Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dal's Sullivan a Rhodes Scholar candidate

Best of luck to Andrew Sullivan as he is strongly considered for a Rhodes scholarship given his extensive volunteering work, strong academic results and his ability to knock down 3's in the clutch. Great job !!!

Under the African sun Possible Rhodes Scholar learned lots while building orphanage in Uganda

Andrew Sullivan, a fifth-year engineering student, is Dalhousie University’s nominee for a Rhodes Scholarship this year. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff)

AS A POTENTIAL Rhodes Scholar, Andrew Sullivan was smart enough to heed the warnings not to go out at night during a month in Africa.

This year’s Dalhousie University nominee for a Rhodes Scholarship, Sullivan spent more than a month in the Ugandan village of Tabiro during the summer, helping to build an orphanage for children. A four-time academic All-Canadian as a member of the Dal men’s basketball team, Sullivan learned about the charity project from the team chaplain.

"He’s a leader for Navigators (a Christian-based student organization) on the Dalhousie campus and one of their big mandates is community outreach, helping those who need to be helped, and this was one of their efforts," said Sullivan, who’s from Riverview, N.B. "They’ve gone for two or three years now, and built one dorm."

The chaplain and Tigers trainer Jessica Nichols were also part of the group with Sullivan, whose previous international travel was limited to trips to Maine.

"I tried to look into it before I left, renting some documentaries about the country and looked up the United Nations facts and figures on it, so I had an idea of the living conditions and the climate and stuff like that," he said.

"I was hesitant at first because the trip was when I was on my work term, so it was going to mean five weeks (without) pay, plus I didn’t know if it was going to jibe with the co-op program, but everybody was accommodating and let me go."

For Dal coach John Campbell, it wasn’t a surprise to learn that Sully, as the team calls him, was going to volunteer in Africa.

"He’s been a guy who’s played an active role in any of the community activities that we’ve done, volunteered for a lot of different things, so I think it was a natural progression for him, and as an environmental engineering student, it fits into his overall view on life," Campbell said.

"One of the things it shows is that guys in our program aren’t necessarily just basketball players. They’re guys who think about society in terms of different ways to contribute to it."

Like most varsity athletes, Sullivan is very fit. But even a demanding two-hour practice isn’t the same thing as swinging a pick under the African sun.

"The earth there was really, really compacted clay and the only means we had to dig this 3 1/2-foot foundation was a pickaxe, then someone else would come in and shovel it out. That probably comprised one week of the work there," he said.

"It wasn’t as bad as I thought; it was more the intensity of the sun, which would burn your skin really quick. They’d always laugh at us because we’d have to put sunscreen on. They’d call us weak, and they thought they had tough skin. Any time we went in the city the smog was different from the smog here — it was so oppressive I had to wear a handkerchief all the time. They burn garbage in the streets; they didn’t have any waste removal or sanitation."

The orphanage Sullivan’s group was helping to build has 350 residents. The volunteers also did some teaching in local schools, where English is the language of instruction, and visited churches in the countryside around Tabiro to help out there.

"They always prepared gifts for us and this one village had a whole lot of gifts, including four live chickens, two live goats and all different kinds of fruits and vegetables. We only had this 14-passenger van . . . so we had to put (the animals) under the seats, just tie their hooves up and put them in there.

"We didn’t tell all the people who were coming in the van, so we’d hit a bump and a chicken would squawk or a goat would make whatever noise it makes, and people like Jess would squeal when they realized there was a live animal right underneath them," remembered Sullivan.

"The living conditions aren’t great. . . . There’s a huge gap between the rich and the poor. You see the houses on the side of the hill that these rich guys live in, and then these villages are literally just shanties with clay walls. It’s like it was 200, 300 years ago here.

"So they’re living in these conditions, but so happy to see us, so full of joy, no self-pity or ‘Oh, look at our luck, this sucks.’ It was humbling to see that."

Sullivan took a set of Dalhousie basketball jerseys to give to the kids in the village, and also bought a bunch of basketballs and a hoop, intending to put up a net one afternoon so he could teach the children some drills. It turned out to be more of a project than he expected.

"That was one of the cooler experiences for me, but it ended up taking three days. We had to cut down trees, and limb them for the two posts. To drill the holes for the rim to go on the backboard, we had to call the carpenter from two towns over to bring his hand drill," said Sullivan, who lost 10 pounds while he was in Uganda.

"I thought I’d be able to go for runs, but they wouldn’t let us leave the campus by ourselves. They were afraid of us getting taken hostage. There were wild dogs every night, so you couldn’t go out. You could hear them running by the house and they travel in packs, so they can be kind of scary."

( bspurr@herald.ca)

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