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This blog includes postings and photos from ARC research associates and grant awardees who have traveled using their ARC research grant funding.


Adherence to International Pediatric Pain Protocols: Focus on Uganda

(Dr. Caprice Knapp, Professor Julia Downing, Matthew Quillen)

By Matthew Quillen

Matthew Quillen received an ARC research grant in Fall 2014 for his project entitled "Adherence to International Pediatric Pain Protocols:  Focus on Uganda".


Boarding the airplane to Entebbe, Uganda, was unlike anything else I had ever done. When I say that-it truly was something I had never done. Never had I traveled outside of the United States. In telling people that, I initially received rather negative responses along the lines of “Your first trip is that far? Do you think you can handle it?”

I have Dr. Caprice Knapp (my research adviser and principal investigator on this project) to thank for suppressing my nerves and helping me address those skeptical critics. Never did Dr. Knapp make me feel as though I could not handle a research experience 20+ hours away from home. In fact, her confidence in me at times proved surprising.

Nevertheless, under the guidance of Dr. Knapp, I first involved myself in learning more about pediatric palliative care (PPC) during my sophomore year. PPC was a specialty I previously knew nothing about. For those presently in the same boat, pediatric palliative care, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the active total care of the child’s body, mind and spirit, and also involves giving support to the family. Essentially, it was our research team’s project goal to assess PPC in Uganda. Although Uganda is a developing country, rather extensive pediatric palliative care systems exists within certain regions.

Research Experiences

While in Uganda, Dr. Knapp, Dr. Julia Downing, and I visited three different clinical sites-Mildmay Uganda, Mulago Hospital, and Hospice Uganda-all offering different methods of care provision. (An interesting side note I learned while on site- the Queen of England once visited Mildmay Uganda, something Ugandans were very proud to discuss).

Queen of England at Mildmay Uganda

Queen of England at Mildmay Uganda. Photograph taken from

On site, the three of us completed two major aspects of our research project. First, our team collected anywhere from 25-50 pediatric patient medical records for data extraction purposes. Demographic data including sex, age and tribe was collected, as well as any pain assessment, prescription information, or doctor’s handwritten notes.

The second aspect of our project was to conduct care provider interviews with members of the staff at each of the three sites. Dr. Knapp and I were able to meet with three care providers at each site (for a total of nine provider prospectives) to discuss how pediatric care providers were taking care of their pain-ridden patients. Most specifically reviewed within the interviews were the providers’ comments and opinions on how they are abiding by World Health Organization (WHO) palliative care guidelines. Both provider adherence to, and shortcomings of, the guidelines were discussed between our team and site providers. It is our goal to better understand where sites succeed and fail in following international guidelines, in hopes of increasing palliative care programs adherence WHO goals.

The City of Kampala, Uganda.

The City of Kampala, Uganda. Personal Photograph, Matthew Quillen (2015).

Ugandan Culture

Outside of our normal field work, Dr. Knapp and I immersed ourselves in Ugandan culture. Most memorable was our trip through the heart of Kampala (the biggest city in Uganda) lead by our trusty driver Patrick pictured below.

Personal Photograph, Matthew Quillen

Personal Photograph, Matthew Quillen (2015).



To my surprise, the Acacia Mall in Kampala was very similar to the malls you see here in the states. Burger King and Apple were amongst the recognizable companies hosting stores in the mall. Conversely, noticeable differences were present as one might imagine. Most notable was the amount of street sellers posted on both sides of major roads. The streets themselves were chaotic, with drivers uninterested in following any sort of guided lane. On top of that, these street sellers had no regard for their own safety. Putting themselves inches within harm’s way to sell one more newspaper, one more CD, etc., was fascinating. In my opinion, this really spoke to the Ugandans work ethic and the culture as a whole.



The time and effort put into my research trip abroad would not have been possible without the assistance of the Africana Research Center. I can not thank the Center, specifically Mrs. Dawn Lavera, enough for their continued support throughout this process. I would also like to thank Dr. Caprice Knapp and Professor Julia Downing for their support, as everything I learned ultimately stemmed from their expertise. I look forward to completing my analysis of our collected data so that Dr. Knapp and I may present our findings, helping to improve international pediatric health outcomes.



Amos Tutuola at the Harry Ransom Center

By Alexander Fyfe

Alexander Fyfe received an ARC research grant in Fall 2014 for his project entitled "Displaced Papers:  An Investigation into the Diasporic Status of the Amos Tutuola Collection".

Amos Tutuola (1920-1997) was one of the first Nigerian writers (perhaps the first) to achieve considerable notoriety outside of Africa for his writings in English. His first book, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, was published in London in 1952 (around 6 years before Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) and received considerable interest for its use of non-standard English to recount a heady and fantastic tale of a journey through the African bush. Tutuola published nine further novel-length tales during his lifetime and one collection of short stories. Whilst critical interest in his work has remained relatively constant over the last few decades, Tutuola remains an enigmatic and elusive figure. The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center holds a substantial collection of Tutuola’s papers and is an invaluable resource for those wishing to gain an insight into the author’s practice as a writer. The collection contains some of Tutuola’s original manuscripts (including that of The Palm-Wine Drinkard), as well as a large number of drafts, typescripts, letters, and personal papers.

On July 1, 2015, I travelled to Austin, Texas and stayed for a period of 6 weeks. This trip was generously funded by a grant from Penn State’s Africana Research Center. I had ample time to examine the 13 boxes of material relating to Tutuola, in addition to that contained in the Bernth Lindfors and Robert Wren collections, parts of which also pertain to Tutuola. Whilst I was particularly interested in finding evidence of any of Tutuola’s political views or activities, I also had a more fundamental research question relating to the existence of the archive itself. How, I wanted to ask, does one explain the apparent incongruity between Tutuola’s apparent lack of literary prestige (in the sense in which such prestige is accorded to many of the other authors whose papers are collected at the Harry Ransom Center, such as J.M Coetzee or E.M. Forster) and the location of his papers within a center of ‘literary’ prestige? The weeks that I spent reading and photographing Tutuola’s documents gave me plenty of material to begin to answer this question and I am currently in the process of writing a journal article on the subject.

The Harry Ransom Center’s collection of modern literary and artistic artifacts is unparalleled and I would strongly recommend it as a research venue for scholars of modern literature, particularly those interested in South African writers such as Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful, whilst the beautiful air-conditioned reading room offers a welcome respite from the Texan summer heat.



Taking the First Step

By Angela Ray

Angela Ray received an ARC research grant in Fall 2014 for her project entitled "Standard of Living & Quality of Life among Cashew Farmers and Factory Workers in Rural Mozambique".

On July 18th, 2015 I boarded a plane that would in 2 days take me to Africa. This is something that I never imagined I would do. When my professor, Dr. Lee Ann DeReus, asked my class if anyone was interested in assisting her with research in Mozambique, I immediately hoped that no one else would be intrigued because I wanted that experience. Months of research on the lives of individuals in Mozambique did not prepare me for the real life education I would get from actual Mozambiqueans.  Once in Africa we were picked up by the family that would be hosting us for two weeks; Don and Terri Larson. They explained safety precautions to us on our first day; not going out alone, not going out at night, and keeping our passports on us at all times; just to name a few. One of the reasons for the necessity of these safety rules was that we were white Americans in a country we had never visited before. The idea of that was foreign to me, because I had never been in a position where being white was a reason for caution. In this area being an outsider was a reason to be careful. Throughout my trip though, I never once experienced any disrespect. I abided by their cultural rules in regards to attire; long skirts, loose fitting clothing, and learned as much of their language as I could in order to thank them for helping with our research.

My team consisted of my professor, another Penn State student, Don and Terri and three interpreters; Chico, Benito, and Arlendo and myself. We used a 25 question questionnaire to ask the individuals, in three neighboring villages of Mozambique, to gain a better understanding of their standard of living. I was incredibly fascinated by the fact that not everyone said the same thing, but their core values were very similar. Every family that we talked to enforced the need for education in their lives and in the lives of their children. Hearing this day after day, family after family, made my heart ache. In the United States, more specifically in Pennsylvania, and in Altoona we have people who complain about the obligation to attend school, while in Mozambique parents would give anything for their children to have that privilege. People also requested assistance in obtaining more hospitals. Some villages had a small building they considered a hospital, but only had certain abilities. Others had to travel hours to get to a hospital if they needed one. These individuals were under the impression that we could fix these issues for them, and on numerous occasions did people say that us being there gave them hope that life could get better for them. They felt that their lives would improve. I went to bed every night wondering how I could make things better; how I could make a difference. I wanted so badly to give these citizens a school, a hospital, and hope that one day all of their troubles would dissipate. I did not have this ability; not yet.

It is difficult to hear about the struggles people are facing in other countries, but it is heart breaking to see it. My hope is to return to Mozambique one day, to do the study again, and see that life has gotten better for them. It’s also my hope to do something to assist in this betterment. I am so thankful for the opportunity to travel to Mozambique and meet the individuals that I did in those two weeks. This was an incredibly humbling experience for me and changed my way of thinking entirely. I met numerous people who offered me priceless thoughts and questions throughout this journey. One particular elderly woman I met throughout our interviews asked me a question that I had no idea how to answer. She asked “why do we, as Mozambiqueans, have to live this way? Going to bed hungry without food.” I wondered this myself. The only response I could offer was my thanks for her time and the reassurance that the information she provided would help to make life better in the future. I wanted to give her a more definite, concrete answer but I did not have one.

On the last day of our research collection I met a woman with four children who was pregnant with her fifth. She just recently discovered that she was HIV + and her husband left her for another woman. She was peeling cashews from a tree for their dinner that night. My translator, Chico, handled the situation full of ease and empathy. He reassured her that she was not alone in her struggles and that HIV was not a death sentence; she did have reason to continue living. We gave her the food that we had on us and told her we would pray for her and her family. I think about them often and continue to pray for their safety.

I am so thankful for having the privilege to travel to Mozambique and meet the numerous citizens that I did. This experience changed me as an individual, a woman, and an advocate. I am now able to educate others about the conditions these citizens are living in and the services they do not have access to. I am able to appreciate the privileges I have as a woman in the united state, but continue to fight for more. I am grateful for the education I receive, but am encouraging others to be as grateful and am every day wondering what more I can do for the women, men, children and families in Mozambique. I believe that education is one of the most important aspects of life that can be offered to people. My hope is to educate as many people in the United States about the individuals in Mozambique as possible. I honestly believe that ignorance is not bliss and we as Americans need to be aware of what’s going on in other countries because we have the ability to help, in one way or another. Talking about these issues is the first step. I’m thankful that this opportunity allowed me to take mine.

Individuals who assisted with my research.

Individuals who assisted with my research.

A bag of rice that a woman and her husband gave myself and my interpreter, Chico, for coming to see them.

A bag of rice that a woman and her husband gave myself and my interpreter, Chico, for coming to see them.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

Scenery and landscape.

One of the medical centers that were in a village we visited.

One of the medical centers that were in a village we visited.



Traveling. Transforming. Transcending.

By Rhoda Moise

Rhoda Moise received an ARC research grant in Fall 2013 for her project entitled "Culturally Grounded Narratives for Diabetes Management and Prevention".

Flag of Senegal

After 36 days abroad, I have learned so much about myself, humanity, and life overall. First and foremost, I must thank the Africana Research Center, Schreyer Honors College, Multicultural Resource Center, and the College of Health and Human Development for their support in my research endeavors this summer. My project entitled "Culturally Grounded Narratives for Diabetes Management and Prevention" has been exhausting, yet exhilarating.

The hospital provided diabetic patients with a card informing individuals of how to help if experiencing hypoglycemia

The hospital provided diabetic patients with a card informing individuals of how to help if experiencing hypoglycemia.

In general, diabetes is becoming an increasing public health problem in Senegal, with older individuals, women and those who are overweight bearing most of the burden. Given the increasing burden of diabetes and chronic disease in SSA, my work has the potential to improve diabetes management and resulting diabetes death and disability. For example, we came across a 67 year old male with an amputated toe as a result of his poor diabetes management.


Through culturally grounded narrative interviews, this research explores what exercise means to Senegalese individuals in order to help manage diabetic interventions. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rhonda BeLue, this approach will also contribute to the field of health promotion by advancing a theoretical framework for delivering culturally competent health in West African cultures. More specifically, the purpose of my project is to identify culturally-grounded diabetes management narratives focused on exercise among diabetic patients in MBour, Senegal.

We had the opportunity to attend a traditional Senegalese wedding!

We had the opportunity to attend a traditional Senegalese wedding!

Dr. Rhonda BeLue was praised and awarded for her work in Mbour, Senegal after a day-long diabetes screening held at the local hospital

Dr. Rhonda BeLue was praised and awarded for her work in Mbour, Senegal after a day-long diabetes screening held at the local hospital!

My work has been extremely fulfilling. I traveled around the community with two other nutrition students, a medical student, and Papa Eliaj (our Wolof translator and so much more <3, but he deserves an entire blog post) to conduct the diabetes interviews.

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We ran into these young kings rather regularly as we traveled through the neighborhood for home visit interviews. In honor of our last day of interviews, we decided to take a picture for the memories!

We ran into these young kings rather regularly as we traveled through the neighborhood for home visit interviews. In honor of our last day of interviews, we decided to take a picture for the memories!

The individuals with diabetes WANT help... They WANT to know diet recommendations... They WANT to exercise more... They WANT to live healthy lives. While my work may not be able to directly change issues such as accessibility/affordability, the conversation generated through these interviews is a start. This fieldwork also helped frame my ultimate aspirations to improve chronic disease care and management in Haiti. The native language in Senegal is Wolof and the country is Francophone; moreover, I have been capitalizing on the opportunity to enhance my verbal skills. As I speak Creole, I can understand French pretty well; however, producing the language cohesively is somewhat troublesome. Overall, this abroad experience allows me to develop my French and vision for diabetes management and prevention methodology, both of which are directly applicable to m future aspirations in relation to Haitian health!

Diabetes screening day: I spoke about the importance of exercise in relationship to diabetes and ways to satisfy physical activity requirements.

Diabetes screening day: I spoke about the importance of exercise in relationship to diabetes and ways to satisfy physical activity requirements.

This invaluable 5 week experience has forced me to grow personally by pushing my limits of Western comfort passed my perceived limits. Comfort isn't a primary need. It pales in comparison to satisfying hunger and satiating thirst. The purpose of life evades our acknowledgement... suffocated by the overbearing white noise of luxury. The country of hospitality, Senegal, has forced me to grow in ways I could never have imagined…

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There have been nights where I could not sleep because the buzz of mosquitoes jolted me from my sweaty slumber. There have been days where I have lost grasp of the last time I have showered. Amid trying to study for my GREs for graduate school and submit abstracts before conference deadlines with fickle Wi-Fi and prohibitive electrical access, I have fended off numerous anxiety attacks. I have grown professionally by cultivating a critical research lens in the field. I am now able to effectively conduct interviews in another language, a skill which will be invaluable for my future career aspirations. Through the people I have come across, albeit research participants, my colleagues, taxi drivers, hospital security, etc., humanity has reintroduced itself as an endearingly selfless entity. Life has reminded me of its definition and purpose: to experience. There's absolutely nothing like bringing your dreams to fruition. Traveling. Transforming. Transcending.

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A Trip Through Kenya with HESE

By Daniel Pustay

Daniel Pustay received an ARC research grant in Fall 2012 for his project entitled "Understanding the Distribution of Public Health Funds to Treat Chronic Diseases in Kenya".

A view of the city from the top of the Nairobi Conference Center

A view of the city from the top of the Nairobi Conference Center

The Kamoko Dispensary, where students conducted a Community Health Worker Training

The Kamoko Dispensary, where students conducted a Community Health Worker Training

“Hakuna Matata” is not only a slogan to a popular Disney film, but a commonly used phrase in Kenya meaning “no problems.” Through my travels in East Africa, the phrase was used daily. It is common to hear when packing into a matatu, waiting for a meeting to commence, bargaining for produce, or at the conclusion of an interview. My two months in East Africa were testament to the welcoming nature of people, and laid back business mentality enjoyed in Kenya’s rural communities.

For two months, I researched noncommunicable disease programs in Kenya with the assistance of funding from the Africana Research Center. During my trip, I was also able to assist other studies conducted through the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) Program. Some students on the trip provided training to Community Health Workers at five local dispensaries, which I utilized as a chance to talk with the officials who managed the clinic. For my own project, I was also able to interview the District Minister of Health, gain valuable insight into the healthcare system, and validate my project with input from health officials. I learned about the threat of noncommunicable diseases to the area, organizations currently fighting the epidemic, and challenges to effectively preventing and treating various noncommunicable diseases. Additionally, I was exposed other students’ projects, most importantly the challenges to accurate data collection in Kenya, which enhanced my own research.

My time before leaving on the trip was spent scouring reports from the Kenyan Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and various scientific journals to gather background into the epidemiological and financial basis of noncommunicable disease prevention and treatment. This initial research proved extremely beneficial in many meetings and discussions with officials. My interviews gave me a new perspective from officials suffering the consequences of the situation which I had been studying. Their input gave a new dimension to my study, and verified much of what I had suspected about the funding and treatment difficulties which are rampant when confronting noncommunicable diseases.

Luckily, not all my time in East Africa was spent working. The free time interspersed between meetings and appointments gave me further exposure to the Kenyan and Tanzanian cultures, including their similarities and differences to America and between each other. Tanzania subscribes to the “Pole Pole” lifestyle. Pole Pole means “slowly” in Swahili, and accurately describes the laid back nature of businesses and people throughout the country. When we returned to Kenya, life picked up again, and we were able to complete a few meetings for the healthcare system we were working on (Mashavu Networked Health Solutions) , in conjunction with my research activities.

All my time and effort from two months in East Africa, along with the financial assistance from the ARC have made my research plans a reality. From the data I have accumulated over the last 6 months I have a foundation to continue drafting my manuscript for publication. Furthermore, my travels have granted me a deeper understanding of the culture and people of Kenya.



Funding Adaptation to Climate Change: Tanzania’s Engagement with UN Policy

By Maureen Biermann

Maureen Biermann received an ARC research grant in Fall 2011 for her project entitled "Funding Adaptation to Climate Change: Tanzania’s Engagement with UN Policy".

A busy street in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

A busy street in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

The Dar es Salaam skyline, near the area where a coastal rehabilitation project supported by the Adaptation Fund will take place.

The Dar es Salaam skyline, near the area where a coastal rehabilitation project supported by the Adaptation Fund will take place.

When you spend any significant time in Dar es Salaam, the financial capital of Tanzania on the eastern African coast, much of your time will be spent waiting. Waiting for a bus to arrive that isn't too crowded to fit on, waiting on roads that weren't designed for the volume of traffic that channels into and out of the city each day, waiting in lines for the broken ATM, waiting for change from the fruit seller at the market, waiting for paperwork to be filed, waiting for appointments that never manage to start on time (often because people are stuck in traffic).

As part of my dissertation, I spent three months in "Dar" to research a coastal adaptation project that had been recently approved by the Adaptation Fund, a climate finance institution housed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. I had already spent many months tracking the way the Adaptation Fund shapes its policies and what types of proposals were submitted and approved for funding. In Dar, my goal was to get a better understanding of how the Tanzanian proposal had been developed, what stakeholders had been consulted in its preparation, and how the government and others involved maneuvered into a position to actually begin the project.

Even in my research, much of my time was spent waiting. I was in Dar to conduct interviews with government officials in the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, the Mayor of Dar es Salaam, the Port Authority, representatives from the United Nations and the World Bank, and various other government workers civil society stakeholders. Each and every interview required long hours of patience in waiting rooms and, more often than not, waiting for a variety of bureaucratic steps to take place: signing in, passport inspection, getting a visitor's badge, getting a stamped receipt, presenting my research permit, signing out.

Waiting paid off. I believe many busy government officials granted me an interview because they were impressed by my sheer persistence and willingness to wait; after returning to one Ministry three days in a row, the apologetic secretary who greeted me each day was as surprised and happy as I was when she called upstairs and was told to direct me to the third floor. Waiting paid off in other ways, too. I often struck up conversations with others who were waiting, or with office staff, or the security guards. Sometimes I learned useful information that would help my interviews - this minister is very proud of his daughter who was just accepted to a prestigious school, that official is grouchy to everyone so don't worry if he isn't nice to you - and sometimes I just heard interesting stories about people's lives that helped the time pass by more quickly. All of my waiting provided context for my dissertation and gave me a better understanding of the function of government and bureaucracy in Tanzania, and a better understanding of the Tanzanian culture and people.



Y'en a Marre!

By Sydney Wheeler

Sydney Wheeler received an ARC research grant in Fall 2011 for her project entitled "Enough is Enough:  A Comparative Study of the Impacts of the Social Movement, “y’en a marre,” on Senegalese Youth in Dakar and Fatick".

Sydney Wheeler received an ARC research grant in Fall 2011 for her project entitled "Enough is Enough:  A Comparative Study of the Impacts of the Social Movement, “y’en a marre,” on Senegalese Youth in Dakar and Fatick".

Sydney Wheeler received an ARC research grant in Fall 2011 for her project entitled "Enough is Enough:  A Comparative Study of the Impacts of the Social Movement, “y’en a marre,” on Senegalese Youth in Dakar and Fatick".

“Y’en a marre,” a French term that translates to “enough is enough,” is the slogan that was adopted by a group of musical artists and journalists in Senegal during the presidential campaign leading up to the 2012 election. The artists, much like the Senegalese people, were frustrated with the incumbent administration and its failure to fulfill many of the promises made during the presidential elections in 2000.

After spending the fall semester researching the movement for a term paper, I was frustrated with the lack of diversity in my sources – most were newspaper articles focusing on interviews with the artists themselves, but there was very little information indicating the actual impact of the movement. “Y’en a Marre” reminded me of the “Vote or Die” campaign promoted by Citizen Change in the 2000s, which, being aimed at my age-group, I recall as being rather influential (well-known, at least). Having spent my junior year living and studying in Senegal and growing up surrounded by this type of activity, I was curious to know if “Y’en a Marre” was enjoying success similar to “Vote or Die.” In the spring of 2012, I was able to travel to Senegal to find out the impacts for myself, thanks to a research grant from the Africana Research Center.

As I was finishing up a degree in Geography, I was interested in the geographical aspects of the movement as well as the more general question of its impact. In Senegal I conducted focus groups and individual interviews in two cities, Dakar, the capital, and Fatick, a much smaller town about three hours East of Dakar. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly my research went once I arrived. Conducting my research around the final election day and working with the help of the West African Research Center (WARC), I found many people who were eager to discuss the current situation and the impact of “Y’en a Marre” on their political views and activity. I worked mainly with people ages 18 – 35, an age group that includes the artists’ fan base and eligible voters. I was pleased to learn that while many of the participants felt that “Y’en a Marre” had, in fact, been quite influential to their political views, there was a wide array of opinions, prompting very dynamic discussion groups.

What really pleased me about conducting this research project was the willingness that other people had in helping me. This was my first real experience being the principal investigator on such a hands-on research project, so before beginning my fieldwork I was actually quite nervous about its completion. I worried that the subject would seem unimportant or uninteresting to potential participants and my advisors. I thought they might see “Y’en a Marre” as simply a pop-culture fad that had been sensationalized by the media. However, I discovered that while some people did find the idea of researching “Y’en a Marre” a bit ridiculous, the movement had been influential enough that many people were fascinated with my project and more than willing to participate or help me complete my research. I even ended up being able to conduct interviews with some of the movement’s founders, through a few unforeseen and very lucky coincidences. Although the artists were not my main focus in this project, their personal input did give me some insight into their goals for the movement. Also, their interest in my project, notably the reactions I had been getting from the participants, showed a visible desire to reach the people of Senegal.

Although I may have been starstruck at times, what impacted me the most during all the fieldwork I did was that at the end of each discussion or interview, my participants took extra time to express their appreciation for my interest in “Y’en a Marre” and for the opportunity to discuss it and other factors impacting the current political situation. Despite my apprehensions, this research project and everyone involved reinforced my interest in the importance and effectiveness of pop-culture-based efforts to reach out to the entire community and affect all parts of society.



Men anpil, chay pa lou

By Donaldson Conserve

Donaldson Conserve received an ARC research grant in Fall 2012 for his project entitled "Examining the Impact of Psychosocial and Cultural Factors on the Sexual Health Beliefs and Practices of HIV-Positive Haitian-American Adults in New York City".


The Haitian proverb Men anpil, chay pa lou (Many hands lighten the load) recognizes that with the help of others we can accomplish our goals despite the challenges. This proverb exemplifies my research experience throughout the past couple of years. Shortly after the 2010 earthquake I interned in Haiti with the psychosocial and mental health team of Zanmi Lasante/ Partners In Health. During this internship I worked with Haitian social workers providing socio-economic assistance to patients receiving treatments for HIV and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis . In addition, I learned about the psychological and medical services Zanmi Lasante was providing for people who were injured from the earthquake. Upon returning from Haiti and realizing the long term effects of the earthquake on the Haitian community, both in Haiti and the United States, I set out to conduct a research project among the Haitian Diaspora in Brooklyn, New York, home to the second largest Haitian community in the U.S. Since I was interested in understanding the experiences of HIV-positive Haitians after the earthquake, one of the first challenges was finding a community based organization that provides services to individuals living with HIV.

To overcome this challenge I inquired about different community- based organizations in Brooklyn. I eventually learned about an organization called Diaspora Community Services (DCS) that received funds from the NYC Haitian Community Hope and Healing Funds with the goal of addressing the needs of individuals, families, and communities in the NYC area that were affected by the earthquake. Through DCS, I was able to gain access to the Haitian community in Brooklyn and learn more about the mission of DCS, which is an organization that empowers individuals and families to maximize their ability to succeed through culturally sensitive health promotion, family support services and advocacy. Although my internship at DCS ended during the summer of 2011, I have returned to the organization to conduct two research projects focusing on the experiences of their members from Haitian descent: One project involved those who receive group support for HIV-related concerns and the other involved those who participated in the Haitian American Empowerment Program, designed specifically to meet the needs of members after the earthquake. I presented the findings from the second project entitled “Post-earthquake challenges and successes of Haitian immigrants residing in Brooklyn, New York” at the 24th Annual Haitian Studies Association Conference in New York.

Another challenge I faced was finding enough Haitian participants willing to share their experiences since they contracted HIV. With the assistance of DCS and from participating in AIDS Walk New York, I was able to identify three other organizations that provide services for people living with HIV: 1) Haitian Centers Council, 2) Iris House, and 3) African Services. With the help of these organizations and participants I was able to successfully accomplish the research project. As the Haitian proverb indicates, I was only able to carry out this research project due to the many hands that assisted and supported me including family, friends, advisors, funders, community leaders, and participants. Overall, I was deeply moved by some of the sacrifices the participants made in order to allow me to interview them. Some of the participants really valued the research I was doing, especially those who had been active in the HIV community in Haiti and the United States. They wanted to share their experiences and raise awareness about HIV in the Haitian community. To some of them, participating in this study was one of the routes to raising such awareness because they wanted to make sure that other people learn that HIV is not a killer. These sentiments were expressed when the participants would comment, “HIV doesn’t kill people, it’s people that kill people because they treat HIV-positive individuals scornfully”.



A Journey to "Sodom and Gomorrah"

By Raymond Tutu, Ph.D.

Raymond Tutu, Ph.D., received an ARC research grant in Fall 2008 for his project entitled "Internal Migration, Risks and Social Resilience in Ghana".

Travelling to Old Fadama, popularly called Sodom and Gomorrah, a slum in the city of Accra, Ghana, was another giant step towards the accomplishment of an academic escapade and to socialize with old friends and people some of whom I have known since 2006. The slum is a major destination for migrants, especially those from the north of Ghana. Located in the heart of the city, the four-acre slum is an illegal settlement and it is estimated to be home for over 10,000 people.

As custom demands, and my quest to defy jet-lag, I paid homage to the ‘gate keepers’ and community leaders and exchanged pleasantries with some of my old acquaintances. Although the slum has been my research site for almost threes, I do not and cannot get used to the deplorable situation under which residents find themselves. And in the midst of all the appalling surroundings in the slum, the hospitality of residents is always unprecedented. Contrary to media reports about the unfriendly characters in the slum, the akwaaba (welcome) I got when I arrived there in 2009 was not only Ghanaian but genuine and enviable. Under no circumstance do residents deserve their place of abode nicknamed “Sodom and Gomorrah” – places of sin exemplified by deviant activities and conduct, which led to their destruction by God.

My mission this time in the slum was to examine young migrants’ perception of stressors – agents and stimuli that cause negative physiological response- during the migration process and at the destination, assess the predictors of resilience among the young migrants, and explore the likelihood of the young migrants exiting the squatter settlement. By virtue of these objectives, I had extensive interactions with a range of young people with ages between 10-29 years (young adolescents, old adolescents, young adults and adults). I engaged them in surveys and semi-structured interviews while triangulating with focus group discussions.

Africana Research Center’s support for this work has further enhanced my quest to engage the marginalized and criminalized as a way of not just giving them a voice, but intellectually stimulating discourse relevant for enhancing the well-being of the ostracized.



Travel to South Africa

By Darigg C. Brown, Ph.D., MPH

Darigg C. Brown, Ph.D., received an ARC research grant in Fall 2008 for his project entitled "Reducing HIV and AIDS Stigma Among College Students in South Africa".

Thanks to a generous research fellowship from the Africana Research Center, I was able to pursue my doctoral dissertation research in South Africa, which focused on reducing HIV and AIDS-related stigma – one of the most negative and persistent factors of HIV transmission and a constant challenge in fighting the pandemic. I worked with young adults in university settings since this was a population that had been understudied, but whose attitudes and beliefs about HIV/AIDS were influenced very differently from other adults. University-aged students also engaged heavily in risk behaviors leading to HIV. I sought to test and develop a sustainable, culturally appropriate intervention to change stigmatizing attitudes about HIV/AIDS and about people living with HIV/AIDS based on a socio-cultural understanding of the population. Guiding my own research project overseas was both challenging and rewarding work. It was an experience I will never forget.

Fortunately, my time in South Africa was not solely occupied with work. I had many lasting and engaging cultural experiences, including a visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. My visit transported me back in time to relive some of the atrocities that the Black and Colored South African majority endured. This cultural experience provided a much better perspective for me on how the events of some 50 years of oppression and injustice shaped the lives of so many who, today, recount that period with vivid acknowledgement and mixed emotions. Walking through the museum exhibits and reading the stories of both the oppressed and the oppressors confirmed much of the fundamental historical background, which I used to argue the relevance of my research study and its contribution to the science of HIV/AIDS prevention in South Africa. The stories chronicled at the Apartheid Museum were very impactful for me. They allowed me to compare, with little firsthand knowledge, what South Africa had been to the truly great nation South Africa has become.

Other experiences I had included visiting the District Six Museum in Cape Town, driving the Garden Route through rolling hills and laid back coastal communities, hiking and camping near Magoebaskloof in Limpopo Province, visiting a mosque for the first time, standing at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans near Cape Agulhas, and visiting the world-famous Kruger National Park. South Africa is a nation rich in history and natural beauty. Its people are welcoming and inquisitive. This was evident from the numerous individuals who helped me navigate the logistical challenges of conducting my research and made sure I had everything I needed accomplish my goal. Also, I got to know many individuals and a few families who took time to share their stories and lives with me. They were some of the most hospitable people I have ever come across. I was treated like a family member, and therefore, had a much richer experience during my time in-country. I had no problem immersing myself in South African culture from then on.

The most challenging aspect of adjusting to the culture was getting a grip on some of the racial tensions and segregation that still exist throughout the country, despite the end of apartheid. I guess this is no different than the segregation and racism (whether subtle or overt) that still exists in American society. Though we might like to believe that things have changed significantly (and they have in many regards), or that hatred and racism no longer exist, the pure fact of the matter is that they do exist, and they still cut a deep wound when inflicted with the right combination of malevolence, inhumanity, and superiority. I could see it in some of the impoverished communities in outlying areas of South Africa’s major metropolitan areas, in the eyes of many of the Black cleaning staff and other service workers who bent over backwards catering to the needs of ethnic minorities and tourists, and in the opportunistic way that capitalism had strategically left so many individuals out in the cold. I even heard on the local talk radio programs how carelessly some people talk about the ignorance of Blacks, especially those who had immigrated from other countries, as well as the lack of compassion for those who had little more than a hope and a prayer for a better tomorrow.

Overall, I can say that I learned a great deal from my time in South Africa. I hope to visit many
times again in the future. It is certainly a unique and enchanting place that can leave you sad and weary or grinning from ear-to-ear and basking in warmth in the same day. I have developed a great appreciation for the country, as it has certainly solidified its position on the world’s economic, industrial, and cultural maps. Thanks to the fellowship from the Africana Research Center, my life has been enriched and I have been able to further my educational and professional pursuits at Penn State and beyond.



Travel to Kenya with Mashavu Team

By Chanda Turner

Chanda Turner received an ARC research grant in Spring 2009 for her project entitled "International Technology Transfer of Mashavu Telemedicine".

Traveling to Nyeri Kenya with the Mashavu team from Penn State University was my great academic adventure of Summer 2009. Before arriving in Nairobi, Kenya, I made a stop in Amsterdam, spending the entire day exploring that beautiful city all by myself giving me a sense of freedom unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. While in Amsterdam, although extremely tired from a sleepless overnight flight I visited the Van Gogh museum and walked great distances throughout the city.

Upon arrival in Nairobi, Khanjan Mehta and I, along with a team from the Children’s Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC) traveled by van to Nyeri, a mid-sized city located two hours north of Nairobi. Along the way, we picked up a couple of young boys to return to the CYEC, a place for “street kids” or children who have been abandoned by their parents for any multitude of reasons. After arriving at the CYEC (located in Nyeri), I was so impressed with the facilities and efforts established to raise and train productive members of the Kenyan society. The CYEC had classrooms that taught reading, math, etc., but also sewing, knitting and construction. On the property, there was also plenty of land for gardening, which the children help to maintain.

Since my job was to assess the legal and ethical framework around the Mashavu telemedicine system, I spent a lot of time talking to the CYEC nurse, community members, and local doctors and nurses. From these discussions I learned a great deal about the lack of systemized training for Kenyan nurses, issues of privacy and informed consent in Kenya, community and tribal differences surrounding educational levels and attitudes towards healthcare along with the many economic constraints for Kenyan citizens.

The opportunity to travel to SubSaharan Africa with a team of extremely intelligent students and teachers proved to be invaluable for my academic and professional growth. I would recommend that all students join a global venture that interests them at some point during their tenure in school.



A Message from Charles Dumas at University of Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

By Charles Dumas

As some of you know, I have been in South Africa since January. I was invited to be a senior professor in the Drama Department of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. I was asked to be a special advisor as UFS is setting up their film program. I have been teaching classes; acting for the camera, theatre for development, case studies in protest theatre, and auditioning technique. I am also directing several shows including a special performance for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July. I have also guest lectured at several secondary schools in the townships.

I’ve been involved in several projects with the International Institute for the Study of Race, Reconciliation and Social Justice. Bishop Tutu spoke at the launch last month, which was also attended by US Ambassador Gibbs. My short play on reconciliation, OUR FATHERS DAUGHTERS was used as the kick-off for the Seminar on Reconciliation. It was later converted to a short film, which we hope will be broadcast soon. For IISRRSJ I am co-creating and directing a dance/performance narration piece on the Reitz Four Incident, which shall be showcased in early May. Also for the Institute, I have been conducting a weekly film festival/seminar on the works of Spike Lee and their relevance to building a multicultural society.

One of my camera students, Marelize Visiage, produced a film for the OECD competition. Young people from 46 different countries submitted short 3-minute videos in response to the question: Progess is…. Marlize’s was one of the 20 finalists (and one of only two from Africa). You can view her wonderful video on the OECD website under –Progress is Sharing the Burdens. And please vote for her so she can go to Paris to show her work to the world.

I am finally finishing up the editing of RIANN AND JANA, a South African Romeo and Juliet story which we began at Stellenbosch a few years ago. We need a music sound track and titles.

Our Theatre for Development class produced the Rossmaryn Project. We used TFD techniques to investigate problems of suicide amongst young people in the living residences. It turns out suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in South Africa. It was very successful and may serve as model for theatrical intervention projects here.

As you can see I have been keeping pretty busy. Which is good since my wife is at PSU until early May. She is not the only one visiting. Penn State grad students will be bringing Herb Newsome’s play, REVENGE OF THE KING to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in July and there might be a mini-tour to other venues.



Beyond the Biennale

By Toni Pressley-Sanon

Toni Pressley-Sanon was a  2009-2010 ARC post-doctoral fellow whose dissertation was entitled "A Grain of Salt: Remembering the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Benin Republic and Haiti".

A lifetime ago I was in Haiti celebrating. It was a magical, revolutionary moment that lasted two weeks from November to December 2009. A conference that wasn’t really a conference, The Ghetto Biennale, brought together a ragtag group of artists and scholars from Haiti and lòt bò (abroad) to make and discuss art. The conference was inspired by the work of a small group of artists who have been quietly transforming their environment of downtown Port-Au-Prince for years. This group of artists call themselves Atis Rezistans. Their young protégés who range in age from five to twenty are called Timoun Rezistans. They take detritus, much of it imported from the United States, combine it with local waste and make beautiful, provocative, oftentimes haunting works.

When the conference participants said goodbye to each other on the last day--some of us hopping into taxis or tap-taps heading to other parts of the city or the country; others of us hopping onto planes bound for other parts of the world—we made promises to see each other again soon or at least at the next gathering of what was to become a biannual tradition.

“See you for Carnival! We’ll share a couple of Prestiges!”

“Wi, see you this summer, frè’m, sè’m (my brother, my sister)! I’ll stay the full two months”.

The earthquake, nicknamed goudougoudou, an onomatopoeic approximation of the sound the earth made when plate tectonics violently shifted and toppled buildings like dominoes, made some of us into liars. At least three of the people whom we’d hugged and said, “see you later” to just three weeks before perished when the buildings they were in collapsed.

"anba dekomn" (or "under the rubble")...a post-earthquake artpiece.

"anba dekomn" (or "under the rubble")...a post-earthquake artpiece.



Ghetto Biennale

By Toni Pressley-Sanon

Toni Pressley-Sanon was a  2009-2010 ARC post-doctoral fellow whose dissertation was entitled "A Grain of Salt: Remembering the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Benin Republic and Haiti".

From December 12-19, I participated in Ghetto Biennale, an artists’ conference held in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The conference was an experiment of sorts as artists and scholars from all over the world came together to collaborate and create. The entire city was our atelier.

The inspiration and driving force behind the conference was a group of artists who lived and worked in an area called Grand Rue in downtown Port-Au-Prince. The area is filled with the sights and sounds of men and women hard at work, squeezing a living out of almost nothing. It is a cacophony of activity. Street vendors pedal everything from lottery tickets to telephone calls. Men construct everything from spiral staircases to coffins. Women sell pepe (secondhand clothing), small bags of laundry detergent, cans of condensed milk, imported apples.

Amongst all of this activity, just a short distance from the main road and presided over by Bawon Samdi, lwa (god) of the dead, is an amazing space where a violent and beautiful creativity has taken root. The Grand Rue artists led by André Eugene and Celeur Jean Hérard, create works of art from largely American detritus. They have been creating art for years and exhibiting their works internationally. The artists who are also part of the collective, Ronald Bazile aka Cheby and Destimare Pierre Isnel aka Louko as well as the young children of the area use their art to comment on globalism, spirituality, life and death, politics and progress.

Almost every day during my time in Haiti I visited Grand Rue to see the artwork as it progressed. I witnessed people from the community who were curious about what was going on wander in and listen and look. I witnessed others wander in and pick up tools, eager to join in the process. Everyone was welcome.