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12. The people of Venda, and our week as visiting scholars
      10/28/2018



The more time we spend in South Africa, the clearer it becomes that this country faces serious and difficult-to-solve problems. Corruption, water supply, poverty, poaching of wildlife, and violent crime are just a subset of the issues involved. Learning about them has given us new perspective on the problems that the U.S. currently faces. It has also led to concern for the future of the people of South Africa. Yet despite all this, our recent week at the University of Venda has revealed much to be hopeful about.

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Gate at the entrance of the university - when unobscured,
the sign reads "Welcome to the University of Venda."


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The villagers of Ngwenani ya Mavhola where we visted their fountain -
the source of clean drinking water.



Our time included four days of learning and sharing, starting with a Monday visit to a local village where residents were eager to show us their "fountain," the water supply that volunteers keep clean and maintain with well-deserved pride. We were told that this source of water has never gone dry (even in the driest of dry seasons), that it has healing powers (we drank from the traditional drinking gourd – haven’t been sick since!), and that it provides water for the seven surrounding villages. Apparently those living in the most distant households walk an hour each way in order to collect clean drinking water from the fountain.


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Left to right - chief's representative; founder; executive director of the volunteer
group kneeling at the water source. Rebecca (center) also leads
efforts to remove invasive plants and protect wetlands.


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A villager collecting water.



According to the villagers, the water is protected by a snake. Unlike much of southern Africa where snakes are feared and killed, the villagers here revere this snake. We were told that if the snake were killed, the fountain would go dry.


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Some of the signs surrounding the water source.


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Though most of its body was hidden under a rock,
the side of the snake was visible near where
one of the springs fed a small fountain.


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Here I'm trying to describe the Three-wattled Bellbird and how protecting
cloud forest in Costa Rica has helped protect the water supply there.
To my left is Elvis (his nickname) who is translating for me.


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A joy to spend the morning with these dedicated people.



Tuesday and Wednesday featured workshops that we led, one on sampling design and statistical analysis, the other on branding and visual identity. (Can you guess which one I led?)


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Workshop attendees.


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Working through some details of sampling design.


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Discussing design ideas.


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Professor Joseph Francis, director of the
Institute for Rural Development, was our
initial contact and gracious host who
planned the events for our visit.



On Thursday we gave presentations on the topics of visual literacy, and, conservation biology and ecotourism in Costa Rica.


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Header on the program for the lectures.


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Some of the attendees at the lectures.


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Group shot after one of the workshops.


By the end of our stay, it was clear that the week’s events were very appreciated; and, without a doubt we enjoyed our numerous and varied discussions about teaching, visual communication, conservation, and development. Even more interesting and significant to me is what our interactions revealed about the character of the people we met.

Students, lecturers, professors, and staff were warm-hearted, welcoming, fun-loving, and open-minded to the different ideas we shared. Equally impressive was their clear dedication to solving problems. We learned about numerous development projects aimed at reducing poverty, preserving cultural heritage, improving food supply, maintaining biodiversity, and managing natural resources sustainably. Our week at Venda, in addition to being personally rewarding and bringing us many new friends, gave us hope for the future of this part of the world.


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Joseph with interns from the Institute for Rural Development.