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Primrose Dzenga and Aidan McGirr, both juniors in Barrett Honors College, are setting off to various countries across the world this summer to conduct impactful thesis research with support from the Barrett Global Explorers Grant.
The BGEG gives students up to $10,000 to travel to at least five different countries in three different continents or regions for a self-designed research project that spans a minimum of 10 consecutive weeks.
“The Barrett Global Explorers Grant is a concrete representation of the global engagement that Barrett promotes. It is a remarkable award for both its scope and flexibility. Few awards encourage such wide-ranging travel plans; in fact, the selection committee prefers highly ambitious travel plans,” said Kyle Mox, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement housed in Barrett at the ASU Tempe campus.
“This program is much more than a study abroad scholarship – it encourages true global exploration. Few students at this point in their educational careers would have the opportunity to travel to one country, let alone five, to do research of this sophistication. Our fondest hope is that these amazing young scholars will produce new knowledge of real value to the world,” he added.
Dzenga, a global studies and creative writing major, received $10,000 to conduct research on community agriculture. Her research dovetails with her honors thesis project, called the Machikichori citrus reforestation, a 5,000-tree community orange orchard she is creating that would employ women from rural areas to tend the orchard and produce oranges for juice. The aim of the project is to create an income source for people in the community and help alleviate malnutrition and extreme poverty.
Her project also addresses malnutrition, the mortality rate of children under five years old, extreme poverty and global warming through reforestation as well as environmental rejuvenation.
Dzenga is calling her research the “global citrus data collection tour.”
“I will be collecting data, knowledge and competencies on how to effectively grow organic oranges on a large scale, and how to use citrus waste like orange peel to restore and rejuvenate deforested land, as well as build partnerships for support and expansion of my base project across sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.
In order to achieve this, Dzenga is travelling to small organic, as well as commercial, farms in Denmark, Costa Rica, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. She also will be visiting the United Nations Development Programme in Copenhagen, Denmark, an organization that supports similar projects.
“Agriculture and conservation are hands-on enterprises,” said Dzenga, explaining that she is undertaking this trip because her thesis is at a point where “higher competence and support” are needed to successfully implement, complete and replicate the project with the rural community she works with in Zimbabwe.
In Mozambique, she plans to spend time on successful farms, participating, observing, shadowing staff, and interacting with rural women as they carry out their activities. She also will meet with community leaders and representatives of non-profits that are working in similar fields, like the Aga Khan Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme and investment firms interested in community-based permaculture investment ventures.
“This is important because according to the World Bank at least 2.7 million children under the age of five died in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015,” she said. “This high under-five mortality rate is related to malnutrition and extreme multidimensional poverty, which is poverty beyond living under $1.90 a day.”
“This is so much more than about my thesis,” she said. “It is about the 560 million people, half of whom are women and children, who live with inequality, malnutrition and multidimensional poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is about building a meaningful partnership with a community that is inspired to change their lives and narrative tangibly through growing food and improving their lot.”
Dzenga said her project is a platform to build a comprehensive program that puts food on the table for rural African women, most of whom live without electricity and running water. By having money in their pockets they can pursue economic independence, education, leadership and improved livelihoods for themselves and their families.
“This is more than an enhancement of my honors experience,” Dzenga said, “it is the beginning of the journey towards a hunger free Africa, one tree, one citrus orchard at a time, and this is my future and my life’s work.”
McGirr also is using the BGEG to do amazing work. The earth and space exploration major received $5,000 for his project titled "Refugee Clinical Care and Rehabilitative Infrastructure: Following the journey of Syrian refugees to comprehensively evaluate clinical care."
He will be visiting Syrian refugee clinics in Jordan, Germany and Sweden to study their unique significance for Syrian refugees and their sociopolitical environment. He wants to understand how the clinics provide care and what practices are in place to get refugees back on their feet once they are resettled, or temporarily displaced, in various countries.
“The purpose of this study is to make a comprehensive evaluation on best practices of care for longitudinal implementation goals here in the United States,” McGirr said. “I chose to focus on this research as refugees are a population seriously in need and at risk.”
McGirr’s interest in refugees led him to co-found a student partnership between ASU and the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine in Arizona known as the Refugee Education and Clinic Team (REACT). REACT assists refugees around Maricopa County through educational workshops. The organization also is developing a primary clinical care program for refugees.
“I became quite deeply invested in caring for the refugee communities prior to the development of REACT. I saw this grant as an incredible opportunity to take refugee care to another level by means of a global study unlike any previously conducted,” McGirr said.
“At the core of it, this study is critical because refugees are incredibly diverse and talented individuals. Without taking care of these people who have already endured so much, we are simply squandering their human potential, and setting ourselves drastically back as a global society as we move into the future,” he added.
McGirr said he will include both qualitative and quantitative analysis in his research. He will send overview-like quantitative surveys to the clinics before he arrives in each country, and then conduct interviews with leadership and staff of the clinics once there. In addition to all this, he intends to conduct anonymized surveys with the refugees themselves, although this part is tentative pending Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.
“I think a study such as this is the pinnacle of what we consider to be a global scholar here at the honors college. Refugees are easily one of the most vulnerable populations within our communities, and I believe it is completely our duty as those in a position of opportunity, such as (students) attending the honors college, to utilize our resources as well as possible to help others. As such, this is the zenith of the honors experience.”
Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.