case western reserve university



Hough boys to experience the classroom of Africa

Sharon Milligan
Sharon Milligan

Nine teenage boys from Cleveland's Hough neighborhood have earned a rite of passage that gives them a ticket for a 10-day trip to Kenya and Tanzania.

Sharon Milligan, a Case associate professor of social work and co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change at the Mandel School of Social Sciences, will travel with the young men from the Fatima Family Center on Lexington Avenue as they participate in the International Partners in Mission (IPM) immersion experience.

As the African proverb goes, it takes a whole village to educate a child. In this case, villagers from Cleveland's community helped. The Bruening Foundation funded the trip, organized by IPM—a Cleveland Heights-based, interfaith, international organization. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation provided the required vaccinations like tetanus and yellow fever for travel to western Africa. Cleve Gilmore, Case dean of the Mandel School, has supplied some Case shirts as well as given Milligan the time to travel.

"As Case thinks about internationalism and connecting to the inner city, this is the kind of experience young people need," said Milligan. "This exploration helps them build a notion of going to school to learn more about math and science. It broadens their world."

The trip has been Milligan's dream for years. She wanted to recreate the transforming experiences that she had as a college student and later with adults and children from the suburbs.

After conducting needs assessments for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, Milligan said she realized the young men could use this kind of experience to see how others lived and bring back that knowledge to their own communities to make changes or to help through programs like IPM's in developing countries. IPM, which was founded by Lutheran missionaries in 1974, has partner projects in El Salvador, India, Kenya and Nicaragua.

Milligan has worked closely with Fatima Center's Executive Director LaJean Ray. "We were committed to making this program happen," Milligan said.

Until all the pieces of the trip were in place, it was kept as a surprise for the young men between 13 and 17 years old, who enrolled in the 10-month Passages program focused on building character and responsibility through educational and civic activities.

In December, after the two women were certain the excitement of the trip would not be the motivational force for performing and fulfilling the Passages Program requirements, they let the young men know.

"They had to earn this trip through their actions and commitment," said Milligan.

The boys have been busy learning the statistics about Kenya, but Milligan cannot wait to see their reactions first hand.

"I just want to see the lights go on when they connect what they have learned with what they are seeing," she said.

According to Milligan, the students will leave all their electronic gear like CD players and iPods at home. "I want them to use their eyes, ears and noses to experience the trip."

She plans to have them reflect about their experiences in their journals and their turn at the special reflection chair, where each member of the trip will have an opportunity to express verbally what they have encountered during the day and use it as a spring board for others to join in the conversation.

Plenty of eye-opening experiences will provide discussion topics, including the visit to Fort Jesus Museum, an old slave trade site in Mombasa.

After the group's arrival in Nairobi, Kenya, they will visit VViEW, an education project for rural Kenyan women; A.I.C. Kajiado Primary School, a rescue project for girls from early forced marriages and a program that is an IPM partner; Okekajiado Boys High School where each Cleveland boy will have a photo of his home and the Fatima Center on display to spark an exchange of conversations about American and African life; a safari to Amboseli National Park in Kenya and Tsavo West National Park in Tanzania; and DeedNet Orphanage on their final full day in Nairobi.

The group returns to Cleveland February 28.


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.