ISU provided student the opportunity to learn about a totally new culture - and now she passes it on to others
For Amber Anderson, Aurelia, a senior at Iowa State University majoring in agronomy/plant health and protection, a recent trip to Ghana provided an insight to a totally different culture. She used the opportunity to learn about water quality issues being dealt with there.
Amber was one of 12 ISU students who joined 12 students from an Alabama university who traveled to the African country to work with students in agronomy at the University of Ghana, as well as with scientists and professors.
"Ghana was selected because one of the agronomy department professors, Dr. Manu, from ISU grew up there and he has many personal connections which made it easy to work with the university there and the people," she commented. "The country is very stable and has several issues with soil and water quality. there are studies going on there that we were able to assist with."
The students took part in soil and water quality tests at many locations throughout the lower one-third of the country. Many water supplies being used by the people were tested including lakes, tap water and streams, for such things as nitrates, suspended particles, pH dissolved oxygen and other things.
Soil testings were also done on native forest areas and farmland. the group tested the pH of the soil, checked the number of earthworms found in the soil (which was an indicator of the health of the soil in many cases), permeability and temperature. Further soil tests were completed in the ISU labs once the group returned.
The group had the opportunity to enjoy their surroundings for the three-week visit.
Amber was particularly amazed with the two dams, Akosombo and Kpong, which were built on Lake Volta, the world's largest man-made lake, which covers 3,275 square miles. The two dams provide all of the energy for Ghana and some for two surrounding countries through the hydro-electric power generated there.
"Dr. Manu found it very important for us to experience the culture of Ghana," said Amber. "We visited their markets and tried lots of their foods."
Coming from Iowa, the student had never experienced eating plaintain, large bananas which are usually fried, prior to the trip. A great deal of rice, seasoned with many hot spices, was served, along with only a bit of chicken.
Fish, Amber pointed out, is served with its head, eyes and skin still intact. She did enjoy the fresh fruits - especially pineapple and mangos - that were plentiful.
Bottled water was consumed by the water-testing American students while on the trip!
"We don't have the natural immunity to things in the water like the natives do," she explained. "We didn't want to take the risk either."
The students had the opportunity to experience the culture from its very poorest to the busy cities. Some of the houses were built on stilts, some are considered mansions and some are only partially built awaiting additional dollars to come in to complete the construction.
"The village built entirely on stilts on the edge of a lake was a sight to see," Amber said. "Villagers have to travel about a half hour by canoe to the nearest town for school or to get to market. The village people make their living by farming land across the lake."
Other natives rely on making and selling items at the markets.
At these markets the students saw first hand the kinte weavers at work (kinte is the traditional brightly patterned cloth) and the professional woodcarvers who, using hand tools, create awesome pieces.
It isn't unusual to see the wares being peddled by anxious natives who perch along the roads and even look for prospective buyers who are stopped in their vehicles at stop signs.
Farming is on a much smaller scale in Ghana yet there is a wider variety of crops. Farms average two acres in Ghana.
"Slash and burn agriculture is still present," Amber said, explaining that the method involves "slashing" the forests and burning what has been cut. Planting is done despite the steep inclines.
Soil isn't very fertile without the constant forest litter so it isn't unusual for the land to be returned to forest after two to three years. Crops of choice include cocoa, corn, rice, plaintains, cassava, mangos, sugarcane, pineapple, coconut, palms, rubber trees and papayas.
All of the farm work is done by hand.
"I had a wonderful experience being in the country," Amber commented.
"It's a great way to learn about another culture and way of life. I plan on visiting other countries in the future."
The 2002 graduate of Aurelia High School has done several presentations on her experiences, including to classes at her alma mater. An experience such as this, she believes, is meant to be shared.