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Africa 101

JMU's annual International Week celebration highlights the sights and sounds of Africa
By Hali Chiet ('07)

JMU hosted its seventh annual International Week -- the student-focused, weeklong celebration of the rich and diverse cultures of the world -- from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1.

This year, the Office of International Programs initiated a new idea for the celebration, focusing mainly on one specific area of the world. Delores Blough, director of International Student and Scholar Services, says that Africa was chosen as the focus for a few reasons. JMU has a plethora of study abroad programs in various African countries, and there is both an Africana Studies department and an African Student Organization on campus.

The celebration, "Africa: One Continent, Many Voices," included a variety of fun cultural activities, informative lectures and entertaining performances. The annual International Festival at Hillandale Park kicked off the week, which ended with a soccer tournament. Other highlights of the week included presentations from Sharon Sopher, Trust Mashoro and Isaac Aggrey, performances by the Elegba Folklore Society and the Silk Road Dance Company, a "Taste of Africa" fashion show and event hosted by the African Student Organization, and lectures from various JMU faculty. Throughout the week, donations were collected to assist famine relief in Niger. The money collected was sent to the international Doctors Without Borders organization.

Speaker Isaac Aggrey

Special Assistant to the JMU President Daniel Wubah (right) introduced International Week speaker Isaac Aggrey (left). The deputy ambassador of Ghana to the United States spoke to students about the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Special Assistant to the JMU President Daniel Wubah (right) introduced International Week speaker Isaac Aggrey (left). The deputy ambassador of Ghana to the United States spoke to students about the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

On Sept. 27, Isaac Aggrey, deputy ambassador from Ghana to the United States, spoke to students and professors. JMU Professor of African Studies David Owusu-Ansah invited Aggrey to speak. "I have worked with people in the Embassy of Ghana, and therefore I felt comfortable asking if the ambassador would come and address a topic that both African and American students would find engaging," says Owusu-Ansah.

Aggrey discussed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, as well as past and present developmental challenges facing African governments.

He stressed the fact that although Africa, a continent comprised of more than 800 million people, is one of the wealthiest areas of the world, "Things have not been easy for the continent," he said, citing poor leadership as one of the main causes for its difficulties.

Although Aggrey believes that AGOA will not provide an exact solution to Africa's economic problems, he did reveal his optimism for the future, and seemed encouraged by the United States' involvement. "AGOA should be deemed as a glass half full -- not half empty," he said. "There is always room for improvement."

Speakers Sharon Sopher and Trust Mashoro

Emmy-winning producer and director Sharon Sopher, and her filmmaking partner from Zimbabwe, Trust Mashoro, made an appearance at JMU's International Week on Sept. 29 in Wilson Hall.

Since the initial trip to Welch, efforts have been deep and enduring, and will continue for at least another three to five years. Only a sustained effort will produce long-lasting results. One student volunteer says, "Fifty volunteers can come in and rebuild a building, but what about the people that live in the building? Sustained efforts have a positive domino effect."

Filmmaker Trust Mashoro (left) and Emmy-winning producer and director Sharon Sopher (right) spoke to students about their award-winning AIDS documentaries and films.

Filmmaker Trust Mashoro (left) and Emmy-winning producer and director Sharon Sopher (right) spoke to students about their award-winning AIDS documentaries and films.

This practicum experience in Welch enhances students' cultural competence, fosters civic engagement and improves their knowledge about impoverished rural schools. The college's Exceptional Education Student Ambassadors and the student chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children have collected and sent books to Welch. Another group renovated a nearly unlivable intergenerational house for a Welch family. Another 150 JMU volunteers restored 31 apartments to live-in condition following a fire, and progress continues on reclaiming an old medical building for a community center. Plans also are under way for JMU practica students to work as tutors and student teachers — an initiative from JMU College of Education Dean Phil Wishon.

In the process, Welch is changing — and so are the student volunteers. Most have grown up far from endemic poverty. Their experience in Welch has been transformational. One high-school student volunteer says, "I finally know what it feels like to be a part of the human race."

Sopher, an American woman with AIDS, presented an excerpt from her very personal documentary, HIV Goddesses: Diary of a Filmmaker. The film, which recently won the 2005 Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism, is the first film in the world of a woman with AIDS.

In the discussion portion of the evening, Sopher emphasized the fact that there is a certain stigma that goes along with AIDS. "My goal is to get this moved over from the ghetto of AIDS to a health issue -- no stigma attached," she said.

Mashoro presented a different angle of AIDS in his film, Hupenyu Hwedu [Our Lives], offering a firsthand account of the lives of commercial sex workers in Zimbabwe. In this film, Mashoro focuses on some of the workers' initiatives to teach others in the industry about the dangers of AIDS. Mashoro emphasized the importance of making others aware of AIDS, stating, "Everybody should be open enough to talk about it."

JMU student members of the African Student Organization walk in the
fashion show portion of the 'Taste of Africa' event on Sept. 30.

JMU student members of the African Student Organization walk in the fashion show portion of the "Taste of Africa" event on Sept. 30.

"Taste of Africa" event

Students experienced a true taste of African culture on Sept. 30. The African Student Organization's "Taste of Africa" event included a traditional Ethiopian meal, a fashion show and various musical performances.

The first "taste" of the evening was an authentic Ethiopian meal catered by a local eatery, the Blue Nile Restaurant. The second portion of the evening consisted of a fashion show complete with traditional wear from various African countries. The bright, vibrant costumes came directly from students in the ASO. "Many of us have frican garments that we wear on a regular basis and on special occasions," said Yvonne Ngundam, ASO president.

The third and final segment of the event was a true taste of African music and dance. The show featured performances by several JMU students from ASO's dance group, "Eklectic." In addition to the live performers, traditional African music was played throughout the evening.

Silk Road Dance Company

The Silk Road Dance Company performed a mystifying dance narrative on Oct. 1 titled Egypta: Myth, Magic and Mystery. This performance portrayed the legacies of ancient Egypt -- from the creation myth to the death of Cleopatra.