aftermath of a brutal 10-year-long civil war that left 50,000 citizens dead, destroyed 300,000 homes and 80% of the country’s schools and forced nearly three-quarters of a million people to flee their homes. Since the war’s end in 2001 and national elections in 2002, an estimated 245,000 refugees have returned to the war-torn country, while more than 200,000 others who were displaced have made their way back home.

Among the nearly one-half million returnees are thousands of people with special needs, including amputees, orphans, former child soldiers and women who were victims of rape and sexual abuse.

“Under any circumstances, the task of assisting so many returning people would be difficult, but for Sierra Leone, which had the lowest ranking among 177 countries on the 2004 Human Development Index, it is proving to be especially daunting,” said Skran. “These people are now trying to rebuild their lives in a country that has been shattered.”

According to Skran, the new Sierra Leone government is attempting to reconstruct a economic, political and social infrastructure in a country with a grim profile. The annual per capita income is $150, the literacy rate is just 36% and life expectancy is less than 35 years of age. Only two percent of the country’s population is 60 years of age or older and with 250 of 1,000 children dying before the age of five, it has the world’s worst infant mortality rate. Because of the sheer enormity of the situation, says Skran, NGOs will play a vital role in the process of refugee resettlement and reintegration in Sierra Leone.

“Local NGOs and the local affiliates of international NGOs are working hard to create important links to the major international agencies that are involved in Sierra Leone, including the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” said Skran.

Using the capital city of Freetown as the base of her operation and working closely with the Sierra Leone Opportunities Industrialization Centre (SLOIC) Skran will turn her research project on the role of NGOs in world politics in Sierra Leone into a case study. She will focus her study on four major questions: organization, governance, goals and impact.

“I plan to investigate how NGOs in Sierra Leone are organized, how they are funded, how they are governed, how they interact with each other as well as with the local and national governments,” said Skran. “I am also interested in seeing what impact they are having on the resettlement and reintegration of refugees and how they are specifically addressing those victims with special needs, especially the former child soldiers and the female victims of sexual abuse.”

Skran has conducted extensive research on refugee interests in Europe and is the author of the book “Refugees in Interwar Europe: The Emergence of a Regime” in which she analyzed the major players in the early days of the international refugee arena, including private volunteer agencies, the forerunners to today’s NGOs.

She also has conducted field research in Central America, studying displaced people in El Salvador and refugee issues in Mexico and Belize. Most recently, while teaching at Lawrence’s London Centre, Skran met with asylum seekers and natives of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and other former British colonies in Africa.

“Most of my earlier research has focused on the role of NGOs at the international level, but with this Fulbright grant, I’ll be able to shift my perspective a bit and consider how NGOs help or hinder refugee resettlement and development at the local and national levels,” Skran explained. “The people at the SLOIC and other organizations that I have discussed this project with are all excited it, especially since a lack of funding prevents them from conducting any kind of independent research themselves.”

Skran joined the Lawrence faculty in 1990. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from Michigan State University, where she was named a Rhodes Scholar in 1983. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in international relations at Oxford University.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Scholar Program provides grants for teaching and research positions in more than 140 countries worldwide and is administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES). Skran was selected from research proposals submitted in disciplines ranging from the sciences and humanities to the fine arts.