Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) program. During his stay, Underwood taught history classes to teenagers, helped construct facilities affiliated with an orphanage and visited points of interest in the east African nation and Kilimanjaro region.
As CULP cadre, Underwood supervised 12 ROTC cadets from around the United States participating in CULP during their stay in Moshi, Tanzania. Their placement was arranged through Cross-Cultural Solutions, a non-profit organization not affiliated with the U.S. military that arranges volunteer service to communities abroad. With undergraduate and master’s degrees in history, Underwood was assigned to teach that subject at the House of Learning, a school established by an affluent couple to help the area’s disenfranchised children. The school is structured with Forms 1 though 4 with Form 1 being the youngest students and Form 4 the oldest.
“I began with colonial history of Africa, specifically east Africa for Forms 3 and 4,” he said. “I made lesson plans and delivered the classes in English and there was always an instructor present to bridge the language barrier. About 75 percent of my students had either lost a parent to AIDS or had AIDS themselves. In Tanzania, there is a lot of HIV and AIDS. Moshi is historically a market town just a few miles from Kenya where there is a huge intersection of trade routes, a lot of exchange of cultures and such. There are many social problems and conditions are right for human trafficking.”
In Tanzania, state schools are free but students are required to wear uniforms, which many children who have only one parent or no parents at all can’t afford. Previous CCS volunteers returned to their home country and started a Friends of House of Learning non-profit group to help them.
“It’s pretty bad. The students can’t go to the public school because they don’t have the clothes or money. Some students haven’t eaten or they come to school wearing the same clothes day after day. They feed them during the break, so for some kids that is the only time they get to eat,” he said. “They live in abject poverty, but they are smart and have an eagerness to learn.”
Underwood’s cadets were assigned to other projects, working in schools, orphanages and medical clinics. The U.S. Army wants its officer corps to be culturally astute, he explained, and CULP is the military’s language and culture immersion program designed to offer cadets experiences with indigenous people outside the United States. Cadets learn to at least minimally understand the region, culture and language of a place in order to navigate, survive and avoid cultural insults.
“It was a great opportunity. The cadets are placed in leadership positions and are evaluated on how they carry out their tasks,” Underwood said.
Cadets selected for CULP complete an application process that includes an essay and a cultural awareness/language competency pre-test. They must meet all requirements for active deployment, undergo a series of vaccinations and complete several areas of training in antiterrorism awareness, isolation preparation, human trafficking, area of responsibility training and Survival/Evasion/Resistance/Escape (SERE). Two cadre – military science professors – oversee each group of cadets. LTC Scott Copeland of Auburn University joined Underwood in supervising the cadets.
“One cadet who is African American had visited Africa with his family, but none of the others had ever been outside the United States or done a volunteer mission. It made them realize the world is different outside Norman, Okla., or New York. It opens their eyes to the world,” he said. “We tend to take for granted everything we have, especially young people. Free education, food on the table, clothes. It’s just not like that everywhere. Here, you have the ability to do what you want to do. The sky is the limit. Our American dream holds true here but it’s not like that everywhere. It’s a humbling experience for the cadets.”
“They are trying to implement reforms to bring their country into the modern world, in spite of a generally apathetic national attitude. It’s very different from a Western mentality where time is money. ‘Hakuna matata’ is a Swahili phrase. That’s OK but it’s not good business,” he said. “Their borders are secure and they are trying to increase trade. It’s a huge agricultural area, but a very local market. Moshi is the breadbasket of Tanzania, even though it shares the Serengeti with Kenya, but the area around Kilimanjaro is volcanic soil with water from the snowmelt from the mountain to feed the agricultural area.”
One healthy industry, thanks to Kilimanjaro, is tourism. With weekends free, the volunteers were at liberty to explore the area, touring a coffee plantation, Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and safari in the Ngorongoro Crater, where they saw elephants, lions, warthogs, giraffes and hippos. They also visited villages and museums of the native Maasai and Chaga tribes, who maintain traditional practices, dress and rituals, learning about the history and culture of those ethnic groups.
The group was housed at a compound provided CCS that had water, electricity and an outdoor kitchen, but where residents washed dishes and clothes by hand, ironing the dry clothes to kill parasitic fruit fly larvae that can embed itself into flesh.
“For me, it was good to get out and do something outside my comfort zone. The Army gave me the opportunity to do it and I’m glad I did,” Underwood said.
“I could see it in the cadets’ eyes,” Underwood said. “They were talking with the volunteers to come up with plans for helping the kids. They were involved in a construction project at an orphanage that housed 72 kids. They organized a group of volunteers to help mix concrete on the ground, clear trees by hand and pour three slabs for the school and kitchen of the orphanage. Its so exciting for me to see cadets take ownership of the project and help those people.”