SHSU Student Takes A Small Step To Change The World
Sam Houston State University student Mark Denman’s ambition is to use his skills to help people in time of need or crisis. The junior biology major took the first step in that direction as he spent two months in the Republic of the Philippines during the summer of 2010 and spent the first six months of 2011 in Mali through the organization “Go Now Missions,” based out of Arlington, Texas. Since then, he has been involved with the International Programs as a volunteer in helping international students to adjust to the culture of the United States and to campus life. We caught up with Mark to get his perpespective on his trip.
What’s The Word: Can you tell us about the time when you first went overseas? What was that like?
Mark Denman: The first time I went overseas was last year in the summer. I traveled to the Republic of the Philippines for two months backpacking with six other Americans in a rural island setting, a very non-tourist area. We set out to backpack these trails to discover villages and the people that live there. We did some ethno research to see what languages they spoke, where they lived and mapped out communities. I had a blast doing it and was a very awesome experience.
WTW: How did you find out about the trip?
MD: I am an active participant in the Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) and a friend of mine who spend a year living in Ethiopia teaching English. He had a great experience and told me “It seems that you like to meet people of different races and cultures. Why don’t you check out this program?” So I found out about “Go Now Missions” and I signed up and filled out an application and they allotted funds for me and that is how I got there.
WTW: With that in mind, what was it like living in Mali?
MD: Well, I had a blast. I spend six months in Mali, living in a rural setting among the villagers. They was no electricity, running water, or plumbing. It was just farmers who plow the land to get food. They speak their own language and we did not have translators. Our purpose was to develop relations with the people and to experience their culture and to learn the language. Though it was challenging and difficult, we persevered for the sake that it would impact their lives in ways that other Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) couldn’t.
WTW: One of the things that you encountered was the fact that they were dependent on the West and are not self-sufficient. Why is that?
MD: They are a lot of speculations. The West feels more generous because we have abundance and we see pictures of Africa and go over there and see that the people are impoverished and don’t have things that we have. So we feel obligated sometimes to give them stuff which is great, but if we do not understand the culture, the ramifications behind what we are doing causes more damage than good. It has been noted that philanthropist who have gone to Africa and donated millions of dollars for AIDS relief and water wells. Two to three years down the road, no work has ever been done because the West call it a “mismanagement” of funds. But the African mentality doesn’t think it is mismanagement , but is how they handling the money to take care of things that is more important than water wells.
WTW: How has this experience changed you when you return to the States?
MD: Coming back as a student, I have become more compassionate about people. To me, the village of Mali, West Africa is a neighborhood on Sam Houston Avenue. It becomes real to me when I meet international students from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Senegal that are here in Huntsville, Texas. I can pick up on that, not because of the language, but the clothes they wear, their style, the way that they walk and have an outlook on life that is different.
WTW: Globalization is happening all around us. What do you think that students need to do to be prepared for the 21th century workforce?
MD: I think the greatest thing that we can do is to get involve and befriend international students here on campus. I know 75 students from all over the world that are coming here to either get degrees or to learn English for a semester. They really love to practice English with an American and to learn the culture of the United States. They can also connect with the world through studying abroad, NGOs, Peace Corps, etc. in order to learn a new language and a new culture.