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Students Gain Global Perspective in South Africa

Eight social work students and five faculty members returned May 27 from a three-week trip to the eastern cape of South Africa.

Kristine Goodrich, Mankato Free Press, 5-29-2017

While Minnesota State University, Mankato students and professors built a playground for impoverished South African youths, MSU librarians helped preserve apartheid-era documents.

Eight Minnesota State Mankato social work students and five faculty members from three departments returned Saturday from a three-week trip to the eastern cape of South Africa. The trip was the latest in a partnership between Minnesota State Mankato and a university in South Africa.

The students, a social work professor and two construction management professors expanded a playground at a non-governmental organization providing social services. The social work students and professor also shadowed South African students studying social work at the University of Fort Hare.

The students from both continents had been communicating for several weeks via the Internet before they met in person.

The Minnesota State Mankato students also had spent weeks fundraising to purchase the playground equipment for an organization called Caring, Affirming and Training for Change Projects (CATCH). They held bake sales, dinners, a silent auction and more. They exceeded their $3,000 goal and leftover funds were used to purchase shoes and uniforms for some of the children served by CATCH.

Minnesota State Mankato construction management faculty Brian Wasserman and Leah Roue helped select the playground equipment and accompanied the social work students to South Africa to oversee construction.

The Fort Hare social work students came to help with construction.

But the women weren’t much help initially, according to new Minnesota State Mankato graduate Mika Brannan. The Kasson native who grew up on a farm was surprised that none of their new friends had ever even used a tool before. She discovered that archaic gender roles persist in South Africa and their helpers had never done such manual labor.

Minnesota State Mankato senior Hailey Matthys, a Cottonwood, Minn., native, said seeing the children’s reaction to the playground made their labors well worth it.

“Watching their faces and seeing how happy and grateful they were was amazing,” she said.

The Minnesota State Mankato students also visited the University of Fort Hare as well as primary and secondary schools in the region.

They attended a university class with their new friends and Matthys said she was awed by the large number of students who crammed into a modestsized classrooms. The dormitories were comfortable but missing some of the luxuries of Minnesota State Mankato, she said.

In the K-12 public schools, Brannan said she was disheartened to see that many of the classrooms didn’t even have any books.

Textbooks also aren’t used often at the university level either because many students can’t afford them, according to Minnesota State Mankato professor Christine Black-Hughes, who spent a term teaching at the University of Fort Hare in 2015.

While the environment in which the South African students learn and will practice social work is different, she said the concepts she taught abroad were the same as she teaches at home.

“It’s the same theories just different context,” she said.

The partnership between the universities was born in 2003 when social work professor Richard Wintersteen, now retired, went to teach in South Africa.

Ten Minnesota State Mankato students from multiple majors since have completed their senior practicums at the University of Fort Hare.

Dozens of Minnesota State Mankato social work students have visited the country to broaden their global perspective while helping CATCH. The Minnesota State Mankato ambassadors have painted buildings, landscaped a soccer field, built a netball court, established community gardens and more.

The partnership also includes faculty collaborations. Nursing professors are developing an online course that will be taken by students on both continents. Minnesota State Mankato librarians Daardi Sizemore and Lisa Baures have been exchanging best practices with Fort Hare librarians and visited the university to share their expertise on document archiving. Fort Hare is the official repository for the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress.

The Minnesota State Mankato visitors did get time to explore beyond the university and the CATCH facility. Their stops included the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, a street market in Cape Town and two safaris during which they saw elephants, lions and more.

Brannan said she was struck by the proximity in which the wealthy and the impoverished dwell.

“On one side of the road there are nice big houses and on the other side there are tin shacks,” she said.

Matthys and Brannan said the extreme poverty they witnessed left them more grateful for the blessings they have.

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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