Award funds multifaceted South African experience

Letitia Johnson traveled to South Africa to further develop MU Extension’s relationship with the University of Western Cape. Professional and program development were the main goals, cultural lessons were a bonus.

When Letitia “Tish” Johnson received the Ronald J. Turner Endowment Global Education Award to travel to the University of Western Cape in Bellville, South Africa, she discovered that people in South Africa and people in Missouri have more in common than not.

One purpose of the trip was to develop MU Extension’s role in the partnership the University of Missouri has had with University of Western Cape since 1986. Vice Chancellor Michael Ouart began identifying a role for MU Extension in the partnership in 2009.

Johnson, a community development specialist for MU Extension, saw the trip as a unique opportunity to expand her professional knowledge and experience.

“Overall, traveling expands my knowledge. It expands my ability to understand and identify the right resources to work with communities,” said Johnson.

photo: three people walking through a Hangberg, South Africa

Letitia Johnson joined faculty and administrators from University of Western
Cape to tour the community of Hangberg, South Africa, a site targeted by UWC
for comprehensive community development assistance.
Photo courtesy of Letitia Johnson.

“Tish was ideal for this job because of her international experience and her community leadership development experience,” MU Extension community development director Mary Leuci said. “She was very interested and has good leadership skills, too.”

Johnson’s visit laid the groundwork for a new program that would facilitate a community leadership program for both institutions. Community leaders from Missouri and South Africa would learn from each other through the proposed program and might even travel to each other’s countries. Leuci hopes that Johnson’s work will build upon MU Extension’s recently submitted grant proposal to the U.S. State Department focused on fostering community economic development and entrepreneurship skills among young professionals in Missouri, South Africa and Kenya.

“It is not about a hand up or a hand out,” Johnson said about the partnership. “It is about working together. I’ve been to Thailand and Ireland, too, and it’s amazing to me how similar communities and people are. It’s the context that’s different.”

It is those similarities and differences that Johnson said help her see community development issues in a new light.

“In South Africa, there is an emphasis on personal health and nutrition that we don’t have in the U.S.,” Johnson said. “We focus more on economics and jobs. I think they really believe that it takes healthy people to build healthy communities.”

As a result of her trip, Johnson has connected with an attorney in Uganda working on reproductive health issues, and she may have found a host for her doctoral research.

“I visited a lot of people and my brain was just buzzing all of the time,” Johnson said about the possibilities developing from her experience. “My biggest hurdle is that I have to sleep at night.

Story by Maggie Berglund

Published Wednesday, June 12, 2013