Sunday, July 19, 2009

Suriname Summer Course

So I've just finished up my summer course. We were very, very busy, which is why I haven't posted in a long time. It was a good class: the first week was devoted to Environmental Health. We talked about mercury pollution as a result of gold mining. I was happy I had already gone on my trip to Benzdorp because it made a topic I wouldn't ordinarily be very interested in much more real. I don't understand the chemistry of mercury levels in fish- but I do understand that it is difficult to get the garimpeiros to switch to mining methods less likely to spew mercury all over the rainforest. We took a trip to Lake Brokopondo (which really has a much longer, difficult Dutch name that no one uses anymore). This is a man-made lake as a result of a hydro-electric dam built in the 1960's. I'll write more about that trip in the next post.

The second week of class was all about qualitative research, which is much more my area of interest. We studied suicide in the district of Nickerie in the Hindustani population. At first, I wasn't very excited about it, but as we talked more about the possible role of culture in the phenomenon, and also heard from the Surinamese students, three of whom were Hindustani, the topic became much more interesting to me.

The class broke into two groups and set out trying to recruit Hindustani students to participate in our focus groups. It was a nightmare. All students were in the middle of exams and didn't want to give an hour of their time. If it weren't for the Surinamese students in our class, I don't think we could have done it. We only had a day to find people and a day to perform the focus groups- and all the people who confirmed the previous day backed out. This meant in one day we had to find 5-6 people who could all do it at the same time and were willing. An added problem was that, as we had no time, the focus groups would have to be in English. We didn't have time or money to get a translator. But, even though most of the students spoke English, it didn't mean they wanted to, or that it felt very natural to speak English to their friends. The girls' groups had a very difficult time staying in English- many times they broke into Dutch. The information would have been richer, the conversation more detailed if it had been in Dutch. But then having us American students moderate the discussion would have been impossible. It was an amazing learning experience!

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