Interacting with Angola: a cultural exchange

by Kelly McKewin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

*This story was originally printed on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Spokesman’s sixth issue of the year.*

With 7,500 miles separating Wheeling from Angola, at times it might seem as though the two places are a world apart. However, members of Interact with Africa recently had the chance to see some of the similarities between the two places, when two students from an Angolan village came to speak to the club.

Elvis Huambo and Irmina Huambo, a brother and sister from Angola, both live in a village that is near the first school Interact with Africa helped build. Their father oversaw some of the building process, and Mariola Sobol, Interact with Africa sponsor, had the chance to meet them when she traveled to Africa in 2009.

Both E. Huambo and I. Huambo decided to share their stories with Interact with Africa and with some WHS classes throughout the day.

“I think it was an awesome experience because they come from ‘another world’ and what they said was really interesting,” Iliana Mendoza, sophomore, said. Mendoza got to hear the siblings speak during her Honors World Literature and Composition class.

E. Huambo and I. Huambo were born in Angola and completed most of their elementary school education there, even though they often had to study in church or outside due to a lack of schools. When a war broke out in Angola, they were forced to move to a refugee camp in Namibia. The war ended when E. Huambo was 12, and while his family moved back to Angola at that time, he stayed in Namibia to finish high school. He is now studying at a university in Angola to become a doctor, while I. Huambo is taking classes to become a history teacher.

“Once I graduate, I plan to work in a local hospital. We are a country that still lacks doctors,” E. Huambo said.

The siblings spent four weeks visiting the United States recently, and had the chance to see both the similarities and differences between Angolan and American culture.

According to E. Huambo, life in U.S. is quite different from life in Angola, and his few weeks in the U.S. have exposed both he and his sister to a number of different experiences that most Americans might take for granted, such as seeing a movie in 3-D, ordering food in a drive-thru and going sledding.

“We’ve experienced a lot of things (in the U.S), things that we haven’t done in twenty year’s time. We are very excited and we are learning a lot,” E. Huambo said.

Despite the differences in culture though, both E. Huambo and I. Huambo were able to find similarities between the two cultures. E. Huambo visited four different hospitals from around the U.S. and says that he was able to talk with a medical student from Arizona about the same things he had learned in Angola.

Sara Duncan, junior, saw many similarities between life in the U.S. the things that the Huambos described about their life. She believed that this was due mostly to the fact human nature is the same no matter where you come from.

“All people are the same in general. You grow up laughing, you die laughing. Human aspects are the same, it’s living conditions that are different,” Duncan said.

Ms. Sobol believes that Interact with Africa’s opportunity to hear E. Huambo and I. Huambo speak was both gratifying and interesting for the students.

“It made it real to hear the stories firsthand from the people who live in Angola. It was also interesting to hear Interact with Africa students ask (the Huambos) about life in Africa,” Ms. Sobol said.

Duncan also appreciated the chance see the impact that the club is having on the other side of the world. The Huambos benefitted from the first school that was built near their village, and more children benefit from the schools that Interact with Africa helps to build every year.

“The biggest thing I thought that was really cool was that we got a physical representation of what we can do and what we can accomplish. Even though (the Huambos) weren’t the specific kids I helped, we’re helping kids just like them,” Duncan said.