Advocacy in Africa
Students document life in Ghana on study‐abroad trip.
David Wettroth had never been on an airplane before. He’d never even been in an airport. But he didn’t want to let that stop him from going on a faculty‐led study‐abroad trip to Ghana during the 2013–14 winter break. Participants would get hands‐on production experience creating videos for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) about their mission. For Wettroth, a junior film studies and communication major from St. Louis, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Wettroth made his connections in St. Louis, Ontario and Frankfurt before realizing he made a mistake when booking his flight to Ghana: He arrived in Ghana’s capital, Accra, two days before the rest of the group (his luggage eventually showed up four days later). But Wettroth says the experiences he had during the next three weeks made up for the bumpy takeoff.
Before deploying the four students to their partner organizations, professors Valerie Kaussen and Monika Fischer educated them on Ghanaian society and culture as well as the ethical stakes of documenting what they were going to see: “What does it mean to be the person to have the camera, to have more money and have choices versus what does it mean to be the person that is the object of study or the video being made,” Kaussen says.
Kaussen, associate professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature, studies how NGOs and humanitarian organizations use media to promote their message and communicate with donors. Fischer, associate teaching professor in the German and Russian studies department and associate director of the Honors College, researches digital storytelling.
In Ghana, Wettroth worked at the Human Rights Advocacy Centre creating a handbook for internal and external communications and providing social media strategies — if the target of a Facebook post is American donors, keep in mind the six‐hour time difference. He also helped edit four videos, including one where Ghanaians were asked to define human rights. Wettroth says he was surprised by how many people were unable to answer the question. One of the center’s goals is to increase human rights awareness in Ghana.
“A lot of the education that comes out of this type of experience happens after the fact,” Kaussen says. “When you’re in it, it’s so overwhelming and intense, and you have a job to do. Reflecting on it later is when some of these realizations about one’s position on the subject matter come out more strongly.”
After returning from Ghana, one of Wettroth’s new goals is to educate his peers about what he saw in Africa. “There are misconceptions about Africa,” he says, such as the mistaken beliefs that everyone lives in huts and encounters with elephants are common. Wettroth wants to use the video production skills he honed in Ghana to inform MU students about the realities of Africa.
“I think it would be cool to work with the International Center on a campaign to minimize the stereotypes MU students have of Africa,” Wettroth says. “There is a lot going on in Africa besides safaris. There is a lot of culture.”