At Cal, Global Poverty Minor's Hot, Humane

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San Francisco Chronicle

At Cal, Global Poverty Minor's Hot, Humane

by
Reyhan Harmanci

UC
Berkeley senior Emma Shaw-Crane is graduating in May with a degree in
interdisciplinary studies and a Fulbright scholarship that will take
her to Bogotá, Colombia. But she says that if it weren't for the
university's newly established global poverty and practice minor, she
might not have made it through her four years of study.

"I
came into Cal thinking I'd fail out. I was partly schooled in Mexico,
and I didn't know how to read and write in English," says Shaw-Crane,
23. "The minor was really, hugely important. I don't think I would have
cut it if I hadn't been able to take classes based on what I was
interested in and absolutely love."

Led by city and regional planning Professor Ananya Roy, who is
curriculum director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and
bolstered by 21st century service ideals, the global poverty and
practice minor has become the school's fastest-growing minor. Sixty
students will graduate with the credential this spring, as opposed to
seven in 2007-08, its inaugural school year. Roy says that the fall's
enrollment is 210, which could make it the campus' most popular field
of secondary specialization.

At the heart of the curriculum, which includes the mandatory class
Global Poverty: Challenges & Hopes in the New Millennium, is "the
practice" - an opportunity for students to take their learning into
real-world situations. The practice has led students around the globe,
from South America to Africa to the Caribbean to Oakland, where they
work on a wide range of issues: housing, health care, urban planning,
infrastructure and gender equity.

"The Blum Center had been in existence for a couple of years, and I
was focused on poverty alleviation - there's a set of projects that I
run - and there was a sense on campus that we should also involve our
undergrads in greater numbers," Roy says of the birth of the minor.
"Many people in this generation are already doing this kind of work. We
wanted to support that work and possibly train them."

Don't think, though, that either the professors or the students have
any illusions about ending or solving poverty. "We want our students to
be useful, but this is so much about what they learn from the
experience that they are transformed, particularly as young Americans,"
Roy says.

Developing organizations and projects that won't disappear when a
practice ends is another goal of the minor. Jonathan Lee, 21, a
graduating senior from Pleasanton, plans to continue work on his
nonprofit. Tentatively called Community Health Development in Honduras,
the nonprofit has garnered national attention and landed Lee a spot in
this year's Clinton Global Initiative University program.

Lee first heard about the global poverty and practice minor from a
professor in another department, who thought it would align well with
his previous work as a volunteer for Global Medical Brigades in
Honduras. "I did a service learning trip with a group that helped to
provide health care (in 2007)," he says. "I came back from the trip
very frustrated, angry and confused, but hopeful. I switched to a
public health major. I was interested in medicine but felt like my
major wasn't doing anything to address what I had seen in Honduras."

Lee went back to Honduras for his practice, working on a new model
for providing health services to remote areas. With two other Berkeley
grads, he helped train people in preventive health care methods and to
use cell phone technology to form a community health network.

"The basic platform is to empower communities to improve their
health care," Lee says, calling the lack of medical care a "pathology
of poverty." "The probabilities of a child dying in a rural area is 1.5
times more than in urban areas."

The minor is, by design, heavily interdisciplinary. City and
regional planning Professor Jason Corburn, for instance, will be taking
10 students to Nairobi this summer to work on a multifaceted project in
Kenya's second-largest slum.

Because of a plan to clean up the Nairobi River, an estimated
120,000 people will be displaced and Berkeley will work with University
of Nairobi students and local nonprofits to help alleviate the
situation. After their trip, Corburn will lead a class on follow-up
action, creating and submitting proposals to the local government and
to the United Nations.

"We are in a position of privilege as UC Berkeley students and
faculty coming from a rich country and we spent a year or more building
trust with a local community-based organization, really listening to
what their needs are," Corburn says. "What privileged people can best
do is support their ongoing work - don't shape or dictate, but support."

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