Anthropology class zealous for Zambia

by Erin Brock

Notebooks, pencils and textbooks are something a lot of college students take for granted, but there’s a project on Transylvania’s campus that could change that mindset for some of us.

Professor Allison Harnish’s anthropology class Africa: People and Cultures is in the process of continuing work that Harnish, a doctoral candidate at the University of Kentucky, began several years ago. In 2007 she was researching for her dissertation in Zambia, a country located in southern Africa.

“While I was in Zambia, I had the opportunity to tour some schools in the region. … Teachers lamented to me that they didn’t have enough resources to do their jobs. I thought to myself that there must be some way to help them,” Harnish said.

While there was a shortage of both textbooks and school supplies, Harnish decided to tackle one issue at a time. After arriving back in the states, she started to look for avenues through which she could start a project to gather donated notebooks, pencils and the like.

Her contacts at the Carnegie Center led her to the International Book Project (IBP). However, the exclusive aim for the IBP, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Lexington that shipped over 270,000 books overseas last year, is to gather and redistribute reading materials rather than school supplies to locations that request them.

Harnish soon found a partner in Julius Marks Elementary School, with which she “devised a collaborative project,” she said.

After presenting to the teachers and the Parent-Teacher Association, Harnish received permission to work with the teachers and create a curriculum in which the fifth-grade students were sticking to their core curriculum while actively pursuing a goal related to this school in Zambia.

The students decided to try to gather as many spiral notebooks, pens and pencils as possible. They wrote persuasive letters to local businesses, asking that they donate school supplies to their cause. After the success of this campaign, they went so far as to contact Stu Silberman, former Fayette County Schools superintendent, requesting that he donate to their cause textbooks that are out of circulation.

“It was really cool,” said Harnish. “The fifth-graders played a huge role and their curriculum got more focused as a result.”

In the end, they collected eight large crates of supplies that went to the schools in Zambia. This led to more efforts for books. Harnish helped the head teacher in Zambia get in touch with the IBP, and then sought out ways for her to integrate this new project with her teaching at Transy.

She decided to set up a curriculum in which her students would have a choice between three options for a final project: to research and present on a positive phenomenon occurring in Africa, to coordinate a film festival that explores the realities and misrepresentations of African life in the media, or to volunteer to raise awareness of the IBP’s efforts by holding a book drive on campus for books to be sent to Zambia.

“I wanted them to use their experience to flesh out the concepts covered in class — globalization, modernization, the ethics of aid — and then have to incorporate them into these projects,” Harnish said.

Senior Heather Napier, a student in the Africa: People and Cultures class and president of the Sociology and Anthropology Club, is in charge of coordinating the IBP option of the class project.

“We plan to hold the book drive and fundraiser the week after Thanksgiving break and hopefully also help pack the shipment of books to be sent to Zambia,” Napier said.

Napier has high hopes for the book drive and its results.

“My expectations for the project is to not only raise funds and collect books for the IBP, but also strive to raise awareness around campus about illiteracy,” said Napier. “We hope to also highlight all the good things the IBP does and hopefully get more people involved in their project through volunteering or simple donations.”

“My goals, first and foremost, are to offer a token of reciprocal appreciation and kindness to communities where I’ve worked and also to try and bridge the gap between learning and service. … I feel that there’s a tangible element missing from intellectual learning on college campuses,” Harnish said.

Members of the class are planning to coordinate their efforts with the Sociology and Anthropology Club as well.


One Response to Anthropology class zealous for Zambia

  1. As a Transylvania graduate working at the International Book Project, I must say I was immensely proud when I learned about this project. Service learning is vital to a liberal arts education, and Ms. Harnish’s class is approaching it in a perfect way. Transylvania University has had a long history of involvement at IBP since our beginning in 1966. We cannot wait to have more Transylvania students at our warehouse packing books to send overseas to give those students a chance at a more enjoyable and modern education. We appreciate the opportunity to be a partner in this effort.

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