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Co-op education in Botswana

June 1, 2007

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By Barry Shell

For many of us, reading about AIDS and HIV is enough, but not for Kayla Donnawell. She has to throw herself right into the middle of it. "I wanted to learn about HIV/AIDs and how it affects people and I wanted to get out of the Western view and be there and see what it really was," says Donnawell, who just returned from a co-op education term working in an AIDS hospice in Botswana.

Donnawell, who is graduating with a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology, says Botswana has the world’s second-highest rate of HIV infection. (Swaziland is #1.) She went to Africa with a group called Students Without Borders, administered by World University Service of Canada.

At the hospice, Donnawell helped orphaned children living seven to a room. She also assisted a dying woman who had been reduced to living skeletal remains. "I could count every rib on her body," says Donnawell who still winces at the memory of the woman’s pain.

Now, she’s interested in pursuing either a master’s degree in public health or medical school.

This was not Donnawell’s only SFU co-op experience. She completed a stint as a research assistant for the Divers Alert Network in Durham, N.C. and worked in the Cayman Islands to collect data about stingrays.

Originally from the small farming town of Balgonie, Sask. near Regina, Donnawell saw SFU as a first step on an adventure to see more of the world.

Donnawell says the SFU co-op program offers endless possibilities. According to her, university is not just coming to class and walking out with a degree in four years. "It’s so much more than that," she says. "You just have to be willing to try new things and be open to new ideas." She suggests getting involved in athletics, or working in a research lab, and of course there’s co-op. "It’s the ultimate educational experience," says Donnawell. "I’ll never forget it."

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