International Event: Dia de los Muertos

On this past Sunday, I attended the Dia de los Muertos celebration at Lloyd Noble. The celebration was in honor of the centuries-old Latin American holiday that celebrates the lives of departed friends and family members. The celebration was super cool and I got to see a number of great performers. I got to see a group from the Capitol Hill High School perform Bruno Mars in the distinctive instrumentation of the Mariachi style of music. I also bought a tamale from a food truck and it was delicious. I am thrilled to go to a school that provides us with these cultural events and opportunities.

International Group: The International Business Student Association

The International Business Student Association has been a great asset to me throughout my time as an IB major. The group is organized by the International Business advisor, so she is very knowledgable about the program and the challenges that IB students face. The International Business Student Association allows IB majors to stay in close communication throughout the semester. We are able to keep in touch and receive updates on our peers who study abroad (it is a requirement of the IB major) and we are also presented with different and exciting international opportunities through the association.

Spring Goals and Potential Challenges

Going abroad will be so much fun — when everything is smooth sailing. However, especially initially, I worry about feeling alone. I think that this program will minimize this fear for two reasons: you are with a small group of people exclusively from the University and the duration of the program is not too extensive. If accepted, this program will be my third study abroad experience while at the University. Also, there are several people from OU attending this study abroad program. This will give me more comfort when I travel abroad for a semester. Preparing for a lifetime of traveling is one of the goals that I’ve set for my study abroad experience this summer.

The world is filled with “gazillions” of different perspectives, and recently my eyes have been opened to many that I had not considered before. After recently speaking with International students and students that have previously studied abroad, I realized that I had a somewhat narrow-minded approach to what I would gain through study abroad. Of course, I had always considered the fact that I would encounter cultural confusion, different perspectives, etc. However, listening the experiences of others really opened my eyes to the reality of all the perspectives in our world. One of my goals for my study abroad experience is to challenge myself to embrace various other perspectives and imagine the implications of my actions to the lives of others. I believe that travel can be truly influential to your actions, if you let it be. It is an important goal of mine that I thoroughly think though the implications of my actions and embrace other perspectives while abroad.

Preparing for Seville, Spain

I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to study abroad in Seville, Spain for the upcoming semester. I would like to share a little bit more about why I chose to pursue this specific program in Seville.

I have applied for this study abroad program mainly because of its location and relevancy to my major. I have always wanted to travel to Spain for my semester abroad, mostly because of my previous travels throughout Europe and Spain. I am also very interested in the Spanish language and have just completed my minor in it. I have previously traveled to Puebla, Mexico with OU, so I am excited by the opportunity to travel to Spain as well. It will be interesting to compare the two cultures, although they are both Spanish-speaking. The CEA program which I have applied to will allow me to continue my business studies. This program will provide classes that will contribute to my major. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to study abroad while completing classes that will help me graduate on time. This is not an opportunity that is available to everyone.

This program will give me the opportunity to experience a new culture with professors and faculty who are experts on the location and protocols. This is unique to the University atmosphere, and accomplishes a part of a goal that I have been working towards (and will continue to work towards): to visit all seven continents. For my entire high school career, I have been dreaming about and attempting to accomplish this goal. I also love the fact that participants in the program get to travel to several places in the region. Spain is such a beautifully unique location, and I am hoping to be able to experience it first hand.

Radicalism and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

HIV/AIDS affects some of the poorest countries in the world. Even within those countries, the disease often targets some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. Over 70% of the forty million people living with HIV/AIDS are living in Africa (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts). This large population of people living with HIV/AIDS has impacted the development of African nations. Thus, it has also impeded the nations’ abilities to manage the wide-spread health threat. Generally accepted economic theory suggests that the profusion of people living with HIV/AIDS reduces labor supply and productivity, reduces exports, and increases imports (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts). HIV/AIDS hinders development and thus further stratifies the Western and developing nations. The long term economic consequences that have arisen from the HIV/AIDS crisis can, and may only, be aided with international economic support (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts).

During the presidency of Thabo Mbeki from 1999 to 2008, the South African government denied the existence of HIV/AIDS. This denialism had a significant impact on the country’s population; HIV/AIDS denialism during this period has contributed to between 343,000 and 365,000 preventable deaths. Although the motive behind Mbeki’s denial of HIV/AIDS is still unclear, there are several popular assumptions. Martin Asser suggests that Mbeki’s denialism may be a result of the high prices of drug therapy and the inability to provide the expensive therapy for many South African citizens (Asser). If Asser’s assumption is correct, it exemplifies a South African leader denying a scientifically proven epidemic because of the lack of economic prosperity and resources in the given country. In this situation, Mbeki was clearly driven by the ‘radical’ viewpoint; Mbeki’s actions and public beliefs were influenced by the struggle between the rich and the poor states and societies.

To people struggling with HIV/AIDS, anti-retroviral drugs may be a lifesaving solution. Although there is no cure for AIDS, anti-retroviral therapy can reduce complications and prolong a patient’s life (UCSF Health). These drugs, however, are extremely expensive and very profitable for Western pharmaceutical giants, while proving inaccessible to many patients in developing countries. Many argue the unethicality of such astronomical drug prices and support the nationalization of the drug industry (Hirschler). Clearly, however, this could not exist under the capitalist system that dominates American industries. The class struggle between rich and poor international actors is reflected in the high prices of life-saving drugs and the inability of people in developing countries to access necessary treatment.

In an article published in The Journal of Pan African Studies, Teresa Barnes exhibits a unique way of looking at the HIV/AIDS pandemic:

We know about AIDS,” he said, “much more than the uncles who are supposed to care for us and try to teach us about it. But if you don’t care about yourself,” he went on, “it really doesn’t matter how much you know about HIV and AIDS, you are still going to put yourself in situations where you will probably get it.” (Barnes 73)

This quote acknowledges the fact that there are societal factors that contribute to the continued spread of HIV/AIDS. While it is clear that the lack of funding for medical treatments affects the ability of foreign patients to receive treatment for HIV/AIDS, it is a common misconception in America that this is the only reason for the widespread HIV/AIDS pandemic. This misconception is quite telling about the American perception of African countries. The general American population attributes an enduring health crisis occurring in Africa to the lack of economic resources in the affected countries. This idea further exemplifies the ‘radical’ or ‘Marxist’ view in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Westerners immediately attribute foreign struggles to a lack of economic resources, thereby adopting the ‘radical’ perspective. Again, the lack of resources is important to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but there are also other social factors that are generally ignored by the West.

It is clear that there are social factors that influence the spread of HIV/AIDS in developing nations, and that these social factors are often ignored by Western individuals and institutions. This idea can be further exemplified by The Product Red campaign. Product Red is a licensed brand that aims to draw awareness and fundraise for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in eight African countries (RED). According to the Product Red manifesto, “You buy (Red) stuff. We get the money, buy the pills and distribute them. … If they don’t get the pills, they die. We don’t want them to die. We want to give them the pills. And we can. And you can. And it’s easy” (Barnes). It is clear from the manifesto that Product Red markets a quick fix for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This “quick fix,” provided in terms of medical supplies or economic resources, furthers the divide between the affected African countries and developed nations. The idea that economic resources or medical supplies acts as the primary solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic suggests the ‘radical’ perspective. The class struggle between the rich and poor states prompts the rich states to respond to the needs of the poor states by providing economic resources, without fully evaluating the implications or efficacy of this aid.

The Failure of One Laptop Per Child

This past semester, my peer Christine Murrain and I produced a podcast about the failure of the international air organization, One Laptop Per Child. The nonprofit organization One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) aims to distribute low-cost laptop computers to the “world’s poorest children,” with the intention of providing opportunities for quality access to education. The organization was never as successful in distributing laptops as it had anticipated. The introduction of these laptops, in order to render success, required the training of local teachers, provision of technical support, and the creation of sustainable plans for further distribution. OLPC was deployed prior to the pioneering of these logistical necessities and thus, provided for its expedient downfall. Most recently, global initiatives have decreased as a result of improper infrastructure and increasing costs, amongst other negative side effects. This podcast seeks to evaluate the actions of One Laptop Per Child in terms of their ability to create a sustainable source of education and provision of academic materials. Further, this podcast will explore unforeseen consequences of One Laptop Per Child’s efforts. In addition, this podcast will investigate the legacy of One Laptop Per Child, specifically the impact it has had on organizations striving to provide similar aid to children in developing nations. Finally, this podcast will evaluate how One Laptop Per Child’s evolution may affect the populations served. Although One Laptop Per Child distributes technological products to countries on several continents, this podcast primarily focuses on the laptops distributed to students in African countries.

To listen to our podcast or read the transcript, please click here.

Constructivism and the Ebola Epidemic

Paul Richards writes “Ebola is a disease of social intimacy” (Richards 1). Ebola is transferred through bodily fluids, and therefore is often transferred to those caring for the sick or washing the bodies of the dead. There is no cure for Ebola, simply palliative care. Although there have been several recorded outbreaks of Ebola, the 2013 outbreak in Upper West Africa quickly turned into an epidemic. With inadequate domestic health systems, Doctors without Borders, among other NGOs, were the main actors on the ground (Arreguín-Toft and Mingst 420).

The efforts of such aid agencies can be understood through the constructivist lens. A book published in 2017 notes that constructivists would focus on “how we think we know what world health means, and how that meaning came to be established” (Arreguín-Toft and Mingst 424). This means that all foreign aid efforts and healthcare infrastructure must be evaluated in terms of their cultural and historical contexts. As mentioned previously, Ebola is a very intimate disease. There are many social practices deeply engrained in local cultures that contributed to the spread of the disease. For example, ritual burials where the bodies are washed before they are buried is a very dangerous practice during an Ebola epidemic. Due to the spiritual and social implications of a traditional burial, however, many Africans continued to wash and bury bodies in the traditional way. Western aid workers, however, drew problematic assumptions based on this fact. Many assumed that Africans were “stubborn” in their “unsafe” traditions and unwilling to listen to the recommendations of aid workers (Richards 48). This apparently problematic assumption does not recognize that from a social and spiritual perspective, an “epidemiologically safe” burial is deemed spiritually unsafe by the local population (Richards 52). The issue is the social disconnect between the Western aid workers and the African locals, who are acting on their ingrained social practices. This idea exemplifies the fact that cultural ‘norms’ and ideas drive the behavior of a country’s citizens.

Despite providing medical resources, the aid workers were primarily responsible for “changing the ideas” of the people in Western Africa (Richards 28). This, in itself, exemplifies the “constructivist” viewpoint. Western aid workers acted in ways that reflected their individualistic, direct, and informal upbringings. They struggled to understand the communal, traditional, and spiritual characteristics of African culture. This led the aid workers to act in a way that did not include locals in the Ebola eradication efforts.

In a 2014 post, Susan Shepler describes the popular coverage of the Ebola crisis, “People on radio call in shows have asked: Why can’t they understand what needs to be done?  Why they need to submit themselves and their loved ones to quarantine? (Shepler)” This type of coverage highlights the “ignorance” of African citizens. This is not “ignorance,” however, and can be explained by several cultural factors. The most important factor that highlights the ‘constructivist’ viewpoint is that African citizens have a “mistrust for the state” (Shepler). Because of this “mistrust,” many ignore public health warnings from the state. This “mistrust of the state” that Shepler mentions is something that is deeply woven into the actions and decisions made by many African people. This exemplifies the ‘constructivist’ viewpoint in that politics and decisions of people are shaped by “non-material” elements.

The “constructivist” viewpoint can also be explained by the differences in the “norms” between the home countries of the aid workers and Western Africa. In developed countries, it is common to have a surplus of household supplies including trash bags, rubber gloves, and rain jackets. In developing countries, however, these items are not common. In 2014, as the international push to stop Ebola began, The World Health Organization developed their agenda to fight Ebola based on what they call ‘the messaging approach’ (Richards 124). The “messages” spread by the World Health Organization included how Ebola is spread, how to safely care for someone who supposedly has Ebola, and how to create protective clothing from “common” household items. The World Health Organization, however, did not acknowledge the impracticalities of these messages. Resources such as raincoats, trash bags, and gloves are difficult, if not impossible, to find locally in Western Africa. The differences in resource constraints, and the “norms” in each society influenced how The World Health Organization initially responded to the Ebola crisis and how locals reacted to the messaging.

As a final point, it is important to recognize that while the Western response of aid workers to the Ebola epidemic can be explained by the “constructivist” point of view, the situation entirely violates the ‘liberalist’ view. From a liberal perspective, the efforts to end the Ebola epidemic should have been a group, “holistic” approach. It is clear that this is not what occurred. The efforts to end Ebola were more divisive than communal.

Domestic and Foreign Effects of International Aid

“The urge to help” is a common phrase that resonates throughout many academic works. While, in many cases, the “urge to help” may be less pragmatic and more self-benefitting, there are domestic social benefits that result from these trends. Evidence of this can be seen throughout the ethnographic report The Need to Help by Liisa Malkki.

It has been established that positive intentions do not directly correlate with positive outcomes. Nonetheless, it is important to consider the implications of positive intentions in a domestic atmosphere. In The Need to Help, Malkki discusses the implications of international aid efforts in the country of Finland. Finland’s culture stresses the importance of the individual; community is not integral to Finnish society (Malkki 137). In her book, Malkki refers to the community that has been built as a result of the “Aid Bunnies” (a project of the Finnish Red Cross). This “community” is largely archived on crafter’s blogs and internet sites (Malkki 119). This community can also be exemplified by the various knitting groups that have arisen from the project. In Finland, many people, especially the elderly, gain community from these domestic volunteer efforts. It is important that Finnish people are encouraged to find community, as loneliness can lead to several negative factors including an increased mortality rate (Malkki 138). This contrasts the American need to help, which stems from the American values of self-improvement and reliance on fake humility.

It is evident that as many Fins participate in humanitarian efforts to achieve community, they are not acting in complete selflessness. It is also apparent that in many (if not most) humanitarian efforts the actor is not completely selfless. The “Aid Bunny” project allows for people to participate in humanitarian efforts in a more “human” way while creating a sense of community for its participants and allowing them to fulfill a specific internal need. The question that remains is: where do we draw the line between preserving domestic humanity and, the more pragmatic option, effectively meeting the needs of foreign aid-recipients. An effective answer to this question requires more analytical research on the impact of aid in foreign countries.

While it is difficult to interpret the fine line between the two aforementioned values, it is important to consider the impact of citizens’ imagination on foreign aid-recipients. Imagination in humanitarian efforts have two main effects: imagination makes performing humanitarian efforts more meaningful, and it de-individualizes foreign aid-recipients. It is important that aid workers and volunteers understand the implications of one’s “imagination.” In The Need to Help, Malkki writes “The suspension (if not erasure) of the child’s parents, siblings, grandparents, and other relatives, and also friends, teachers, and neighbors, was a striking feature in the imagining of the needy children” (9). Adding imagination to the visualization of the needs of foreign aid recipients neglects many important factors. This omission can perpetuate a problematic image of foreign aid recipients. The use of imagination in foreign aid is an important factor to consider when evaluating the efficacy and value of international aid projects.

In a recent discussion with Betty Bigombe, she was asked about the effectiveness of campaigns such as The Enough Project. Although it has garnered national attention, The Enough Project has long been criticized for their ineffective and incomplete messaging about conflict minerals in the Congo. Bigombe remarked that it is difficult for American activists to tell the complete story and still gain support. Despite this, the publicity that the campaigns provide is very important (Bigombe). This idea parallels that of the “Aid Bunnies.” Although it may not be the most effective or pragmatic way of addressing an issue, it garners national attention and allows a wide range of participation in philanthropic acts.

The provision of foreign aid affects both the provider and the recipient countries. When evaluating the effectiveness of various humanitarian efforts, the social domestic benefits must be evaluated in addition to the more pragmatic foreign effects. Foreign aid efforts in Finland, specifically the “Aid Bunnies” have been successful in boosting Finnish morale. These domestic effects are important to recognize when determine the efficacy of various international aid projects.

International Group: The International Business Student Association

The IB Student Association is a group of International Business majors. This group allows us to share information regarding business in the international community. One of the retirements of the IB curriculum is to study abroad for a semester. The IB Student Association helps us keep up with our peers as they study and complete internships abroad.

International Event: Betty Bigombe

I attended a lecture by Betty Bigombe. Betty Bigombe is currently the Senior Director for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence at the World Bank. Bigombe is also well known for initiating and conducting peace talks with Joseph Kony. She is an incredibly influential woman and she also trains woman mediators.

In this lecture, Bigombe talked mainly about the importance of women and children in state conflict mediation processes. She argues that it is time for the UN and international communities to ensure peace keeping success by involving women in the peace keeping negotiations and processes. This can only happen through targeted mentoring of women in “affirmative action” efforts. According to Bigombe, women and children are frequent victims of violence and are large bearers of the burden of war. Many women have been able to find strong voices on the grassroots level, however, women must take part in the senior level of peace making decisions. Bigombe works to help women have the opportunity to have a seat at the peace keeping table. Bigombe also argues that when women are involved in the peace keeping negotiations, there are positive results that enhance the overall success of the mission. Women are able to talk more candidly about things such as sexual harassment, childbearing, etc.

I had no idea that peacekeeping was such gendered work. Bigombe mentioned that in 2008, the UN had very few women peacekeeping envoys. According to Bigombe, women were not leading mediation efforts anywhere. This is quite shocking as Bigombe pointed out the benefits to having women lead peacekeeping efforts. I think that Bigombe is doing great work by trying to propel women to make their contribution to sustainable, long-lasting peace. It is vital to the success of peacekeeping efforts that women are included in the discussion. Bigombe talked about how when she was mediating in Northern Uganda with the LRA, she played the role as a “mother.” Even the groups that she was negotiating with called her “mother.” Womanhood has incredibly unique power in many aspects of social interaction. Women should have the tools needed to utilize this power in peacekeeping negotiations.

Bigombe’s lecture reminded me of the concept of the “individual level” of analysis. As mentioned and exemplified previously, Bigombe is an incredibly powerful woman. She has held impressive titles and has studied at the best schools around the globe. Her personality, perception, choices, and activities directly impact different aspects of the international social sphere. The idea of the “individual level” of analysis is especially relevant when discussing Bigombe’s peace talk negotiations. In many cases, Bigombe was alone during these conversations. In these instances, she was acting as an individual actor. Recently in class we have also talked about intergovernmental organizations. Bigombe touched on her experiences working with these organizations including the UN and the World Bank. The way she discussed these organizations exemplified that they are “actors” as well as “frameworks.” This is an illustration that I found extremely powerful in the context of our class discussions.

I entirely agree with Bigombe’s points. She is a fantastic woman who is leading efforts to empower women across the world. She is entirely correct in recognizing the full power of women to participate in peace talk efforts. I hope that as Bigombe continues to encourage the participation of women in peace talks, this idea becomes reality. I believe that Bigombe is right in saying that women are more effective than men (in many areas) of peace talk efforts. Bigombe concluded her lecture by mentioning that exclusion is a vicious cycle; the exclusion of women in peace talk efforts only breed more exclusion. It is time that women have a seat at the table in peace talk efforts.