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Tag: student voices


Student voices: Underground banking in Myanmar


tumblr_inline_o8iqcdVA091rpydu2_500This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Jasmine Chia, Harvard College ‘18

This summer, I traveled to Myanmar and was able to do three things: learn Burmese reading and writing, change my thesis topic to a more suitable and interesting topic, and finally to make Burmese friends and connections. My initial objective in going to Myanmar was to research the Vipassana movement, with the intention of going to various temples that practiced this meditative form of Buddhism and interviewing participants to understand how the movement towards Vipassana Buddhism may be linked to political engagement. This was to be a comparative piece comparing Vipassana Buddhism in Myanmar to the Buddhism of the Thammakaya sect in Thailand, which also preached a form of Buddhism modernism that emphasized an individualist experience of enlightenment over a communal form of religious engagement. However, through a series of serendipitous events, I stumbled on a much more interesting phenomenon in Myanmar in explaining the links between capitalist religion and political engagement.

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Student Voices: Resilient Design to Resilient Buildings: Quality Assurance in Nepal’s Remote Mountains


This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Justin Henceroth, MDes Risk and Resilience, 2017, Harvard Graduate School of Design

There is little machinery available in remote parts of Nepal, so many construction tasks are done by hand, including bending rebar.

There is little machinery available in remote parts of Nepal, so many construction tasks are done by hand, including bending rebar.

The SUV slowed to a crawl as we prepared to cross the last of four causeways before we reached our destination—a construction site for a new police station in Dang District, Nepal. This site is not in the most remote part of Nepal, but in many ways this construction site embodies the challenges of building anything in this mountainous country. Despite being on the national East-West Highway, it took us nearly six hours to drive the 120 miles from the nearest city and the regional headquarters for UNOPS, the organization managing this project. It had not rained in over a week, so the road was clear, but the evidence of landslides lined the road for miles, and each causeway we crossed was still under a few inches of water. It was easy to understand how even a day of rain could quickly block some key section of this road—cutting off access between communities and the flows of people and materials.

As the reconstruction following last year’s earthquakes gets underway throughout Nepal, the limited access will prove a significant challenge for the communities, government agencies, humanitarian organizations, and donors that are all working to rebuild Nepal. Throughout the country, more than half a million homes need to be rebuilt, more than 30,000 classrooms have collapsed, and more than 400 health centers were completely destroyed. Many of the most damaged communities are in the remote hills that flank the Himalayas, with some villages accessible only by a multi-day walk.

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Student Voices: Women and mental illness


This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Angela Leocata, Harvard College ’18

Angela interned at Sangath in Goa, India over the summer to research community-based intervention for maternal depression

Angela, third from right, with her research team

Angela, third from right, with her research team

As an SAI grant recipient, I had the opportunity to return to Goa, India to continue research I began the previous summer with Sangath, an NGO and mental health research institution. Awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s International Prize in 2008 and a pioneer of task-sharing for mental healthcare to primary care and community workers, Sangath is one of the most influential health non-profit organizations, globally. The organization is co-founded by Vikram Patel, a world-renowned research psychiatrist, Professor of International Mental Health and Trust Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and 2015 recipient of Time Magazine’s “The Most Influential 100 People in the World.”

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Student voices: Beef bans in India


This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Shaiba Rather, Harvard College ’17

The Lotus Temple in Delhi, India

The Lotus Temple in Delhi, India

This summer, thanks to the generous grant from the South Asia Institute (SAI), I was able to pursue my thesis research at both Cambridge University and Delhi, India. My thesis project is to investigate the status of burgeoning bans on the production and consumption of beef in India. In this investigation, I would like to examine the issue contemporarily from three primary angles: campaign rhetoric, legislation, and communal violence. Specifically, I will focus on campaign rhetoric in the six months leading to the 2014 Lok Sabha General Elections, recent amendments to cow slaughter legislation in India, and notable cases of communal violence in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh and Una, Gujurat.

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Student voices: Researching History Textbooks in Sri Lanka


At the Jaffna Fort

At the Jaffna Fort

This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Sarani Jayawardena, Harvard College ’17

A history textbook is a complex item, lying at the intersection between ethnic politics and education policy. I did not think about that as a student in school – then, the history textbook was something to read, memorize, and cough back up at end-of-year examinations. But when governments write curricula or textbooks, the history textbook starts to mean much more. It becomes a tool by which the state can transmit its historical narrative, its version of the official past of a country. It becomes a direct articulation of what the state considers an accurate narrative and a desirable national identity for its citizens.

Yet “national history” is subjective: differences in identity – whether by race, religion, language, social status, class, or gender– can drastically alter personal conceptions of history. Thus multi-ethnic countries face a multiplicity of versions of past and conceptions of identity. Many South Asian nations have witnessed ‘textbook controversies’ or ‘textbook wars’ because of this complexity.

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Student voices: Nepal in recovery


Peng4This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Haibei PengMaster in Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2017

Haibei traveled to Nepal over the summer to work on her research project ‘The Nested Scale of Time: to protect and display biodiversity in South Asia through research on agriculture and seed bank.’

With the generous support from SAI Research Grant, I traveled through Nepal in May, 2016 for two weeks to conduct my thesis research on traditional Nepalese architecture and post-earthquake reconstruction in Kathmandu. During the two weeks I spent in Nepal, I traveled through Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan national forest while talking to local residents, friends, foreign workers, volunteers and international organizations. Even though Nepal remains a poor country with bad infrastructure and is still recovering from the earthquake disaster, people here are all very friendly, welcoming and seem to share a happy attitude towards life and their country. Below are some of the most stimulating findings from my research.

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Student voices: The shipbreaking capital of the world


This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

IMG_0642By Marisa Houlahan, Harvard College ’17

With the support of the South Asia Institute, I spent the summer in Chittagong, Bangladesh, conducting ethnographic research for a senior thesis on the shipbreaking industry. Over the past decade, a confluence of geographic, historical, economic, geologic, and political factors has shaped South Asia, and Chittagong in particular, as the shipbreaking capital of the world. More than 70% of the world’s defunct merchant and passenger vessels are now dismantled in South Asia, where labor and environmental regulations are largely unenforced and shipbreaking yards do without the expensive infrastructure required to break ships in places like Japan, Korea, Europe, and the United States. The shipbreaking industry in Chittagong fills nearly half of the country’s growing demand for steel and provides thousands of jobs, however unstable. The industry is also responsible for the deaths of dozens of workers each year, who are victims of gas explosions, falling steel plates, and other accidents, and for leaching lead, asbestos, oil sludge, and other hazardous materials into the water, soil, and bodies of shipbreakers.

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Student Voices: Buddhist art in Odisha


sonali2This is part of a series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Sonali Dhingra, PhD candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard

My dissertation on “Buddhist art in Odisha between the seventh and eleventh century” is based on sculptural and architectural remains from the south-eastern Indian coastal state of Odisha. A generous grant from the South Asia Institute at Harvard enabled me to learn Odia, the primary language spoken in region. I spent the summer in the green and beautiful city of Bhubaneshwar, also known as the “city of temples”.

Classes were arranged through the American Institute of Indian studies, as Odia is not taught at Harvard and is seldom learned by graduate students working on South Asia. In fact, I was the only student in the program which was consequently well-tailored to my needs. The language program segued seamlessly into my field-work year and after a successful completion of the program, I visited several living temples, small villages and archaeological sites in rural Odisha, where knowing Odia is a definite asset. Medieval Odiya literature is indispensable for tracing the lives of the images and architectural spaces that I am studying for my dissertation project.

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Student voices: Reslilience in Nepal


yoko1This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Yoko Okura, MPP, Harvard Kennedy School, 2017

In April 2015, Nepal made headlines worldwide when a devastating earthquake struck the country, taking 9000 lives and affecting 8 million. Children, especially vulnerable to disasters, accounted for 30% of the deaths. 700,000 houses and 35,000 classrooms were destroyed, and many children continue to learn in temporary shelters over a year after the earthquake.

As an intern for the emergency unit of UNICEF NEPAL, my main responsibilities were to monitor the community-based and school-based disaster reduction programs implemented across the country. In addition to the ongoing earthquake recovery efforts, UNICEF Nepal provides significant work to a country also prone to other natural disasters such as droughts, fires, floods, and landslides; such disasters on average affect 335,000 people and kill 1,000 annually.

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Student voices: The politics of contemporary women’s rights in Myanmar


E376E6F6-B311-42F0-8BD0-2E9C0C57EA54This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant.

By Kate Hoffman, Harvard College ’17

Kate spent part of her summer conducting research in Myanmar on her thesis ‘The Politics of Contemporary Women’s Rights in Myanmar: The Paradoxical Case of Aung San Suu Kyi.’

With the SAI Summer Research Grant, I was able to spend the past few months in Myanmar conducting research for my senior thesis. I would like to thank SAI for allowing me to pursue this research project as the experience of living and researching abroad was extremely meaningful. Not only am I now much more knowledgeable on a subject I am passionate about, but it provided me with further insight into my post-graduation aspirations and ambitions. Overall, the summer was enriching, engaging, challenging, and rewarding and after completing it, I would recommend the experience to any young scholar.

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