BOTSWANANS, BLUFFTON CELEBRATE CROSS-CULTURAL TIES
Bluffton University sends students abroad every year to learn about diverse cultures. But the university rarely gets to thank the hosts for those cross-cultural experiences in person.
The opportunity arose this week, though, when two visitors from Botswana came to Bluffton to see for the first time the campus and community that sent groups of students to the African nation in 2007 and 2009, and will do so again this May.
On a study abroad-type trip of their own were Kgosi Mafoko, chief of the village of Pitseng, Botswana, where families have hosted the Bluffton students, and Nthati Phetlhu, the Setswana language and Botswanan culture instructor who has worked with the visiting students.
Their itinerary included a prominent role in the weekly campus Forum, where Mafoko spoke and received a plaque expressing the university’s gratitude to the chief, elders and people of Pitseng for the "extraordinary welcome, friendship, love and wisdom" they have extended to the Bluffton students.
Presenting the plaque, Dr. Sally Weaver Sommer, vice president and dean of academic affairs, said she hoped "it reminds you that we are holding you in our hearts even though we are far apart from each other."
Mafoko, a former policeman who now manages the affairs of Pitseng, expressed his desire "that the relationship is here to stay, and we continue to learn more from each other."
Earlier, the chief noted some of the challenges facing his village of about 1,500 people in the Southern District of Botswana, which is located just north of South Africa. Among them are unemployment, poor infrastructure and education, which he said he was fortunate to receive through a Mennonite "trust" that provided educational facilities and health and other services in the village when he was younger.
Jonathan Larson, a former Mennonite mission worker in Africa who helped establish the Botswana-Bluffton connection, described the trust as a development non-governmental organization (NGO) set up by Mennonite Central Committee, the village and the Dutch government in the late 1970s to bring basic services to Pitseng.
The NGO—which he said also brought the first contact between the village and outsiders—ran its course after several years, but a few buildings remain. "The village has long dreamed that this piece of infrastructure might find a second life," Larson added, and that dream now pictures the site as the setting for a "cultural village" where visitors could learn about traditional life at the edge of the Kalahari Desert.
Mafoko and Phetlhu have met with both the past and future student visitors to Botswana while in Bluffton, where they are also speaking to classes; talking to fourth graders at the Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center on campus; and meeting with university and village officials. Their first trip to the United States will continue with a tour of Washington, D.C., and a visit to Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding.
Bluffton public relations, 2/23/11