Wetenschap - 24 september 1998

International Page

International Page

International Page
Contact programme support for students and locals alike
My experience with the Contact Programme has been very, very good, recounts Emmanuel Niyibigira. The programme is run by the Student Chaplaincy and Niyibigira joined when he came to Wageningen in 1995. Having left his wife and 5-month son behind in Uganda to do a MSc in Crop Sciences, he wanted to meet a family here
I was curious about the Dutch way of life, and when I heard about the Contact Programme, I felt it was a chance not to be missed. Somehow we clicked right away. I know that this is not always the case - a friend of mine had a contact that only lasted two meetings before he decided to give it up. But with Niyibigira's hosts, a couple with three young daughters living together with the mother's parents, he felt like part of the family. They met with one another regularly, and he always felt that they would be there if he needed help. After four months, a distressing situation came up which suddenly switched their roles around. The grandmother died very unexpectedly, and Niyibigira found himself giving support to his hosts during their time of need, just as they had done for him. It was a terrible time, but it brought us even closer, he now relates
According to Gijs Verkerk, a member of the organising committee, the Contact Programme is very much about mutual relationships. Families are not only offering hospitality to students, they also join because they want to learn from them. Some participate because they want to practice their English or French, others because it is educational for their children or themselves
Joseph Chibwe has also had a good experience: I would encourage others to do this. It's a quick way to get oriented. I found out things about Holland and Wageningen that I would never have learnt on my own. Coming from Malawi for a MSc in 1997, he wanted to learn more about the politics and history of Holland. His contact person not only discusses his questions with him, but has also taken him on outings to different places. Besides this, Chibwe and his local host managed to organise a pen pal relationship between his daughter and a Dutch student at the school where his host teaches English
The Contact Programme was started in the 1980s when the international student population in Wageningen was still very small. Now there are about 20-40 contacts every year. Christine de Jong, the coordinator of the Programme since 1993, reassures that although it is run through the Student Chaplaincy, there is no hidden Christian conversion agenda involved
Positive
International students from all programmes are welcome, though it tends to be dominated by males, mostly coming from developing countries with African students always at the top of the list. Contact persons come in all shapes and sizes, young families, older couples, single people or Dutch students. Although reactions are usually positive from both sides, contacts do not always work out. Severe cases have included a student who suffered from psychological problems that were too complex for a family to cope with, or a contact person becoming sick. The committee tries to match people up as well as possible according to their desires. Students are also asked to fill in an evaluation form when they leave
This year, fewer students and contact families have joined than usual. Sometimes interest suddenly rises when the days become shorter and colder, Verkerk has noticed. He has also found that the most lonely time of the year for international students is at Christmas, when all the Dutch students go home to their families. Verkerk and his wife are on the list of contact families. At 74, he has been an active participant in diverse international programmes for over 55 years. Having worked in Northern Africa, he also knows what it is like to be an outsider. I often had to go on work assignments abroad, and left my wife and five children at home. I always appreciated it when people in the community invited me to join them.
Verkerk enumerates three requirements that are asked of potential contacts when they apply for students: good will, common sense and tolerance. We do not want families who serve a pork dish to a muslim student, or who tell them that they have a stupid president. Also, they must be flexible enough to accept that appointments may not always work out. Another important point is that students need to be able to feel at home; Verkerk recalls one student who fell asleep on his couch for an hour during one visit. He came back a few days later, so it wasn't because he was bored, he adds quickly
Now back in Wageningen to do a PhD, Niyibigira has kept in touch with his contact family. I still don't feel like I totally understand Dutch culture, but through my contact family and the Dutch students on my corridor, I now have a better idea of how it all fits together.
For more information: call 415141
Farmer Perception and Erosion Control
When Zainab Mbaga Semgalawe started her PhD thesis five years ago, she assumed that farmers would only adopt a new soil conservation method if they perceived erosion to be a problem on their land. However, after consulting 300 heads of households in 15 villages in the northeastern mountains of Tanzania the reality proved to be much more complicated. Born and raised in the region under study, Semgalawe had become increasingly aware of the degrading landscape and disappearing vegetation with every visit back home. This concern led to her research: I wanted to know whether my people had any feeling for the problem. According to her research, many farmers who perceived the problem did not in fact automatically adopt erosion control measures such as reforestation or terracing. And, even more surprising, a new conservation method was sometimes adopted by farmers who did not consider land degradation to be a problem. Constraints such as lack of access to technical knowhow, low income, lack of labour, or cultural aspects may hinder farmers from adopting a new method even though they are aware of the problem
When incentives such as cost-sharing or free agricultural inputs are offered to farmers by soil conservation programmes, a method may be adopted even when farmers do not think that soil erosion is a problem. However, farmer perception of the problem was key to the sustainability of introduced soil conservation practices
Semgalawe's combined sociological and economic approach to analysing household attitudes on soil erosion and improvement practices is unusual, as research in that region normally focuses on the technical aspects of erosion control. She hopes to follow up her research by designing promotional strategies targeting farmers who do not adopt conservation practices. I am calling for a more time-consuming process, but in the long run it will be more productive and cost-effective if farmer perception is included from the beginning, concludes Semgalawe
ISOW Website
The newly created ISOW website is almost open to public scrutiny
The site provides updates on coming events as well as a photo collection from past activities. You can find the site at http://www.wau.nl/isow
Leeuwenborch Library evening and Saturday opening
From October 1st the Leeuwenborch Library will be open Monday - Thursday from 19.00 - 22.30. The library will also be open on Saturdays from 10.00 - 15.00
During these times students will be able to search the catalogue and CD-ROMs, borrow, renew and reserve books as well as study in the library

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