by William Skink
By March it was clear the Corona virus was fast becoming a global pandemic. WHO officially declared a pandemic on March 11th. If you had a trip planned to South Africa to promote STEM learning to African girls in March, would you go?
Missoula lawyer and former State Representative, Ellie Hill Smith, had that choice to make after “winning” the first ever Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund award, something that sounds like a way to get a free vacation. Smith’s husband also just happened to win this opportunity as well, though this Missoula Current article doesn’t disclose the Smith’s are married:
A team of Montanans – high on solving the lack of science and math in South African schools – has won the first-ever Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund award.
The group will teach vital STEM curricula to girls in sub-Saharan Africa early in 2020. The $10,000 grant will cover the faculty’s work in March.
Comprised of Missoula lawyer Ellie Hill Smith, University of Montana chemistry graduate Tyler Smith, plus two Great Falls retired math professors, the team’s plan is one of 25 winning projects selected.
“There were a lot of other Montana agencies that applied,” Hill told the Missoula Current. “This is a brand new funding source. We try to replicate what we’re doing in Montana at schools around the world.”
The $10,000 “award” was not enough cash, though, so there was also a go fund me ask for more money.
Traveling to South Africa during a global pandemic sounds like a really stupid idea, so of course the trip went ahead as planned. Now I am hearing that Ellie Hill Smith and her family are stuck in South Africa and working with Tester’s office to get home.
When my family went on a hike Friday my two boys wanted to scale a steep, crumbly incline. Normally I would have allowed them to do it, but because of the strain our health care system could soon be under, I explained to my children that part of the Governor’s order explicitly states to avoid engaging in high risk behavior.
Here is the actual language from the Missoulian article:
Engaging in higher-risk outdoor behavior that might require emergency medical services is discouraged, as it would stress the health care system in the state.
Traveling to South Africa during a global pandemic certainly qualifies in my book as engaging in higher-risk behavior. Since common sense didn’t prevail resources will have to be used to help extradite a US citizen from a situation that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen in the first place.
Let this be a learning moment. The world today is different than the world last month. I’m sure teaching STEM to African girls sounded like a great idea all the way back in December, but then a virus emerged and sparked an economic collapse unseen since the Great Depression.
Adjustments must be made. We must adapt. And some of us might not be able to travel on someone else’s dime to a foreign land under the auspices of spreading STEM to South Africa.