Wittenberg students were given the “royal treatment” on their latest service-learning trip to the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho.
Scott Rosenberg, professor of history and director of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Preparation Program, led students on a journey to Lesotho from June 8 to July 6, which included extended opportunities for service and engagement with the global community. During the trip, the group experienced the rare opportunity to meet with King Letsie III.
This was the 14th group that Rosenberg has taken since 2003 and since that time, approximately 400 students have traveled to Lesotho to learn and serve.
“We were invited to the royal palace, and we had about an hour meeting with King Letsie III,” said Rosenberg, whose own two years of Peace Corps service in the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho from 1989-1991 has continued to inspire hundreds of Wittenberg students to travel there with him during special summer sessions.
“He was interested in what projects we were doing,” Rosenberg continued. “He was particularly interested in the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative being run by Wittenberg students, and he expressed an interest in becoming more involved with that project. This is probably the main reason we were able to meet the king, and perhaps this meeting was the start of a closer working relationship between him and the project.”
The Lesotho Nutrition Initiative is run by Rosenberg and students. The program provides 350,000 meals a year to children in Lesotho suffering from malnutrition and stunting.
“I never thought that I would ever be able to say that I have met a king, but now I can,” said Wittenberg student participant Ariel Moss, class of 2020 from Whitehall, Mich. “As Dr. Rosenberg spoke about the projects we are doing here and the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative, the king seemed genuinely interested in our projects….He seemed proud of all of the work we are doing, have done, and will be doing and called upon us all to be 'ambassadors' of Lesotho and to spread the word of this amazing country. It was the greatest honor to have the opportunity to meet the king of a country that I have learned to love so much in so little time, and I’m glad I got to come on this eye-opening trip.”
This year’s group of 20 did not just take in the scenery. They built a house for a family, a playground at a center that provides meals to children, combated soil erosion and built a shade garden at the Leratong community center built on previous trips (in 2008 and 2009), repaired a greenhouse, planted 50 fruit trees, painted the dining hall at an orphanage at Motsekuoa (the building was paid for by Springfield Rotary) and held a carnival at a pediatric AIDS clinic.
“This is a service-learning trip,” Rosenberg said. “We do projects designed to help orphans, HIV-positive children and other vulnerable children by providing shelter, food, playgrounds and educational tools. Lesotho provides students a chance to develop a sense of empathy for those in need, and hopefully they bring that sense back home with them. The homes, greenhouses and playgrounds they built, as well as the classrooms and libraries they painted, helped some of the neediest children in the world, and our help gives them hope, which is a great gift.”
One of the poorest countries in the world, Lesotho has the third highest AIDS rate in the world, with the highest per capita AIDS mortality rate, and more than 360,000 orphans in a country of less than two million people.
“The one thing I found very interesting were the games they taught us,” said Wittenberg student participant Elsa Bertsch, class of 2019 from Huron, Ohio. “They were teaching us a Zumba-type of dance. It was so much fun because I enjoy dancing and learning new dance moves. It was so fun to just dance with the kids while they giggled and laughed, especially when we did the dance move wrong or in a funny way. It is very exciting to start to impact more lives here in Lesotho. It was sad to leave Ramabanta, but seeing the children playing on the playground we built for them when we left made it easier. One thing that has impacted me the most thus far is the sense of community here. Walking around and waving is always accepted, and everyone is excited to meet you and ask the question, “Can I be your friend?”
The service-centered tradition continues in its curriculum as evidenced by the success of the university’s Peace Corps-endorsed preparation program, one of only a select few such programs in the country. While the students did many projects throughout their time in Lesotho, they also had some time to relax and learn a little about the culture.
Wittenberg signed an agreement in 2010 with the Peace Corps, becoming only the second liberal arts college in the United States at the time to carry the program. Today, there are 64 universities holding the distinction.
The program provides students with a unique combination of undergraduate coursework and community service. Schools are selected for the program based on their demonstrated interest in promoting international learning and service opportunities to their students.
Learn more about the trip http://www9.wittenberg.edu/lesotho/
About Wittenberg Study Abroad
Study abroad programs such as the credit-bearing Lesotho program are made possible by the Office of International Education. Each year, more than 90 students from Wittenberg study abroad in programs that range in length from several weeks to several months, and nearly 20% of students have an international study experience during their time at Wittenberg. To learn more about this program go to: http://www.wittenberg.edu/admission/engage-serving-world or http://www.wittenberg.edu/academics/africanastudies/student-opportunities.