September 10, 2007

A slice of the American life

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Ten Egyptian women toured the Dassel Medical Center last Wednesday as part of an international effort to enhance and improve their own businesses and development back home.

Their guide, Dennis Bergquist, former Dassel farmer and retired dairy management teacher at Ridgewater College, is now working with a USAID-funded economic development project and non-profit international organization, ACDI/VOCA.

Through the project called Agricultural Exports and Rural Incomes, Bergquist leads study tour groups and shows visitors US agriculture and businesses.

The mission of ACDI/VOCA is to promote economic opportunities for cooperatives, enterprises, and communities through innovative application of sound business practice, or as Bergquist says, “It’s helping to improve other cultures and making a difference globally.”

During his visit to Egypt last April, Bergquist worked with women in villages along the Nile River who were milk collectors and farmers.

Through education, these women want to improve their quality standards in milk. To do so, Bergquist thought it would be best for the women to come to America and learn the benchmarks of what Americans see as quality, he said.

“I’m just a fella who milked cows and baled hay and has a passion for helping village people,” Bergquist said.

With the Egyptians’ poor image of America due to the war in Iraq, offices in Washington, DC wanted Bergquist to show the women the American culture as well.

The 15-day tour has taken these 10 women, one man, and their translator all across Minnesota.

Not only did they learn about agriculture, such as the use of cooperatives like the Dassel Co-op, but they also were able to have some fun and learn what being a Minnesotan is all about.

Some of the areas toured included a cruise on Lake Minnetonka, a walk through Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud, and a day at the Minnesota State Fair.

“That was quite unique for them,” said the women’s translator, Dr. Hamdy Attia.

After arriving in Minnesota, the Egyptian natives realized the information they received about the US was insufficient, especially when it came to the American every-day lifestyle.

Much of their perceptions were of Americans as movie stars and entertainers.

What they found was that Americans are independent, respectful of time, and hard workers.

“Americans worship their work, meanwhile they like to enjoy their lives,” Attia translated.

Also, the women didn’t expect Americans to be this generous and kind.

Overall, their trip has been educational and “marvelous,” as one woman said.

At the end of the tour, the ladies explained their home lives a bit, including their family structure.

One woman explained living in a home with 27 other family members, including in-laws.

In their custom, they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner as a family, and the women share the responsibilities in the kitchen.

Afterward, one woman, Sana’a Hafiz, gave Kara Neubarth, manager of the Dassel clinic, a card of thanks with all of their signatures.

“It was an honor to be a part of their tour of the American culture, and for them to see what the family practice is all about,” Neubarth said.

“I can’t stress enough how gracious, respectful, and kind these women are,” she said.

After interacting with the women Neubarth said, “I think we have a lot more in common than we think we do,” Neubarth said.

A second group will be touring the clinic Monday, Sept. 17.

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