A heart for Africa
His first trip to Africa was definitely not his last, said Zach Graham. A month-long trip to Tanzania in the summer of 2011 left an indelible mark on the student. "They say once you go to Africa, your heart stays there," he said.
Graham, a member of the Army ROTC at ISU, was part of a cultural understanding and language program with the United States Army cadet command. As part of the program, he participated in an extensive Swahili language class.
Every day for a month in Tanzania he took two-hour lessons in Swahili. He also learned about gender, health and cultural issues, and the political and educational systems in Tanzania.
After the two-hour daily training, Graham then went out into the community and used the language. He worked at the Magareza Nursery School, located inside a prison compound. He taught Swahili, English and math to the 2- to 6-year olds, who were mostly children of the prison guards.
"The kids stole my heart, and I miss them so much," he said. "I learned a lot of funny Swahili words from the kids. I’d like to go back and teach there again."
He also misses the scenery. Graham and the other 21 cadets from around the U.S. were based in northern Tanzania at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. They went on weekly excursions in the area including two Safaris, and trips to a banana plantation and a coffee plantation.
They also had the opportunity to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the city of Arusha, Tanzania. The cadets sat in on a Rwandan genocide court case.
Although it was an Army-based trip, it was beneficial for his anthropology major as well. Tanzania is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited places in the world.
The cadets visited the Chagga, Masaai and Iraq tribes in remote areas of Tanzania. "We saw how they lived, we talked to the people and did traditional dances with them," Graham said.
"It was a humbling experience," he added. "Most of them haven’t even seen a computer. It gave me a broader acceptance of people in general and across cultures."
Graham said after only one month in Africa, he misses the region immensely and plans to return in the summer of 2012 if possible. "There is so much fun and adventure to be had," he said.
When Graham graduates in the spring of 2014, he will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. "I hope to use this experience to help train my soldiers to be more culturally aware," he said.