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Published: July 03, 2024

Political Science Class Gets Real in Africa

Suitcase? Check. 

Toothbrush? Check.  

Hammer? Check.  

Garden hose? Check. 

The packing list looked a little different this time for Karen Duritza ’26 and Sergio Santana ’27. But then again, the political science majors hadn’t been 5,000 miles away before, stepping off the bus into the bright sunrise over Ghana.  

  Through UT’s International Programs Office’s faculty-led program, Karen Duritza ’26 and Sergio Santana ’27 flew 5000 miles, visited a safari and created service projects to benefit the rural communities of Nabdam, Ghana. Photo by Andrew Miller ‘26

Duritza and Santana were part of political science Chair and Professor Kevin Fridy’s PSC 282 course: Community-Based Development.   

Through the International Programs Office’s faculty-led program the students on the Ghana trip this summer performed service projects to benefit the rural communities of Nabdam, Ghana.  

Santana said Fridy warned them: Things are different around Nabdam. They don’t have a Home Depot. The students had to pack some materials they would need for their projects, like garden hoses and hammers.  

“Fridy does a lot to make sure that when you get to Ghana, you hit the ground running,” Santana said.   

The seven-week course started on campus after spring break.The students studied and discussed readings and films to understand community development and how to ethically and effectively help the Nabdam area.  

The students designed their own service projects in small groups, while Fridy put them in contact with people and leaders from Nabdam, including welders, nutritionists and even the royal families that had claim to chiefdom.  

Santana’s group did a historical preservation project. They interviewed elders and other important figures about the local history of the land, and they made signs to denote physical landmarks.  

Duritza’s group worked with a nutritionist to help alleviate infant malnutrition by adding nutritional value to sweet potato baby food.  

However, things didn’t always go according to plan. 

There was a power outage at the clinic, so Duritza’s group couldn’t reach the nutritionist for five days, and they had trouble finding the clinic.   

“It's just different there,” Duritza said, “and you just have to be OK that it's different and go with it.” 

Through Fridy’s help, the teams bought additional materials they needed at the marketplace, which also financially benefitted the community.  

“We had connections everywhere, no matter where we went. He knew what to do, knew the processes and how to help us through it. He knew everything, really did it all,” Duritza said.   

But it wasn’t all work — the class drove to Mole National Park and went on a safari, stepping foot into another world.  

Santana recalled, “Dr. Fridy said to lock the doors because the baboons will get in. We're, like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He's like, ‘Watch behind you, because if a baboon sees you going in (the car) it’ll run in, and you can't get it out.’” 

“They'll eat all your stuff,” Duritza warned.   

“There’s wildlife all around, monkeys running around outside your door,” said Santana. 

After a week in Ghana, the students flew back to the U.S., ending the class. Designing the community-based initiatives for Nabdam gave the class first-hand experience in how their political science studies can help the world.  

“It’s a shared experience that a fraction of people really get to have,” Santana said. “You get really excited for the project and what you can do with it."

 

Story by Lena Malpeli '25


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