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"The world is but a canvas to the imagination."

--Henry David Thoreau

 

[projects]

[CUBA: 2004]

The 2004 SOW team returned to Havana, Cuba to learn more about the effects of the US trade embargo on Cuba, as well as about the "Special Period" - the state of economic emergency and restructuring, following the removal of Russian economic support in 1991. Through the organization Fundacion Amistad, SOW was able to obtain research visas. While in Havana, the 2004 team was connected with the same organization as the 2001 team - the Office of the Historian, an organization that oversees many community programs in Old Havana, including a major restoration program of certain neighborhoods. Members of the Office were able to give SOWers an orientation to Havana during the first few days. SOWers also participated in volunteer activities at the Convent of San Belen, a convent being restored by the Office.


The majority of time was spent divided into two main research groups - health and hip hop. The health group looked at the Cuban public health system by visiting neighborhood clinics, clinics for natural medicine, a health cafe to teach teens about HIV/AIDS, maternity homes, maternity hospitals, health research organizations, and the Ministry of Public Health. Through the Office of the Historian, SOWers also had direct contacts with local doctors and HIV/AIDS specialists.


The hip hop group looked at the hip hop movement as a means of a new political voice in Cuban. According to the Cuban government, racism, discrimination, social differences, and gender differences do not "exist." SOW members looked at hip hop groups whose lyrics often revealed the opposite, and were givinga new voice to marginalized groups of the population. Members conducted interviews with major Cuban rap groups, attended conferences about the hip hop movement, as well as attended many concerts around Havana.


In addition to these subjects, SOW members conducted research projects about urban organic farms used to sustain neighborhoods and communities, a political exile from the United States, and gender roles and the "whistling culture" on the street. They also met with the non profit, Witness for Peace, to discuss the negative effects of US embargo, and attended a protest where 1.2 million Cubans marched in response to Bush's tightening policy against Cuba.

SOWers stayed in casas paticulares - family stays, where rent is paid - in Old Havana. Additionally, on the weekends SOW members took trips to the district of Vedado, the rural city of Vinales, and travelled to different beaches around Havana.

 

[MEXICO: 2003]

Project by Seema Kakad for Visible Thinking Undergraduate Research Symposium:

"The Rise of Women Leadership in Rural Communities in Guanajuato, Mexico as a result of NAFTA and U.S. Free Trade Policies"

 

In May 2003, SOW travelled to Mexico to study the effects of NAFTA and free-trade on the Mexican economy and migration patterns to the US. The first week was spent in Mexico City, the second largest city in the world (behind only Beijing, and even then some put Mexico at number one). Witness for Peace, an American organization focused on changing U.S. policy towards Latin America through education and lobbying, was our host. Two young American volunteers facilitated popular education workshops on Mexican history, migration trends and agricultural policy, and arranged meetings with a campesino union, an NGO that supports migrants and refugees, and a university professor, among others. Those five days built on what the group had learned in preparation for the trip to create a solid foundation from which to base the rest of the experiences in Mexico.


From Mexico City, the team moved on to Guanajuato, four hours away and a state with one of the highest rates of migration to the United States. The migration from this region began with the Bracero program from the 1940s, born of U.S. need for agricultural labor during World War II. Braceros were Mexican men contracted to work temporarily on farms in the United States. Now, migration from Guanajuato includes women and entire families, temporarily and permanently.

With CEDESA as their home base, SOW visited nearby rural communities affected by these migration patterns. Much of the time was spent with women's cooperatives- baking cooperatives, small community savings and loan groups, health promoters. Many of these groups formed as a response to the outflow of people and sustainable work from the region. With the majority of men between the ages of 15 and 50 living most of the year in the United States, women are organizing themselves to manage their many responsibilities: tending to the fields, sponsoring community social and religious events, and rationing the money sent home. Such collective organizations exist in response to migration in urban areas as well.

The final week was spent in the city of Irapuato, staying with families and visiting with the women's groups in working class neighborhoods there. One particular family was a mother and four children, who's husband was working in Texas. This particular family was an example to SOW members of the direct impact of US policy and free trade on Mexican households.

 

[PERU: 2002]

In 2002, SOW made the decision to expand. Duke's chapter sponsored two trips with ten students traveling on each. One group travelled to India and the other to Peru In Peru, the team spent some time in a rural village near Huaraz, situated in the valley between the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra, two high mountain ranges within the Andes. They also spent some time in Cajamarca, an Andean city with a well-preserved typical Incan culture. Team members focused on various projects, from documenting excavations of Inca ruins near Cajamarca, to analyzing the effects of ecotourism on local communities in the Huascaran National Park, to creating a children's book from the stories that Peruvian families pass down to their children.

 

[INDIA: 2002]

The second team travelled to Ahmedabad, India. Located in Western India and the site of the devastating earthquake in 2001, Ahmedabad showed students the paradox between a continually modernizing Indian society constantly bringing in more technology and Western ideologies and the traditional culture that offers resistance to the effects of globalization. The team focused on earthquake relief efforts and worked with the women's rights movement in Gujarat through non-governmental organizations in the area. They also had the opportunity to take part in a Jain pilgrimage to Palitana, a significant area of worship for the Jain community. This experience gave them insight into the important role of religion in Indian society and culture.

 

[CUBA: 2001]

The 2001 SOW team traveled to Havana, Cuba from May 15 to May 31st. The trip was coordinated with Luly Duke and Fundacion Amistad. The students lived with families in apartments in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. The team worked closely with members of the Office of the Historian in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). The mornings were spent in meetings with officials, organizations, touring museums, hospitals, day care centers, and neighborhood businesses, among others. This exposure was greatly complemented by the afternoon work. The SOW team worked side by side with local employees to help reconstruct the Convent of Belen. The Office of the Historian has plans to revert the dilapidated convent, one of the most important colonial buildings in the city, into a joint home for the elderly and hotel for people of the "third age." The group worked on construction, plumbing, electricity, but most importantly, building bonds of friendship. The team was also exposed to life outside of Havana, with trips to Trinidad, Mariel, and Soroa.


In the fall of 2001, members of the SOW team worked eagarly to edit the organization's first documentary film, on the Jewish community in Cuba. The SOW team also sponsored a successful commons room disucssion entitled "Fidel Castro: Friend or Foe?" Attracting over forty students, the discussion initiated intellectual dialogue about a topic that is often overlooked in regular academic discussion. SOW's photo exhibit in the Perk displayed the team's experiences in Havana.

 

[RUSSIA: 2000]

In May, 2000, the first SOW team cultivated a relationship with two American organizations, Abamedia in Dallas, and The Russian-American Center in San Francisco, both of which enabled the Russia trip to be realized. During the month of May 2000, a SOW team of 10 individuals traveled to Moscow, Russia. After a briefing from the US Embassy, the team traveled 300 km south to the village of Kitezh. Kitezh Children's Eco-Village is a community of foster families for orphan children: sixty people living together to provide a home and a school for homeless and orphaned Russian children. In Kitezh, the team helped with the logistics of spring planting, construction, kitchen and housework, and teaching English and mentoring the children. Moreover, they created incredible bonds of friendship with the children and adults of the village. Documentation became a focus of the group's efforts, as each member was required to keep an individual journal and contribute to the team journal. In addition to this, great effort was put into photo and film documentation of various aspects of Kitezh community life.


Time was also spent in Moscow, where the team initially met with members of the U.S. Embassy. The team spent time with a family in Moscow while staying at a youth hostel. SOW members met with the renowned journalist and political scientist, Vladimir Pozner, and visited an urban orphanage and convent. A campus discussion was held with over forty University of Moscow students, a few with whom the team has maintained contact. In addition, the team was able to visit the Tretyakov gallery, the Bolshoy Ballet, and other local communities and cultural sights.


Upon returning in the fall of 2000, the SOW team held a presentation at the Center for Documentary Studies, exhibited their photographs on Duke's campus, spoke to area elementary classrooms about Russia and Russian orphans, and is working on a documentary film. The team has also maintained interaction with Kitezh, primarily through email, and hopes to collaborate with them in the future, with the possibility of future trips and exchanges between the two communities.

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