The Explore Africa Today webinar began at 2 PM with a virtual audience, joined by the live-event exploration of Africa at 3 PM. During the hour’s preparatory session, Steve Dembo provided us links that provided background insights and preparatory information to enhance our experience when the live expedition begins in the Republic of Benin. Five excellent videos on education, environment, arts and culture, media and politics, science and technology provide a solid basis for this event. But first, you need to complete the free registration to view the videos. Another great resource is the Teach Africa Today site.
Our special guest joining us today is His Excellency Cyrille Segbe Oguin, Ambassador to the U.S. from Benin, who will bring the diversity of the country, its people and cultures to life in an open, interactive discussion at Discovery Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. This special event comes to us through sponsorships from USAID, The Africa Society of the National Summit of Africa, Discovery Education, and the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership.
This very special event will be archived by Discovery Education and the resource will be shared through this blog and the DEN National Blog.
The pre-webinar introduction was given by Dr. Gail Ifshin, President, Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, followed by Bernadette Paolo Esq., President and CEO The Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa. The goal of this webinar is to prepare today’s youth to be the ambassadors of tomorrow’s future on the continent of Africa by educating today for tomorrow. How does Africa impact our daily lives? Africa is the cradle of civilization, providing gas, coal, chocolate, and our President Barack Obama. Deb Atwood, Director, Public Affairs and Public Policy Mars, Incorporated, in addition to addressing us live, has provided a complimentary bag of gifts to the people at Silver Spring (and it includes chocolate). Having spent over 35 years educating others, Dr. Sarah Moten, Chief, Education Division USAID, African Bureau is the reason we have this webinar today. According to her, Africa is the world, and we may live elsewhere, but Africa is the world. Moten credits the audience of young students in the Silver Spring audience for their participation. Moten notes that Teach Africa is not a program; it’s a movement, because we are correcting them and teaching them about Africa. We learn about Africa and we become the teacher, correcting misinformation, and our role is to teach and learn with and from young people on African issues, which means we are also working on United States issues. We are, in fact, connected globally, and every day we should learn something different and new about Africa and share it. “We are in this not because it is a job, but because it is our life.”
His Excellency Cyrille Segbe Oguin began his presentation by expressing his gratitude for this program and the young people in attendance live in MD. Ambassador Oguin believes that American youth can make a difference for Africa through educating beyond the information gap in America. Looking at a map of Africa, the challenges and the potential is clear and promising as its population continues to grow. Africa occupies one-sixth of the land mass of the world and three times the states of American, and the second-largest continent after Asia. Today, Africa’a abundance makes it a great place for investment. Resources for cell phones come from Africa, but the origin of man is in the cradle of civilization, Africa. In addition, Africa has a huge range of animals, the world’s largest combination of density in animals, landscapes, highest mountains (Kilimanjaro) , longest river (Nile in Africa).
According to Oguin, the letter:
A in Africa stands for amazing
F stands for fifty-four countries
R stands for richly-diverse society
I stands for information gap
C represents the cornerstone of economic growth and opportunity
A stands for A continent with the greatest challenges.
Africa has many languages–20% of world languages and diverse forms of music. A wide variety of religions exist in Africa, from voodo to Hindu. Today, Africa is seen as a place of great growth rate, with amazing opportunities for investment in another country. It does, however, face a number of challenges, among them illiteracy, poverty, diseases, HIV and malaria, war…. But the good news is despite the challenges, it is still the most fascinating continent in the world. So, Ambassador Oguin wants the youth to learn more about Africa.
Benin was formerly known as Dahomey, and is similar in size to the state of Pennsylvania. It was the first place in Africa to move to democracy without war. The current President, Dr Boni Yayi, elected in 2006, is a political outsider and independent. The people are joyful and open and the culture abounds in a variety of food and handicrafts.
Q & A with Ambassador Oguin:
- Religion: some religions come from Africa and some from foreign influences. Europe is an influence, as well as Muslim. We try to live together with all religions to avoid conflict. We try to live together.
- French Influence: influences come from French colonialism. Imprint is very strong. Education is very important and is influenced by French system. French is not good as the universal language for communication, but with 54 languages, we need one to communicate. Most African languages are not written. Politically, we are modeled by France. French is the “official” language in Benin. Written paper, school is in French.
- Peace in Benin obtained and sustained how? We like debate, and we agree to disagree. We draw from our own culture and discuss with our family, and we use this model. We invited exiles back to our country and included them in this dialogue. We agreed to discuss within a multi-party system and grow conclusions to our peculiar problems. It’s our tradition to debate, but also to agree without war. We listen with respect.
- West Africa and geography: 15 states in West Africa with 140,000 million people; what they have in common was that 8 of them were under colonial rule.
- Education in Benin: learned from French system; children learn French in school and family language at home; we speak modern languages in school and begin school around age 7 or 8; education is compulsory. You get a primary school certificate; very similar to French system. You take a A level for high school.
- Benin and Darfur: Benin has tried to be part of the effort in Darfur.
- Trade and the economy: goal is to help build economy in Benin and Africa, to work for a common program by putting all efforts together for flow of food and people across borders.
- Africa in discord: leadership and issues; border issues arise within territories; may depend on the wealth or lack of wealth in countries. Oguin believes leadership is the main reason Africa is in discord.
- Pre-school: Kindergarten before the age of school entrance; fee-based.
- Rural v. urban schools: cities have many schools, but in rural, your walk is barefoot and without food and a 5-10 mile walk. In some rural areas, children do not go to school, and that is very bad. Very different in the cities where there are more schools, better textbooks. Literacy is better in the cities and a real problem in the rural areas.
- Benin Exports: main export is cotton, then palm oil, casaba exported through main port in Benin and roads; sometimes through the railway from Benin to near border of Nigeria. Freighters also carry goods.
- 3 books to understand Africa: Things Fall Apart; 100 books on their website; Cry the Beloved Country.
- Pre-K: plans are there but the funding is lacking; not enough schools for the 7-8 year olds.
- African Diaspora and Programs to bring Africans back to Africa: Africa is trying to attract African Diaspora back to Africa, trying to attract their interest to invite them into the continent from America, Cuba, Brazil…through reconnection, but we need interest from this side too.
- Services for hearing-impaired/handicapped: under control of the Ministry of Affairs; teach them how to live with their impairment, to help them to some achievement, but this area needs improvement.
This wonderful webinar ended with a story with a moral. A man comes upon a farmer with chickens. The man notices that one of the barnyard chickens is not a chicken. The farmer insists it is a chicken. After all, he has been a chicken farmer forever. The man purchases the “chicken” from the farmer, takes it to the top of the highest mountain and says, “Soar, eagle, fly.” And the eagle does. The message is so simple: we need to help all our students soar. Teach Africa today.