As is typical, our Hart Fellows' research projects and lives abroad have shifted from their initial expectations. Here are some updates from their lives and work.
Tuberculosis in Roma population
Scott Boisvert, from Chandler, Arizona, graduated with a double major in Biology and Global Health in May 2015, and was a Robertson Scholar at Duke. As a Hart Fellow, Scott was interested in understanding health disparities in Roma communities in Eastern Europe, particularly in Sofia, Bulgaria, where he worked with the Ethnic Minorities Health Problems Foundation. For his research project, he designed a survey to discover the extent to which people in Roma communities understand the causes and treatment options for multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).
For his fellowship, Scott Boisvert wanted to understand why the Roma—a traditionally nomadic ethnic group—experience some of the poorest health outcomes in Europe. Because of their statelessness, the Roma face extensive discrimination and often lack access to basic health services. However, through visiting Roma communities across Bulgaria, Scott discovered another contributing factor: a lack of health education. In his research, he found that a majority of the individuals he surveyed knew little to nothing about tuberculosis—a disease prevalent in Roma communities—including what behaviors and risk factors promoted its spread and what prevention and treatment options were available to them. As a result, Scott advocates for greater health education campaigns in Roma communities, either through the National Network of Roma Health Mediators or through the Bulgarian Ministry of Education.
Mastatal, Costa Rica
Climate change and development
Anne Martin, originally from Bettendorf, Iowa, graduated with a degree in Environmental Science and Policy in May 2015. At Duke, Anne was involved with issues related to sustainable agriculture, food security, and global health. She led Food for Thought, a student organization committed to improving access to local, organic, ecologically-sustainable, fair, and humane food on Duke’s campus. As a Hart Fellow, she partnered with Villas Mastatal, a small organic farm in Costa Rica. For her research project, she interviewed a diverse array of food producers and market owners to create an ethnography of agricultural production in Costa Rica.
For her fellowship, Anne Martin worked with a small family-owned farm in Costa Rica dedicated to conservation, agricultural sustainability, and environmental education. During her ten months, Anne ate, slept, and worked on the farm, performing duties such as planting, harvesting, weeding, and working on various infrastructure projects. Through these experiences, she came to understand firsthand the food production system in Costa Rica. Despite the country’s international reputation as being a leader in environmental sustainability, Costa Rica has become heavily dependent on industrialized agriculture for its food, which is hugely damaging to its tropical ecosystems. For her research, Anne interviewed farmers, fishermen, and organic supermarket owners to find out what barriers they faced in using more sustainable food production methods.
Teach for Nepal (TFN)
Laxmi Rajak, from Bhaktapur, Nepal, graduated from Duke with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Mathematics with a minor in Education in May 2015. Driven by her background growing up as a lower caste member in Nepal and her passion for educational equity, Laxmi partnered with Teach for Nepal (TFN), a non-profit organization that places outstanding university graduates in high-need public schools. In the summer after her junior year, she worked with TFN to conduct a research project studying the school experiences of lower caste Nepali children, which became the basis of her honors thesis. As a Hart Fellow, Laxmi expanded upon this initial study, investigating the ways caste, gender, family income and family education impact the lives of students in Teach for Nepal classrooms.
For her fellowship, Laxmi Rajak worked with Teach for Nepal (TFN), an organization which seeks to end educational inequity. This problem is extremely severe in Nepal—only 33% of public school students pass their national 10th grade exam in contrast to 89% of private school students, while female and lower caste students drop out at much higher rates relative to their peers. However, though TFN has been teaching in classrooms since 2013, they had never had the organizational capacity to evaluate their impact. Thus, for her research project, Laxmi interviewed students across nine TFN schools to determine whether the organization was achieving its mission of providing an excellent education for all students. Her results showed that, across socio-economic status, caste, and gender, the vast majority of students in TFN classrooms were having positive experiences.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Housing policies in favelas
David Robertson, originally from Fairfax, Virginia, graduated with a major in Public Policy and a minor in Economics in May 2015. At Duke, David was involved with the FAC Board, Duke Student Government, the 1-G Network and the Common Ground Retreat. Passionate about urban development, social justice, international relations and entrepreneurship, he worked in Geneva, Bangalore, and Washington D.C., immersing himself in issues of international, infrastructural, and economic development. David continued to deepen his interest in urban policy through the Hart Fellows Program, partnering with a non-government organization called Catalytic Communities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which focuses on providing support for favelas to increase participatory urban planning efforts and take control of their communities. For his research project, he interviewed both favela residents and academics to explore policy solutions for improving public housing in Rio.
For his fellowship, David Robertson went to Rio to advocate for residents of its favelas. Favelas, informally constructed neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city, have generally been looked down upon as slums and sources of shame. However, through interviewing favela residents, David instead discovered them to be vibrant, diverse, and thriving communities, each with their own unique identity and culture. From his interviews, David created a policy proposal, outlining recommendations for how Rio’s housing policies can more effectively harness the strong community spirit of favelas. He hopes that his findings will inform housing policy in the upcoming 2016 Rio mayoral election.