Camosun president in life-changing partnership with Tanzania college

Camosun president Sherri Bell shares her experience with Tanzania’s Arusha Technical College

By Ivan Watson

With record numbers of international students arriving to begin their studies this fall, Camosun College is increasingly embracing a global perspective that brings mutual benefits through partnerships and opportunities for cross cultural learning. “One of the initiatives our international team is working on is having students attend Camosun from a larger number of countries and in particular from places like Africa,“ says Camosun President Sherri Bell who spent a week at Arusha Technical College in Tanzania this summer.

“This was my first trip to Africa and the experience was well beyond my expectations. I met amazing leaders and students and I learned so much from the people I was with.”

Camosun’s partnership with Arusha Technical College has been nurtured through the work of Graham Knipfel, Camosun’s global initiatives lead on the project and John Gordon, Camosun’s Chair of Plumbing, Pipe and Refrigeration Trades. Gordon has collaborated with his Tanzanian counterparts to develop a unique credential program in pipes trades that promises to unlock a generational opportunity for Tanzanian students.

“This isn’t about a Canadian institution giving our curriculum to another country,” says Bell. “It’s about working together by understanding mutual needs and opportunities for collaborative learning and curriculum building. It’s a true partnership.”

The curriculum was jointly developed to prepare Tanzanian students for employment in the country’s burgeoning oil and gas sector as plans are underway for an extensive pipe line project from Uganda through Tanzania.

“The program is very important for the Tanzanian government because with the discovery of oil, there will be jobs,” says Bell. “Tanzania rightly wants to make sure that jobs will be employing Tanzanians without needing to hire people from outside of the country. The reason I went to Arusha was for the grand opening of our joint program and it was amazing.”

Funding for the partnership comes from the Canadian federal government through a grant administered by Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan).

“We applied and Arusha made the selection that they wanted to work with us,” says Bell. “The Tanzanian team has come to Camosun a number of times and John has gone to Arusha.”

Over the course of a week’s visit, Bell embraced a busy itinerary that included meetings with senior academic, government and political leaders and was impressed with Arusha’s commitment to advancing women in trades.

“For me the highlight was the students,” says Bell. “The first day we did a tour and gave certificates to students in a short course on the use of propane. The really cool thing is that most of the people we gave certificates to were young women.”

Throughout the week, Bell noticed that in some of Arusha’s programs there was an almost even ratio of women to men.

“I said to the Rector I’m surprised at this, because this is something we are working on in Canada, and I asked him how they did it.” Bell learned that the Tanzanian government had developed an incentive program several years previously which had led to significant improvements in the gender balance in the classroom.

For the new two-year pipe trades program, the Tanzanian government is continuing to provide incentives for student success.

“In the diploma program there are 25 students and all of them are government sponsored,” explains Bell. “Their tuition and their food and their accommodation is paid for, and because it’s a modularized program, they can stop after a year and work or stay in full-time. These are very highly rated students and it’s a very popular program that provides opportunities for the best of the best.”

While in Africa, Bell took vacation time to visit Zanzibar’s historic city of Stone Town and to participate on a safari in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area—a UNESCO world heritage site.

“I couldn’t believe how close we got to very large animals, who were absolutely unfazed by our vehicles,” she says. “Our guide was excellent and very knowledgeable. He was very careful in not treating animals in a way that would be detrimental to them and to people or the environment.” Awakening early one morning, Bell learned just how close the animals would come. “We stayed in tented camps and we had a male lion walk through our camp, right past my tent. I didn’t see it I was asleep fortunately but I heard about it the next morning.”

At Arusha, Bell visited classrooms and led workshops for Arusha’s executive team.

“They wanted me to talk about Camosun and my thoughts on leadership. They were a really good audience and they asked some very good questions,” she says. “I spent the week with the senior leadership group and there was this lovely rapport that developed. They starting using quotes from my workshops and we were all talking and laughing together.”

While the Arusha pipe trades partnership is focussed on training for Tanzanian students in their own country, Bell hopes that the relationships Camosun has cultivated will foster more educational opportunities between Canada and Africa.

“I met a young man in Arusha’s pipes trade program and I looked at his sweatshirt which he’d bought at a local market and I was surprised to see that it said ‘Victoria.’ I said to him: ‘do you know what it says on your shirt, do you know we’re from Victoria?’ And he said ‘no.’”

As Camosun continues to build partnerships with institutions like Arusha, more Tanzanians students will likely learn about Canada and more Canadian students will learn about Africa, leading to many future opportunities to work together.

“It starts by building relationships and having a conversation,“ says Bell.

– Ivan Watson is a strategist with Camosun Communications at their Interurban campus. Email: watsoni@camosun.ca Twitter: @watsonivan

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