Beginning next month, students at Wingate University will have a chance to explore the cultures that have grown up along the Nile and the challenges faced by the countries along the world’s longest river as water scarcity reaches crisis levels.

In the language of the Nile Project, the complex issue sounds simple: “The Nile is a long and skinny river with too many people and not enough water. The solution: Bring people together and help them find the solutions we need.”

A boat filled with musicians from 11 countries along the Nile River floats along.Nile Project history

Launched in 2011 to the beat of African music, the initiative set out to gather people from all 11 countries along the Nile, nations that are home to 400 million, and to start a cultural dialogue about the ecosystem they share. Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero called on musicians, development organizations and cultural institutions to join the project, which grew to include a music tour, camps, curricula, conferences, an album, a feature-length film and more.

Next month, 13 Nile Project artists from seven countries will hold workshops and perform a concert on Wingate’s campus, sharing their collective story of the river and challenging local residents to look at their own natural resources and how they can be sustained for everyone’s benefit.

Connecting the campus

For Wingate, the workshops and concert are what Laura Kratt calls a “beacon event” for The Connected Campus, a monthlong exploration of “the art and science of sustainability, the importance of water in our everyday lives and ways we can make a difference.”

“The Connected Campus is an opportunity to shine a light on the many different strengths across campus,” said Kratt, director of cultural events at Wingate’s Batte Center. “Different departments can look at the topic through their own particular lens.”

Next month’s calendar illustrates the variety of lenses available to Wingate students. From the painting of a mural at Monroe Mall depicting the “beauty” of coal ash spills to a lecture on “ugly produce,” events are designed to engage and inspire participants, who will be asked to think beyond the science of conservation to the ethics of water issues and even to consider the centrality of water to faith.

Local and global

Catherine Wright, an assistant professor of philosophy and religion and an ecotheologian, says the topic of this year’s Connected Campus is at once totally local and completely global.

Events she’s helped organize will first focus students on their own water literacy and then have them widen their lens to the world via a discussion with international water-conflict experts and county-level water managers. That panel will also include a university student involved in macro-invertebrate research and another who is leading environmental efforts on campus.

“We’ll start personal and then go from global to regional all the way down to the campus level,” Wright said. Later events will delve deeper into faith issues.

The Office of International Programs is hosting a lecture on “The Coptic Church & The Nile,” and a Wake Forest School of Divinity professor will visit to discuss the role of water and water stewardship in local faith traditions.

“This is a topic that moves across religions and creates space for dialogue,” Wright said. “It gives the students so many dimensions to move across differences toward solutions. It also truly connects the university’s emphasis on faith, knowledge and service. Every student will come away with something: something they’ve learned, something they can do to make a difference.”

Kratt echoed that idea of multilayered opportunity, saying students will be challenged to “take a more holistic look at the topic of sustainability and figure out where they fit into it.”

In addition to 11 advertised Connected Campus events, many students will encounter Nile Project artists in their individual classes, as professors have turned in 17 requests for classroom visits during the group’s two-day residency, set for the last two days of March. The Nile Project concert, set for 8 p.m. on March 31, will wrap up the Connected Campus.

Wingate is one of a handful of universities in North Carolina hosting the Nile Project during its 2017 tour and the only private university in the state to do so.

Feb. 14, 2017