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Duke Civic Engagement Magazine Spring 2009 Issue 1


Spring 2009 Synergy 2

Synergy Team Editors-in-Chief

Kirsty Fang Olivia He Suanna Oh


Serra Aktan Jenna Gates Jordan Nicole Hardy Hannah Hunt Zeewan Lee

Design Kirsty Fang Olivia He Publishing Duke Copy Center Advisor

Eric Van Danen Special thanks to Bassett Fund and Community Service Center for their financial support and for believing in our mission. Photo courtesy of Deviant Art and Flickr.

From the Editors After almost a year of planning and hard work, we finally present to you the first issue of Synergy Magazine with much pride. Amidst all the chaotic editing and designing procedures, what has kept us going on working was the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction close at hand, in our effort to bring about a new communication platform for Duke civic engagement. With the soaring popularity of DukeEngage and other volunteer groups on campus, volunteerism seems to be on everyone’s mind at today’s Duke. However, many still pause ask, how much do our students really understand about the meaning behind the act of volunteering, and how many of us actually recognize the impact of their civic engagement? Are words such as “volunteering”, “community service”, “civic engagement” simply the hype-words of the day or do we actually ponder upon them? Mbaye Lo, lecturer of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, speaks in his commentary, “The Psychology of Engagement”, that there is a need for us to view engagement as a social experience, a humanistic quest to connect with others; and this view makes mutual understanding plausible and misunderstanding a diminished possibility. According to Lo, the prejudices against other and our own cultural heritages are as follows: against Americans for their “arrogance”, against Europeans for their colonial legacy, against the Global South for its “naïveté”, and against the rest of the non-Western world for its “otherness”. Although his observations are much critical, and thus more crucial, we believe that with enough time and effort, these prejudices can be overcome. We hope that through Synergy Magazine, we are taking a step forward in this worthy quest. This edition of Synergy features the experience of our editors-in-chief in Jordan, as well as many other introspective essays of Duke students. Some of them have volunteered at various parts of the world, such as Egypt, India, Singapore and Nicaragua; and of course, others have brought and continue to bring the values of volunteerism close to our home, Duke, and share their stories on volunteering experiences in North Carolina and South Carolina. We would like to thank everybody on the Synergy team for their diligence, cooperation, and patience, and we apologize for our disorganization and procrastination that plagued us at times. It has been an immense pleasure to work with such a dedicated and talented team and we look forward to developing the future of our magazine with all of you. Enjoy! Kirsty Fang, Olivia He, and Suanna Oh Editors-in-Chief







Suanna Oh Kirsty Fang Amman, Jordan

Drummer Barco Durham, NC

Jing Jong Tamil Nadu, India

Hannah Hunt Cheraw, SC

Jordan Yoder Managua, Nicaragua






Jordan Hardy Durham, NC

Jonathan Cross Cairo, Egypt

Shelley Lanpher York, PA

Tammy Chin Singapore

Jasdeep Garcha Rajasthan, India

Emily K Center

Eno River State Park

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Amman, Jordan

Suanna Oh


Kirsty Fang

It is not easy for us to summarize here what had happened to us in the course of 8 weeks on the arid lands of Jordan. Neither of us spoke Arabic, nor had extensive knowledge on Jordanian culture. Before out departure, we had vigorously read tourist books and web guides, and harassed our program coordinator for more detailed information, but when we landed at the Amman airport, anxious and yet hopeful, we were expecting and were expected, to be aliens. We soon learned that our flagrantly foreign look spelled troubles; taxi drivers and souvenir sellers were too eager to rip us off on deals, and men on the streets would stare, whistle and call out to us, no matter how greased our hair was from the lack of shower, or how battered and food-stained our sweatpants and free T-shirts looked. Amongst the conservatively dressed Jordanian women, we stood out despite how ridiculously we tried to cover up ourselves in our mothers’ dresses. Moreover, what we considered polite gestures on our side, such as a smile while saying thank you, would end up seeming too friendly or even openly inviting in the other party’s eyes. Being alien, however, had its own advantages. The best one by far was probably that we were allowed to peak into both the men’s and women’s world, which were often strictly segregated in their culture. When we joined the boys’ night out; we would watch them smoke hookah at a café while listening to Jordanian songs. We would overhear their bitter comment on life, like having to run a store to make a living at the age of 18, or having to live under so many rules: the social and religious codes that banned almost everything from drinking and dating to driving a motorcycle, which were so sinful, and yet always seemed so glamorous and acceptable on foreign TV shows. On the other hand, the women’s “night in” almost always involved food, music and dance. They never thought we ate enough khobis bread or drank enough Turkish coffee. No matter how rich the host household was, there would always be enough food to satiate hungry guests, and more than enough heartfelt blessings. After the feasts, once the women took off their scarves and put on bangles around their hips, the most reserved lady could move so seductively and laugh so unguardedly that we could tell we were watching something special on those nights: things that were so precious and fragile that they were forbidden from men’s sight and touch.

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On America We learned that the magic word that could charm almost anyone in the country was “America.” Girls wore Levi’s jeans underneath their kaftan dresses that came down to their shoes, and boys who could not speak a word of English could hum “Smack That” by Akon. There were cultural products of America everywhere, and young people loved them as much as older people frowned upon them. Staring at things that seemed eerily familiar but so Jordanified that somehow seemed even more exotic, we were confused whether these things could still be categorized as American goods. Everyone wanted to go to America, and wanted to know Americans. Since both of us were not Americans, we were always seized with an oddly guilty sense of false importance, whenever their eyes brightened at the fact that we live in the States for school. The power of this magic word felt almost absurd at some points. Once when we visited the local police station to register our stays with other volunteers, the policemen required everyone to go to a hospital to get a health check-up, expect for the Americans. Surely, because of the oh-so-advanced American health care system, they could never have contacted such things like HIV (if you sense sarcasm, please blame my Canadian pride). Although we did not have to go through such an ordeal thanks to our program coordinator, Salma, who viciously fought with the men in abnormally fast and high-pitched Arabic, we often wondered if indeed USA was the next closest place to paradise. Wasn’t US ranked the not-so-spectacular 23rd on the happiest nation research survey? Was there not a ton of people homeless on the roads, scared of gun shootings in their neighborhoods, regularly taking anti-depressants or better yet, crack cocaine? We were visitors from the world of their American dream; and it was sometimes highly difficult to be diplomatic to their expectant questions about America, trying neither to shatter nor to fuel their elusive dreams.

With Students To get to our workplace Najah, we had to drive out of the capital city, Amman, for about 40 minutes; the tiny shops sitting on both sides of the road quickly disappeared, and soon the only thing visible in our view became the endlessly stretched sand fields, only occasionally adorned by desiccated-looking shrubs. The Najah center was located above a real estate and a supermarket, and in a room with no desks but only chairs, youth aged between 18 and 24 attended job related workshops offered by Save the Children. Most of the students were older than us, graduates from high school or even college, but they were unemployed and wanted to learn English, as many of the jobs near Amman were targeted towards tourists. The main challenge of the job did not result from the students’ unwillingness to study or our failure to prepare lecture materials. The students were always so eager and curious, asking question to us in their sweet, broken English. Even the few ones, who did not understand a word of English and could not gain anything from our classes, still came to class everyday, just to smile and nod approvingly at our clumsy lectures. Yet, many of them did not stay in class until the last day of our class. Some of them found jobs at a local factory and left us, beaming but sorry that they could not come any longer. A girl named Wafa got married to a man, who first saw her on a bus and several weeks later visited her father with a marriage proposal; she had not even held his hand before her wedding. Our class rutine included giving out short daily homework, and it had to be written on the board to be handcopied, because there was no copy machine at the center. Although we only checked for completion, many of them did not do their homework. But what can we say when they say they were busy cooking for over 20 members of their family or their mother was seriously ill? Eiman, who never did her homework but used to come to class everyday, suddenly did not show up for several days; and when she came back, we found out her sick mother had indeed passed away. All of them had such childlike eyes and yet had seen so much more of life than we had. Some of them still send us emails from Internet cafes. They tell us about their new jobs and family life, with words all misspelled and sentences barely comprehensible. Amjad, who always studied very hard for our daily quizzes, once wrote in his email to Kirsty, “IF I wish something and it came trwo, i wolde wish i become a teacher in your school and give you and suana and milenda quiz evreyday no one can passed it.� At such moments, we are always acutely reminded of our summer in Jordan and its people: how our vastly distant lives came into abrupt contact, and how the marks of those cherished collisions are still visible on our lives. u

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Drummer Barco

Durham, NC

As part of my service program, for which I recorded the presence of different invasive species in the Eno River State Park’s woody expanses, I was given a task to interview an intriguing client or co-worker at my workplace. However, my area of work at the park was quite different from those of most others, because it involved very little human contact aside from occasionally running into some joggers or dog-walkers. Though the clients (in an immediate sense, every plant and animal in the park) were abundant, co-workers to interview were quite scarce and the competition amongst my team members to interview them was severe. As the interview deadline loomed near, I ultimately had no choice but to go out on a limb and interview a non-human yet still pertinent client, a Tree of Heaven found at 36° 3.573’N, 78° 58.680’W. The client of interest was the largest invasive I could find; I assumed that his life experiences in this area were unmatched. My interview began as follows: Drummer: Hey, what’s your name, tree? Tree: Me? Freddie… Freddie McForester III. Drummer: Ah, I see. So, how long have you been here? Freddie: 27 years. Since I was born. Drummer: Wow, that’s a long time, Freddie. So how does it feel to be living here? Freddie: Oh it’s a quiet life. I live in relative peace because my chemical makeup happens to acidify the soil around me, meaning that all the native plants either keep their distance away from me or die slowly and painfully around me. The only plants I care to talk to are the seedlings nearby me, which are quite similar to me. See, they are also immigrants too. Drummer: You’re an immigrant? Freddie: Yes. I came from Asia. Drummer: Are you an illegal immigrant? Freddie: What if I told you I was? Are you going to chop me down?

Drummer: Maybe I would. You really don’t belong in North Carolina, you know. Freddie: So? Who cares? I’ve been allowed to grow to be over 50 feet tall inside a North Carolina State Park for 27 years. That’s 27 years’ worth of ignorance on the part of Park Rangers. Drummer: So you admit it then. Freddie: Sure I do. I even speak Chinese. My real name is actually 臭椿. Drummer: So you know that you are a hazard, yet you continue to reproduce. Is this true? Freddie: Heck yeah it is! I mean, come on! How many people can truly say they hate me anyway? I know plants and animals do, but they can›t do anything about it but keep away from me. But just for the record, those seedlings over there are not mine. They came from the road, the dirty wanderers... Drummer: Well, environmentalists keep track of invasives in the hope that they may one day be eradicated by the general populace. Freddie: Ahahaha! Keeping track of invasives in protective lands is the least of environmentalists’ worries. With the current state of the U.S. Economy coupled with the increasing threat of oil production, most environmentalists will be caring more in the coming decade about conserving energy domestically than wasting energy domestically on ending the fruitful lives of immigrants such as myself. Drummer: Nice pun, though that theory has many holes... Freddie: Thank you. You know what else? Durham has had a lengthy history of publicly embracing change while secretly despising it. You interns come to “manage invasive species”, but in the end, nothing will change. I will still stay here. Change will move as fast as I shall. It’s a fact. And as for the holes you speak of, you can have a talk with the woodpeckers. Mindless twats, they are. Drummer: You sure are mean spirited. Freddie: I bet you would be pretty mean-tempered too, if on top of everything else you were still recovering from last year’s draught and had a new vine of poison ivy growing up on your trunk. Are you done now? Then scram. -End InterviewRemember if you have any questions, Freddie McForester III can be reached at 363573’N, and 785-8680’W. u

Jing Jong

Tamil Nadu, India South Asia

This past summer I went on an individual Duke Engage project to Tamil Nadu, India, where I spent two months volunteering in a small hospital in the town of Kayalpatinam. In those two months, I experienced a lot, learned a lot, thought a lot, and did a lot. Read on to discover what my journey was like.

Buses, and cows, and bikes, oh my!

It might seem like a little thing, but the common bicycle had officially become my most unexpected and challenging experience. Once I arrived at my home stay, a representative of my partner organization handed me a shinny little silver key. What did this key unlock I wondered…some ancient Indian treasure? The key to the city perhaps? But alas that was not to be. Instead I discovered the key was to operate that nice little red bike sitting in the doorway, and that I was supposed to RIDE said bike to work. This little detail was unfortunately left out

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of the extensive information packet that my partner program had sent me.  Riding a bike to work might not seem like a problem for your average American college student, but I assure you that I am by no means average. You see, I can’t ride bikes. The last time that I’d even touched a bike was 12 years ago, and even then I was terrible at it. What’s more, the streets of India are just a wee bit more hectic then your average American street. There are buses, taxies, rickshaws, other bikes, people, and even cows all sharing a narrow one-lane road. Traffic laws seem to be more suggestions then actual laws. For example, people stay on the left side of the road only 50% of the time, and during the other 50% of the time, driving head-on into oncoming traffic is completely acceptable and commonplace. It was a chaotic system, but it seemed to work well for those who have navigated these streets since birth. However, it was not exactly the ideal bike learning environment for me. Despite this, since my host family lived 1.5 miles away from the hospital where I work, and I had to make the trip 4 times a day, I resolved to give the bike a try. On my first day, I almost died about 3 times, and almost ran over so many people I lost count. At night it was so dark that it was hard to see where the road ended. When there was light, it was the blinding sort that came from the headlights of a Jurassic Park sized bus coming at you at full speed. Needless to say, I stopped biking, and started to walk to and from the hospital from then on. Though it did take a LOT longer

to get anywhere, it was also nice in a way. The children came up to me to say “Hi”, and I got to see, enjoy, and appreciate the town and the culture a lot more on foot.

Culture shock

Before I came to India, I thought that the whole culture shock thing would be a piece of cake for me. Sure, it would be difficult, but surly it wouldn’t affect me in the same way that it affected other people; after all, I grew up


I forced to wear hot stifling t-shirts and ankle-length skirts in the 110°F weather, there was no AC even at the hospital. The food I was served in my home stay was so sweet I couldn’t even choke down a bite without gagging, and the doctor at the hospital was completely rude, forcicng me to wait in his office twice in one day for two hours before he even showed up. Then, I talked to my friend who were there with me. I talked with my parents over the phone. Slowly

So I’ve learned that I want to care. I don’t ever want to lose my compassion for others, nor my passion for helping others.

with culture shock. By the time I was 9-years-old, I’d already attended four different elementary schools on three different continents. I had lived in China, England, and America, and had traveled to France, Germany, Austria and Italy.  However, on my second day at the Hospital, I knew I’d had enough; I wanted to go home. There was NO way that I was going to put up for another second. Not only was


but surely I got used to the heat, managed to asked for different food, and learned to work with the nurses to do other things while the doctor was gone. This transition was an extremely challenging, and yet rewarding experience for me, because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about my own limitations.

What I learned

Wasn’t that funny?

In the first few weeks of my stay in the hospital, the doctor who was supposed to be my main mentor kept trying to tell me inappropriate sexual jokes. The first time he told such a joke, my brain didn’t even register what had happened, and I needed a few seconds to get my bearings. I was so shocked that all I could do was to smile at him, and when he asked me if it was funny, I said “yes” because I didn’t want to offend him during my first week. The same thing happened again a few days later, and again I smiled for the fear of offending him. When he did it a third time, I still didn’t have the courage to confront him, but simply looked at him blankly, and when he asked if I understood the joke, I politely said that I did, but tried to use my body language in every way I could think of to convey that I felt offended by his comments. I did not know whether he got the message from my body language or whether he simply ran out of disgusting jokes, but he did not tell me any new ones then on, so I was very grateful for that. After I got over the initial shock, however, I became really angry with the doctor. I mean, this was the kind of thing that I wouldn’t even expect from my guy friends, much less from the 40-year-old male doctor who was supposed to be my mentor. What’s more, in an extremely conservative society (keep in mind that the town I was in was over 50% Muslim) where young ladies can’t even be in the presence of young men without a chaperone, it would have been unthinkable for the doctor to make the same joke in front of a 20-year-old Indian girl, but for some reason he thought it perfectly fine to make the joke to me. I had done nothing to invite this kind of inappropriate behavior. I wore baggy t-shirts and ankle length skirts in 110°F weather in order to appear modest, I never cursed or used any inappropriate language, I even made sure not to act too friendly with the young men because it might be perceived as improper. In hindsight, I should have said something to the doctor the first time he made that joke, but to be honest I’m still not sure that I could do it even now, just because I don’t want to offend him for the fear that he will stop teaching me and allowing me to do things.

It is hard to really define what I have learned. I feel like I’ve learned nothing, and yet that I’ve also learned everything. I’ve learned that there are many types of doctors in this world, and the best are those who care about their patients and the worst are those who do it for the money or to please their parents (this being a big problem here where a person’s entire life is likely planned out by his parents, and the concept of independence is foreign and frowned upon). I’ve seen doctors take one glance at their patents and start writing the prescription; then if the patient has concerns about the treatment, I’ve seen doctors respond by yelling and pushing in order to get the patients out, just so that they can go home earlier.  So I’ve learned that I want to care. I don’t ever want to lose my compassion for others, nor my passion for helping others. When I become a doctor, I want my patients to be physically healthy, but to also feel healthy. I think the best way to do that when I get home (since I’m not yet a doctor) is to volunteer at a clinic or hospital somewhere. We all know that even in our own health care system, patients don’t always get the amount of personal time and attention that they deserve from a health care provider. I would like to help bridge that gap by donating my time to working with patients, and make up in part for the personal attention that they might need. u

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Hannah Hunt

Cheraw, SC

Fractions and multiplication were my life at HiTek Learning Systems in downtown Cheraw, South Carolina this summer. Although I never got the hang of them in fifth grade, constantly explaining them to high school dropouts who were 3 or more years older than me intimidated me into sharpening my skills. However, it took 8 weeks of preparing these students for success on the standardized GED exam for me to realize that the most important lessons taught at HiTek Learning Systems were those that did not revolve around academia. It was those lessons in which I became humbled by the students that I taught—where I became a learner instead of the learned. One week, I was teaching a lesson on onestep algebraic equations when one of the men in my class named Markese stood up and began to hustle out of the room. I looked at him inquisitively while he simply jiggled his cell phone over his head, exclaiming, “Baby mama drama,” while making a beeline for the door. I stood there, not really knowing how to react. I had resumed my lesson by the time Markese slunk back in. He sat quietly in the back—sweating from head to toe—trying to catch his breath and distracting himself with the newly broken gold necklace around his neck. As he mumbled, “Oh Lawd,” while dabbing his forehead with a paper towel, I chuckled to myself at the thought of what the heck happened outside that had gotten him so winded and had resulted in a broken necklace. I guessed his “baby mama” was mad. Looking back on experiences like this at HiTek Learning Systems, I think often of how prematurely many boys and girls of this demographic have had to turn into men and women. I think of Markese who had to deal with finding a way to support his children and their mothers even though he was no more than twenty years old and had no high school diploma. I think about a girl named Precious who wore the clothes of a grown woman while still adorning her wrist with a golden “Winnie the Pooh” bracelet—a memorandum of a childhood, long-eroded by independence, preoccupation, and financial tumult. Or about how frustrating it must have been for Travis to re-master the long-forgotten skills that were taught to him before he dropped out of high school as a sophomore in 2003. I remember being terrified to teach these students because they had so much hope riding on the information that I was providing them. At this point, learning a simple trick on how to solve for “x” in an algebraic equation could have enabled them to receive a GED, and thus make them qualified for a job that

paid more than the minimum wage. A simple lesson about a math problem had the capability to change their life, and the life of their families, forever. So, tucked away in what many Southerners call, “The Prettiest Town in Dixie”—a town so charming that not even Sherman thought to burn—I discovered the bitter taste of an American cultural phenomenon that is perpetuated by the flaws in American education system, the degeneracy of the lower class, and apathy from the upper class. With this truth before me, I found myself looking for something or someone to blame—something that, if remedied, would change the situations of the students at HiTek, who filled me with admiration as much as frustration, at times. But I soon learned that the causes of the problems were not something that I could hope to change in my 8 weeks in Cheraw. Therefore instead, I made it my job to give these students the tools with which to blur their past and build a future for themselves, breaking free from what were forced upon them by generations of broken American dreams. From fractions and multiplication to baby-mama drama, HiTek Learning Systems was, and still is, full of teachers and students alike, who are working together not just to spur a curriculum consisting of school subjects but rather to create a program of inspiration, mentorship, maturation, and empowerment, with a constant undertone of life lessons to be learned. u

Country Profile

languages: Arabic Religion: Islam, Christianity GNI per capita: US $1,580

Population: 1.2 billion Area: 3.1 million sq km Capital: New Delhi languages: Hindi, English religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism GNI per capita: US $950

Nicaragua of

Population: 4.5 million Area: 660 sq km Capital: Singapore languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, Tamil Religions: Taoism, Bud- dhism, Islam, Chris- tianity, Hinduism GNI per capita: US $32,470







Arab Republic

Population: 6.1 million Area: 89,342 sq km Capital: Amman languages: Arabic Religion: Islam GNI per capita: US $2,850


Egypt of

Jordan of

The Hashemite Kingdom

Population: 76.8 million Area: 1 million sq km Capital: Cairo

Population: 5.7 million Area: 120,254 sq km Capital: Managua languages: Spanish, English, indigenous languages Religion: Christianity GNI per capita: US $980

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I was born and raised in Goshen, Indiana, a small Midwestern town characterized by its large Amish population and factory workers. There are two primary modes of transportation in Goshen: the Amish buggy and the full-size pickup truck. To my delight, I was greeted by a little piece of home when I walked outside the Managua International Airport. To my dismay, the pickup truck that awaited us at the curb would be the first and last commonality I would find between my home and Nicaragua during my month-long stay. After much shoving and jamming by my Nicaraguan host and the driver, there were eight of us and luggage stuffed into the truck. My host said he preferred to squat in the back with the luggage to make sure nothing was stolen as we drove. As we began to drive away, I couldn’t help but complain silently about the nearly 100 degree weather and the elbow that was being jammed in my side by one of the other six occupants of the truck cab. Soon this complaint felt utterly shameful as the pickup rushed us through a neighborhood unlike any I had ever seen before. Families occupied one room shacks formed from scrap pieces of wood, cardboard, and aluminum. Children ran blissfully in the mud and filth between the shacks as chickens and pigs sauntered about. Some stopped running just long enough to stare at the speeding truck which was roughly the size of their homes. Welcome to Nicaragua. I was in Nicaragua as a part of the Engineering World Health Summer Institute. The Summer Institute is a program that pairs engineering students with hospitals in low-income countries, where they

Jordan Yoder

Managua, Nicaragua Central America

work to repair and install much needed medical equipment. The pickup truck that carried us from Managua would eventually stop in Jinotepe, Nicaragua, the town where we would be working for the next month. I would like to say I was prepared for that first day in the Hospital Regional Santiago de Jinotepe, but nothing I had previously seen or done could have prepared me for the conditions of such a hospital. As we walked to the entrance we passed a line of around thirty people waiting outside to get into the emergency room. We later learned that those waiting outside were the poorest patients, who could only receive the basic care provided by the government. Affluent patients could skip the line, enter into the private clinic, and pay for a higher quality of care. After getting inside, we were tasked with inventorying each piece of medical equipment within the hospital. When those living in the United States think of a hospital, the first image that would come to mind is that of a hospital room with a bed for one patient, towers of medical devices surrounding the bed, and personal attention from highly trained health workers. When a patient in the hospital in Jinotepe has finally waited long enough to get into the hospital, he is not greeted by his own oasis of medical technology, but rather a crowded, sweaty room filled with twenty occupied beds. Whereas each American patient will be serviced with his own personal bedside monitor, automatic drug delivery, MRIs, and any other technology one could envision, those twenty crowded patients in Nicaragua collectively had two nebulizers and some IV poles. After organizing the inventory, the reasons for this huge dearth of medical equipment became clearer. Hospitals in developing nations are nearly completely dependent on richer nations for their medical technology. Approximately 80% of the medical devices in these hospitals were donated or funded by foreign aid. Though I would like to say nations like the United States deserve a pat on the back for this effort, the conditions of their donations would say otherwise. The lack of devices in the patient rooms was rivaled only by the excess of discarded devices piled in hallways and storage closets. We came across mountains of medical equipment, all completely out of repair and all with stickers marking them as donations from some wealthy country. It quickly became obvious that medical devices find their way to nations like Nicaragua after a newer, better alternative replaces it in a wealthy nation like the United States.

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Thus, I often found myself asking, “If medical equipment is not good enough for the people of wealthy nations, why should we think it’s good enough for the people of poor nations who are generally more sick to begin with?� Not only are these donations too old and worn out to begin with, they come with few instructions on use and with no access to the necessary replaceable parts. One of my more telling experiences comes from our host, who spent some nights working in the emergency room. One morning after a full night in the ER he told us a story that speaks volumes on the state of medical technology in poor nations. The hospital in Jinotepe had two defibrillators, one of which they used regularly while the other was avoided since they found it harder to use. On this night, a patient went into cardiac arrest and the primary defibrillator was brought over to be used. But, when the doctors pushed the button to charge the device, nothing happened. After frantically trying various buttons to get it to work, they finally gave up on this defibrillator and got out the secondary defibrillator. Unfortunately, since none of the doctors present had ever used this device before, no one knew how to use it. To add to the dilemma, the manual and the buttons for this defibrillator were in English. Our host never told us the outcome of the patient who was waiting in desperate need of defibrillation while this was unfolding. The sad truth is that if the patient indeed died, it was likely a preventable death. Two simple measures could have avoided such a calamity from occurring. Based on my limited knowledge of defibrillators, it was likely that the only thing the first defibrillator needed was a new battery. Likewise, something as simple as translated buttons or a Spanish version of the manual for the second defibrillator could have literally been the difference between life and death. In an attempt to prevent such horrible circumstances from occurring a second time, my partner and I spent the next few days creating a Spanish version of the manual for a defibrillator that we brought with us to give to the hospital. The event also propelled us to focus even harder on repairing every piece of equipment that we could. Still, we could only do so much in a month. I can remember walking out of the hospital on our last day praying that it was not the end, that I would not be content leaving the hospital in that condition, that the rich would not be content sending their scraps to the poor, that the world would find a way to make global health a reality. u

My work with The Girls Club in Durham, North Carolina has become the breath of fresh air that my tedious student life desired. A few years back, I stumbled across the opportunity to mentor middle school girls when looking through my friend’s pictures on Facebook absolutely drawn in by the laughter in each picture. It was exactly what I needed. In a world that revolved around the buildings on the quad and Perkins library, I often found myself wanting more; and I found the missing pieces in my life at the Emily Krzyzewski Center with a group of girls that truly humble me every week. Although I learn a lot in the Sanford building of Public Policy, or in the Spanish Department in Languages, sometimes I feel like the real teachers in my life are these twelve or thirteen-year-old girls who I spend time with each Tuesday night. Throughout each school year, I only hope to be as meaningful to them as they are to me. When I first met my mentee, Aiyana, this year, I was intrigued by how quiet she was. If you ever have the chance to meet the other girls, you will find that a great majority of them are outspoken, bold, and in your face. So it came as a shock to me when I was paired with a girl who would barely lift her eyes to look at me, and did not speak above a whisper. At the beginning of each year, we receive a sheet from the girl’s parents that detail where we, as mentors, should focus our attention. From my first impression of Aiyana—as well as from the sheet—I gathered that my focus should be on boosting her confidence. This challenge resonated with me because confidence was also something with which I struggled when I was her age. Being the only girl in a family of three boys, I felt that I would have benefited greatly from a mentoring program like The Girl’s Club. Given this connection, it became really important for me to form a strong relationship with Aiyana in which my own experiences with the same problems could help her. Having been very shy at her age, I knew that jumping into a conversation would be difficult for her. So we started a weekly journal exchange where she could talk about anything going on in her life. The following week, I would respond with any words of advice or encouragement, hoping to build a bond between the two of us. After alternating journal exchanges for a few weeks, I began to notice a small but significant change in her personality. Aiyana became slightly more engaged in our discussions during group activities, and she even asked me for my phone number so that she could send me text messages over the week. Almost immediately, I started receiving these text messages and phone calls two or three times a week. At first they consisted of a simple, “Hi, how are you,” but soon grew into more personal and private conversations in which she asked advice about her friends, her academics, and even boys.

Jordan Nicole Hardy

Durham, NC

Although this year will soon be over, my friendship with Aiyana grows stronger each week. To me, this has been the most important part of working with The Girls Club: establishing valuable relationships with the girls I meet and mentor. My mentee from last year and I are still good friends; we chat on Facebook about her high school experiences, and even make plans for lunch and dinner. I know that she thinks it’s cool to have a friend in college, but it makes me even happier that she wants me to be a part of her life. I hope that Aiyana and I will similarly maintain our relationship when she graduates from the program. The Girls Club is more than just a mentoring program that meets weekly. It is truly an extraordinary experience in the most ordinary of places and situations. We strive to make a difference in each girl’s life, but more often than not, they leave the biggest impact on us. u

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Spring 2009 Synergy 18

Jonathan Cross

Cairo, Egypt


Veni Vedi Vici - More or Less Our DukeEngage adventure has now concluded. Or at least this stage has. During our time in Cairo we didn’t just teach a language, but social skills and the confidence to articulate ideas and communicate effectively. This, we hope, will allow our new Somali friends to acquire higher education and jobs, thereby improving their basic needs and conditions. Furthermore, they are constantly coping with the reality of their past trauma, and it is our hope that their experiences with young people from outside their immediate realm will give them hope that there are indeed others who care about them and who are committed to improving their lives. Transforming micro motions into macro impacts. That’s my DukeEngage – in its ideal form. Aside from these general musings, I don’t feel that my thoughts have had proper time to gestate - at least not enough for me to construct a coherent reflection of the chaotic reality

that consumed my last two months. However I think it is necessary to gather some initial reactions to what may have been the most intensely formative two months of my short two decades. For now though, I want to share one experience that provides a culminating reference point for my DukeEngage experience. Last week, after finishing our English education program at St. Andrew’s, the Duke girls organized a woman’s empowerment workshop for the Somali. Naturally, the boys were not allowed. On the second day I received a phone call from my friend Liz saying that one of my girls (whom I had worked with during the main project) really wanted to see me again. She expected for me to be at the workshop, and when she discovered that this was not a possibility she was apparently quite distraught. So I rushed back from a meeting in Heliopolis and visited the workshop site - Professor Lo’s apartment. The second I arrived at the door Sahro popped out with a huge smile and greeted me with her newly acquired English. Saying goodbye to my new friend was nigh impossible ... I realized that despite all potential shortcomings and logical speed bumps we had developed a true friendship over the past six weeks. Sahro said she was so sad that she would not see me for

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Spring 2009 Synergy 20

a long time - I expressed similar concerns, but with the hope that we would cross paths again. We said the same things over and over again, as if repeating them would make it easier to part. It was clear that she was holding back tears several times, and I admit having shed a few in the elevator when leaving the building. Did I come, see, and conquer? The first two without question. But the third? Definitely not. Rather, I was conquered. Living in Cairo for two months, I engaged in several independent projects, and emerged somewhere distinctly different from where I began. I know that this experience gave me unfathomably valuable perspectives that would not have been available elsewhere. The harsh, yet vibrant realities of Cairo, our team, and our work played their part. But my friendship with Somali was the trump card in effecting changes in me. Change is a buzzword, but nevertheless, a word with loaded potential that adsorbs a very personal meaning. At the end of the day, I didn’t teach Sahro, she taught me. And as they say in Arabic, “Learning is from the cradle to the grave� u


Change is a buzzword, but nevertheless, a word with loaded potential that adsorbs a very personal meaning.


Shelley Lanpher

York, PA

Like many other eager students hoping to make an impact in the world, I found DukeEngage to be a perfect venue to perform my act. In the summer of 2008, the DukeEngage Program provided me the opportunity to tackle the real life problem surrounding increased prevalence of childhood obesity. My project was conducted during at the Crispus Attucks Community Center, a nationally recognized education and resource center in York, Pennsylvania. The increased prevalence of obesity is one of the major concerns of our current society regarding people’s health. There is a heightened understanding that physical activity and proper nutrition are key elements in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Despite this awareness, budgetary and time constraints have resulted in school systems without adequate physical education and lessthan-ideal eating habits. Meals are often either rushed or eaten in front of the television, snacks tend to be carbheavy and lack nutritional value, and portion sizes are abnormally large. Furthermore, these unhealthy eating habits are passed on to children, whose physical activity appears to be rapidly declining or at least not counterbalancing modern eating habits. As a vigorous athlete, participating in everything from basketball and soccer, to ice hockey, baseball, and swimming, I have experienced the rewards of being physically fit and the need for proper nutrition. When I learned that several elementary schools in my hometown no longer offered physical education, I knew at once where to focus my DukeEngage proposal. In my hometown of York, Pennsylvania, like the rest of America, there exists an increase in both childhood and adult obesity. Therefore, I undertook the project of teaching two physical education classes, 1st-3rd grade and 4th-5th grade with twelve students each. During my daily sessions, topics of nutrition, emotions, and wellness were discussed. I adopted a healthy eating program entitled “Just for Kids!”, so each morning the class read a motivational story from their workbooks, filled out activity sheets, and engaged in role-

playing skits. The topics covered distinguishing between foods with high and low sugar, managing difficult feelings, having a positive self-image, engaging in physical activity, and controlling eating habits on special occasions, just to name a few. As a group exercise, the children made healthy snacks and fruit kebabs, designed food pyramids for their classrooms, and discussed healthy eating. In the afternoon, I also provided a physical fitness component, which was held in the gymnasium. I was able to supply soccer balls, basketballs, exercise mats, and 1lb weights to Crispus Attucks, as well as a water bottle, jump rope, and food journal to each child. One of the best components of the project was the non-stop sheer enthusiasm the children displayed; they constantly waved their in the air to volunteer for the next reading lesson, were eager to assist me and to do more exercises, and looked sad when I had to leave at the end of the day. At the commencement of my project, the children handed me thank-you notes with drawings of their favorite activities, loads of smiley faces, and many “we will miss you Miss Shelley” inscriptions. My main objective was to witness progress throughout the weeks in their awareness of the importance of healthy eating and increased activity. Like most new journeys, there were struggles and limitations along the way. However, I felt that my program was a critical starting point for the children to make real changes in their lives. Many of them learned about topics that were unfamiliar to them—the divisions of the food pyramid, the meaning of cravings and cues, the correct way to stretch and do a sit-up, and how to record meals and snacks. When I explained that all fruit juices are not equal and that Cocoa Pops and Waffle Crisps cereals lack nutritional value, the majority of the kids were surprised because they previously generalized all foods in these two categories to be healthy. Indeed, I was shocked myself by their incomplete understanding. There were extremes in the classroom—

both negatively impacting their health—one girl told me that she eats rice for every meal at home, and nothing else; she said rice was her favorite food. In contrast, one child blurted out that she ate fried chicken, french fries, and doughnuts when home. Cases like these, though having serious implications for the future of children’s nutrition levels, reassure me about how much an impact Crispus Attucks has on these children—they provide warm and healthy breakfasts and lunches for each child that uses the facility. Moreover, I have come to realize that sports can really be a uniting factor. The loner, the show-off, and the restless child all lost their limitations as soon as they stepped out on the court/field and formed teams or work in pairs. Watching the new boy leaving the sideline and joining others for the first time, as well as seeing the know-it-all lend a helping hand when her friend asked for aid, were just the right feedbacks that I needed to feel that I truly made an impact in these children’s lives. Underscored by the benefits of confidence-building and the opportunity to learn about perseverance and motivation, fitness was often an irreplaceable component in combating childhood obesity. Working with elementary-school children, I was able to teach them about the consequences of over-eating and under-exercising at an age where they were open to learning. I wanted them to have the basic building blocks for a healthy lifestyle that I had when I was their age so that they could be an active participant in achieving this goal. What I am going to be when I grow up is still undecided—perhaps a doctor or a positive psychologist, a businesswoman or an architect. Whatever it may be, my main goal is to be a renaissance woman, skillful and successful in a plethora of pursuits. Being involved in DukeEngage has definitely contributed to this goal for I got my hands wet in an assortment of waters. And thus I am much obliged to this life-changing experience. u

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Spring 2009 Synergy 22

Tammy Chin


Southeast Asia Over the summer, I spent 8 weeks in Singapore, working on a project funded by the Duke Global Health Institute. My goal in working at the Brenner Centre of Molecular Sciences at the NUS Kent Ridge Campus was to find the best method for sequencing the specific strain of Dengue in order to further Dengue virus therapeutics and reduce its burden on global health. The experiences of seeking to find ways to reduce human suffering while living in a different country have connected me to the bigger, simpler world outside, and continue to keep me grounded in the optimism and authenticity of my youth. Dengue is a prevalent vector borne virus in Southeast Asia. According to WHO, each year, 50 to 100 million cases of Dengue Fever and several hundred thousand cases of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF) are reported. The viral illness may produce symptoms such as sudden onset of fever, severe headache, severe joint and muscle pain, swollen glands, rash, and may even cause hemorrhagic manifestations, leading to death (5% fatality rate). Nearly 40% of the world’s population lives in an area endemic with dengue. Specifically in Singapore, a record high of 401 cases in a single week was reported in June of 2007, and the year 2005 saw the worst Dengue outbreak of 4,580 cases reported. By finding the DNA sequences of these viruses, my team attempted to link the viral genetics to the viral disease, thereby coming a step closer to better treatment. Over the course of 8 weeks, I worked to perfect the protocol for sequencing steps, and some of the unfinished processes due to my time constraint there were taken up by a recent Duke graduate, Joe Christenbury, who probably has completed them by now

Looking back to my experiences now, I am grateful for having gained a better understanding of the genomic structure of the Dengue Fever flavivirus as well as its sequencing process, and for having provided information to further the development of a Dengue Fever vaccine. These opportunities have helped me appreciate more of the goings-on in a laboratory setting and have helped me in my own work in a lab at Duke. I have also come to respect scientists and their patience in laboratory research. It takes much time and effort to produce a paper or a report to be published in a scientific journal. The publications cannot reveal the complexities and every day obstacles with which scientists must deal. I sometimes struggled with my work, when the images of the isolated DNA did not show up well, or the enzymes were not very compatible with the proteins, forcing me to tweak the PCR master mix, but at the end of each day, the whole team would be there to support me and one another. My mentor always encouraged me to keep up and could relate to all my struggles. It was great to see and experience the embodiment of teamwork; our eventual goal was to help save the lives of those plagued by Dengue, and each day’s progress got us one step closer to one another. It is quite easy to be so focused in a lab, maneuvering with things at the microscopic level, that the broader perspective of one’s work becomes lost

sometimes. Often I would be so intent on pipeting the right amount of complementary DNA into microtubules, wearing gloves properly or spraying the area with ethanol to clean the area that I would later wonder how exactly my work linked to humans and to the broader population level of organisms. However, after work every single day passing by the National University Hospital, I would be gently reminded of the target population whom I am working for, and the fact that there are many sick and dying people who need help and better healthcare. The people I passed by and the hospital building I gazed into were my reasons for getting up every day. I was also able to observe the treatment of the viral illness in the cultural context of Singapore, and their ways of reaching out to people to get everyone more aware of Dengue: the government payments for “They breed, you bleed” campaigns, announcements plastered on MRTS, public service announcements before movie screenings, graphic depictions of blood and spiders, warnings to clear out stagnant water, advice on mosquito protection, and directions to seek medical care ASAP. As most of us already know, there are strict rules on cleanliness in Singapore. No gum. No spitting. No littering. Yes, Singapore truly is a “fine” city, but the Singapore I know is not only governed by strict rules. People graciously give their seats to the elderly, moms, and children on the MRTs. The construction workers believe in safety first and

pride themselves on the minimal number of accidents and lost hours at the sites. People actively help make Singapore better; with adages such as “Low crime doesn’t mean no crime” on walls, Singaporeans firmly believe that unity is essential for a prosperous country. It would have been rather convenient to spend my summer in my 180 sq. ft. dorm room and think only about my studies in an academically competitive atmosphere; however, from this experience, I was newly bestowed with the incredible sense of receiving genuine care from my community, which I was slowly starting to lose grasp of before going to Singapore as the harsh realities and demanding standards of life was dawning in on me. In the U.S., there is a certain hushed struggle to see how one can climb up the corporate ladder, improve his or her salary, get into the best college, get free things, etc. The lives we lead often become stagnant and closed off, always with ourselves as the focal point. But when I was in this new setting where everything around me was so new, so inviting, and so different, it was hard to focus all on myself, I felt this gave me the chance to be authentic because there were no known cultural hindrances, social rules to plague me. I thank the Global Health Institute for having given me this amazing opportunity, for letting me find my focus and see the simplicity and genuine care in life. u

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Spring 2009 Synergy 24

Jasdeep Garcha

Rajasthan, India

South Asia

At the Bottom of Everything

It is said that before the Thar was a desert, it was a sea. Before half of it was in Pakistan and half was in India, all of it was at the bottom of everything. It was not how it is now: a parched, arid land. It is the land where I find myself this Saturday in July, the sand in between my toes as I trudge toward my next interview. This desert is where I have decided to help others, but to me this notion has become foolish and impossible. I meet Chowdra Ram in the middle of the day. As a Summer of Leadership fellow and a research associate at GRAVIS, I am studying the impact of tankas, or rainwater harvesting structures, on socio-economically marginalized villagers. The NGO seeks to improve welfare through sustainable means. He is my third interviewee that day. From the white turban expertly wrapped around his head to the footprints next to his eye, I can tell he has really lived for years. He has lived through the Partition and British

Rule, through the years of good rains and the years of bad rain. But now he is reduced. Now he does the little things that must be done. At the bottom of everything, the little things matter: feeding the cattle, collecting the cow pads, and cleaning the tanka. I ask questions in English and he nods and grunts as though he understands, but I know he never had the opportunity to even learn Hindi. His eyes are full of emotion, radiating through his stare. My questions are translated into Marwari. He listens with intensity in his nods and grunts and replies with the passion I saw earlier, his hand waving up and down to signal his points. “Our biggest problem is food ... there have been droughts annually ...” We stay afterward while chai is made. I leave the brick room that borders the catchment area of the tanka to go to the Jeep for my filtered water. On the way back I spot him on the dirt path. He is tending to an animal. When I approach, he looks at me and places his arm around me, the passion from the interview softened. He says, “Madd Karo” (Help us). I am struck. “Kaisaa” (How?), I say. Still looking at me, he replies, “Paise de do” (Give money). I say I do not have any and I walk more quickly. As I walk, I think: but I am helping. Isn’t this interview helping? Won’t my report help? No, not in the way he wants. Not for these people, not for this man. He does not need someone to ask him questions, and he does not need policy—these things are not important to him at the moment. The salient truth is he

needs money, and he needs it now. At the bottom of everything I also find Divya Bai. She covers up so that no one can decipher her face through her red, cotton sari; she is a devoted wife even though her husband has already died. In my interview introduction, I tell her I will not use her name or photo and she responds with laughter. I am not fazed: everyone seems to laugh at this portion of my script because it doesn’t matter to them if their name appears in a distant report. Then my translator relays her explanation: that it does not matter because she is at the lowest of the low—she has no husband and her family has left her alone in this hut with the field. She has been surviving on her own with savings for 17 long months, and her son has decided to have nothing to do with her. Immediately, my interview feels useless, empty. The questions I am asking her seem inconsequential. “How did the tanka meet your expectations ... how did you obtain water before … what do you use the water for?”... “How are you surviving!?” The last question was not a part of the interview, but I wish I had asked it. The interview ends without my asking many of the questions I had prepared. There was nothing more to find out. Her life has not changed one bit from my visit; I have not given her anything tangible. It is the same way with all the families I interview. I am just a blip on the radar, a momentary interruption in their daily lives. I am a foreigner who has come and gone. As much as I may fight it, this feeling will eventually be mutual. I will forget them. When I finish here and jet off

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Spring 2009 Synergy 26 to the United States, what will I take with me of Chowdra Ram and Divya Bai? They are what I am to them: a foreigner who has come and gone. An interview I have taken and will have used. They are a population I have sampled, and they are a part of a report I will have written. But that moment I was asked for money by an aging man who has little life left to live still bothers me, not because of the discomfort it caused but from the power of the sentiment behind it. My report will be packed away in the endless files in this office. GRAVIS may use it as a reference for a future intern or it may appear in a bibliography of another’s writings. My report may never help the people in this desert directly and its impermanence is upsetting. I want to make an immediate impact. But this doesn’t happen. It cannot happen. This internship is an exercise in

patience. One day I will not be a blip or a fleeting face, but I will be able to help in a way that is pragmatic and sustainable. I watch my charcoal gray shorts rest on my thighs as the day ends and we drive toward the field center. I look around me and imagine the life that used to occupy this space: perhaps a whale swam here or a goldfish there. I then look around me and quit daydreaming. I see the golden specks whisked up by the tires and the sun taking its time to leave these godforsaken plains. It is here I have chosen to try to help people, but I believe that I have lost some hope. I am comforted by only one thing: from the bottom of everything there is only one direction. u

Toronto, Canada BME Major

Suanna Il-San, Korea Economics, Math Major




to be the change

that we want to see in the world

Meet the team Beijing, China Chemistry, Art History Major


Jordan Jenna Serra

Naples, FL Biology, Art History Major

Schaumburg, IL BME Major

Hudson, OH Public Policy, Spanish Major


High Point, NC English, Cultural Anthropology Major

Seoul, Korea Political Science, English Major

Spring 2009 Synergy 27 and submissions, email For comments, feedbacks,