June 13, 2018
I cannot get it out of my head. Over and over, the earworm keeps playing, “I bless the rains down in Africa…” For days now, the tune keeps creeping back into my mind. I don’t know the science behind earworms, but I bet some researcher on campus could tell me. I just know this one seems impossible to get rid of. Why should a Toto song from the 1980s be stuck in my head now? Because, after a fan-based Twitter campaign, the band Weezer decided to do a remake. That remake popped up on my radio the other day and the rest is history.
No matter when I hear it (for real or in my head, original or new version) I’m taken back to my second day in Africa – running under an awning in a small village in Malawi to escape a sudden and surprising rainstorm. I was there with some colleagues to cover a story about MSU research helping the village cows provide more nutritious milk. I remember thinking at the time, “I cannot believe I’m actually here." I never in a million years dreamed I’d ever travel to Africa. But then I became a Spartan.
Spartans have an incredibly long history with the African continent, going back as far as when the university was founded in 1855. It started with the work of individual professors and later formal partnerships and programs were formed.
Right now, as I’m singing along in my head, there are more than 200 MSU faculty and staff doing research, teaching and doing other work in almost every African country. And guess who has more education abroad programs in Africa than any other U.S. university? That’s right, MSU holds the title.
I was so honored and lucky to see first-hand not just the milk project in Malawi, but also epilepsy and malaria research and treatment in Zambia, agricultural advances in Rwanda, and a water and food program in Tanzania – all projects led by MSU researchers who partner with local schools, projects and people.
It really is incredibly impressive the work that this university does globally, especially in Africa. Check out the MSUTODAY FEATURE: MSU and Africa, to learn more about the history and specific work by MSU’s Department of Agricultural Food and Resource Economics.
Jennifer Olson, an associate professor in the Department of Media and Information, has more than 15 years of living and working experience in Africa including research in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. Just last night she was emailing me from a jeep in Kenya. She recently co-led an education abroad course in Tanzania for MSU students that combined engineering and computer technology and provided instruction to teachers and students in five local schools. Check out the FACULTY VOICE: Technology for Tanzania, to learn more about the course and see some beautiful photos she shared.
Even students on campus have found ways to make a difference from afar. Richard Tanner was a senior studio art major when he collaborated with two Ugandan artists to create a 14-foot tall giraffe constructed from wire snares. The project is part of the Snares to Wares initiative that aims to reduce illegal wildlife snares in Uganda. Read the STUDENT VIEW: Raising awareness through art, to learn more about the project and this cool new MSU sculpture.
My time in Africa was eye-opening, educational, inspiring, wonderful, heartbreaking and life-changing. Mostly, I felt the most incredible Spartan pride one could imagine. These brilliant Spartans were halfway around the world partnering with local experts and organizations to solve problems and literally save lives.
Yet, they were the most humble people you could imagine. They simply felt that this was part of their purpose and their determination was incredible. The song may bless the rains, but I bless the spirit of these Spartans who dedicate their lives to making a real difference. Spartans Will.
Photo: I took this photo of a young girl under the awning that day in Magomero, Malawi shortly after that quick rainstorm.