Congratulations to this year's winners in the GEOReflects Contest! Our judges really had their work cut out for them, as we received so many entries that thoughtfully illustrate the learning and growth students experience through study away.
A 'Best in Category' winner was selected for each of the three categories (Academic Experience, Self-Awareness, and Cultural Perspective) by a panel of judges comprised of Duke students plus professional staff with our campus partners. Also, the People's Choice Award was given to the entry receiving the highest number of public votes (Facebook likes).
This photo was taken in the outback of Australia. Each night, we camped in the open moonlight, and set aside time to admire the stars. I am still blown away by the brilliance we saw. Our campsites were so far removed from human civilization, that light pollution did not affect the visibility of stars. Like many things in life, viewing something familiar, from a new vantage point, can change everything. In this photo we are looking at the Milky Way. Through this experience, I have learned the importance of perspective, especially when considering environmental studies
Studying Global Health, we tend to reduce people, communities, and their individual and collective experiences down to statistics: ”infant mortality, life expectancy, disease prevalence. Though reductive, these measures allow us to analyze trends, identify areas of need, and tailor interventions to specific populations. But when studying the health of a population halfway across the world, we often lack the appropriate context for those numbers. All too easily, we isolate line-item figures and reduce thousands of unique lived experiences to a series of tables. We consider South Africa, and speak only of a place where hundreds of thousands of people die from HIV/AIDS every year. We discuss the nation's shockingly high rates of sexual violence, the enduring poverty and racial wealth gap, and the stark health disparities along racial lines.
In Zwelethemba, a former township in the Western Cape, these statistics are immediately visible. The racial segregation between the township and the neighboring town of Worcester remains virtually unchanged since the end of Apartheid. Members of the all-black community live well below the poverty line. HIV and birth rates are high. Many families lack indoor plumbing, and the doors that can do so lock promptly at sunset.
But my time living in Zwelethemba added depth to the community in a way that numbers and figures do not. There was the first, painfully obvious revelation that people who live in physical poverty do not necessarily live impoverished lives, and my unconscious assumption that they do represents, I believe, one of the fundamental issues in humanitarian and global health work. There was the deep religious faith of my host family and the overwhelming sense of community. There was the Zwelethemba Center for Arts and Culture and the phenomenal young students who danced circles around us. There was the deep connection to language and culture and the close communication between generations.
I don't mean to romanticize marginalization and poverty, or in any way diminish the violent systems of white supremacy that continuously subjugate South Africa's black citizens. But I merely wish to raise the question that nagged at me throughout my time in the country. Analyzing South African townships only in terms of numbers that most often describe absence–absence of employment, education, nutrition, plumbing, comprehensive healthcare–overlooks the immense potential for addressing this gaps through existing infrastructure. We ignore community leaders like Mama Thempsi or Mr. Arnold or Jazz, who already play an immense role in the physical, mental, and spiritual health of their neighbors. What could health in the community look like, if we leveraged resources into the hands of such people?
When we think only in statistics, analyzing human lives in aggregate and sweeping stereotype, how much are we missing?
*Photo credit: Maddie Leonard. Photo submitted to contest with photographer's permission.
Nowhere in Europe do art and culture so deeply intertwine as in Amsterdam. This city is ruled by old fashion bikes, winding canals, and endless museums. I captured this photograph while eating lunch with my friends at a local waffle stand. We had just visited a Banksy showcase next door and before that the Van Gogh museum across the plaza. Never has it been so easy to travel around a city and become engulfed in the culture of art and nature as in this timeworn Netherlands town. I am used to waiting on traffic strewn highways or shoving my way through crowded streets. But here, cars are the least preferred choice of transportation and large parks allow people to have their own space. This lucky kid even got an entire pond to himself! The appreciation for art and freedom of expression in this city made me question the atmosphere of the culture I grew up in. What if my education involved biking to Andy Warhol exhibitions instead of sitting in a car during rush hour? How would I view America? Is this child living in a better society or would he see my world as even more wonderful than his?