Research Question: To what extent is the HIV/AIDS epidemic creating new vulnerabilities to destitution and hunger in rural farming households in Ekufikeni, Swaziland?
The major goal of my summer research was to ascertain the degree to which trends of the new variant famine hypothesis were manifested in the lives of rural farmers in Ekufikeni, Swaziland. This hypothesis provides an explanation of how the HIV/AIDS pandemic could potentially be compounding long-standing causes of food-insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, such as drought, to negatively affect the sustainability of household livelihoods.
During the summer, I conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty two households. This portion of the research project is complete. However, I will be in the process of researching and writing a thesis based on this work for the full academic year to come. At the most basic level, the interviews conducted and statistical information gathered indicate that the new variant famine hypothesis is useful in describing the new threats that now face sub-Saharan Africa.
El Shaddai, the community partner I worked with, is already actively battling HIV/AIDS by running a community clinic, a free school and providing health education to local children. I feel that my work will benefit El Shaddai Ministry by providing them with community-specific knowledge. In particular, knowledge which pinpoints vulnerable people, contributing factors to rising levels of destitution and ways in which the negative outcomes of HIV/AIDS can be mitigated. I will be sending the directors my thesis upon completion and they are taking my research into account while planning how best to deal with the local HIV/AIDS crisis.
Link to Valerie’s research blog: http://valinswaziland.blogspot.com/
Research Question: What are the successful components of the Millennium Development Goal model that can be expanded to other districts?
With my APPLES Community-Based Research Fellowship, I investigated the work of a Bangladeshi NGO to localize the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Bangladesh. The Unnayan Shamannay (“Coordinating Development”), a grassroots civil society dedicated to local development, had been facilitating an MDG project since 2005. From the work of these clubs, both districts have experienced improvements such as reductions in school drop outs, improvements in maternal care, increases in agricultural yield, reductions in maternal mortality, and increased interest in attaining the MDGs. Through data analysis, in depth interviews, and site visits, I wanted to understand how this success could be replicated in other unions of Bangladesh.
I began my research with academic study of Unnayan Shamannay’s materials. I reviewed MDGs: A People’s Progress Report as well as the independent civil society report on MDG progress of MDGs. In addition to World Bank Reports on Bangladesh’s progress, I read the Bangladesh government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, the action plan to attain the MDGs. From this academic analysis, I found that Unnayan Shamannay had uniquely focused on the people’s perception of MDG progress and identified needs largely ignored in the other overviews. Along with my academic research, I completed site visits to Sirajganj and Patuakhali, which are two separate districts in Bangladesh. Through these visits, I was able to see these first-hand.
I found that local ownership, emphasis on female participation, allocation in the local budget, and participatory dialogue were the components of this MDG model that had led to success in Sirajganj and Patuakhali. For expansion of this MDG model to other districts, I advised that these mechanisms be included. With the Community-Based Research Fellowship I received, I was able to analyze improvements in human development in rural Bangladesh.
Following my research, I am currently helping Unnayan Shamannay write a report to the United Nations Development Programme on this Localizing MDGs Project. This year, I am working with my faculty advisor Jonathan Weiler to write a senior honors thesis on local attempts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Link to Shefa’s research blog: http://shefas.blogspot.com/
Research Question : How does the media cover and represent violence, and how do those representations translate to the public?
This summer I spent three weeks in Islamabad, Pakistan and witnessed the Lal Masjid Siege of July 2007. Following the week long standoff, numerous bombings, riots, and protests took place throughout Pakistan and the Muslim world. The siege and the resulting backlash received constant and continuous interest in the media, but the extent and quality of coverage varied among Pakistani, Middle Eastern, and Western news sources.
In addition to analyzing the content of media articles on the Lal Masjid Siege, I also explored what violence is, how it is studied and how people speak about violence. I also explored the antagonistic role Islam has taken in both news and popular media. This consistent representation of Islam as “the bad” or “new threat” affects how people perceive news coverage and what they understand from a news story in which violence, Islam and the government are key components. Through a combination of literature review, content-analysis and my own personal experiences, media coverage of the Lal Masjid Siege varied significantly in terminology, placement and coverage of articles. Consequently, differences in media coverage also correlated with different reactions throughout the siege. Though a critical analysis of the Lal Masjid Siege, I hope to shed light on the relationship between media representation of violence and how it influences actions in the community.
Research Question : What is the efficacy of international university scholarship programs for students in Central Asia, and how has this affected development in the respective countries?
Central Asia, commonly accepted as the five former Soviet republics; Tajikistan, Uzebkistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgzstan have all suffered unstable political and economic environments since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The once strong Soviet university system is obsolete today and much of the techniques and resources of the system have not been updated since the collapse. Today in Central Asia there is not a single, fully internationally accredited university. Many international organizations as well as government intiatives work to promote the development of domestic human capital through international scholarships to universities in Europe, the United States, Japan and other developed university systems. The goal of the research project was to study the efficacy of these programs. Were students returning to their country, or staying abroad? Were scholarship alumni well received when they returned? Were they making an impact on development?
Not a significant number of scholarship recepients stayed abroad in either Tajikistan or Kazakhstan.. Some programs such as the Kazakh Bolashak scholarship include contractional obligations to return and work within the country for a specified number of years. International organizations promote return through VISA restrictions, such as the American J-1 VISA, which refuses entry into the US for two years after expiration. However, these students returned mostly, not because of scholarship requirements or VISA restrictions, but due to cultural responsibility, usually to care for aging parents.
Kazakhstan and Tajikistan scholarships and student experiences when abroad were very similar, however the countries diverge most distinctly when students return to their home country. On all accounts Kazakhstan shows a much more positive reception to students with foreign degrees. Alumni in Tajikistan often cite frustration with government response to their education. The impact is obviously the most important element to these scholarships, and there is a stark difference between the countries. Kazakhstan due in large part to their oil resources have expanded scholarship opportunities for students, proving higher education as a government priority. Companies and the government are also more open to these recepients and positive turn for a government that has had the same President since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Tajikistan the academic culture of corruption breeds nepotism and the government is still very closed off to the contributions of educated professionals outside of the traditional ruling officials. Tajik scholarship recepients are making a small impact but potential is stifled.
Link to Emre’s Research Blog: http://emre-centralasia.blogspot.com
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