Friday, January 15, 2010

The Bridge Between Columbia and Africa

The number of international students at Columbia from Africa has been on the rise since 2004, according to data provided by Columbia University’s International Programs and Services (ISSO) office, which provides support for visas and other documents for international students who come to Columbia University. ISSO is responsible for international students who enroll in and/or intern at Columbia, and the students whose place of origin is Africa make up 2.7%. There are 195 African students enrolled in and interning at Columbia University for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Of these African students, 1.1% of Columbia’s international population hail from West Africa, 33 of the 147 enrolled students are from Nigeria, 10 of the 48 interns are from Morocco, and at 39 total students, Nigeria is the country of origin for 20% of the total number of international students at Columbia whose place of origin is Africa.

However, according to Dean Kathleen McDermott, the director and assistant Vice President of Columbia University’s Office of Global Programs, there is still a lack of general cohesion among Columbia’s various affiliation attempts with the African continent.

Columbia’s various units—such as the Business School, the Mailman School of Public Health, the School of International and Public Affairs, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences—each have their own respective programs through which they send students to Africa, but according to Dean McDermott, there is very little communication between these programs unless a problem—such as a safety issue in one of the countries—arises, making it very difficult to form comprehensive plans to increase Columbia’s correspondence with African countries.

The Office of Global Programs itself does not currently run very many programs in Africa that are solely through Columbia University. However, through outside schools and programs it sends students to North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa every year. Many of the programs that students travel through are field study programs, research programs, and volunteer programs. Students who are interested in research and/or volunteering in Africa have access to several summer programs that are located in most countries throughout the continent. Dean McDermott would like to establish more of its own programs in African countries; they are currently discussing a program that it will have in affiliation with Senegal.

Through the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, the African Consortium, which is affiliated with Columbia University as well as the Universities of Cape Town in South Africa, Ghana, Ibadan in Nigeria, and Nairobi in Kenya, has conducted a series of pilot courses and strategic policy discussions, and is currently developing a program of language-based socio-cultural studies. The Consortium also includes a student exchange program with the University of Ghana.

The Mailman School of Public Health’s International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP) and the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Projects operate in the region with large staffs and a substantial number of established programs in affiliation with African countries. ICAP takes a ‘family centered approach’ to its mission to fortify health systems through programs that address the issue of HIV/AIDS and other related health concerns. It was founded in 2004, and it has already provided access to HIV care to over 750,000 people, and provided HIV treatment to about 358,000 people.
ICAP’s staff, led by Global Director Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, consists of around 1,200 people, with approximately 1,000 physical sites across 13 African countries, with no current plans to expand. This vast staff as well as various students and medical professionals who work through ICAP’s programs provides services such as monitoring and evaluation of HIV programs, research on epidemiology, prevention and management of infectious diseases, real-time data collection and reporting, training and mentoring of medical professionals and students, education, medical equipment and supplies, HIV care and antiretroviral treatment (ART) for children and adults, HIV testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), treatment adherence and psychosocial support, and care and treatment for related diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

The Millennium Villages Project (MVP) is a partnership between the Earth Institute, Columbia University, Millennium Promise, and the United Nation Development Programme. Over a five year period, MVP hopes to help communities and local governments to develop the capacity to continue MVP’s initiatives and build a foundation for sustainable growth. So far, MVP has touched an approximated 400,000 people in 79 villages. It has 12 groups across 10 African countries, which consist of Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Although needs vary from sector to sector, the greatest overall need is funding to launch community-based development projects that have been set up to be self-sustaining after several financial injections. Because of the various agro-ecological zones, MVP’s services also vary from sector to sector, but some of the resources it provides are high yield seeds, fertilizers, medicines, drinking wells, materials to build school rooms and clinics, and access to resources such as agroforestry, insecticide-treated malaria bed nets, antiretroviral drugs, the internet, remote sensing, and geographic information systems.

The study of Africa from an intellectual standpoint is integral to the academic life on campus. One such resource is the Center for African Education (CAE) through Teacher’s College. CAE supports research and teachings about education in African and in the African Diaspora. Another resource is the Institute of African Studies (IAS). Established in 1959, IAS is one of the ten regional institutes at Columbia, and it provides a resource for African-centered academic research, program development, curriculum, student advising, and local, national, and international dialogue and action in Africa. IAS seeks to provide a forum for faculty, students, scholars, and the more general community that is engaged in policy initiatives in Africa.

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