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By marisalgado94

Through my research project, I have had a really great opportunity to spend time with some very dedicated, inspiring people in the community of Nordeste, a barrio that is made up of three different neighborhoods and that is plagued by violence, drug trafficking, and a lack of support from the government.  In looking into how community programs help to keep kids out of the negative influences, I have interviewed coaches of a community body boarding/ surf team and they have been so incredible to learn from.

All of these guys were born in the community and many of them still live there; they are very familiar with the lives of the kids they coach because they have lived that struggle themselves.  They know what its like to have parents that are alcoholics or involved in drug trafficking.  They have seen friends get sucked into gangs and have lost people close to them to the violence that surrounds the community.  Despite their struggles, they all found a way to rise above their circumstances and have now turned around and invested back into this community.  For many of them, the beach and body boarding was what kept them off the streets and they have gone and done the same by creating a community body boarding team that is free, open to all kids as long as you are enrolled in school, and gives them a space to have good roles models, be in a safe environment, and grow into responsible, caring citizens that give back to others.

I wish I could write up all of their stories and share them with you, but for now I'll stick with one.

One coach's interview struck me the most.  One of the first questions that I typically asked them was, "What is the biggest problem that is facing your community today?" There being no right answer, many coaches said drugs, lack of education, mistrust of police, but his answer was just one word- Prejudice.  The look in his eyes when he answered spoke more than any words ever could.  His answer has begun to shape the way that I look at all the interviews and stories that I have collected throughout my second week of research.  Those other problems- drugs, violence, lack of education- they are all just symptoms of a greater underlying issue.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that the underlying issue is prejudice.  Nordeste is an almost entirely Afro Brazilian population and race is a very sensitive issue in Brazil.  Yes, there are gangs, drug traffickers, and a lot of bad things and people in this community.  But, there are also good, kind, intelligent people who just need someone to look at them and say, "You are worth investing in because you are just as much of a person as I am".  Sadly, this community is looked down upon; outsiders see everyone that lives here as being the same... thieves, vagabonds, hopeless.  I have learned how important community programs like Amaralina Kids Body Boarding Team are.  They are taking charge of the community's future and deciding that it is up to them to change the perception that people have.  They are working tirelessly to show these kids that they are worth someone time, that they can be good people who change the way outsiders look at the community.

Instead of being upset, dejected, and angry about the lack of government assistance and the racism and prejudice towards their community, the coaches and kids of the team are doing their best to make a change.  To some, it may seem like something small, but for them, its everything.  This is their team, their family, their home.  It has been amazing getting to know these kids, learning from the coaches, and seeing how they are making waves for Nordeste.

By marisalgado94

After almost 3 months of being in a classroom, becoming knowledgeable on theory, and having the chance to travel through field excursions, the hallmark part of an SIT program has finally arrived- the Independent Study Project (ISP).  When this program first started, the ISP seemed like something that was far off and removed... yes, I understand I need to conduct a research project but first, let me get acclimated to an entirely new country and learn a whole new language.  But as time went by and assignments for research prep were due, the project became very real; I was terrified.  I have written many long research papers before, understand the format and goals of a project, and have taken research methods classes to make sure that all parts of my study are ethical and giving something back to the community.  However, I have never really conducted research in the field, where all of my information is primarily supposed to come from first hand sources, interviews, observations, and analysis.  The way that SIT work's is that for the last month of the program, you are set free for three weeks to do your research independently.  While you are matched with an adviser to guide you, your project is very much dependent on your own motivation and dedication to your work.  All of this was intimidating at first but guess what y'all?  Today was my first day in the field, and I am happy to say it was a successful day!

Let me tell you a bit about my project.  I have always been passionate about helping kids, bottom up community development, and health education.  I have found a way to combine all of these things into my project.  I will be spending time learning about Nordeste de Amaralina, a community in Salvador that is characterized by low socioeconomic status, racial discrimination and marginalization, and high levels of violence, drug use, and drug trafficking.  I will be familiarizing myself with the community through a drug research and treatment center through interviews and determining what the risk factors are in the community for drug use among teens.  Then I will be doing observations and interviews with instructors and parents from the Amaralina Kids Body Boarding Team, a team that focuses on giving kids a positive environment to spend Sunday mornings and providing them with positive role models.  My hope is to see how this program is addressing and helping reduce the influence of the risk factors for drug use and what ways community programs could be expanded in Salvador to better serve this population.

Today was spent doing observations of the teams structure, team member/ coach interaction, and attitude of the teens during the program.  While at some points it was difficult to understand some of the things that were going on in Portuguese, I felt like I was able to overcome the challenges by asking questions and using context clues to define words I was unsure about.  Through this next week, I will be attending a parent/ coach meeting where I will hopefully conduct interviews with individuals.  While I am nervous since these interviews are a large part of my ethnographic research project, I am excited to learn from these families and coaches and see how their lives have been impacted by the environment they live in and what is being done to make life better.  One day of research down, 25 more to go!

By kcampbell94

During the month of November, most of us moved out from our host families’ homes and moved into our own house to do our ISP (independent study project). Eight of us moved into a house in Kimironko, very close to a well-known restaurant called, New Hello’s Corner. Four of our other classmates lived down the street, and the remaining three chose to remain living in their homestays. The ISP time is usually used to do research. Usually, one chooses a research questions and then interviews many people who are familiar with that area. Some of the things my classmates researched are as follows:

  • PTSD treatment in Rwanda (or lack thereof)
  • Gender based violence in post-genocide society
  • Art therapy as a coping mechanism for genocide survivors
  • Ethnic identity

Since my arrival, I had known that I wanted to get involved in an NGO here. Originally, I had planned on doing a case study, comparing a few different NGOs in Rwanda. My academic advisor, however, told me that it would be a better idea to pick just one. Somehow, this quickly spiraled into me finding Never Again Rwanda, or NAR. Its focus is exactly that which its name tells you: to reconcile Rwanda and prevent genocide from ever reoccurring. Their goals are sustainable peace and an empowered youth. I ended up securing an internship with NAR for three weeks, eight am to five pm every day. Immersing myself in the work place here was an entirely new experience. It was difficult at times with cultural differences, but I ended up getting very close with my coworkers, which of course, was making my quickly dwindling time here harder and harder to accept. With NAR, I went on many excursions such as high school debates about unemployment, debates about early pregnancy, and a mobile exhibition. In the end, I wrote my ISP as more of an internship report, discussing the incredible success of this organization.

With my leaving on December 7th, I have less than a week left of this experience. It’s unfathomable. It has undoubtedly been the smartest decision of my life. To wrap up this post, I’d like to list some of the highlights, or peaks, if you will.

  • Our Thanksgiving (comprised of going to Kieran’s home stay family’s house to feast and then watch The Lion King 1 and a Half and later having a dinner together completed with Pringles, Nutella, and pasta)
  • My revisiting of my home stay family one Sunday afternoon, where I met my extended “family” and resumed card playing with my host brothers
  • Going to different art exhibits with two of my NAR coworkers to see how we should set up our mobile exhibition
  • A trip back to Butare with Kat to attend the mobile exhibition, full of adventures, split Chinese food, and Rwandan ice cream
  • Halloween, when we had dinner at my homestay and then had a Halloween party at our new house with our Rwandan friends

With these memories, the friends, and the immense knowledge I have gained, I find myself on the daily asking, “How can I leave? How can I possibly leave?”

By marisalgado94

As classes for my program have ended and we have moved into the field learning portion of our program, I had the opportunity to spend the last two weeks travelling to different parts of Bahia, live in a few different settings, and see the public health system in Brazil, the good and the bad, in action.   This last week, we spent time in Ilhéus, a city along the coast about 10 hours south of Salvador.  While on the outside the city seems like another one of Brazil’s beautiful tourist destinations, there is much that lies below the surface.

After learning about the history of the city, the influence of cocoa plantations on income disparities, and becoming acquainted with different neighborhoods that we would be observing and visiting, we got to participate in one of my favorite conversations that we have had: talking with a Cuban doctor who is a part of Brazil’s Mais Medicos program.  One of the downsides of SUS (Brazil’s medical system) is that there is a lack of doctors, especially for lower income communities.  The basic health centers are broken down into teams that serve specific communities; a team consists of community agents, nurses, and a doctor who oversees them.  In Ilhéus, there are many teams of community agents who do not have a doctor, causing long waits for patients.  That is where the Mais Medicos program comes in.  The Brazilian government has a contract with the Cuban government through which Cuba sends doctors to Brazil for a 3 year period in order to fill the gaps that Brazilian doctors cannot or do not want to fill.  Part of the requirement is that you have been practicing medicine for 10 years and have experience working outside of the country in the field of medicine.  The doctor we were able to speak to had been a doctor in Cuban for over 20 years and had spent 3 years in Venezuela on a similar program.

I had many questions about how this program worked.  Did the community receive the doctors well?  What was it like having to learn an entirely new language and practice medicine in that language?  Was leaving your family for 3 years worth it?  She explained to us that many of the patients she worked with had not been to a doctor in years and had no idea in what shape their health was; they were extremely excited that finally something was being done to get them care and that there was someone who wanted to do whatever they could to help their community.  Although she had never spoken Portuguese before coming to Brazil, our doctor said that she had amazing support from other Brazilian doctors that she worked with and they were extremely helpful in teaching her in any ways they could.  Although she missed her family, she explained to us that she felt she was where she needed to be and she was doing something that she loved. Although the Mais Medicos program and other Cuban doctor exchange program like it are somewhat controversial, from my perspective it is providing communities with resources and care that they otherwise would go without.  These doctors see a need and they do what they can to fill it. Since the doctor we spoke to had entered that community, she was able to see roughly 35 patients a day, work with community health agents to get people's diabetes and hypertension under control, and has delivered multiple babies over the last 6 months with zero complications.

While this program is working well, why is it that doctor's need to be brought in to begin with?  A big issue is that since medical school in Brazil is extremely expensive (so expensive that many doctors chose to leave the country in order to attend medical school), doctors who do invest in their education have no choice but to search for higher paying jobs in order to pay off their schooling.  The lack of willingness of doctors in Brazil to go and work in lower income communities speaks to a need for restructuring the system and allotting greater resources to medicine in these areas and creating incentives for doctors to want to work there.  Once again, while SUS is a great system in theory, there is much that still needs to be worked out in practice.  Hopefully through my next few weeks of research, I will be able to see how community organizations are taking the health of their communities into their own hands and, doctors or not, finding ways to make life healthier for themselves and their families.

I am spending this next week prepping for my research project and setting up my interviews, so look forward to my next post as it will likely have some great stories on my challenges in interviewing in Portuguese, what I've learned from the organization I am researching, and some reflections on the implications of my findings on healthcare in Brazil!

By marisalgado94

Last week was week one of my research project.  I am spending my 3 weeks researching the effect that community organizations have on reducing risk factors for drug use among teens in a low income community in Salvador called Nordeste.  My goal is to spend time with a body boarding program that works with kids from that area, interviews parents and coaches, and use the Center for Study and Treatment of the Abuse of Drugs that is at the Federal University of Bahia to get information on the history of drug use in the community and what sort of resources are available, how the community takes advantage of those resources, and what the challenges are in treating and reducing drug use in the community.

Let me tell you, conducting research in a foreign country is full of challenges.  As this is more of an ethno- grafic research project and most of my information will be coming from primary sources and interviews, my biggest concern was getting the contacts I needed and making the connections to be able to carry out these interviews.  This last week, I had a really hard time getting in touch with people and getting them to commit to an interview or to a meeting time... Brazilian's definitely have their own concept of what doing something in a timely manner means and that has been a cultural difference that I have learned to accept and work around in my research.

Another challenge that I am facing is the language.  While my research adviser speaks English fairly well, most of my contacts, interviews, my background readings, and any prior research I am drawing from is all in Portuguese.  While my comprehension of written Portuguese has come along quite well in the last 3 months and I speak it well enough to get by in day to day life.  However, when interviewing people, I have to simultaneously listen, take notes, understand what they are saying, and then process and come up with follow up questions.  I have been able to do it with the few interviews I have gotten so far, but at the end of the day, you're brain is definitely exhausted.

Although the project started out slower than I would have liked it to, I am really enjoying this.  I have never done field research before and this is a great experience.  I feel like I am learning so much about a topic that is relevant not only to Salvador, but the places all over the world.  It is opening up my eyes to how drug use here in Salvador isn't just a disease or an addiction in and of itself, but rather a symptom of a greater underlying issue.  My hope is that in this next week of interviews and research, I will continue to get a greater overall picture of how drugs impact the community of Nordeste, the ways that the Amaralina Kids Body Boarding Team is working to get these kids off the streets, and explore ways that the government can begin to provide more support to community organizations such as those that are here in Nordeste.

I'm excited to continue learning and hopefully, this research is the beginning of something that I can continue in the US, back here in Brazil, and in other countries as well.

By marisalgado94

While most of my friends back in the US are wrapping up midterms and are counting down the days until Thanksgiving break, it feels weird to say that I am done with classes and took my final exams this past week.  My program is broken up into two parts- the first half is theoretical and lecture based, the second half is all based on field study and application.  For the first half of the semester, I was in class every day for morning sessions of Portuguese and afternoon sessions of either seminar classes on race, public health, and human rights or research methods and ethics.  Although this past week was stressful turning in a 7 page final paper, a 17 page research proposal, and studying for my portguese final, I am happy to say that for once, I did not procrastinate (mom, you would be so proud)!

Tomorrow, the field study begins.  We will be embarking on a two week journey through various parts of Bahia, vistining rural communities and immersing ourselves in the culture.  Upon return, we begin our independent research projects, the capstone of this program.  I am so excited to begin my research.  I will be looking into a community program, Amaralina Kids Body Boarding (go like them on Facebook!) which is ran by my host brother, and evaluating their effectiveness in reducing the risk factors for drug abuse among teens in the Nordeste community of Amarlina, one of Salvador’s neighborhoods that knows all to well the impact of drug trafficking, gang violence, and a heavy police presence.  Through interviews with parents and coaches and participant observations at team practices, I hope to present concrete evidence on how the program has had postive benefits in the community.  My goal is that with this research, the coaches and organizers of the program will now have a qualitative analysis of all the hard work that they have put into this program and be able to use the findings to open doors for partenrships with other community organizations and health professionals to be able to expand the resources  they are able to give to these kids.

Although I have written research papers before, the idea of conducting field research and coming out on the other side with a 40 page write up of my three weeks is a little daunting.  We are moving out of out host homes and into apartments with other students, responsible for getting to and from project sights, and most stressful of all, conduct out interviews and interactions all in Portuguese (my two months, while heavy in the language, are definitely going to be put to the test!). I am so excited, however, that I am able to conduct my research with an organization that is trying to make a difference in their community and hope that through this project, I will be able to give back as well.  Stay tuned for stories and reflections on my two week travels and the beginning of my research project!



By marisalgado94

I woke up and immediately knew that something definitely wasn't right.  My vision was a bit blurry, my eyes had this sore, sandy feeling, and the sunshine that was bursting through my window seemed way brighter and harsh than it usually did at 5 in the morning.  I sleepily stumbled into the bathroom and my fears were confirmed- my eyes definitely had some sort of infection. I had been battling a cold for the last week and assumed that my latest symptom was just another progression of a particularly aggressive cold.  I called up my academic director and being the wonderful woman that she is, she told me she would take me to the doctors that afternoon.  This made me, and my mom back in the States, feel much better as part of my hesitancy of going to the doctors earlier in the week had been not knowing how to use my month of Portuguese to get myself through Brazil's lovely health care system.

My classmates joked that now I would have a chance to see healthcare in Brazil in action... the ultimate "case study".  As studying health in Brazil is the main focus of my program, I too thought it would be interesting to make observations on the type of care that I, along with others in the doctor's office I was going to, were receiving.  After arriving at one of Salvador's many hospitals, one that is a part of SUS (Brazil's healthcare system), we were told that an eye specialist was not available for emergency care.  The receptionist told us that the best place to go would be to a private medical center that was just around the corner.  As I looked around the waiting room, I saw a crowd of people scattered about, each waiting their turn to be seen for free as public healthcare services in Brazil are free for everyone.

Long story short, I went to this private eye center and after paying quite a bit of money up front and a little wait time, I was brought in for a consultation, told I needed antibiotics, given a prescription and sent on my merry way.  Walking back out to our car, we passed by the hospital’s waiting room again.  It was still crowded and full of people who probably wouldn't be seen for quite some time.  Like I said before, SUS is Brazil's public healthcare system.  According to Brazil's 1988 constitution that was written post- military dictatorship, healthcare is a citizen's right and it is the government's responsibility to provide universal, equitable, and decentralized healthcare to all citizens for free.  As you can imagine, in theory this sounds great but in practice, there are a lot of issues with the implementation of the system.  In Bahia, for those that are of a higher socioeconomic class and have money, access to quality care is never an issue because they can afford private medical insurance.  For those who are living in poverty however, this is not a luxury that they can afford.  Of those living in poverty in Bahia, 84% of them are afro Brazilian, resulting in the health of the Black population being some of the worst.

Yes, I got to see some of Brazil’s healthcare in action, but I really only got to see what it’s like for those who live a privileged life.  It made me aware once again of where I come from, how my race plays into my experiences here in Brazil, and how healthcare in Brazil still has a ways to go.  In 3 weeks I will begin my research into the effectiveness of community organizations in preventing drug use among adolescents.  Because there is a lack of care for the afro Brazilian population, prevention of health problems at the community level is key for ensuring the health of the population until something can be done structurally to change the racial stratification that plagues the healthcare system. As I plan out my research, I use every experience to build a foundation on which I will start from.  Everyday here has something new to teach us, we just have to be open to learning.

By lizzhart

The program is complete. The health intervention has been implemented. We decided on an informative flyer about the importance if food separation, free compostable bags, and a report of our research findings to the municipality office. The health volunteers  at the village expressed a need to encourage villagers to separate food waste which would reduce waste overflowing in the trash bins, reduce insects and animals scavenging in the bins, an help the environment by putting that waste toward use as feed and farm fertilizer. The municipal office requested we share our findings with them because they rarely receive feedback from villagers who are often wary of government workers. We hope sharing our research will improve communication between the municipality and the village and help with future measures to address waste management.

I am happy with my time spent in the community and am happy that the village health volunteers seemed satisfied with our project despite its minor impact. I am disappointed overall in how limited we were with only one intervention day. A semester leading up to a community project was met with an anticlimactic ending. The Thailand CIEE program has a lot o room for growth.

Ultimately I survived the semester, despite the frustrations, limitations, and manipulation a of a program that doesn't give its students the freedom to create an experience independent of the program. I met great people, made a lot of personal growth, and have planned a kickass post program travel plan. If I could go back I would not have chosen this program and I would not advise anyone to do this program, but if I could have the perfect experience it would still be in this country with these people.

CIEE SPRING 2014"Break my spirit not my team"

By iobrien1093

After returning from an amazing week on Spring Break, traveling along South Africa’s Garden Route it was time to get serious about my capstone research project; to stop planning and start doing. I met with my capstone supervisor earlier this week to discuss how I wanted my final two months of service to look. I decided that going to New Chapter’s office once a week was not an efficient use of time, as there is no internet or phone connection, and that I would rather spend my service time at the Phumlani Village Day-care, working hands-on with the four and five year old children. There has been some tension and frustration recently in CIEE's partnership with New Chapter Foundation, and as a result the service learners and CIEE coordinators have decided to separate from New Chapter, while still keeping the relationship with Phumlani Village. So rather than implement a literacy program into New Chapter’s after school club I am now working with Phumlani Day-care to create a curriculum meant to prepare pre-primary school children for primary school. I was initially discouraged from working with this age group by New Chapter, with the reasoning that children in Phumlani do not typically begin learning English in school until third grade. It was suggested that I work with the fourth graders to catch them up to the appropriate reading level. I, on the other hand, felt that it would be beneficial to create the foundation for English learning at a younger age rather than to play catch up later. I could only see the benefit in helping the younger children, especially disadvantaged younger children who lack educational support, get a step ahead in learning English when they will all have to learn it eventually anyway.

I began working at the day care on Tuesday morning and it seemed that Mama Verda, the day care director, was happy to have a pair of extra hands. There are around 80 children at the day care, from ages 1-5. The five year old children were on a field trip so I began working with six four year olds on some alphabet activities. It was very hectic on that first day, because there wasn’t a separate room for me to take my group into. When any of the other children saw that I had brought crayons and paper they all wanted to be part of the activity, especially the three year olds, who do not have the maturity to sit still for a lesson. Of the six kids I was working with, only two of them were engaged in the activity, but the two did an amazing job and you could see how proud of themselves they were when they finished their worksheets. I wasn’t surprised that so few of them remained interested, as they are so young and haven’t had a structured schooling environment before. I was just excited that I could see some interest, even if it was only from a few of them. If I could get even two of the six ready for primary school, I would still consider that a success. Every child counts. The language barrier was not as much of a problem as I was told it would be, as many of the children are exposed to English out in public or on television. What I really struggled with was getting the children to stop climbing on the tables. I had to keep shouting Hlala! Hlala! which means Sit! in Xhosa. But, that was okay because now the children think I speak Xhosa fluently and they’re scared to say anything rude. It’s scary how many insults and gestures these kids, even the three year olds, use with one another.

This week was definitely trial and error.I wasn’t able to test individual knowledge of the alphabet or phonemes since the five year olds were away and they are my target group. I’ve realized that the four year old age group may even be too young, although like I said there were a few that were really trying. It’s going to be a struggle to keep the ones who want to learn engaged while there are others the same age bouncing off the tables and being disruptive. But, ultimately the point of these workshops is to find activities that can keep all personality types engaged. Now that we have separated from New Chapter, I am worried about the sustainability of my project. There are volunteers coming this summer from a program called The World Race who could pick up my project and continue with it, but it’s not certain whether this will happen. The coordinators at CIEE will also pair the service-learning students coming this summer with Phumlani and suggest they continue with my project, but again that’s not certain. Since Phumlani is such an impoverished township, programs like mine are difficult to maintain. It’s more important to spend time finding food for the children than it is to spend time giving English lessons. At least my curriculum will serve as a template for a pre-primary program if volunteers choose to go in that direction.

It's been extremely frustrating these past few weeks, but hopefully now that we've changed our relationship with New Chapter and I'm getting to work hands on with the children instead of sitting in an office, I'll make some progress.


By lizzhart

Its finally come for project time over here in Thailand. After months of extensive class time, less than minimal free/travel time, and only short homestays, the program is just starting to become enjoyable. Last week we submitted our research proposals. My groups project will be in Gai Na and will center on municipal solid waste management.

Last week we did our first round of primary research in Ban Samran Gai Na, a rural community just outside Khon Kaen. The community receives a municipal trash service, which is supposed to come 3 times a week to collect trash. The service costs just 20 baht a month (less than $1) and seems like an ideal waste system. However, the trash pick up is highly unreliable with interviewees stating it comes anywhere from every day to once every two weeks. The service also supposedly doesn't pick up foliage and yard waste so villagers are left to burn these forms of waste, which poses health concerns, especially when they include a plastic bag or two. Additionally, the waste bins are constantly overflowing, and some of it isn't bagged, which invites animals and vermin to the area.

Though we are still continuing our research with more homestays and data collection, we are starting to think about what interventions might be appropriate to help this community. Today we are meeting with the municipality to talk about problems the community is having and get their side on the collection time issue. Then we will be interviewing more villagers with a focus group to get some feedback on how they would like the situation improved. Hopefully we can come to some conclusion on an intervention that might address bin size and number or alternatives to burning waste that wont be excepted by the municipality.

Though I'm excited to finally do a project to help Ban Samran Gai Na, its also disappointing that it took this long in the program for us to take action. Most of the semester was spent studying Thailand's healthcare system with a lot of class time and no real time to explore Thailand and understand it from a different lens. The second course allowed us to spend more time in the communities getting to understand issues from a villager perspective and learn research tools. Now in just the last 3 weeks we are spending 2 weeks researching for a project and then have only 1 week to design and implement one. It feels like a rushed job. I am happy that now have some experience with semi-structured interviews, developing questionnaires, and facilitating focus groups. These are important skills for future projects to help future communities.

However, as far as this program and this experiences, maybe the intentions were there but the program design could use a lot of improvement.