2003 Student-Faculty Fellows: Hartwick College
Mentor: Linda S. Swift, Department of Biology
Students: Amy Bateman ’04; Colleen Didas ’04; Kristin Hardman ’04; Melissa Huizinga ’04; Andrea Jones ’04
Research trip to Thailand postponed to Dec. 2003-Feb. 2004 period because of 2003 SARS Crisis
Abstracts of Reflections and/or Research
Linda S. Swift
The experience of working in an isolated, impoverished village with malnourished children in the mountains of Northern Thailand had a profound impact on the Hartwick student research team. Not only did the students learn a great deal about Thai and Akha hill tribe culture, collaborative biology research, traveling in a developing country, how to analyze and communicate biological data in an indigenous context, but they learned about themselves and how they fit into the world. For some of these students, it was a life changing experience, either reinforcing their career plans or completely changing them.
With the funding provided by ASIANetwork, we were able to assess the children in three villages from 0-5 years of age (73 children) for growth stunting and symmetry abnormalities. We found that the prevalence of growth stunting was 50.6% in these children. We also analyzed the probable causes of the growth stunting, and found that the children were consuming protein- poor diets, water with high coliform counts (which caused diarrhea), and had intestinal parasite infections. We conducted a health workshop for the village health promoters on: how to increase protein in the diet, especially through home grown and produced soy products; how to purify water with an inexpensive filtration and chlorination system; and how to get rid of intestinal parasitic infections and prevent them in the future. The health promoters will continue to assess the children for growth stunting for a year, and I will reassess the children in 6 and 12 months. ASIANetwork has aided us in setting up a sustainable nutrition program, which is a community-based program of nutrition education, growth monitoring and counseling.
Determination of Water Sanitation Consumed by 0-5 Year Olds
Traveling to Thailand for six weeks was the most incredible personal and educational experience of my life. What I learned most was that not every country expresses their anger and negativity for the world to see. The people I encountered in Thailand, both in the cities, and in the hill tribes, were the generous and classy people, and they gave me something to aspire toward. I also learned that doing research in a foreign country is the best kind of research. Scientific research at “home” allows one to learn about the topic of interest, scientific research in a foreign country allows one to learn about the topic of interest, plus learn about and experience another culture, and ultimately learn how they really are deep down, because that’s what Thailand did for me.
I’ve learned that there is more to traveling to another country to do research than just looking at the biology of the place. There is so much to learn from the people and culture as well. I have previously traveled to Costa Rica where our group just visited some of the biological field stations and worked only at these stations, never really experiencing the true heart of the country, its people. I really feel that I missed out on something. I realize now that there is only so much, for me at least, that I can learn about plants without interacting with “the natives.” I feel that from this experience of interacting one-on-one with people of another country, I now have some know-how of how to precede in future research travels.
Thailand will now and forever hold a special place in my heart. I will never forget what I learned on this trip, and I thank the ASIANetwork for allowing me such an amazing opportunity.
Recording of Feeding Practices in the 0-5 Year Old Group and Pregnant Mothers
This experience has removed lingering vestiges of doubt that I may have had about attending medical school. Before this trip, I wanted to go to medical school because I wished to be a doctor to help cure people’s problems, to fix them. I felt in me this passion to right what was wrong with them, or, at the very least, try with everything I had to do so. Now, after conducting research with the children and villagers, these reasons have been altered in that I am much more focused in my rationale. There is a much more clear and more defined purpose driving my desire for medical school. I have an even stronger desire to practice in a very rural primary care setting. I have witnessed what it is to be needed. The children’s parents or grandparents brought them to us and entrusted them to us, however briefly, with the utmost faith in their eyes. That brief moment- in the instant that small child passed from one set of cradling arms into another- it was apparent how much trust these villagers put into us.
One of the most remarkable things I learned- really learned through hands-on work and individual interactions- was of my effect in people’s lives. The research that our group was conducting was vital in the Akha villager’s lives. It was crucial to their well-being, their health and vitality, and their continuing spirit, and their children. To be involved in something of that magnitude really affected me. It made me want to choose a profession where I could have that type of effect daily. I gained a huge appreciation for the people that do work that influences people’s lives. We came into contact with many individuals who worked tirelessly to help other individuals, pushing against formidable obstacles and barriers to achieve results. Seeing them work and their dedication to serve the Thais and Akhas amazed me.
Determination of the Nutritional Status and Family Lineage of Children 0-5 Years of Age
My experience as a student of the Asian culture was the most amazing occurrence of my entire student career. The ASIANetwork Program enriched my educational understandings far more than any classroom lecture or textbook ever has. I went to Thailand to conduct scientific research on the nutritional status of children ages 0-5 years in three different Hill Tribe villages. The knowledge I left Thailand with, however, was more then biological data and statistical findings. I came away from the trip understanding that people from all over the world can come together and live in peace and friendliness. The grant allowed me to witness first-hand the beauty of the Asian culture and the richness of their ethnic traditions. The villagers of Northern Thailand opened my heart and mended my spirit, allowing me to become receptive to other’s differences, and learn to accept and respect people unconditionally. From this experience I took away more than medical and scientific knowledge. I gained a sense of self and was allowed the rare opportunity to immerse myself into a foreign culture and come out having met humanity on the most intimate level.
I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity. As a person, I have grown and learned so many valuable life lessons. This experience has helped me to see the people of the world in a whole new light, understanding of their lives and the fact that they are just the same as myself. I feel that the villagers in Northern Thailand taught me more about myself and about life than any textbook or classroom lecture. They gave so much to me, and I will forever be in debt to them. Thank you for this once in a lifetime opportunity. I only hope that my work and research conducted in the villages will help better the lives of the most astounding people I have ever met.
Relationship of Fluctuating Asymmetry and Growth Stunting
The trip showed me where we, as a nation, came from and the hardships and struggles and the simple lessons that can be learned. Moreover, the research allowed me to see one more direction that a biology degree can take me. In terms of the people and the findings of the research, I learned that it’s important for people to understand the problem so they can fix it but it’s also important to provide solutions that can be implemented by the villages themselves without outside help because outside help might not always be present.
Academically the trip has expanded my horizons by showing me another direction in which my degree could lead me. There are hundreds of options but I had no idea that this type of work as an ethnobiologist was available. I hear of missionaries going to foreign lands to help, not biologists going to teach and help the people help themselves. We can’t always carry people across the river but if we teach them how to cross the river for themselves they will be much better off for the learning. Our trip helped to educate the people on proper nutrition but rather than giving them money and food and teaching them western ways, we taught them how to use their own resources to provide adequate nutrition to their children. Thus they now know how to “cross the river” for themselves and their children will be healthier for it. There is more than one right way to get things accomplished and by teaching the people how to use their resources, we will have helped many generations but we have also taught ourselves a better way of helping people – help them use their own resources; their culture and resources will often last longer than the money and the food that could be provided by outside sources.
Determination of Parasitic and Pathogenic Intestinal Infections
To spend six weeks living in an Asian country and studying the health of villagers was a unique and life changing opportunity. It made me much more aware of our basic human nature, and I learned firsthand that no matter where you live, or how much money you have, people are the same everywhere. It also made me realize that I am very interested in studying health and disease all over the world. I learned so much about how to conduct research in a foreign country, and hopefully that knowledge will be of practical use to my career someday.
This trip definitely changed my view of the world. I have always wanted to travel, but had not really considered traveling to Asia prior to this trip. Now I know that I will definitely travel to Asia again, because it was such an enjoyable experience. The people there are so friendly and welcoming, and there are still many places that I would like to visit. I also realized from interacting both with the villagers and with Thais throughout the trip that it does not matter where you are in the world, people are basically the same. The way that mothers talk to babies, how parents treat their children, how women share stories with each other, peoples’ pride in their heritage or country; these traits are universal. It is amazing to me that I could travel to the other side of the world, and still feel at home because of this fact. I also realized that our perception of the rest of the world can become skewed by what we read in the news, or by our country’s foreign policy. But to travel and see these countries for yourself makes you see them in a different light. Most of the time, the only true barrier that exists is the language, and even that becomes insignificant after awhile.
Venues for Sharing
Hartwick students and Linda Swift will be presenting their experiences and research finding at a talk on March 11, 2004 for Tri-Beta at Hartwick College. Kristin Hardman will be sharing the results of her research at the regional Tri-Beta Meetings in Rochester, New York in early April. We are also writing an article for the Hartwick and Oneonta newspapers.