Sitting on some of the richest, most underdeveloped mineral deposits in the world, along with untold wealth in commodities such as chocolate, coffee and petroleum, the continent of Africa has the potential for prosperity.
But with all its potential, Africa Society President Bernadette Paulo is worried that all the negative news from the continent, and the general misconception that it is a dangerous place, could hurt not only Africa's own future prosperity, but the United States' economy as well.
In an effort to reach out and educate students about the many positive changes taking place in a continent that is three times the size of the United States, the Africa Society is sponsoring an educational program in Portland and other cities.
On Dec. 9 the society will hold the Teach Africa: Conference for Educators in Portland to present an African educational guide to teachers. The program was implemented for the first time in 2002 in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Area educators will be presented with a curriculum that provides materials in a variety of non-textbook formats, according to Karen Ettinger, K-12 education director for the World Affairs Council of Oregon. The council is helping to facilitate the program with the assistance of Portland State University's African Studies Program; materials also will be provided by the Southern Center for International Studies. Along with social studies classes, the program aims to include African education in nearly every subject, from science to art to music.
Educators are encouraged to register for and attend this free event, where they will be given free curriculum materials valued at over $150. Register at the council's Web site at www.worldoregon.org, following links to the Teach Africa Conference page.
The conference is the second phase of the Teach Africa program; the first phase provided a program overview to school administrators, and a third phase will feature a forum for youth.
Paulo, who has been involved in African/American governmental affairs since 1985, said the society was formed directly out of the National Summit on Africa. After six regional summits and three policy forums, the national summit in 2000 in Washington, D.C. attracted more than 8,000 people — including former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — to discuss African trade, debt relief and AIDS prevention, among others.
Officially formed in 2002, the society has also been working with Discovery Communications, which owns the Discovery Channel, to produce educational television programs about the cultural, political and geographic landscapes of various African countries.
"We're changing the way people think about Africa," Paulo said.
While she admits many parts of Africa — including areas in Chad, Sudan and Somalia — still experience unrest, it is unfair to characterize the entire continent as unstable.
"There's also a different side," she said. The gap between "outdated" curriculums in the United States and the current situation in Africa exists because of a seeming lack of interest in what was once referred to as "the dark continent" in earlier centuries.
The Dec. 9 conference will feature an ambassador from an African country, African experts from higher education facilities in Oregon and Washington, as well as Africans who are living in the community, among others.
"Breakout" sessions will allow educators to focus attention on the four regions of Africa, and a lunch will feature food from East Africa. A session in October targeted area school administrators and featured representatives from Mali as well as visitors from 15 African countries.
Kofi Agorsah, chair of the Black Studies Department at Portland State University, said teaching materials are being collected for use in the Teach Africa curriculum. Both Agorsah and Ettinger also are finding materials that relate to the Portland area — reflecting the local diversity of schools, history and cultural activities as they relate to Africa.
Agorsah, a native of Ghana, said many of the 53 different countries share more similarities than differences, including source materials in either French or English, making the research easier than it might sound.
One of the biggest challenges, said Ettinger, is getting people beyond the narrow-minded view of the continent that many hold as truth. Paulo echoed this statement and said she experienced the gap between education and reality first-hand.
"Increasingly, African leaders are more savvy about business growth and development," Paulo said.