By Christopher Edwards

The US state of Minnesota is called “The land of 10,000 lakes” and is known for being one of the healthiest US states and for having a highly literate population. The large majority of its residents are of Scandinavian and German descent. Perhaps one day it will be known as the birthplace of a remarkable woman, Erika Larson.

Erika told the story of her exceptional childhood and early life to members of the Rotary E-Club of London Centenary at their meeting on Thursday, 11 October. It was her way to introduce herself at the start of her year as a Global Scholar in London sponsored by the Rotary Club of Brookhaven in Atlanta, Georgia, USA (Rotary District 6900) and hosted by London Centenary and with the Club Secretary, Stella Russell, as her counsellor. 

   Erika Larson in the Rift Valley, Kenya


Both sets of Erika’s grandparents lived and worked in India.  It was here that her parents met at Woodstock, a boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas.  After completing university in the US, her parents married and moved to the equatorial heat of Zaire in Central Africa to teach English in the 1970s.  Soon afterwards Erika’s parents and her two older sisters moved to Botswana in Southern Africa before spending some time in Minnesota where Erika was born.  It was perhaps the cold winters of the Mid West that lead Erika’s parents fairly soon afterwards to move back to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.


Location of Botswana (Wikipedia)

Erika grew up in a country a little smaller than Texas but with just 2 million inhabitants.  Some 70% of the country is taken up by the Kalahari Desert. It became independent from the UK in 1966 and has since then seen a significant rise in the per capita income of its population. It is an exceptional African country in having had free and fair elections ever since its independence.  In this rather special African country, Erika had a wonderfully free and adventurous childhood in an area full of trees.  She had no problem finding friends with whom to play. There was no TV to keep her indoors.  She loved to explore and soon gained, in addition to her African name “Marang”, the nickname “Dipotso” or  “Questions” in the local language, Setswana.  She was enthralled by the creativity of the people and their ability to make do with the very limited resources available to them. Like so many before her, she fell in love with Africa. 

 A backyard in Gaborone, Botswana

Nothing is perfect 

Sadly, the population of Botswana has been devastated by HIV/AIDS.  A significant part of the adult population was affected and life expectancy dropped from 65 years to just 35 years.  Erika saw something of all this suffering and this has left a lasting impression.  It has encouraged her interest in both health and women’s issues, which remains the case until the present.

In 1994 the family moved back to the USA.  This time they sought the warmth of the south and moved to Atlanta, Georgia.  Erika learned of the difficult history of the Deep South with slavery, the Civil War and racial tension.  However, she also learned about Martin Luther King Junior’s mission of peace and social justice, listened to blues music and came to love the taste of southern food.

ImageDavidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, USA (

In 2003 at the age of 18 she went to Davidson College in the town of the same name in North Carolina to study political science.  The College is known as “the Harvard of the South” and in 2011 it was ranked the 5th best liberal arts college in the USA.    

Erika has two sisters, Jennifer and Karin.  Jennifer and her husband, Greg, live with their two children in Boston, Massachusetts.  Karin and her husband, Matius, live with their two children in the Philippines.  Erika’s mother, Mary Kay, works on global HIV programmes, whilst her father, Jonathan, is publishing his first book in October on peacemaking in Afghanistan, entitled “Making Friends Among the Taliban”.   He also has a blog at
Image  Erika and her family.  Left to right: Zane, Greg,  Jennifer, Leela ,Erika, Elia, Jonathan, Mary Kay, Svea, Matius, and Karin

Erika loves art, hiking, cycling, food, music and much more. She plays the piano.  She has travelled widely in Africa and has also been to Costa Rica, India, Argentina and Haiti.  This is her first visit to the UK. Her partner, Gagan, has just finished his Masters Degree at the London School of Economics but is now back in the USA. 

Since leaving Davidson College in May 2007, Erika has had an interesting and varied career.  In her most recent job which she held between November 2010 and August 2012, she worked in Washington D.C. on advocacy for women in 6 countries in sub-Saharan Africa for Population Action International.  She plans to return to this sort of work once she has completed her Masters Degree in the Science of Public Health at the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine.  

Erika will be an honorary member of the Rotary E-Club of London Centenary for the year she will be living and studying in London.  She will be free to attend the Club’s weekly meeting via Skype at 20.00 UK time and will take part in the District 1130 Conference on Hayling Island in late October.