LIWONDE – University of South Florida (USF)  graduate students travelled from Tampa to Malawi  on a mission to develop a draft master plan for sustainable tourism in the Liwonde National Park, the jewel of the national park system in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

In an article posted on the USF Magazine website the Students and organizers of the trip credit MacDonald Sembereka, presidential advisor to Malawi President Joyce Banda, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for their guidance.

The students conducted research and field studies to develop a plan designed to minimize impact on the environment and culture, while creating positive experiences, employment opportunities and income sources for the local Malawi community.

According to the article, “There is such a lack of knowledge about the beauty of Malawi and the potential for tourism,” says Pooley, an environmental consultant who earned his undergraduate degree in environmental science and policy from USF in 2003.

The team hopes to tap into that potential to benefit Malawians.

“We want to teach them about conservation and sustainability,” he says. “We want to find a way to put park concessions in the hands of Malawians.”

Whatley, a student in Randle’s spring 2012 sustainable tourism class, was intrigued when she first heard about a possible internship in Africa. She’d been to Africa before as a Fulbright Student Scholar studying life and culture in Tanzania, and was eager to return to the continent.

“Every time Dr. Randle talked about it, I got excited,” she recalls. “When he presented it, I thought this is absolutely where I’m going.”

In January, Whatley signed on. Everett and Pooley followed. Together the students set the wheels in motion for their African experience — planning, coordinating with field contacts, and researching topics ranging from poverty and ecosystems to culture and tourism.

By semester’s end, with their legwork complete, the students were prepared to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they’d acquired in the classroom in a setting far from home.

“We really try to give the students more than just a good education experience,” says Randle. “We give them an opportunity to do something and make a difference.”

On May 26, after nearly 20 hours in flight, Whatley, Everett and Pooley landed in Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. Mike Labuschagne, a project manager for the IFAW and the group’s on-the-ground contact, greeted the students.

“As soon as we met Mike, he said plans had changed and we were going to head to Zambia to get perspective on one of the country’s successful parks — South Luangwa National Park,” Whatley recalls. “I knew this was going to be great.”

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