As one might say to encourage students to study abroad or enter the global development industry, if you are not ready to travel to another country, go to western Oklahoma. If you are not ready to bear western Oklahoma, go to Tulsa—they always need help in Tulsa.
Just for a frame of reference, I am talking about a Texan lecturing at University of Arkansas, in the northwest portion of the latter state.
As someone with family and memory ties to the Oklahoma panhandle, if the lecture was less of a formal situation, I would have said something quirky. Pretend to be offended-like.
Glen Shinn, Texas A&M University professor emeritus and Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture senior scientist, discussed trends in global development. His presentation entitled, “If it’s broken, let’s fix it! A new model for agriculture, food and science,” also shared his experiences in the Middle East.
Shinn said working abroad requires trust with the community. Without collaboration from a respected leader, the community will likely not participate in a development project.
“We’re establishing a relationship, and we can’t reestablish it,” Shinn said. “That is the baseline where we start. It starts very, very slow and disappears very fast.”
In the Middle East, Shinn said he met 21 widows who knew how to grow crops but not how to market them. In 2007, the women on average made $300. With collaboration from Shinn’s group, the women averaged $700 in 2008 and $900 in 2009.
Shinn said there were other projects he could have gotten involved with, but without good policies there will likely not be proper development. If a good project does not have good policy, Shin said he “walked away.”
“A balance scale has to have equal weight,” Shinn said. “One good policy and one good project balance. One poor policy and one good project is a failure. One good policy and one poor project is a failure. You got to have balance.”
From my most coveted position in the auditorium between a wall and the video camera that anyone wider or less flexible than me at the torso would not be able to reach, I appreciated how Shinn and his business partners would work with the culture instead of forcing a situation.
In addition to Shinn’s presentation, three students highlighted their recent international experiences, including one student that had nothing to do with the usual connotations of international development.
James Ardis, an English major with a creative writing concentration, traveled to Mozambique. He said at first he was not sure how
creative writing could contribute to improving lives in Africa, but then he said he realized the value of poetry.
“I taught them poetry,” Ardis said. “Poetry is selective in its words. It must be well thought out. They find a sense of empathy that bleeds into their everyday life.”
This could be considered two forms of peace and improved livelihood. The widows have their camaraderie and higher incomes. Anyone who has lived with money troubles can appreciate the relief that comes with financial security, let alone achieving it with those you rely on. To many, poetry soothes the soul, especially in troubling times. It’s an escape when you can’t fix your troubles and, if you are the artsy type, it is fun when you don’t have troubles.
I am still not sure why Shinn was making fun of Oklahoma. I thought Texas was supposed to be “like another country.” Maybe it’s a neighborly-jest, such as how many Americans make fun of Canadians.
And I’m Canadian.