Once a week, giant bananas roam around campus giving out free goodies. They’re not out to promote fruit or make people think they’d smoked too much pot before class; they’re saving Africa.

SCOUT BANANA is a non-profit organization that works to raise awareness for health care in some of Africa’s neediest areas. Started by a former MSU student, the MSU chapter focuses on bettering South Africa, with chapters nationwide targeting Uganda as well.

While Africa’s need for health care may be clear, the way to improve its underdeveloped system is not so straightforward. “Before we take any action we have to at least first work to understand the problems we want to fix,” SCOUT BANANA Founder Alex Hill said. “Uninformed aid has the potential to have such a negative effect.”

(Photo credit: Brett Ekblad)

In an article from the SCOUT BANANA website, Ruth Berger, the Vice President of the MSU chapter, described the difference between an organization that informs and demands economic change and one such as Product (RED) which can create complacency. Berger wrote, “Product (RED) has the potential to raise awareness and make people think about global issues, but it also has the potential to make them feel satisfied with the way things are and the small part they are doing.”

SCOUT BANANA’s dedication to education is progressing to a new level. Launching in spring of 2012, its new project, Banana Tree Papers, will be written by graduate students. The working papers will connect communities with the latest research concerning their health care and development issues.

Hill, a recent graduate of MSU, sees potential in extending the movement past the undergraduate level, hoping that it will bring its education of members to a new level of depth and understanding. “This could have the potential to widen the knowledge base for members and others involved in our chapters,” Hill said.

In addition to Banana Tree Papers, SCOUT BANANA held it first National Summit in January 2010. Leadership from each of the chapters, including MSU, met with other SCOUT BANANA staff members to discuss the agenda for 2010. The team hopes that what started right here at MSU will spread to other college campuses, “increasing support for [its] projects, and launching a fellowship program,” Hill said.

In addition to the growth opportunities that SCOUT BANANA has created for itself, the organization also received publicity from its nomination for the 2008 “Do Something Awards.” Although the organization did not receive any funds for its projects, its story was featured on the Doritos bag along with Hill’s picture. “We’ve gotten a great deal of feedback and press from the Doritos bags,” Hill said.

Although Hill, two-year leader of MSU’s SCOUT BANANA chapter, has graduated from MSU, the work of its chapter has not slowed. The chapter holds weekly meetings, gathering recently to talk about upcoming events for MSU’s campus. Emily Jones, junior zoology major and MSU chapter coordinator, said that they hold weekly “Hug Days.” Dressed in banana suits, members give hugs and hand out key chains, brochures and flyers. “Most people who actually stop to hug us and talk are really interested in why we would dress up and act ridiculous,” Jones said.

In addition to weekly events, MSU’s chapter holds an annual Dance-a-thon in the spring to raise support. The MSU chapter also partners with an after-school program in South Africa. The program focuses on children who are affected by HIV/AIDS. The support raised through the chapter’s many events provides the after-school center with enough funds to feed the children one meal a day. This meal may be the only one a child receives for the day. Jones said, “Everyone in the community has a say in the after-school center, and that’s important because they know better than we do what needs to happen.” SCOUT BANANA’s commitment to informed aid allows all of the funds to be used in the best ways possible.

Over its nine years of existence, SCOUT BANANA has grown a considerable amount. Its chapters now include Tufts University, Central Michigan University and University of Michigan (U of M). In the fall, U of M and MSU held a competition to see which program could raise the most money through a 5K event. MSU won the contest, but together the chapters raised awareness and support for their individual projects.

Through growth and change, SCOUT BANANA continues to fight for better health care in Africa. Growing nationwide, its members continue to revolutionize modern thought and more banana suits may be popping up soon. “We believe that global health is everyone’s responsibility and that everyone has the potential to make a difference,” said junior member and comparative cultures and politics major Garrett Miller.

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