Finding Value in South Africa: Students Put Global Media into Practice

By Jon Mark Beilue
WT trip to Cape Town Dec. 2019 The class is Global Media and Social Change. For nine West Texas A&M University students, one graduate student, two high school students from Wellington and Dumas and Dr. Enyonam Osei-Hwere, associate professor of media communications, they took that class title to heart. On Dec. 30, they, along with Connie McKee, director of forensics, found themselves on a 25-hour collection of flights from Amarillo to Dallas to Chicago to Vienna, Austria, and finally, to their destination a world away, or at least 14,265 miles away – Cape Town, South Africa. “Students are stunned when they leave the (Cape Town) airport,” said Osei-Hwere. “That’s one of my favorite things to see their reaction and what it looks like. Mountains, beaches, forests. They have no idea.”

There for the next two weeks, WT students weren’t there necessarily for the unexpected beauty that surrounds Cape Town, but to put into practice the class they had just completed in the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts complex. “The biggest thing I took from this was the value of human connection,” said Chase Brady, senior mass communication student. “It shocked me how important it is to be connected to people in just about every community we went to. Sometimes in the United States, we get caught up in an independent world and forget that. “But there were groups of people around us all the time to help us achieve our goals. It was a good reminder that community exists all around us and how important it is to stay connected to communities.”

The purpose of the trip was twofold: to develop a website to promote tourism in Langa township, a Cape Town suburb of 52,000, and a service project working with Building Bridges, an after-school program for elementary and middle school students in the surrounding area. “The purpose of my class is to teach students about global citizenship,” said Osei-Hwere, a native of Ghana in West Africa. “We’re not an island. We can make a difference, not just in a close community, but around the world. The media can be a positive tool to bring about change and improvement in the lives of people. We still use media in a limited way. We can get so much more out of it. So they go to Cape Town to use the skills they’ve learned and to build projects from scratch.”

The two weeks that ended on Jan. 15 was not only a commitment from students who gave up about half of their holiday break, but also from WT. Joe Bill Sherrod, WT’s former assistant vice president of leadership gifts and development, was able to secure about $24,000 to support the students. Funds from the College's Showcase in a Suitcase program paid for about 70 percent of the costs for the WT students and high school students Ellee Reeves of Wellington and Jordan Conde of Dumas. “Dr. O did a fantastic job with all of this,” said Conde, who called WT “his dream school.”  “I’d love to pursue something like this in the future because of the impact it can have on a community and the world in general.”
This was the second trip for Osei-Hwere to South Africa, the first one in the spring 2018. She has her reasons when choosing the unique country from her home continent.

It’s a country that speaks English, but also has a diverse culture. Because of the lingering effects of apartheid, which ended in the early 1990s, there’s still three races and mostly distinct communities of Caucasian, Blacks and Coloreds, the latter bi-racial that includes Indians, Pakistanis and Malaysians. “We were able to get exposure in all three communities,” said Osei-Hwere. “They have different social issues, different challenges and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. But at the same time, we’re there to pay it forward and touch the lives of people they’ve never encountered before.”

WT trip to Cape Town Dec. 2019.

The Langa team, in putting together a tourism marketing effort, had titled its campaign, “Value Lives Here.” The goal was to give value to an overlooked township that had more to offer than most believed. A team, headed by Brady, did a walking tour through Langa to identify restaurants, art galleries, Airbnb homes and other attractions. From there, students created a mapping tool. Within the website, 18 different stops were highlighted with information on each one. Two diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town listened as the students explained the project. “I’d say we went in with our hands tied behind our backs a little bit,” Brady said. “We communicated with our overseer before we left, but the distance made it hard to understand what we’re dealing with. But once we were there, it didn’t take long to adapt. We went in with a different plan, but what came out was a whole lot better feel for the organization we were working with.”

The other focus of the trip was working with Building Bridges, an after-school program for adults that keeps them off the streets. Students brought books for the library, built shelves, helped paint an outside mural, brought sports equipment and produced a video for the Building Bridges website. “The slogan for the work we did in Langa – ‘Value Lives Here’ – encompasses what the trip was for me,” Brady said. “Going in, you think you know what to expect. It’s South Africa and the connotations that come from the African continent. But the place has so much to offer. The African culture has so much to offer, much more than we think it does. Value really does live there. It was nice to have a hand in promoting that.”

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