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Social Commitment

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Grinnell Corps: Nanjing

If you would like to read quarterly reports from past fellows, please inquire with program associate, Vicki Nolton.

Scholarships and Fellowships

The Office of Social Commitment has responsibility for administering many of the college's scholarship and fellowship application processes. This includes both awards that Grinnell gives as well as national, merit-based scholarships and fellowships. However, some internal scholarships are administered by other offices and departments on campus; if you are looking for a specific opportunity and do not see it listed below, please contact Doug Cutchins for assistance.

An Unusual Reunion

Alumni of Grinnell’s First Year of College Program understand the true value of a liberal arts education.

The incarcerated students in the prison-based program face strong competition. If accepted, they take rigorous courses taught by Grinnell faculty members. The accredited program is equivalent to an introductory year at Grinnell, and prepares the students for further higher education upon their release.

Several alumni from the program joined their professors and student mentors at Grinnell College’s Reunion.

They shared their experiences and the change the program made in their lives.

Ricky Miller

All the things that I've learned in the Grinnell program have been transferable.

I took an electrical vocational course and got nothing out of it. I can wire a house, but it didn't change the way I felt about life.

When I got transferred to Newton, I took a class and it made me question every book I ever read. It changed the whole way I see life.

After this program, I feel like there's nothing I can't do. I can learn anything. It's really knocked down all the barriers. I don't fear anything at this point.

Kyle Orth

[The program] teaches you how to learn. Bottom line.

The prison system tries to deal with behavior extrinsically. They use either punishment or incentives to try to change people. But I think the truest way to try to change behavior is to change the way people think and feel and believe.

Where vocational classes deal with the external, liberal arts deals with the internal. And that's the biggest thing for me. It's dealt with my heart, and the way I see the world, and my filters.

Michael Cosby

My speech class taught me how to speak to 50 people, so one is a breeze.

[With] poetry you learn how to put sentences together. Your grammar is better; your structure's better.

Statistics helps me with everything. I got [a position with a robotics company] because I could tell the correlation between the x, y, and z axes better than anyone who had ever applied. They said, "Do you even know how to run a robot?" I said, "No, but I’ll give it a shot."

Literary analysis? If you give it to me, I'm going to tear it apart and get my own opinion of it, my own facts for my own self. It teaches you how to think.

My liberal arts education opened avenues. I didn't know what I was learning would be that valuable until I got out. And I tell people that. It's me against y'all, and I'm not losing.

Josh Anderson:

When I first applied, I thought I was wasting everyone's time, including my own.

Through all the classes, my approach to prison life completely changed. It helped prepare me for when I was released.

Now I'm going to Kirkwood, and I stride through those halls to get to class. I'm not at all intimidated. And I'm very grateful for the program.

I knew I needed to change my life, and if it weren't for the program I guarantee that I would not be here. I would not have this attitude. I can't say thanks enough to everybody.

Jim Mayfield

A liberal arts education teaches you to think and find knowledge on your own.

In everyday life, it teaches you a different way of looking at everything that's coming at you. There are learning experiences all the time. It doesn't have to be in school. You don't have to be in a classroom. You can pick up a book.

Like Mike said, literary analysis — how to pick things apart, different ways to look at things and form your own opinion. It teaches you to think and different ways to look at the world, which you don't get with just knowledge.

The Liberal Arts in Prison Program, which oversees the First Year of College Program, is one of Grinnell’s most popular programs with students and faculty alike.

For this fall’s First Year of College Program, three Grinnell professors are teaching courses on ancient Greek literature, college writing, and statistics.

Approximately 40 Grinnell students will teach not-for-credit workshops on topics such as philosophy, computer literacy, psychology, and ecology, and tutor writing and math at the Newton Correctional Facility, Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, and the Iowa Juvenile Home.

Column 1

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


As the Rooster Crows: News from the Mountain Kingdom

Co-Authored with Rachel Glass, Grinnell Corps: Lesotho, 2010-11

Each morning at 7:40am, girls in their blue dresses and blue jerseys pour out of classrooms, laughing and chatting amongst themselves, into the walkway and towards the school hall. Minutes later, amid sounds of roosters and the gentle clanging of cow bells is the hum of 500 adolescent girls in a low chorus of hail marys. As the teachers look on from atop the stage at the front of the room, the girls voices raise into Lesotho’s national anthem, silence for the morning’s biblical passage, and bellow out once more for the hymn of the day. Before being dismissed, the girls greet the teachers in unison: GOOD MORNING TEACHERS! (yes, good morning) HOW ARE YOU TEACHERS? (we are fine, thank you, how are you?) WE ARE VERY WELL, THANK YOU TEACHERS! And, thus the day begins.

St. Rodrigue High School, where two members of the graduating class have been granted Grinnell Corps fellowships for about the past thirteen years, is located in the rural highlands of Lesotho. Surrounded by mountains, accessible by a temperamental bus on eroding dirt roads, sits the house of BoGrinnell, (Bo, meaning many) where the Grinnell fellows, beginning with George and Sue Drake as Peace Corps volunteers, have called home. Filled with old postcards, years of lesson plans, and items you would find in any high street house live the remnants of its many inhabitants. This piece of Grinnell provides comfort and regeneration for us before we set out, with the crowing roosters, to greet the girls at morning assembly.

Morning assembly is just the beginning. All day the girls study ten to thirteen different subjects, sitting diligently in their seats, as the teachers move from room to room. Yet, at the end of the day, many of the girls pursue the joy of seeing their name printed in the newspaper and literary magazine. Unfortunately, despite prolific submission, the magazine rarely gets printed. A lack of electricity, a shortage of paper, and a general lack of resources means that publication is an uphill battle. Last week, all their prayers were answered; the February/March issue of the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine miraculously made its appearance. Thursday at lunch, the club gathered in the library, surprised beyond belief at the stack of printed paper awaiting their arrival. After shrieking with glee, calling their friends away from the lunchboxes to examine their hard work, the girls commenced folding and stapling the booklets. At this point, the fact that each copy received only half as many staples as necessary seemed irrelevant.

The difficulty with which printing occurs, the utter joy writing and inspecting their work provides the girls, and a desire to connect St. Rodrigue more deeply with the Grinnell community led us to think about sharing our thoughts and the writing of some of the students in the S&B. Not many people at Grinnell have even heard of this little school in the Mountain Kingdom, but for most of the girls at St. Rodrigue, Grinnell is all they know of Higher Education in the US. The connection that has long existed between these two institutions provides an opportunity for the St. Rodrigue girls to have their writing published and their perspectives heard. And, it gives Grinnell students the unique opportunity to listen! In this column, we hope to give a window into the lives of these girls through their own words—via articles, poems, and stories.

For our first column, we asked the girls to write about themselves, their families or their school. We asked them to consider that the people reading their article would be largely unfamiliar with Lesotho. Piti Nthabiseng is a Form E (which is equivalent to 12th grade) who chose to write about herself. She says “I want people to know about me and the way I have grown up and the difficulties I have met in life.”

As years roll like the wheels of a car, I thought things would change. But to my surprise, only a few of them have changed and the majority of things have remained the same.

My father was a farmer. He used to plant crops like maize, green peppers and vegetables and sell them to shops like Fruit and Veg and Mokotso in Maseru. That was the way he worked to pay all expenses for the family. Sometimes when it was not raining, he could not plant crops and life was difficult because we even slept without food.

When I was for years old, I went for pre-school and when I was six I was in Standard one at Tsepo English Medium in Maseru. In those days life changed because my father was able to pay for transport, food and school fees. I went to this school until I wrote my Standard 7. I wished life would not change.

I passed my Grade 7 with second class [students in Lesotho are assigned classes based on how well they perform on their exams] and went to Tsepo Secondary School. I was in secondary with my sister and my father had to pay a lot now. He paid for our books, school fees, transport and also for my younger sister in primary school. Happiness became an enemy to my soul when things changed again.

As time went on, I had to be in Grade 11 but there was no money for books because the books were so expensive. I had to sit at home for a year. My heart was charged with sorrow when I saw my age-mates going to school. I began to be thin because of sitting at home and not going to school. Life was really difficult at home.

My father was still doing farming but also began to do welding and cutting and life changed a little bit now. He made gates for doors and windows, and repaired wheelbarrows and things made of metals. He then told me to be prepared for going to school the next year and I was happy and happiness carried me to the top of Mount Everest.

I did my high school at St. Rodrigue High School in 2009 and in 2010 I am doing my grade 12. My father bought me all the books and paid all the fees for me. I did not believe what was happening but thoughts came to my mind as quick as lightning that it was a blessing from God.

Life was difficult for me till now but I hope it will be better if I continue to be educated.

For the girls at St. Rodrigue, who walk hours to school or live in a dorm far from their families, education is a serious subject. Nthabiseng says that the difficulties she has encountered have influenced her concern about her education. For many, practical reasons cause St. Rodrigue to be the end of their formal education.

However, for some students, like Nthabiseng, higher education is a desired and possible next step. As Grinnell is often one of the only examples of higher education at St. Rodrigue other than the National University of Lesotho, and one that stands in front of them every day at assembly, it is brought up by girls who are interested in furthering their studies.

As Grinnell Corps Fellows, we not only stand in front of them looking beau-TEE-ful (as the girls say) at assembly, we naturally bring our Grinnell education into the classroom. Among our experienced colleagues, our teaching styles stick out, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. This week, in As the Rooster Crows, we would like to end on a “for better”: Nthabiseng says, “I have met many teachers from Grinnell and I love the way they teach and the way they talk about Grinnell.” She says this has led her to consider Grinnell as the ideal place to continue her commitment to her own education.

Grinnell is a long way from Lesotho in many, many ways. But, the bottom line is that girls like Nthabiseng are concerned with their education and how they are going to use it. These issues pepper the pages of the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine and impact our interactions with the girls on a daily basis.

Column 2

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 | By Anonymous (not verified)


As the Rooster Crows: News from St. Rodrigue High School

Co-Authored with Rachel Glass, Grinnell Corps: Lesotho, 2010-11


Your clothes are red,

Covering all your body,

But that gives us sign,

You mean you are Dangerous

Who are you?

Standing akimbo,

On the Thabana-Ntlenyana,

The highest mountain

To see all the youth,

Who are you?

You wait for the partners to come together.

Then you are there,

You run after wounds washed without gloves,

You ran after babies being born,

You are there in hospitals, hotels and different places

So, who are you?

When the blood comes in contact

You come again and destroy everything.

You are carrying the virus on your back.

Your name and virus has spread,

The world abroad has your story

But, who are you?

Knowers of your name

Call you AIDS

Really, who are you?

One hundred percent of people

In your world at large are dead.

You start by destroying blood vessels in the bodies

You make our self an obstacle in our lives

Then you say we must care

Why must we?

Though your name is known

Don't be happy that you are notorious.

When shall you come to an end?

Oh! Dear,

Wise up, be aware of him,

Have an idea and make a decision.

Be careful so that he may not come

Between you and your partner.


This poem, by Mpati Pheane (a student in Form D, equivalent to 11th grade), was one of the first submissions to the St. Rodrigue Literary Magazine in February 2010 and appeared in print this past August. The author said that she wrote this poem in order to make students at St. Rodrigue High School more aware of HIV/AIDS. In doing so, she has brought up another issue that strongly affects our students but that is actually not widely discussed.

While these figures are likely a little out-of-date and inexact because they represent self-reported data from the start of the school year, Sister Armelina Tsiki, our principal, believes that about 121 of the girls are single orphans (they have lost one parent), and another 52 girls are double orphans (they have lost both parents). Exactly how many are HIV/AIDS related deaths is actually unknown due to a pervasive fear of testing. However, considering that Lesotho has the third highest prevalence rate in the world (CIA World Factbook), it is assumed that a high proportion of these deaths are likely linked to HIV/AIDS.

Despite the number of girls that have lost parents here, recently, the school had a Parent's Weekend to which each girl was required to bring a parent, under threat of expulsion. Upon hearing this, we were...perplexed. This seemed to be not only impossible but highly insensitive. What we learned that day is that when the girls refer to their parents, what they mean is any type of parental figure in their life; milling about the classrooms and walkways of our school were mostly grandmothers and siblings. If you talked to the girls or read their compositions, it would be difficult to ascertain which of our girls are these single and double orphans; many live in the hostel away from their families and talk about someone in their life as their parent. For example, we were introduced to one girl's mother, who turned out to be a nun. In the United States, when we hear the word “orphan” we think of someone living alone and without a family, whereas here in Lesotho, an orphan just implies someone who is living without their birth parents. Lesotho only has one orphanage—children here who have lost parents are usually taken in without question.

HIV/AIDS is a huge problem here, and while Mpati's poem illustrates some awareness, it is not an issue that is widely discussed at St. Rodrigue High School. We were interested in hearing how our girls think about this issue, as it affects nearly everyone. So we asked them if they felt ok about exploring this subject for our next column. All of the girls present seemed interested in writing with the goal of educating people in Grinnell about how HIV/AIDS has impacted Lesotho. The girls came back with textbook-like facts describing the virus. For example:

Lesotho is now in a desperate social and economic situation. The AIDS pandemic is now clearly visible all over the country.

Lesotho is experiencing the big problem of many orphans whose parents have died and they don't have the opportunity to receive adequate education to rebuild and maintain their own families in the future.

While these things are true, they don't show the thoughts of the girls nor touch upon how they might be personally dealing with the consequences of this “AIDS pandemic”. These types of articles, coming from girls who ordinarily revel in writing about themselves and their thoughts was surprising. While the girls are knowledgeable about the facts, they are almost always hesitant to make it a personal issue, even though it already is. At our next meeting we discussed how to best explain the effects of HIV/AIDS to an audience, such as Grinnell, that does not interact with it on a daily basis. We came to agree that an effective way of teaching/learning about HIV/AIDS is through stories. As Mpati wrote: “When I think about this disease I feel upset and worried. For us to change our lives from AIDS we should understand things like stories about it.” This is a story subsequently written by Puseletso Lepelesana, another club member:

HIV/AIDS is brutal to people, all the world is crying because of it. In my village there was a person called Ts'otleho. He lost parents and became a double orphan at an early age.

When he was 9 years, his mother died of HIV/AIDS after that his father also died, so that left Ts'otleho a double orphan.

It was difficult for him to attend school because he lived with his uncle who was living in extreme poverty. Sometimes he went to school without food, sometimes, his teacher sent him home due to unpaid school fees. After he had passed Form E, his uncle also died due to HIV/AIDS.

Ts'otleho was adopted by one of the villagers who treated him badly. When he came from work he looked after cattle and cooked, but the villager did not appreciate the effort he made. Ts'otleho's unhappy childhood was due to HIV/AIDS.

The stories they brought back are important illustrations about how HIV/AIDS affects the Basotho people, but we noticed that none of the people mentioned were particularly close to the author. Thus, the stories still didn't include the first person. We discussed once again, and sent them back to the grind stone, encouraging them, if they were comfortable, to put themselves into their accounts. Nteboheleng Tohlang wrote about her own thoughts, saying:

When I think about HIV I feel ashamed and angry because it kills most of the people who are infected. Work that was done by older people is now left in the hands of young children who have to take care of themselves. Now my own life has changed because I know how I can treat HIV so that I could live for a long time if I had it. People should change the way they look at HIV and take advice from radios and newspapers and from other people.

And, at the end of the week, this is how Nits'eliseng Sepoqouane's article had developed:

Long time ago when I think of HIV I was feeling very frightened and confused because it was reappeared as a disease which is not acceptable to the people. Nowadays my thoughts have changed because of the workshop that I used to attend.

Moreover I realize that many people are dying of HIV. The reason is that they hide their status. Earlier, infected people were discriminated against and therefore they are still afraid of being discriminated against. I find it amazing that many choose to die instead of knowing their status. Because, there are some treatments to help them.

To prove what I have written about the people that hide their status, let me tell you a short story:

At my home village, there was a woman that was very ill. She took five years before she went to the hospital. Because of her illness, the doctor advised her to test for the HIV. She tested and she found that she tested positive. But when she arrived home, she did not tell he mother who was taking care of her that she was positive. Then her mother took care of her without precautions and she inffected her. She also infected her baby because she was breast feeding at that time. Her mother and her both died. The baby only left and her sister took care of her. The fact that they treated him badly because his mother's status makes me to be annoyed because he is also infected. And they discriminate against him.

This column presents to you only the beginning of the story of HIV/AIDS in Lesotho and at St. Rodrigue. Over the past week, our discussions with the girls prompted us to have even more questions than when we began. In our next column, we will explore some of those questions more, as well as the clinic at St. Rodrigue, and the resources that are available to our students.

Day in the Life

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:23 | By Anonymous (not verified)

If I haven't been awakened by the roosters already, my alarm gets me up about 6:30. I used to get up closer to 6:00 and go jogging with Ali twice a week, but I've gotten lazy and its getting to cold for me to jog. If it was sunny the day before, there's the chance of warm water for a bath. Sometimes when it hasn't gotten too cold the night before, we both get a bath. Otherwise, we've fallen into a more or less alternating day schedule on hygiene.

Then I get to making breakfast. Usually I grate a couple of potatoes and make myself hashbrowns topped with an egg, overeasy, and pour a cup of tea or coffee. Once in a while I'll break out oatmeal or make porridge with maize-meal.

After breakfast I rifle through the stack of clothes that seems to perpetually reside on the second bed in my room and find something I've only worn a couple of times. (When laundry has to be done by hand, it gets done less often.) I slip on the $3.00 watch I bought on the street in Maseru into my pocket. (I quickly discovered why it cost me $3.00-the band fell off the second day I had it and it gains about 5 minutes every week or two.)

At about 7:30 or 7:45 I make the three minute trek to school and get my desk in the staff room in order before assembly at 8:00. Assembly is the daily gathering of all the students and teachers in the main hall for the recitation of the rosary, the national anthem (in three part harmony) a Bible reading, a Sesotho hymn, and the pledge to the cross which bears a striking resemblance to the pledge of allegiance. Following assembly we all file out, the students head to their respective classrooms and we go back to the staff room until 8:25 when the first period begins. (I'll include my time table at the end). We break for tea at 10:25 and lunch at noon. The students either bring a lunch or make their own at the hostel. We teachers all go home for lunch.

At the beginning of any given class that I teach, the students all rise as soon as I enter the room. I greet the class, they greet me in unison. Then they launch into a brief prayer at the end of which I say they may be seated and class begins. Also, throughout class, whenever a student speaks, she stands at her desk.

Classes end at 3:00 pm except on Fridays, and from 3-3:30 the students have free time. At 3:30 the students go to an hour long study hall (except on Wednesdays and Fridays-Wednesdays alternate between clubs and sports during that time and Fridays everyone is done at 2:20 so people can catch the bus at 3:00 to Maseru.)

On Mondays, many of the Form B's come over to our house after study hall for silent reading. Ali and I have started a reading club where students can earn stickers, candy, and prizes for reading books from the library. Tuesday after study hall is the Form A's turn. On sports Wednesdays I spend from 3:30 to 5 coaching our own rag-tag, but very enthusiastic, soccer team. Not only am I on the esteemed sports committee, I'm the head soccer coach. It remains to be seen whether we will play a real game this year. On Thursdays from 4-5 I tutor the son of one of the nurses in physics. His name is Liteboho, pronounced dee-tay-bo-hoe, who completed high school last year but would like to try for a higher score on the Cambridge exam in November. And on Fridays Ali and I make a ritual hike to Mpontane, a village about a 25 minute walk away to buy two large, cold Castle lagers and a couple liters of Coke.

Typically we spend our evenings working on assignments cooking dinner, and reading or playing cribbage. Periodically we'll visit another teacher or have some of them over for dinner and on Mondays as soon as the generator comes on, Violet the daughter of our neighbor and colleague Me Libe (dee-bay) comes over for our weekly Sesotho lesson. Violet is a student in Form D, but she's 23 with a little girl of 4 years, named Zanele (zah-nell). She finished school, or dropped out, 6 years ago and got married. Now she's back to try to improve her Cambridge marks so she can go to college. Like her mother, she's a lot of fun and her daughter, who often visits, is quite the cute little girl.

On the weekends that we stay home, we often play kickball or basketball with the other teachers and students. The teachers really like kickball. Or we tend our small garden plot where we are attempting to grow pumpkin, beans, peas, cabbage, garlic, radishes, and carrots. The soil's not so good and we don't weed enough, but we've had successes here and there. Before all the peaches disappeared with the onset of autumn, we would spend a lot of time peeling peaches so we could can and dry them. We're now the proud owners of 6 jars of canned peaches and innumerable dried peach slices.

The generator usually kicks off about 9:30 and we are left in darkness save the little light we get from our candles and paraffin lamp, so I'm often in bed before 10:00. And if I'm lucky, the cows and dogs and ducks and chickens that roam all over will choose to make their nightly racket somewhere besides right outside my window and I'll get an unheard of in my college days 9 hours of sleep.

So I'm constantly staying busy, but enjoying the simplicity of things here. Its nice to look at the night sky when there are no lights for 50 miles and its nice to buy milk from a neighbor when its still warm from the cow.

Well this has turned more into a week in the life of Ian Besse, so I'll stop here. Hope this gives you a better idea of when life is like for me these days. Much love from Lesotho.

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
7:45         E Physics
8:25 B3 English E Physics B3 Lit A1 English B3 Lit
9:05 B3 Lit B3 English B2 English   B2 English
9:45 B2 Lit B3 English A1 English B3 English  
10:40 A1 English     B2 Lit  
11:20 A1 English A1 English      
1:00     B3 English E Physics A1 English
1:40   B2 English B3 English E Physics B2 Lit
2:20 B2 English B2 English   B2 English Early Out