Congratulations to our Distinguished Service Awardees, Graig Meyer and Jessica Butcher!
The award is an honor given in appreciation for significant contributions to CGI's programs or significant efforts to create a legacy that enriches global education on UNC's campus. Awardees are nominated and selected by CGI staff and receive a modest financial award.
Graig is the coordinator of the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate Program and Director of Student Equity and Volunteer Services at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Graig has provided volunteer services to Scholars' Latino Initiative over the past four years by serving on the SLI Advisory Committee, the SLI Scholarship Awards Committee and conducting mentor orientation/training for incoming classes of sophomore mentors embarking on their three-year mentoring experience. He has also worked with Carolina for Kibera by having his Blue Ribbons Mentors screen the film "Without A Fight" and provide feedback. He also helped developed classroom discussion questions that were included in the K-12 Outreach toolkit for the film.
Jessica has been a Rotary Peace Fellow at UNC since 2011 and is now completing her master's degree in education. Her area of expertise is multicultural interfaith dialogue and diplomacy, especially between and within Christian and Muslim communities. Jessica also gave a talk on "unwrapping religious stereotypes in the US" at the 2011 World View K-12 Symposium on peace and conflict. She also shared her expertise by giving a talk to UNC students as part of the Great Decisions lecture series. In addition to her master's degree, Jessica will graduate with three different certificates: the UNC Graduate Certificate in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, the Certificate in International Development Policy from Duke University and the Global Transmigration Certificate from the UNC School of Social Work. For the Global Transmigration Certificate, she developed recommendations for UNC and other universities to enhance support for international students coming from conflict and post-conflict countries.
I began working with Carolina Navigators during my second year at Carolina and I still remember feeling a certain excitement and energy that pulsated through the Center for Global Initiatives when I first started. I’ve been conscious of this energy throughout the three years that I have continued working to bring the world to classrooms across North Carolina and I recognize it as one of the most rewarding environments I could ever find myself in.
In this setting I coordinated countless presentations and communicated with an endless stream of teachers, encouraging them to bring the world to their classrooms. With the collaboration of UNC students, North Carolina educators and the Center for Global Initiatives, so many K-12 students have been exposed to different cultures, perspectives and philosophies. At the very least, these students who are affected by Carolina Navigators have been made aware that a totally different world exists outside of their day-to-day environment.
As I finished my studies in Global Studies, Political Science and Chinese at UNC, I realized that just having this basic understanding is vital for knowing how the world works and how we can work within it. And as I leave Carolina Navigators, I rest assured that the organization will continue to grow and thrive as more and more educators across the state realize the importance of international education in the classroom to the success of their students in an ever-more globalizing world.
McKay participated in the Carolina Navigators program as a student and an intern during her studies at UNC. After graduating in Spring 2012 with degrees in International Studies, Political Science and a minor in Chinese, McKay now works for an organization called Teach for China that seeks to decrease the educational gap in China. Keep up with McKay on her blog Insatiableliving.com.
As a social work and maternal and child health student, my interests revolve around promoting health and social justice for women and children. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to conduct my master’s practicum with FHI 360 in Tanzania on a youth HIV prevention project called UJANA. As part of their Monitoring and Evaluation unit, I got a chance to apply the skills I had learned in numerous classes by working on qualitative interviews for their final performance report. Over 15 weeks, I learned all I could about the massive six-year program, reviewed reports, interviewed country staff, visited local partners, and interviewed local government and community members about the key successes and lessons from UJANA. I then wrote pieces based on my visits and interviews to include in the end-of-project final performance report, assisted in routine monitoring, and created a project timeline. The work I did helped me build skills in the field, but, more importantly, it helped me build confidence working in a complex system. I learned to work with various teams and management structures, practiced communication across cultures and public-private partnerships, and made tough decisions because of the high level of independence granted me for my project.
The experience was very valuable in that it exposed me to public health jobs and the role of foreign professionals in Tanzania; allowed me to network internationally; and allowed me to witness the complex donor-agency-partner-local government relationship. Although it was not my first experience living or working in a nongovernmental organization or in a low-income country, I was reminded of the need to be flexible and open-minded, especially about time, expectations, and promises. For example, many of my coworkers wanted to be polite and would promise to do certain things even if they knew they could not carry them through. By building in flexibility and back up plans to my agenda, I was able to readjust and still accomplish my goals. The experience further reinforced the lesson of getting to know my coworkers as a part of living and working in Tanzania. The lunch conversations and weekend outings taught me so much more about the organization’s work and development and public health work in general than anything I learned in the office. These friendships improved professional connections rather than hindered them.
Finally, I learned to be reflective and always careful when speaking with coworkers, partners, and communities alike. Oftentimes, I was seen as being in a higher position (despite the fact that I was only a young intern) simply because I represented FHI 360 or because I am American. I was sometimes asked to speak for all Americans on certain topics, to guarantee help in securing further funding, and to advocate for certain changes in the U.S.’s relationship with Tanzania. Here, I felt a dilemma because I had such limited power and did not want to make any promises, but did have more access to resources and influence than they did; I also worried that I would be perceived as rude or cold for not reassuring them since I had learned by then that promising to help was a polite thing to do even if you could not. In the end, I did not make any promises, but did encourage them by pointing out all that they have accomplished and will be able to accomplish simply because of their own skills and dedication. It was certainly a lesson in humility for me.
Khanh H Nguyen is a graduate student in Maternal and Child Health at the Gillings School of Public Health. She received an International Internship Award to support her work. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
With the help of a C.V. Starr Scholarship, I was able to do fieldwork in Port-au-Prince for a month in May 2012. Living with a Haitian family, I started to inquire about the daily life of an historic neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in order to track the popular responses to the 2010 earthquake. The following text is a report on my findings in this area of Port-au-Prince. Without the C.V. Starr Scholarship, I would not have been able to engage in an in-depth pilot project, which, ultimately, will serve as the basis of my PhD. Dissertation in Anthropology. CGI provides outstanding opportunities to UNC students who are eager to learn abroad!
“Pacot is a quiet residential neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Here, thick concrete walls, sometimes colorfully painted, sometimes topped with forbidding barbed wire, surround houses of a wide array of styles. Down these tunnel-like streets of these intermittently low and high enclosures, between the breadfruit and mango trees, the sunlight pours down on pedestrians, merchants, shoe shiners, SUVs and shabby taxis. It is the end of May in Port-au-Prince. On this early morning, a man totes fluffy cotton mops to their destinations, a line of teenage students dressed in their impeccable uniforms hurry over the shattered sidewalk, an elderly lady meticulously picks over avocados from the dark green pyramid of granular fruit, where, in the shade, the vendor reads a dog-eared religious pamphlet. Walking in these picturesque streets offers a respite from the tumult of the overwhelmingly jammed, dusty arteries of ruined concrete buildings that usually appear on foreign TV screens when Haiti is mentioned. With the ornamented yet rusty summits of the old houses looking down on these slow-paced vignettes of daily life, Pacot contains clues to what a peaceful street-life and successful (re)construction of Port-au-Prince could be.
Most obviously, the numerous old houses of the neighborhood, that resisted the earthquake of January 2010, should trigger the interest of any agent involved in habitat building in Port-au-Prince. They range from small wooden structures comprising two or three bedrooms to polychromatic and richly ornamented two-story mansions. Built at the turn of the nineteenth century, both the extravagant homes and the humble light wood-frame constructions offer blueprints for paraseismic structures adapted to tropical weather. With their high ceilings and many shuttered windows, they enable air to circulate; with their roofed galleries they protect their residents against the glaring sunlight and heavy rain; their elevated floors diminish flood dangers and, finally, their timber frames allows for some flexibility in case of quakes. Moreover, in a city where anonymous concrete structures make up most of the landscape, these unusual dwellings, strongly rooted in Haitian cultural history, stand as some of the last monumental landmarks of the capital.
These vast and elaborate residences reminiscent of the Victorian Painted Ladies were named Gingerbread Houses by American tourists visiting Haiti in the fifties. Far from being pale copies of their American cousins, they were designed by Haitian architects trained in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Baussan, Mathon or Maximilien, in fact, borrowed features from the French seaside architectural style and from the American Queen Anne style architecture to build houses suitable to the tropical setting. The Gingerbread Houses are distinctively Haitian by the mere fact that a confluence of international cultural traits was channeled through a distinctive Haitian vision materialized, for instance, in the inventive ornamentation handcrafted by local master carpenters. Owned by the Port-au-Prince bourgeoisie at the beginning of the twentieth century, these houses are now occupied by people whose origins lie in every segment of the Haitian social spectrum. In the same neighborhood, the passerby can catch sight of luxurious mansions inhabited by prominent members of the political elite, as well as lopsided houses squatted by several families. Usually, however, these houses belong to the vanishing middle-classes who are struggling to keep their historical homes in good shape. Joseph Bonnard, a former bank clerk who inherited a derelict crimson and gold wooden mansion, explains that his meager income does not allow him to take care of his house and to repair the structural damages the disaster caused. “Right after the quake,” Bonnard remembers bitterly, “almost no help reached the neighborhood. People were directed towards camps, even when they had a place to stay. Instead of building plastic houses with no windows, it would be wiser to help folks repair their own places. But it’s not happening.” Bonnard’s words would become a refrain as I encountered more and more people in the same situation.
Amid the apparent torpor, the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty (Fokal), stands as a beacon of hope as its project for the restoration of the Gingerbread Houses slowly progresses. Farah Hyppolite, a Haitian architect in charge of the project, presents a potentially fruitful approach to dealing with the reconstruction of her native city. By pointing out that the old houses of Port-au-Prince reflect a viable type of architectural design and house-building knowledge, she places the Haitian workers and their traditional skills at the heart of the reconstruction process. Fokal is now training a new generation of builders in order to restore the Gingerbread neighborhoods, and, possibly, to build a form of solid habitat that is culturally sound. Hyppolite would like the rehabilitation process to go faster and to see the Haitian state taking the lead in the conservation and restoration of its public and private patrimony. As we walked down Rue “O”, a narrow alley perpendicular to the central and busy Bois-Verna artery, she showed me parcels of land where no less than five small Gingerbread Houses had been bulldozed in a matter of two months. “The land is worth more than the houses themselves. There is tremendous financial pressure to get rid of the Gingerbreads. In these times when we have lost so many of our landmarks, the state should offer a legal framework to protect our cultural artifacts and help proprietors keep their historic homes alive.” Since 2010, more than twenty historical houses have been destroyed; the need to protect them is urgent.
Rehabilitating the Gingerbread neighborhoods, such as Pacot, and enabling residents to repair their homes are not only cultural emergencies but also ways to consolidate areas of the capital where different strata of the Haitian social landscape coexist peacefully on streets that are pleasant to walk and congregate on. However, such a vision demands strong governmental action: a politics of decentralization based on the revival of rural regions and other cities could open up the capital and alleviate the demographic pressure that weighs on it. Secondly, consolidating institutions dealing with cultural heritage, such as the Haitian Institute for the Preservation of the National Heritage, and giving them adequate legal and financial means would certainly clarify the direction efficient city planning should take. Finally, engaging the numerous foreign actors, so conspicuously absent from the streets of Port-au-Prince, in a constant dialogue with the whole of the population they are trying to help could only be beneficial. In this way, misguided construction projects with misconceived building designs could hopefully be abandoned for projects that place Haitians and their cultural and ecological needs at the center of the overall effort. Amid the chaos of the shattered stone of this urban capital lies a rich historical heritage. By drawing on its past and on the skills of its inhabitants, Port-au-Prince could emerge again as a functioning city, just as it was when the Gingerbreads were erected at the end of the nineteenth century.”
Vincent Joos is a Ph.D. student in anthropology. He received a C.V. STARR Scholarship for an ethnographic study of Haiti's sustainable forms of architecture: the Gingerbread Houses Project. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
Our 2013 Calendar is back from the printer and in it we feature some of the amazing photography from the Carolina Global Photo Contest as well as highlight UNC's campus wide theme: Water in our World.
This summer I had one of those rare experiences where the various interests in my life converged on one project. For the last four years in North Carolina, I have worked in service-learning offices coordinating and supporting students who want to work in communities. Currently, I am also working on a Masters in Health Behavior in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Supporting volunteers and working to improve people’s health at a population level had always been separate interests of mine until this summer when I learned about the powerful potential of volunteers to improve the health of the communities that they are a part of.
With the support of CGI I was able to spend the summer in Thailand, where I did qualitative research with the Village Health Volunteers, the national community health workers of Thailand.
In Thailand there are almost a million Village Health Volunteers, or about one for every fifteen households. The Village Health Volunteers provide basic clinical services, such as checking weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar to screen for diabetes. They provide health education on diet, exercise, maternal and child health, and many other topics. They help prevent infectious disease through providing resources and education to improve health outcomes, such as techniques to limit mosquito reproduction to decrease the incidence of Dengue Fever. Despite the impressiveness of everything that the Village Health Volunteers do, what they do is not as impressive to me as how they do it.
The Village Health Volunteers create change through long-term relationships and connections with the people they are serving. They are neighbors and friends with the people they are responsible for. They are able to offer advice and support that is tailored and individualized based on their knowledge of the community and relationships that have been built year after year. An example of this is that when a Village Health Volunteer notices that you have abnormal symptoms and refers you to go see the doctor, they do not just stop with a verbal recommendation. If you forget about the appointment, they will remind you, if you need a ride they will take you, and in one instance that I observed this summer, if you are being stubborn and insisting that you do not need a doctor despite mounting evidence that something is wrong, they will go get a doctor and bring the doctor to you.
I feel that I learned so much from being able to study the activities that the Village Health Volunteers perform and how the they accomplish their work. As a person deeply interested in both supporting volunteers and improving health, the long-term relationships that the Village Health Volunteer program encourages and supports is a model that I think is applicable to many other health outcomes and community contexts. This summer was an incredible experience and also provided me a direction of research and practice that I hope to continue to pursue in the future.
Dane Emmerling is a Masters student studying health behavior and health education in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. He received a CGI International Internship Award to investigate the effectiveness of Thailand's peer support interventions. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
Last summer I traveled to Peru with the help of the Center for Global Initiatives' International Internship Award. I worked (along with several other UNC students) on a project evaluating the impact of an established microfinance institution, PRISMA, in Peru. PRISMA is a non-profit operating throughout Peru, serving 11,000 micro-loan borrowers. They are recognized as an efficient, responsible organization both domestically and abroad. Our project as interns involved providing empirical data showing PRISMA’s impact, positive or otherwise.
Specifically, we examined the impact of the relatively recent addition of “micro-insurance” to the services provided by PRISMA. The goal of micro-insurance is the same as that of regular insurance— to protect clients against an unanticipated catastrophe that could have a drastically negative impact on personal or family finances. PRISMA, as of a few years ago, requires its clients to enroll in a life insurance policy to help protect their families in case of the death of the client, who is often the primary family breadwinner.
Theoretically, the benefits of offering life insurance to microcredit borrowers are many, from qualitative feelings of greater financial security, to a more quantitative capacity to avoid financial disaster in case of the loss of a family member’s income. But these benefits, in most cases, have yet to be demonstrated empirically. In order to gather empirical data to demonstrate any such benefits, we designed, implemented and analyzed a survey of nearly 250 PRISMA clients throughout Peru. We presented the data we found to PRISMA by illustrating the many different correlations between benefits gained, client education, and demographics, among other factors. In giving PRISMA this information, we gave them the ability to reevaluate many different aspects of their services using concrete, representative data. As they continue to explore possibilities and make changes, they become better able to serve their very deserving clientele. I feel privileged to have been a part of this process, and I’ve become a strong advocate for the value of impact evaluation when conducting work that aims to have direct positive influence on people’s lives.
With the support of CGI through the Carolina Undergraduate Health Fellowship, I was able to travel to Ghana as a trip group leader with Project HEAL, a committee of the UNC Campus Y. I travelled in Ghana with a group of five other wonderful UNC students.
We began our journey in Accra but after just a few days in the capital and another large city, Kumasi, we travelled by bus to a small rural town called Lawra in the Upper West Region. Project HEAL has been returning to this same area for the last six years and has thus built relationships with the leaders, teachers, and people of Lawra. Without their collaboration and support, we would not have been able to implement our public health and educational projects.
First, we were able to complete and plan several sustainable development projects. Through the use of drip irrigation systems, we were able to help create a Moringa tree nursery with MOFA (Ministry of Food and Agriculture) and a local Peace Corps Volunteer. The nursery is located at the old MOFA fisheries site in Lawra and the goal is to restore it as a showcase for alternative livelihood projects. Furthermore, we have made plans to complete rainwater collection systems next summer at several potential locations. We met and spoke to administrative staff at the Lawra district hospital to hopefully install a rainwater collection system next year at a community health clinic. We also made contacts with several women from a small village named Tabier, where we could potentially install a rainwater collection system as well.
For health projects, every year Project HEAL performs first aid and dental workshops and distributes kits at various schools in the region. This year, we performed first aid and dental workshops at four primary schools and a women’s community group, totaling about 1000 individuals. We conducted presentations with the teachers of the schools to ensure that our workshops are culturally relevant. In many of the younger classes, the teachers translated our presentations in the local language of Dagaare. Additionally, we donated much needed medical supplies to the Lawra district hospital. Some people in our group were able to shadow doctors in the pediatric ward of the hospital.
Lastly, we completed educational projects. At the Eremon senior high school, where another local Peace Corps Volunteer teaches, we painted a world map mural on the side of the dining hall that includes all of the labeled countries. When we asked high school students to point to Ghana, they simply did not know and some did not know which continent was Africa. In many public schools in Ghana, geography is not often taught in schools because of a lack of funding and supplies.
What excited me the most while we were in Ghana was the people. In the harshest environments, I met some of the happiest people. Many days, the highest temperature was definitely over 100 degrees. Thunderstorms brought relief but came with the tradeoff of no electricity throughout the town. When we went to the village of Tabier, we were able to briefly experience village life. There, people have to work so hard for basic necessities like food and water much of the time without the conveniences of infrastructure such as improved sanitation, running water, and electricity. For a women’s group in the village, we performed a first aid and dental workshop. After our presentation, the women thanked us with the most jubilant and energetic songs and dance. I will remember the places I saw but more importantly the people I met for the rest of my life.
Mimi Caddell is an environmental studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She received a the Carolina Undergraduate Health Fellowship for sustainable water use development and Health Education Projects in Ghana. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
CGI Awardee Rachel M Myrick has won a Rhodes Scholarship, becoming the 48th Tar Heel to bring home the honor. In the fall of 2011 she created a CGI Student Learning Circle to help launch the first ever and wildly successful TEDxUNC event. Learn more about her achievements here: http://www.unc.edu/campus-updates/myrick-rhodes-scholar/
Looking back now, I would say that returning to Tanzania gave me a chance to see the place for what it is, rather than with the wide eyes of a newcomer eager to compare everything to my expectations. Ironically, I was greeted by a large family of monkeys who enjoyed playing tag on my tin roof most mornings (which is stereotypical, but far from typical). Still, I had a chance to live a relatively normal life for seven weeks among dogs, cats, chickens, books, daladalas, rice and beans, a massive doctors’ strike, and a mountain that never ceases to amaze me. I did say “relatively.”
I need to first be clear about one thing: my summer internship was an office job. With that said, it wasn’t a typical office job as one would define it in the US. My second work stint in Moshi led me back to the country with a new focus on the inevitable issue of HIV and AIDS.
The immediate area doesn’t have the highest HIV prevalence (6%) or the most disadvantaged citizens (it’s a tourist town) in sub-Saharan Africa, but for decades it has proven to be an effective research hub for scholars of many nationalities. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is also not as formidable as it used to be. Testing, counseling, and treatment services are widely available, often for little to no cost, meaning the disease is no longer a death sentence for those who test positive. One of the major remaining barriers, though, is the fact that many people simply do not know they are infected. In the country as a whole, only one-third of Tanzanian adults have ever been tested for HIV in their lifetime. This means that there are still countless (literally) individuals who are contagious and likely won’t discover their status (or their partner’s) until it is too late.
With all this in mind, I came into my summer internship to assist with a survey that’s using innovative methods to ask ordinary citizens what would compel them to get tested. One of the bigger challenges to this project, as I would learn, was finding a way to reach a random sample of these “ordinary citizens.” It would have been straightforward to deliver the survey to a captive audience of hospital patients or visitors to a women’s clinic, but we wanted a pure and unbiased representation of the town as a whole. Why not use addresses or random phone dialing or census data? Enter the developing country effect. These typical sources for population-based sampling range from non-existent to unreliable in a setting like Tanzania.
After a lot of back and forth, we finally decided to choose random points throughout town as starting points for household recruitment. Most of my days were filled with the process of developing and carrying out a systematic way to do this using maps, GIS technology, spreadsheets, screenshots, file converters, and other fun tools. This work represented just one of many steps in the process of executing the study, and the study will be just one of many to investigate HIV testing strategies in Africa. This summer’s work not only gave me new knowledge and skills, but it also gave me perspective and hope. I now have a much better understanding of the vast scope of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but I also have more hope that increased attention to health behavior will allow for further progress. I really appreciate CGI and the International Internship for helping to provide an opportunity to do this work and think about how I want international research to play a role in my career.
Andrew Weinhold is a graduate student studying health behavior and health education in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. He received a CGI International Internship Award to develop a survey to inform HIV testing practices in Tanzania. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
Cultures, traveling, and exploring have always been passions of mine. Maybe it was due to the fact that my extended family decided to take a vacation to Cancun, Mexico when I was only 6 years old. Or it could have been due to the influence of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. Yes, the Chipmunks, and their race around the world in hot air balloons in the epic adventure “The Chipmunk Adventure." Either way, I had a strong fascination with the worlds outside America. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in chemical engineering, I moved overseas, first to Egypt and then to Lebanon. I spent two years abroad learning Arabic and working with university students. During my time overseas, I began to see the physical needs surrounding me in the Middle East. I wondered how I could use my engineering background to serve the poor in the developing world.
In the spring of 2010, I began searching for job positions that combined engineering and international development. As I read the descriptions, I realized that even with my Bachelor’s degree, I was lacking key skills. However, the search enabled me to determine what kind of a career I wanted and helped me identify graduate school as a means to gain the necessary experience. When I was looking at graduate programs, the Gillings School for Global Public Health stood out due to its diversity of departments. The unique placement of the Environmental Engineering program within the School of Public Health was a major draw for me because it provided the opportunity to learn about the nexus of water systems and health. I had also read about the Water Institute through the school’s website and was excited to work with researchers from diverse backgrounds that were all studying various aspects of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH).
When I interviewed with my advisor, Dr. Jamie Bartram, I emphasized how important fieldwork experience was to me. One of the skills I was seeking to gain through my graduate studies was the opportunity to experience WASH projects overseas firsthand. Knowing this, Dr. Bartram was able to pair me with an internship with the University of Leeds to work on a collaborative project called “At Home Water Supplies” funded through the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The project was a joint cooperation led by the University of Leeds, and included the University of East Anglia and the University of North Carolina.
The project itself focused around quantifying the health benefits of having water at home rather than using a shared public supply. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to “halve, by 2012, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” (United Nations, 2002). While the goal is a bold declaration, it lacks a definition of what “access” truly means. How much water should people have and how far away from one’s home? The DFID At Home Water Supplies study aims to further explore the relationship between distance to the water source and its impact on health.
As an intern for UL, my responsibilities ranged from stateside preparation of logistics to implementing the household survey data collection in Ghana over the summer. One of my stateside responsibilities included writing an ethics application to submit to the UNC Institutional Review Board. I was also responsible for creating a projected fieldwork timeline, a budget and then purchasing the necessary supplies and equipment. Months before my departure, I had weekly skype calls with the team in the UK as well as our in country partners to plan out the necessary details of our research project.
Before arriving in Ghana, my colleague, Dr. Mike Fisher, and I were able to spend a few days in Norwich with the rest of the research team. The time was invaluable for ensuring that we had a consistent understanding of our research instruments. Our study was to be carried out by the partnering universities in three separate countries. UNC would be responsible for data collection within Ghana while two other teams collected data in South Africa and Vietnam.
On July 19th Dr. Fisher and I arrived in Accra, Ghana and were received by colleagues from our partnering institution, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Immediately after arriving, our host Mr. Leslie Danquah, a KNUST doctoral candidate, escorted us to Kumasi where we were based during our 8-week data collection campaign.
The first week in Ghana we spent becoming familiar with the culture and setting up our fieldwork. We needed to recruit at least 12 research assistants in order to administer our survey to 250 households within the allotted 8 weeks. Mr. Danquah assisted us by identifying roughly 20 candidates for us to interview as potential assistants. After reviewing their skills in math, English, written and spoken Twi, we hired 16 to work on our project. Once we were confident with the 16 candidates, we began training them on our household questionnaire and the specific equipment they would be using.
At the end of training, we spent five days piloting our survey in a nearby rural community. This also allowed our research assistants to practice interviewing real households and for us to catch any errors they were making in recording the responses. In addition, it gave Dr. Fisher and I the opportunity to iron out logistical speed bumps that came up. Upon completion of the pilot, we transitioned to the first of four communities where we would be conducting our research.
Since we only had 8 weeks to gather our data, we needed to work six days a week, beginning at 8am and concluding our interviews at 4pm. At the of the day, the research assistants then gave us their completed surveys and water samples. However, our workdays were far from over though! Dr. Fisher and I then checked each survey for completeness and consistency. We then had to process the water samples collected that day and read the results of the samples from the day before. Once the surveys were checked, they then had to be scanned to ensure a backup copy existed of all data collected. While the pace was sometimes overwhelming, we were able to accomplish the majority of the fieldwork before I returned to North Carolina.
One of my favorite experiences happened during the first week, when Dr. Fisher, Mr. Danquah and I were visiting the study communities. Mr. Danquah guided us to the local water points where we were able to informally ask questions of the children gathered around the borehole for their evening water fetching chore. Mr. Danquah graciously translated for me so that I could ask the girls about carrying water from the borehole back to their house. In Ghana, it is customary for women to carry items on their head. We watched the women and children fill up their containers, lift them onto their heads, and begin the journey home. Dr. Fisher then decided that he wanted to see how difficult it was to balance that much water on his head! So with the help of the women, children, and Mr. Danquah, both Dr. Fisher and I attempted to carry a container full of water on our heads! It is as hard as it looks, especially since the water shifts as you move! The children applauded us and laughed heartily at the strange “brunis” (white people) who had come to ask them questions about their water.
While working in the field, I gained highly valuable skills that have dramatically influenced how I view my second year of graduate school. My courses were interesting during my first year, but since my return to the classroom I have noticed a heightened focus. There is more of a connection between what I am reading and learning to what I have experienced overseas. Through my internship in Ghana, I have also learned how to manage a field campaign in a foreign country. Although at times it seemed like trial by fire, I appreciated the opportunity to make decisions in the field and have the responsibility of problem solving. One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Ghana is that fieldwork is never as clean as the published papers make it out to be! Data collection is messy and when dealing with a foreign culture, there will always be unanticipated cultural differences between researchers and subjects!
Ashley Rhoderick is a graduate student studying environmental sciences and engineering in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. She received a CGI International Internship Award to determine the benefits of at-house water supply in Ghana. Check out the Awards page of our site to learn more.
UNC Folklore Graduate and Rotary International Peace Fellow Kiran Singh Sirah has been invited to give a key note address at the Rotary International UN Day at the UN headquarters entitled “Arts as a Social Force for Change”.
Rotary International's relationship with the United Nations dates back to 1945 when some 49 Rotary members acted as delegates, and advisors at the United Nations Charter Conference. Today, Rotary holds the highest consultative status possible with the United Nations as a non-governmental organization. UN Day, attracts more than 1300 people, including Rotary International Directors, Foundation Trustees, Senior Leaders, and guests, that come together at The UN Headquarters in New York to celebrate this significant and important relationship.
Kiran began his career as an artist which led him to establish a number of award winning arts-led peace and conflict based programs in the UK, addressing issues as sectarian, ethnic and religious conflict, poverty, and gang violence. Kiran was awarded a Rotary international peace fellowship to study at UNC, based on his work, which explores modern slavery violations and issues that faced socially marginalized people. As a peace fellow, folklorist and a slam poet, Kiran’s interest lies in the power of human creativity, arts and social justice.
Last summer, with CGI’s C.V. Starr Scholarship award, I was able to travel to Paris, France to examine French Holocaust survivor memoirs and video interviews at the Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation (CDJC). This research has expanded into my senior honors thesis in the History Department, which deals with Jewish memories of the Holocaust in France from the 1940's to today. I found that the memories of Jewish survivors in France change over time and are rooted in the historical context from which they are told. I trace three distinct collective memories of survivors at different times and use these memories to understand the present context in France, particularly directly after the war, the 1960's, and the 1990's. I also find that survivors’ relationship to France changes, and this is reflected in survivors’ memories of their experiences.
This trip was particularly important to me because it allowed me to both explore my academic interests, Modern European history and French, at a deeper and more sophisticated level, and it was also my first trip abroad. Coming to UNC, studying abroad was always an experience that I felt would be important to my undergraduate career, especially as someone with an interest in Europe and France. Unfortunately I was never able to come up with enough money to participate in a study abroad program. With funding from CGI, I was finally able to study in Europe and fulfill this important desire I had since I was a kid. This was particularly rewarding because I had to create this trip totally independently, driven by my research interests. My family could not support me financially, so I had to find funding for the trip on my own. Being able to make this trip happen independently and overcome the financial barrier that had always held me back was especially rewarding for me. Living in France as a historian and not just an American exchange student and being accepted into this academic community gave me a taste of the work of professional historians. In France, I spent my time in archives and museums, meeting with local historians. It reaffirmed my love for research, and my desire to pursue a career in history.
CGI is remarkable in its support for undergraduate research and with this support I have been able to further my academic and career goals. Thanks to this opportunity, this year I will start a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Modern European history, concentrating in French history, with a fellowship in European Jewish history.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $150,409 in FY2012 Fulbright-Hays doctoral dissertation funding. Fellowships are awarded to doctoral students to conduct research in other countries, in modern foreign languages and area studies, for periods of 6 to 12 months. Under the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program, research projects deepen knowledge on and help the nation develop capability in areas of the world not generally included in U.S. curricula.
Congratulations to the following Carolina Fulbright-Hays Fellows:
Andrew Ringlee, History
The Tsar's Militant Charity: The Red Cross in Imperial Russia, 1867-1914
Mr. Ringlee’s dissertation is the first political, institutional, social, and military history of the Red Cross in tsarist Russia. He hypothesizes that the joint endeavors between the tsarist government and the Russian Red Cross illustrate how state and society worked in tandem to fulfill an essential responsibility of the modern state: the maintenance of the welfare of its citizens. This work analyzes Russia's motives for adopting the Geneva Convention in 1867, the employment of Red Cross medical workers during the Russo-Turkish War and the Russo-Japanese War, and the Russian Cross' peacetime activities in distributing disaster relief and promoting medical education.
Paul Schissel, Anthropology
Thai Boxing and Masculine Thai Memory
Mr. Schissel’s research explores how the movements of Thai men involved in Thai boxing establish a basis for memorable interactions in Thai society. Based in boxing camps in Northeast Thailand and Bangkok, he will record how participation changes the material, social and thus, memorable dimensions of Thai boxer's lives. He will also investigate how trainers, gamblers and political officials around the ring determine matches to be balanced and permissible. By documenting these terms of Thai pugilistic exchange he intends to uncover the processes that make a shared time among Thai men: a time shared in both the intimacy of the violent, ritualized clash of Thai boxers and a political world which catalyzes abrupt, violent confrontation amidst periods of stillness, censorship and economic suppression.
Margaret Smith, Public Health
The Feasibility of Eliminating HIV in China
Antiretroviral therapy can prevent sexual HIV transmission by suppressing the concentration of virus in the blood and genital fluids. This fact has generated great interest in the use of ART as an HIV prevention tool; however, little is known about its long-term effects on HIV transmission at the population level. Several studies have reported associations between ART in the index case and lowered risk of HIV transmission. However one study in China observed similar frequencies of HIV transmission whether transmitters were treated or not. These transmissions mark an unexpected departure from the existing literature, and so to better understand the circumstances under which they took place, the proposed study will collect viral load data to identify predictors of HIV transmission.
Audra Yoder, History
From Luxury to Necessity: Tea and National Identity in Russia, 1682-1900
Through a study of tea as a commodity, a social ritual, and a national symbol, Ms. Yoder’s dissertation reexamines controversies surrounding cultural borrowing and identity formation in modern Russia. Between 1682 and 1900, tea evolved from a suspicious foreign substance, to an aristocratic luxury, to a household necessity. The samovar, or tea urn, played a central role in this process, having been adopted by elites in the eighteenth century and imagined as a national symbol by the late nineteenth. Influenced by both Asian and European cultures, she hypothesizes that the development of Russian tea culture facilitated the assimilation of controversies from Russia's past.
Contact: Beth-Ann Kutchma, 919.864.6842, email@example.com
As a Master’s student in the School of Public Health at UNC, I am very interested in the intersection of global health and chronic disease management. This summer with the support of CGI, I was fortunate enough to combine both of these interests by conducting research in Thailand on the Village Health Volunteer (VHV) program. As a little bit of background, the VHV are lay health workers in Thailand, who provide support to fellow community members on a variety of different health outcomes, ranging from Dengue Fever to Diabetes. In doing so, they perform a variety of different activities, such as blood sugar screenings and surveillance of stagnant water that could breed mosquitos.
Along with another colleague from my Master’s program, I was given the opportunity to conduct qualitative research on the VHV program. Primarily, we were interesting in assessing how they offered support to individuals and what factors influenced this. However, what I learned transcended these initial research questions, both academically and personally.
In an academic sense, I vastly increased my knowledge, understanding, and ability to perform public health research. While I was taught the basics of research methodology in the classroom, the skills that I learned over the summer far exceeded what could be theoretically explained. I learned how to create an interview guide in an international setting, how to collect data by working with translators, and what it means to engage with communities. I also learned about real-world barriers and challenges to conducting research, especially research abroad. There were linguistic barriers (e.g. there is no Thai word for empowerment), cultural barriers (e.g. hierarchies that determined to whom we could direct questions), and logistical barriers (e.g. lack of time).
In developing my skill set and encountering these challenges, I learned one of the most valuable experiences of all—the value of support. In fact, throughout the research, my classmate and myself explored how the Village Health Volunteers offered support. This would often take different forms. Sometimes, the VHV would do home visits and ask simple questions, such as “how are you doing today” or “have you had any problems recently?” In other instances, the VHV would act as liaisons between patients and doctors, helping to translate concerns or suggestions. In other cases, they would perform blood pressure and blood sugar screenings and help patients understand what the results meant. Thus, we observed that the VHV were influential to the health of both individuals and communities and that the support they offered was influenced by a number of factors.
However, in addition to the support we researched in the community, I also came to personally appreciate the value of institutional and community support from my own experience. Logistically, there was financial and academic support from UNC, CGI, and Mahidol University (our partner organization in Thailand). More than that however, there was an incredible amount of support from the communities in which we worked and the people with which we interacted. I feel so fortunate to have made long lasting relationships with the doctoral students and faculty that assisted our research. Even in our limited site visits, I felt an incredible amount of support and respect from community members. In the United States, we often value the “I”; this summer in Thailand, I learned to appreciate the “collective we” and the value that this adds to both research and personal experiences.
All in all, this was an incredibly rewarding experience that taught me important lessons regarding qualitative research, international settings, and community engagement. In doing so, it has informed my own research methodology and given me a greater perspective for my future pursuits.
By receiving a scholarship through CGI, I was able to travel with Carolina for Amani as a summer intern for the Amani Children’s Foundation to Kenya, where I worked in several orphanages for one month in the summer of 2011. The Amani Children’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization based out of Winston-Salem that, through the sale of African jewelry and other products, provides the primary financial support for the New Life Homes, a group of orphanages across Kenya that prioritize the rescue of HIV-positive babies.
Along with eleven interns, I traveled from one New Life Home to the next, doing a plethora of jobs including caring for children, playing with them, and most importantly, working with their adoption files. We updated their information and wrote 1-2 page personality descriptions for each child which are required to be updated annually for them to be eligible for adoption and are used when they are matched with new families. Writing the personality descriptions gave us the opportunity to not only make a real difference in these children’s lives by making them eligible for adoption and helping match them with a loving family, but also the opportunity to get to know the children on an individual basis and to really connect with them.
All of the babies in the New Life Homes made an impact on my heart in their own way, but one child in particular was Lance. Lance was older than all of the other children in the home and he took this position as a leader very seriously. He shared his toys and taught others how to share, lifted up the other children so they could reach the sink to wash their hands, played with the shier children, and communicated with caretakers. He won me over! He was so playful and fun to be around, but also so responsible, especially as such a young child. Playing with Lance and seeing him interact with the other children truly brought me so much joy, and I will never forget him.
I am a Public Relations major and am currently enrolled in a course on international communication. My time in Kenya helped me to realize that I absolutely see myself working internationally in the future; whether I am physically traveling abroad for my job, or staying in the United States working for a worldwide business or an organization that supports international philanthropies.
I would encourage anyone traveling abroad to apply for awards through CGI, because there are so many opportunities and experiences waiting for you outside of the United States that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
“Everyone bears within themselves a little world composed of all they have seen and loved, to whose sanctuary they constantly retreat, even when traversing, and seeming to inhabit, an alien world.” -François de Chateaubriand in Voyage en Italie.
Between December 2011 and April 2012, Tu was counted as one of some 200,000 Chinese immigrants in Italy, Europe’s biggest host of Chinese nationals. During these five months, Tu carried out his dissertation research on the apparel industry of Chinese immigrants who have recently become a compelling social issue in Italy. His fieldwork was composed of numerous interviews with entrepreneurs, local scholars and government officials, Chinese as well as Italian, from the affluent Po River in the north to the boisterous Campanian city of Naples in the south.
Before going to Italy, Tu received the CGI pre-dissertation award for his summer in Wenzhou, the hometown of the majority of Chinese Italians. He interviewed entrepreneurs who were in or still regularly travel to Italy. This summer research allowed him to establish a personal network which ended up helping a lot in Italy. Moreover, for maybe the first time, he was invited to see his own country from outside in.
Studying globalization as a global citizen and studying migrants as a migrant was the most fascinating lesson learned by Tu. By traveling between the U.S., China and Italy, he used his own body to test the borders of culture, economy and politics, and above all, of the different spaces in which people live their everyday life. It made him to realize that it would be impossible to understand people’s decisions without understanding their everyday rhythm. Choices are not open to all, and priorities vary among different people in different places.
“Only by living with them in their space, I understand not only how we differ but also how we resemble.”
Trained as a geographer, Tu now believes that fieldwork is the only way for one to strip the feeling of superiority as “social scientist” alongside all the implications of that title. One time, he saw himself in the eyes of a Chinese migrant worker whose finger was recently cut by a sewing machine, and another time of an Italian entrepreneur who tried her best to protect her company during the economic crisis. All these will eventually make his dissertation something more than just a data analysis.
“I have to constantly struggle between the position of a neutral outsider and the position of a friend or sympathizer, between being left out and being immersed in. It was difficult, always frustrating, but inspiring at the same time.”
Captivated by the food, cities and friends, he is now planning his next visit to Italy perhaps in the fall.
Tu Lan is a PhD student majoring in geography from Fujian, China. He received a Pre-Dissertation Travel Award for the summer of 2011, and the C.V. Starr Scholarship for his dissertation research in the spring of 2012.
Working for the State Department has always been my dream job. I always knew that I would end up there, but I had no idea I would be lucky enough to have this experience as an undergraduate. This past summer (2011) I interned at the US Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria in the Public Affairs department. This experience was the most incredible time of my life for personal and professional growth, none of which would have been possible without the help of the CGI International Internship Award. As a senior Political Science and Global Studies major with a concentration in Africa, a diplomatic internship in such a strategically important Western African country was perfect for me.
Luckily for me, summer at Embassies often means a shortage of American officers. For this reason I was able to complete real projects and function more as a Foreign Service Officer than as an intern. I worked with our Information Officer on our Embassy’s monthly publication. At first I wasn’t too excited about this project, but during its completion I realized what a truly important piece of literature it was. Most people American or otherwise have little knowledge of what US Embassies and Consulates do, other than grant visas, and our publication showcased all of the great work that all departments of the Embassy actually do. For example, World Blood Donor day was in June, so the Embassy hosted a diplomatic blood drive and educational programs about the importance of blood donation and sponsored a town meeting with Nigerian government officials about the current Blood Bank situation in the country.
My other big project was drafting a cable about the recently crafted Nigerian Freedom of Information Bill. This bill was closely modeled after the US version. This project not only served as a direct utilization of my comparative politics background, but it allowed me to work with local politicians and examine differences between the US and Nigerian systems.
Finally, working in Public Affairs gave me the opportunity to get out of the Embassy and work with many Nigerian grassroots organization on issues such as literacy, health, and women’s empowerment. One trip that was particularly meaningful was one I took with Dave, a retired Cultural Officer who returned to Abuja to help during the summer. We traveled to Kaduna in Northern Nigeria to meet with officials from the Gender Awareness Trust and provided them with a small grant to continue their good work in the state.
Although professionally this was an invaluable experience, personally living in Abuja this summer was not always the most fun prospect. Boko Haram, an anti-Western Islamist group, escalated terrorist attacks and set off the country's first suicide bomb at Police Headquarters less than 10 miles from the Embassy in the capital. Needless to say, the security situation was quite tense after this event. The military imposed a 6:00pm curfew, so leisure events were quite limited. Regardless, I wouldn’t trade my experience in Abuja for any other. I was able to work in a country that is proving to be quite important on a global scale and actually do substantive work.
After graduation I am teaching Political Science in Atlanta under the Teach for America program, but afterwards I hope to again work with the State Department’s Foreign Service.
Before the borders of the Serengeti and Tarangire national parks were drawn, the Maasai of northern Tanzania were nomadic herders. Now they plant crops. They wear digital watches. They text. Is there a way to balance their needs with those of the wildlife that call the plains home?
While Brian Miller and Tim Baird [winners of a CGI Pre-Dissertation Award and a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Award] were making sandwiches on the hood of their Land Cruiser, they joked about Tanzania’s lack of snakes. For years they had been visiting villages to understand how the people living near conservation parks were affected by those parks. Miller and Baird’s local research assistants, Gabriel Ole Saitoti and Isaya Rumas, were well aware of the area’s deadly snakes. But Miller and Baird had yet to see one and they were becoming skeptical.
They joked too soon. Mid-sandwich, the group heard villagers in a nearby field yelling, “Nyoka!” Saitoti translated: “Snake!”
By the time they got to the field, a spitting cobra—which can shoot venom up to six feet to blind any animal that threatens it—had unfurled its hood and reared up to its full height. A handful of Maasai villagers had encircled it, throwing rocks and clamoring for its death.
Without hesitation, Rumas jumped in to help kill the snake. After all, the village was not far off, and there were children and livestock around. Saitoti, on the other hand, stood back. He felt that if you left a snake alone, then the next time one crossed your path it would leave you alone. “Almost like snake karma,” Miller says.
Miller and Baird knew about the two different snake philosophies, so Rumas’s and Saitoti’s responses came as no surprise. But these were just the types of decisions Baird, Miller, and anthropologist Paul Leslie had come to Tanzania to understand. Their goal: to find a win-win situation for the wildlife and the people who call the Serengeti home.
Spanning northern Tanzania and southern Kenya—and part of a cluster of parks, reserves, World Heritage sites, and some of the earliest records of the human genus—are the wild, unforgiving Serengeti and Tarangire-Manyara ecosystems. They’re home to the world’s largest migrations of hungry vegetarians: elephants, zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, and buffalo continually chase the rains and sprouting savannah grass in and out of the parks.
The region is also part of Maasailand. In past centuries, the Maasai lived as seminomadic herders, fearlessly intermingling with the predators of the plains and earning a reputation as fierce warriors. “They moved from one place to another because they needed to bring their cattle to where rain had fallen and grass had grown,” Baird explains.
They set up temporary homes and considered the plains communal land. “Their pastures had no boundaries, no titles or deeds,” Leslie says. A boy became a man when he killed a lion. Their diet consisted mostly of milk, meat, and occasionally blood. That is, until the Maasai started farming.
For the past two decades or so, local governments, international conservation groups, and researchers have been following the transition of the Maasai from herders to crop growers. Some Maasai have taken up home gardens, while others have gotten involved in commercial farming. Now maize meal is a staple in the Maasai diet. Men have left their herds, migrating to cities to earn money for their farms.
“If you’re putting a maize field in the middle of grasslands, you’re obviously changing the environment,” Leslie says. Widespread farming alters resource use and availability; it creates topsoil erosion, reduces pasture land, requires precious water, and could block the paths of migratory wildlife. “It could really disrupt the ecosystem,” Leslie says. So, the big questions are: Why are the Maasai changing their livelihood? What are the consequences for their health? For their culture and social organization? For the environment?
In the 1950s the Tanzanian government created the Serengeti National Park and the indigenous Maasai were moved to the highlands. They were no longer allowed to bring their livestock to the park, even during the wet season when the area was lush for grazing. The idea was to preserve the wildlife and regulate hunting, particularly of lions. Herds of tourists followed. In the following decades, more parks and conservation areas were established, including the Tarangire—which had been a drought refuge for the Maasai—in 1970. “This whole area of Tanzania is called the ‘northern circuit,’” Leslie says. “It’s the prime tourist destination.”
“Anybody who studies the social dynamics of conservation has, at one point, said that parks can be terrible for poor people,” Baird says. “Parks kick them off the land, take away their resources, don’t share profits.” In some places, park boundaries are obscure or contested, and people have built farms right up to the edges. Park rangers are often heavy-handed in enforcing park rules and have cut down whole crop fields that seemed to them a little too close. The past decade also brought a string of droughts that have devastated wildlife, crops, and people.
You could guess a lot of reasons the Maasai might pick up farming in the midst of conservation efforts: an additional food source, better nutrition, a way to make a little money. But as Leslie, Miller, and Baird are finding, the Maasai’s responses and decisions aren’t that simple. “At first we thought it was because of poverty and population growth,” Leslie says. “To some extent that’s true, but if that were the case you would have agriculture only being taken up by the poorest people.” That’s not what’s happening.
Leslie went to Tanzania in 1998 to figure out exactly what was going on. Knowing that parks spur broad change, he started by looking at demography, land use, and economic activity in the villages. One of the first things he and his team found was that each village was worried about the same things—access to resources, being cut off from land and water—but all had slightly different strategies. Cultivation was the single common trend.
Some villages made up land titles for farming to try to block the government from expanding neighboring parks. “They feel threatened by the park, and when they cultivate the land it’s like branding, like they would brand their animals,” Baird says. Some villages decided where to plant crops and build structures, such as secondary schools, in order to block the migrations. “The villagers think if the migrating wildlife aren’t there, the government is not going to be interested in taking their land,” Leslie says. “It’s basically preemptive cultivation.” Still other villages have started their own conservation efforts; they’ve given up areas otherwise used for farming and herding so that wildebeest can come to calf.
The trouble is that these strategies may not work. For instance, branding land with cultivation could trigger stronger conservation efforts. And putting fields in the middle of migratory paths may just lead wildlife to tromp through and destroy crops. Giving up the most nutritious grasses to wildebeest and other wildlife means the Maasai’s herds won’t have enough food, so neither will the Maasai. “These are political strategies and economic ones,” Leslie says. “They’re all experimenting, really. It’s all in flux.”
“For every type of natural resource management, any type of intervention, there will be a response,” Baird says. “If we can understand it, if we can predict what that response is going to be, then we can design the management strategy more effectively.”
While the Maasai test new methods, Leslie and his team are following their decisions, their logic, and what those mean for the ecosystems and Maasailand. “Ultimately,” Miller says, “our goal is to find some balance there. A good starting point is understanding how people are generating their income and what effects they may be having on the local ecosystem” (see “SLURP?” below).
In the past thirteen years, Leslie’s team has been in the Serengeti/Tarangire region almost constantly, surveying the villages and lands in flux. “You can’t just go there for a year and say, ‘Well, this is what it’s usually like,’ because things fluctuate so much,” Leslie says. They set up a permanent, thornbush-enclosed camp outside of Tarangire. Luckily, lions and hyenas treat tents like rocks. “They don’t know that they have a soft chewy center,” Leslie says. But the team takes precautions just in case. They hire villagers to help them out—a guard at the campsite, for example. It’s like a small business, Miller says: “We call it the Company.”
After looking at big-picture demographic and land-use changes, Baird came back from an eleven-month trip with a big finding. “In Western-speak, I investigate the banking and insurance sectors of Maasai culture,” he says. While the Maasai don’t usually open checking accounts or buy insurance, they have economic systems in place that provide the same safety nets. Baird found that their economic choices are indicators of how well the village is developing—how much health care, education, and access to water they have. “My hypothesis was that development was going to be lower closer to the park,” Baird says. After all, the park introduces constraints to the Maasai way of life. But he found that the park actually seemed to catalyze the Maasai’s development and prosperity. It changed their investment decisions, too.
“Tarangire National Park is forty years old,” Baird says. “The Maasai don’t just remain victims forever. They adapt. They come up with new strategies.” In the past, the Maasai used cattle restocking and animal loans as insurance, which provided a way to mitigate risk. If a Maasai’s cattle were killed by drought or disease, villagers would each donate an animal or two to help him restock. If a Maasai needed extra money for, say, a hospital visit, he might ask for a loan in the form of an animal to sell. The borrower would eventually have to pay back the animal, usually with a more expensive one to incorporate interest.
“A loan is only extended if you have a problem. The same with restocking,” Baird says. “Gifts are different.” Gifts of animals are used to forge friendships and connections in happier times. These connections are central to the villagers’ culture and way of life.
“I found villages far from the park using lending and restocking all the time,” Baird says, “which means they’re having problems.” The villages closest to the parks aren’t, at least not to the same degree. In fact, the closest villages found ways to build schools, recruit outside help to drill wells, build dams, and get hunting companies to pay for stuff, Baird says. Since the villagers see the park as a risk, they have diversified and embraced modern techniques to mitigate that risk. Instead of relying on old insurances, they developed new ways around problems. Now they use gifting as their primary transaction. When they do use loans, they use them to capture opportunities, such as paying for school. The villages far from the park certainly aren’t doing that.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. “The concern is that development outside of the park is harmful to the long-term integrity of the ecosystem,” Baird says. Some conservation groups are actually paying villagers not to develop land or plant crops. “In southern Africa, it’s more often a matter of policy to try to get local communities to benefit from conservation,” Leslie says. That way people living nearby are less threatened by the park and less likely to negate conservation efforts. “We started doing comparative work to see what works,” Leslie says.
Miller is working on a model to understand the relationship between conservation interventions, social responses, and positive outcomes. He’s starting with the villages outside of Tarangire, where the Tanzanian guide Rumas is from. Once the model is done, he’ll test it out. “Ideally, I would go to different parts of Tanzania or different parts of the world and see if it holds up,” Miller says. That somewhere different might be the northern region where Saitoti is from and where conservation efforts and park rangers have been the most aggressive. “People have been thrown in jail or beaten, or had animals confiscated,” Leslie explains.
“Perceptions of conservation are very different there,” Baird says.
When Rumas jumped in to help kill the spitting cobra, one of the villagers grabbed a shuka—a traditional red dress cloth. “The villager was holding it up almost like a bullfighter to distract the cobra,” Miller says. The cobra shot its venom at the shuka while other villagers killed it with rakes. Because they believed that even the bones could kill, they brought oil and rags to burn the carcass. “They were very serious about disposing of it,” Miller says. “It was kind of sad to watch, actually.”
“Everybody agrees that conservation is worthwhile,” says Paul Leslie. “But this is a Western value. We like to see these animals. We’re convinced that there’s value in preserving species diversity. We can construct arguments about why this is a good thing, and I agree with almost all of them. The real problem is that conservation is, to a large extent, on the backs of local people who don’t typically benefit from it.”
Since severe droughts in 2000 and 2009 devastated the Maasai’s crops and herds, Brian Miller has been researching how fluxes in land use and social dynamics have affected water. “When you talk to the Maasai about their main concerns, they say that water availability and access is huge,” Miller says. In the past, they would get their water from the park area, which is now off-limits. “In dry seasons and droughts, that’s where the wildlife and tourists are,” he says. “So the Maasai can’t just sneak in and go to the river.” When rain does fall, it’s in unpredictable spurts; one patch can be well watered, while a patch two hundred yards away can get no water at all.
Miller will be in Tanzania for eight months this year to find out how the Maasai have adapted. He’ll interview villagers, water management councils, village officials, and clan elders to figure out where and how people are getting water and what effect that has on the environment. He’s focusing on four rivers outside of Tarangire that have different management strategies and levels of development. Villagers told him that the most remote river is pristine, while another, downstream of a recent deforestation site, is a useless trickle. Miller will record the shape of the river channel and evaluate sediment-supply changes and water discharge levels to verify the villagers’ reports.
Water access depends on socioeconomics. Water managers and NGOs have drilled boreholes to pump water up from aquifers, for which they often charge fees. Villagers have dug wells by hand in the riverbed—possibly disrupting water and sediment flow—which they regulate using traditional rules that favor clan members. Miller wants to know what’s driving their choices.
“I’ll take some satellite imagery that’ll tell me about where the vegetation is most productive, and then on top of that I can stack the conservation data, and then I can also stack a layer for agriculture development,” he says. He’ll use those data to build a model of the consequences of changes in resource access.
He’ll walk a fine line between drawing suspicion from the Maasai or from the park officials. “The park authority is leery of social scientists in general, since they tend to write about the raw deal that people are getting,” Paul Leslie says. If they think Miller’s causing trouble, they could revoke his research clearance. But if the Maasai think that he’s working with a conservation group, they might not tell him what’s going on. So his team goes by the name “Savanna Land Use Project.”
“It’s not conservation. It’s not human development. It’s generic,” Leslie says. If only there were an “R” in it, he jokes, they could call it SLURP.
Beth Mole was formerly a postdoctoral fellow in the medicinal chemistry and natural products division of the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.
Paul Leslie is a professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. He received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Brian Miller is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology and is funded by the Center for Global Initiatives [Pre-Dissertation Award] and NSF. Timothy Baird is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences and is funded by a Fulbright-Hays [DDRA] fellowship and NSF. All three are members of the Carolina Population Center.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of Endeavors.
My trip to Central Asia was not something that I had planned for the summer 2011. In fact, it was a spontaneous endeavor that turned into a life changing experience and helped me to reconnect with my family roots. My interest in the region stemmed from my diverse background and my upbringing in Russia, and I developed a passion for initiating efforts to encourage education in post-Soviet nations. To me, education is an essential part of international development and means of increasing living standards and the general welfare of any country.
It all began with the decision to take advantage of my summer and satisfy my passion for volunteer work. I always enjoyed community service and while participating in several projects at a time throughout Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas, I wanted to satisfy my wanderlust as well. I underwent the regular process of applying for internships to various NGOs, but after several months of silence, I took the matter into my hands and contacted professors and staff at UNC to aid me in my search for a summer project. Luckily, I was able to contact the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan and after several persistent emails, I received a reply and was recommended to American Councils. This particular NGO is funded by the U.S. State Department and deals specifically with aiding students in their educational pursuits, and I would be personally overseeing the academic progress of students in the capital of Ashgabat. It was truly the funding from CGI that secured my summer internship with the NGO. Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to discover my new-found passion for Central Asia. I recall daydreaming about the scorching sands and, according to State Department’s website, the abundance of scorpions. Sights I wanted to see and new sensations I desired to experience were all made possible by CGI.
Was I scared? Deathly. This was the first time I traveled by myself and without knowing a single soul in this exotic country, my expectations reached zero. As I waited at the airport in Turkey, I began to notice women in strange garbs lining up by the gate labeled “Ashgabat, Turkmenistan”. What on earth made me decide to go there? I recall my first few days as a blur. It could have been the heat or the unceasing tears. I am not afraid to admit that I was very scared to be alone and without a decent Internet connection and no way to contact my parents or friends, I sought comfort in my new surroundings. Over the next few weeks and months, I learned the bus routes and the taxi system. I began to pick up words and customs, and the sights that I dreamed about at night finally began to blend with reality. The people were curious about this new comer who spoke their language and was their only link to America. My host mother had to adjust to my Western clothes and addiction to the Internet while I had to adjust to sitting on the floor for every meal and my new style of living. I traveled across town and taught English and college prep classes every day and over time, I learned. I began to understand my students and how much they longed to improve their education and better their chances in this life. Talking to them and truly appreciating our differences and similarities made this experience invaluable. I put aside my ambitions and dedicated my efforts to help them become more proficient in English and improve their skills in essay writing and critical thinking. As I taught these students what it means to be educated in the United States, I understood what it meant to me. As an immigrant from Russia, I was truly lucky to attend such a great university and I hope to dedicate my time and efforts after my graduation to NGOs such as the American Councils.
The country of Turkmenistan is mostly considered to be one of the “-stan”s and its distinctive customs and traditions are completely different from the surrounding post-Soviet states. Indeed, I did not teach my students in my classes as much as they were able to teach me outside of the office. Girls of sixteen or eighteen years of age took me under their wing and allowed me to truly experience the country and its customs. I spend every waking moment adapting and that is the only way one can truly appreciate the country and its unique qualities. I was able to attend a traditional Turkmen wedding, travel to rural villages, and visit historic and religious sites. I began to blend into their world by adopting even the Turkmen dresses and eating with my hands at every meal. With that, I was able to truly understand what it meant to live 6,500 miles away from all the comforts of home. Shed your old self. Lose the fear, because in a way, the people of Turkmenistan were not so different from me and as I retrace my steps back to a region that is so exotic and unknown, I began to understand that it is closer to me than I previously believed.