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The Candyman Comes to West Africa
After about 15 hours of travel, I was finally settling in for the night. My hotel was along Freetown’s famous Lumley Beach Road. As I settled, I realized I was about to lose a significant amount of weight I had been carrying around in my suitcase. That’s because loaded up with candy, granola bars, water flavoring and the personal messages. . These items were from the parents of the students who were in Sierra Leone as a part of the first International Development and Agribusiness Program (IDAP) at Njala University. They wanted to give them some comforts of home which were not easily accessible on the streets of Freetown or the Village of Makonde where Njala was located. They wanted to provide simple encouragement and messages of love and although they made my bag really heavy, I was happy to oblige.
The IDAP is a collaborative effort between historic partners Njala University and the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The two institutions have been linked since a few bold pioneers, from the College of Agriculture, travelled across the world to live in Sierra Leone to establish a college in the mold of an American Land Grant Institution in a young democracy.
Seven students, five from the College of ACES, spent the semester on campus at Njala, taking classes based on UIUC syllabi, taught by UIUC instructors. I didn’t travel all the way to Sierra Leone simply to be a courier of M&Ms and Skittles, but served as an instructor for a section of the Learning in Community course. This course brought the Illinois IDAP students together with Agribusiness students at Njala on a project investigating the postharvest practices of rice farmers all across Sierra Leone. This project was supported by the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss here on campus. The students formed cross-cultural teams to investigate the postharvest handling of rice by farmers across the country. The Learning in Community course was a part of the experiential learning which serves as the cornerstone of the IDAP.
At the time of my arrival, the students had been in country for about six weeks. While munching on Snickers and Twix I heard stories of how the students were able to bond with each other and make fast friends with their Njala counterparts. They were exposed to the social and agricultural practices of the country and were chomping at the bit to learn more. Even without the comforts of home the students were in the early stages of the learning experience of a lifetime. They chose to embrace the challenge as fully as they were that bag of Skittles.