The Globalization Office has held various events to help students open their eyes to the world. They provide wishful students with lectures by speakers from all over the world on varying topics as well as opportunities to bring together international students and Japanese students at the University of Tokyo. Among many of the events, I had the honor of attending the “Step into Africa” lecture by an African professor. The lecturer mostly spoke of life in Africa. For me, everything the lecturer spoke of was new. I had barely any knowledge about African countries let alone the kinds of lives Africans lead every day.
As I learned about Africa, I was more and more amazed and intrigued by the differences in cultures and social issues compared with America and Asia. One of the most interesting differences was the rate of suicide in the countries.
For some years, Japan and Korea have maintained their positions in the top ten countries for suicide rates. America is also high in the ranking. However, African countries, to my pleasant surprise, are nowhere to be found on the list of top ten, even top one hundred countries for suicide rates. According to the lecturer, they maintain a less than five percent suicide rate.
I could not but be simply amazed by this information. When the shocked audience asked the lecturer why they have such a low suicide rate, he laughed and answered that they are too busy trying to make a living every day that they have no time to think of taking their own lives. Also, everyone is struggling with poverty, so there is no special reason to think of killing oneself.
Having heard such different but interesting stories, I became fascinated by volunteer programs to Africa. When asked by one of the audience members about volunteering in Africa, the lecturer passionately answered that each volunteer is very much needed and welcome. He said that he himself could only become who he is now thanks to an American volunteer who taught him English. He said that he still remembers the teacher’s name and that he will always thank her for the rest of his life. As I listened to his personal story, I could not help but think how wonderful leading such a life is.
Much thanks to the “Step into Africa” lecture, I have now opened my eyes to a new world. It has also triggered my desire to go to Africa and volunteer sometime in my life. I look forward to seeing more lectures and events being held at the University of Tokyo.
On Friday, July 5, I attended a lecture “Step Into Africa” delivered by Professor Jean-Claude Maswana. The lecture was a part of a series of GO Lectures, organized by the Globalization Office of the University of Tokyo, which strives to encourage students to think more globally and to engage in various study abroad opportunities/activities.
My general impressions about the lecture are very positive. Professor Maswana told us a fascinating story about Africa, its people, its nature, its uniqueness, but also about the ongoing conflicts that divide the continent in our seemingly peaceful times. He mentioned the example of Sudan, once the largest state in Africa, now split into parts affected by constant turmoil. I think it was a very good idea to employ short documentaries on Africa; those that especially remained in my memory were the ones showing the breathtaking wonders of nature. However, the lecture was not a simple show of picturesque views, and Professor Maswana touched upon many issues pertaining to everyday reality on the African continent, which are fascinating, albeit equally worrisome.
Despite the tremendous endeavor of Western countries to improve life conditions in Africa that can be seen especially in last decades of twentieth century, it seems that little has changed and a lot has yet to be improved. This is where the help of volunteers becomes indispensable – as Professor Maswana stressed, the contribution of a single person to local society may seem very small at first, but becomes priceless in the long run. The impact of volunteer work can only be assessed by those whose lives were touched and changed by such work, and Professor Maswana, who told us that his own career was inspired by certain volunteer, is undoubtedly a prominent example and proof of this statement.
As for the other side of the medal, I believe that by face-to-face interaction with local people, the volunteers’ perception of Africa can be transformed and reshaped. It is very easy and convenient to look at the world from the perspective of our own locale. Therefore, in a sense, for the majority of people, Africa exists as a homogeneous entity and we perceive it this way, whether we are aware of the political instability or not. This notion does not pertain only to the African continent. My own perception of Asia was similar for many, many years, and a number of my Japanese friends see Europe as a unit as well. Similarly, Europeans know the map of the world with the Old Continent at the center, while Asian versions tend to concentrate around the Eastern part of the globe.
Nonetheless, even if it is difficult to talk about countries or continents without generalizations, it is vital to remember that such entities are made of individuals who may share some common features, but ultimately are all diverse and unique. This is equally true for Africa as for any other continent. Perhaps this may be deemed naiveté, yet I believe that bearing this in mind when going abroad and gaining a global experience constitutes the borderline between a genuine explorer and just a tourist.