Teaching for a change
Assistant Professor of Education Manisha Javeri acknowledges that she can’t change the world on her own.
With the help of her students, the professor, who describes her greatest weakness as a “love of people around the world”, says she can make a difference in the lives of those living in one Mozambique village, however.
“Each one of us can do a little,” Javeri said, adding that on a teaching trip to the rural villages surrounding Maputo, Mozambique she realized where she could start.
There, Javeri saw firsthand the devastating effects of poverty, limited education and HIV and AIDS on a community. Families had been destroyed, and hundreds of children were orphaned due to AIDS or infected with the deadly virus from birth, and struggling to survive.
The children, community caregivers and women that Javeri met on her 2006 summer trip were in need of everything from food to hope for the future, she said.
“It was terrible,” she said. “Everyday I wanted to run away from the place.”
But, Javeri didn’t run away. She visited families, asked questions and found a way to use her knowledge of technology and teaching to improve their lives.
The lessons Javeri learned on her first trip to Mozambique in the summer of 2006 became the basis of two graduate distance learning courses at Cal State L.A. and the fuel behind hundreds of hours of student work.
Two dozen graduate students at the University were given the task of designing technology-based interventions and units of study that would empower and educate people in the village and a nearby university on English, computer skills, HIV/AIDS, sex education and the steps to creating microbusinesses.
Another group of students also constructed a high-end database that stores online information regarding the orphans each caregiver looks after. The database is accessible by cell phone.
“It was hard. It was a lot of work,” says Jeannie Martinez, a high school math teacher, about the class.
“But you can take away the feeling of being significant,” she added later. “You have this impact locally Â and at the same time Â you have this global reach.”
Many other students described the opportunity as enlightening and inspiring. They honed useful skills for using technology in their classrooms or careers, while participating in the larger, global volunteerism effort, they said.
“Everything I have learned with (Dr. Javeri) is small chunks that add up to big projects,” Mylene Kemp said. “It’s really shown me that one person can make a change.”
Their work is not over, Javeri added.
In November, Javeri and her students presented a paper at an international conference, which could encourage others to take on similar causes. At the same time, Javeri is seeking to fund a trip for at least 10 of her students to visit Maputo and implement their interventions in the summer 2009.
And in the spring, Javeri hopes to offer another graduate level course to design a program that will teach village residents about starting a business with microcredit and using solar ovens. The ovens will be installed in the village in January with the assistance of the African Millennium Foundation and “Law and Order” executive producer Neal Bear.
“I promised the women and I promised the kids that I would do something for them,” Javeri said of her ongoing work. “It’s a promise I made and a promise I will keep.”