This is summer school? Three local students have once-in-a-lifetime learning experiences

Published 12:57 am Sunday, August 12, 2012

SUBMITTED — Recent Rhodes College graduate Madeline Jeansonne shares a bench with children at the Agule Community Health Center in Uganda. Jeansonne spent 10 weeks in Uganda’s Pallisa District conducting medical research.

While classmates likely lounged, three college students from Natchez had once-in- a lifetime summer experiences.

Emory Smith

Sumitted — Ole Miss junior Emory Smith poses with an 8-month-old lion cub at Seaview Lion Park in South Africa. Smith studied abroad at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Emory Smith, a 2010 graduate of Trinity Episcopal Day School, spent a month in South Africa studying at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.

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The trip was funded through a $6,400 scholarship from the University of Mississippi’s Trent Lott Leadership Institute. Smith is a junior at Ole Miss, majoring in public policy leadership.

In South Africa, Smith worked with orphaned children ages 7 months to 14 years old who are HIV-positive or have AIDS.

“AIDS is still a huge stigma in South Africa, and these kids aren’t used to being touched or loved, so just to be able to be there and love them and tell them they’re special, you get to see the difference in how they act,” she said.

Smith and other students in the scholarship program spent their time playing with the children, helping cooks at the House of Resurrection Haven orphanage prepare food and plant a garden.

“The level of poverty you see is incomprehensible,” Smith said. “Growing up in America, it can’t even compare.

“It made it kind of hard to come back to my life, and it just seems people here don’t realize what they have. I am definitely completely changed after this experience and so thankful for everything I have.”

The trip also gave Smith the chance to study South African politics and government, which became a democracy in 1994.

The American students also compared Mississippi civil rights to the South African Apartheid government and the similarities of each country’s civil rights movement.

One of the most eye-opening discoveries during her studies in South Africa, Smith said, was the open dialogue South Africans have about race relations versus the tight-lipped discussions here in Mississippi and the U.S.

Submitted — Emory Smith bungee jumps from Bloukrans Bridge Bungy in South Africa, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jump.

“There it was very easy to talk race and race issues,” Smith said. “I don’t know if it’s because their liberation was so recent in 1994, but here in the U.S., it’s something that’s very uncomfortable for everyone and something we don’t like to talk about.”

Smith’s trip to South Africa was not all class and service work, though.

She also went on three different safaris and bungee jumped from Bloukrans Bridge Bungy, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee jump.

She is the daughter of Jim and Sarah Smith of Natchez.

Madeline Jeansonne

Recent Rhodes College graduate Madeline Jeansonne, daughter of Benny and Amanda Jeansonne of Natchez, traveled to Uganda for 10 weeks to conduct research through Christian Brothers University in Memphis through a National Institutes of Health grant.

Submitted — Ugandan locals perform tribal dances during Madeline Jeannsone’s visit.

The research, Jeansonne said, focused on the relationship between biomedical doctors and local healers, herbalists and witch doctors, as well as the use of the Christian church and spiritual prayers in healing.

That research, Jeansonne said, is for a professor at the University of Tennessee who is working on whether the relationship between doctors and traditional healers in countries like Uganda should be incorporated into medical school curriculum.

Jeansonne and the other students interviewed community members, traditional healers, herbalists and witch doctors and biomedical doctors in the Pallisa District, the poorest district in Uganda.

Jeansonne said the research data has not been interpreted yet, but some of the obvious findings of the research dealt with the prevalence of western religion and Christianity in the area.

“Those religions have preached against going to traditional healers,” Jeansonne said. “Getting those community members to openly discuss their use of those healers was very difficult.”

A common thread in the interviews with community members and health professionals, Jeansonne said, was the lack of adequate medicine available.

“Sometimes they would go to the clinic and be diagnosed with something, but the medicine would not be available or they couldn’t afford it,” she said.

Jeansonne said she got to see first hand the sense of dependencies that is created from foreign aid on economies and societies in developing countries.

“As a researcher, I didn’t have anything to give,” Jeansonne said. “But just by virtue of being a foreigner, every single time I interviewed someone, it was with the expectation that (some type of aid) was to follow.”

Jeansonne said that was difficult to deal with because the language barrier did not allow her to express how sorry she was that she could not help.

“We were using translators, so you couldn’t really personally express how sorry you were that you can’t really do more for them,” she said. “They always took it very humbly, and were always very friendly and happy to talk to us, but you could see the disappointment in their faces.”

Jeansonne said she and the other researches always tried to have pocketfuls of stickers, bracelets and goodies for the children they visited.

Jeansonne and the other researches also went on a mini-safari at Murchison Falls National Park.

Jeansonne, a Cathedral graduate, will start graduate school at the University of Texas in two weeks to get her master’s degree in public health and epidemiology. She received her undergraduate degree in biology in May.

Mary Catherine Iles

Submitted — LSU senior Mary Catherine Iles sits outside the Baton Rouge Zoo, where she served as the marketing and development intern. Iles has been asked to continue her internship during her fall semester.

When the time came for Mary Catherine Iles, a senior at LSU, to plan her summer experience this year, international travel, studying abroad and seeing the world was old hat.

Iles spent last summer in Ireland through a study abroad program with LSU. She traveled with a group of students and their professors.

They studied comparative politics and British history with a focus on Ireland. She went to Galway, Aran Islands, the Connemera region, Cork, Cliffs of Moher, Dublin and Belfast.

“It was the best experience of my life,” Iles said. “It was so cool learning immersed in the culture. You walked outside of where we held class, and you were in your history book. I learned so much more being out of the classroom and made the best friends.”

So this summer, Iles invested her time in other continents without ever leaving the South by getting to know the wild animals at the Baton Rouge Zoo.

Iles, a 2009 Trinity graduate, is serving as the zoo’s marketing and development intern and has been asked to stay on during her fall semester.

Submitted — The Baton Rouge Zoo’s newest addition to the zebra family, Olympic, roams through the park’s zebra habitat. M.C. Iles was at the zoo for the birth.

Iles, 21, said she has mainly been in charge of the zoo’s social media presence, a relatively new aspect of the zoo’s marketing strategy, she said.

“(Social media) is kind of new for the zoo, and they really needed help with it,” Iles said. “We’ve been working a lot on Facebook, and updating statuses to let people know what’s going on at the zoo, the daily routine of the zoo, trivia, just things to get people involved in what’s going on at the zoo.”

In addition to trivia and letting zoo fans know where the Zoomobile is stopping, Iles said the zoo has also been working to throw education into their social media updates.

Iles has also made a few furry friends while working at the zoo.

“A little male zebra was born,” Iles said. “We named him Olympic, and it was exciting the first day getting to go out there and see him.”

Iles also took trips with the zoo’s marketing team to local news stations.

“It’s been exciting to see what goes on behind the scenes on the set,” she said.

Iles said her zoo internship has been a great learning experience but not just about marketing or the inner workings of the zoo.

“I learned a lot about myself,” she said. “They have given me a lot of room to grow, and I have been given one of my own projects and space where I can make mistakes and learn from my mistakes.”

Iles’ major is mass communication with an emphasis on political communication, and she is also working on a minor in history.

She is the daughter of Geoff and Betsy Iles and Chad and Simmons Huber.