Monday, February 19, 2007

Speaking English, Making Friends

Talk to just about everyone in the command structure at Camp Lemonier and you will quickly learn one of the main core missions of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is, "helping Africans help Africa."

Dozens of CJTF-HOA programs (some officially organized and others volunteer) from well digging to pick-up basketball games at a local boy’s orphanage reinforce this message. We witnessed a small taste Sunday night.

Once a week, roughly half-a-dozen CJTF-HOA volunteers wearing civilian clothing pile into a small van and make their way to the Horn of Africa School of Language for an evening of interaction with students known as the "English Discussion Group” or EDG.

The school, situated about two blocks from a main thoroughfare, is a crumbling concrete building with three cramped classrooms. Students in this private school are learning English. On this night, approximately 20 male and female advanced students ranging in age from 14-to-20, participate in the EDG to improve their language skills by having direct interaction with Americans.

Each discussion is organized around a topic. Sunday night's topic: women in sports. For 90 minutes, a spirited discussion between the students and the men and women from CJTF-HOA takes place.

90 minutes is certainly not enough time to bridge the American-Djiboutian cultural divide. But it is just enough time for the CJTF-HOA members to present the friendly face of America.

The short interaction also provides immediate results for the students of the Horn of Africa School of Language. When we returned to our hotel after the EDG, one of the night clerks greeted us in perfect English as he thanked us for attending his class earlier in the evening.

--Kristin McHugh

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