From Harlem to Dakar: My Fulbright Experience in Senegal

As a Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Marie Nazon conducted a qualitative study with the goal of developing an understanding and awareness of women’s experiences with empowerment in self-help groups in Senegal. The study examined how women in self-help groups associate empowerment with changes in women’s social, economical, and psychological conditions after their involvement. Dr. Nazon’s host institution in Senegal was Tostan International where she served as social work consultant for the Tostan Prison Project. She provided support in capacity building, grant writing, program development, mediation, and outreach initiatives in five of the major prisons in Senegal.

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For the academic year 2010-2011, I was one of 13 researchers to receive a Fulbright grant in the African Regional Research Program. This was one of the most exciting, rewarding and productive years of my life and career.  The Fulbright experience brought me into contact with a fascinating array of people and colleagues, from whom I have learned so much about the Senegalese culture and its people. The relationships I made benefitted my life beyond the grant and my research.

My host institution, Tostan International, is a non-profit organization known for its culturally sensitive approach to the community-led female genital cutting and forced marriage abandonment movement in Africa. As an affiliated researcher with Tostan, I had full access to their facilities, resources, and staff. I worked closely with Tostan staff to collect data in two villages where I conducted focus groups and individual interviews with an established women’s group. Prior to data collection, I spent time in the field getting to know the women’s group and the work of Tostan.

During my fieldwork, I learned about a small project in the prison system, the Tostan Prison Project. The prison project provides human rights-based informal education classes with inmates, family mediation, and trains inmates in income-generating activities so that when they are released they have a skill they can use to support themselves. In Senegal, I experienced what life was like behind prison walls. On any given week, I was in at least two of the five prisons where Tostan held programs. I focused my work primarily on the prisons for women and youth. It was a humbling experience for me to provide services for a vulnerable population and it was my work with the prison project that became the defining experience for me as a Fulbright Scholar and as a social worker. The experience with the prison project enhanced my sense of compassion and empathy for others and it helped me learn to be less judgmental.

I undertook some unexpected tasks with the prison project that included being the project manager for the construction of a well in the youth prison, an undertaking that I had initiated and for which I secured funding. At my invitation, the U.S. Ambassador to Senegal attended the inauguration of the well, which was also  the U.S. Embassy’s first visit to the youth prison. In addition to my work with the youth prison, I launched a pilot project in one of the women’s prisons to teach women how to make their own sanitary pads. The project took off and became the Cloth Menstrual Pad Project. The women not only made the pads for themselves but expressed interest in making this an income-generating activity to sell to other women upon their release. The project will be launched at two other women’s prisons where Tostan conducts programs.

In addition to my research and community work, I mentored two undergraduate students at the local university. Also, with access to the U.S. Embassy’s facilities and in coordination with the Media Department at my home institution, I conducted two intercontinental video seminars. One was with students from my home institution in Harlem, New York, and Senegalese students on cross-cultural understanding and study abroad. The other was between a women’s studies class and Tostan staff,  discussing my research and women’s empowerment in developing countries.  What a thrill it was for my students in Harlem and the students in Senegal to overcome time and distance to converse on topics of mutual interest!

I returned to my home institution in Harlem, New York excited, energized, and with a new commitment to my students and my department.  Six months later I returned to Senegal for a short follow-up trip and was invited to do presentations on the Cloth Menstrual Pad Project among other activities. The experience inspired new research interests and contributed to my scholarly activities such that I presented my work with the prison project at the International Social Work Conference. In collaboration with a colleague I met at Tostan, I developed a study abroad program in Senegal focused on women and sustainable community development.

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On a personal note, this experience contributed immeasurably to my social and personal development. I made lifelong friends and professional contacts. But what made this experience special was that the Fulbright grant gave me an opportunity to give my teenage daughter an experience of a lifetime. My daughter started high school in Senegal. She had an opportunity to explore and learn about a totally different culture and to learn French.  Moreover, she experienced tremendous personal growth. She is now studying French at a local college and plans to travel with her school on a study abroad program in Ethiopia. The Fulbright grant is one of the few travel research grants that is family friendly. Fulbright is an opportunity for you and your family to step out into an unknown world and to have a deep engagement with a culture unlike any you have had before. It is a life-changing experience that can leave you forever transformed.

Dr. Marie C. Nazon is Assistant Professor/Counselor with the Department of SEEK Counseling and Student Support  Services  at The City College of New York. SEEK is an opportunity program and stands for Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge.

The Digital Namibia Archives Project: A 5-year Collaboration Growing Out of a Fulbright Grant

Dr. Allen Palmer
Brigham Young University
Namibia, 2004

In 2004, I received a Fulbright Scholar grant to Namibia for lecturing in journalism at Polytechnic of Namibia in the capital city Windhoek. I was a professor of communication at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. My wife, Dr. Loretta Palmer, who is a professor at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah accompanied me.

When my wife and I were in Namibia, she volunteered her services at the university while I lectured. She taught computer classes and worked as an instructional designer in the college’s distance education program.

In discussions with the Namibian college leaders, including the Rector, Dr. Tjama Tjivikua, we decided one area in which we could assist Polytechnic, in addition to the scheduled classes we were teaching, was the development of a USA-Namibia partnership to help train their staff in digitizing African cultural artifacts for their new library. Many of the African artifacts were neglected and at risk of being lost or destroyed, including old photographs, music recordings, documents, etc.

What resulted was a project that has lasted more than five years, from 2007 to 2012, and involved 35 to 40 American college teachers and students traveling to Namibia to participate in training for what was became called the “DNA Project”–the Digital Namibia Archives Project–that began in earnest in 2007. A link to the DNA Project is now featured on the Polytechnic’s main internet page: http://www.polytechnic.edu.na.

Each summer a team of six to eight college faculty and students from Utah Valley University’s Multi-media Communication Program traveled to Namibia. They assisted  with training college students and staff at Polytechnic of Namibia, and the staff at Namibian National Archives, how to digitize and preserve historic cultural records. Also assisting in organizing the program was Professor Steve Harper at Utah Valley University.

During the ensuing years after my Fulbright, my wife and I have returned to Namibia several times to support project planning. In addition, the rector, Dr. Tjivikua, has traveled to the U.S. twice to confer with us on project development. In addition to the benefits in Namibia, the students from Utah Valley University benefited from the project in their education program.

A brief overview of the DNA  project is posted on a Youtube video by a student participant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ats8jAypl0&feature=youtu.be

Numerous archive photographs and documents showing the history of Namibia are posted to public at the link on the main DNA Project web page: http://dna.polytechnic.edu.na

The 5-year plan for the DNA project recently ended and it was a remarkable example of a successful collaboration between a Fulbright host college and an American university that began with the Fulbright Scholar Program.

DNA Agreement Signed

Ceremony of the signing of a cooperative 5-year agreement in Namibia between Dr. Loretta Palmer, and Dr. Tjama Tjivikua, Rector of Polytechnic of Namibia, with officials from Utah Valley University from Orem, Utah.

Engaging Early Career Academics: New Fulbright Postdoc Opportunities

“My Fulbright experience has certainly changed my life and has helped immensely in furthering my career.  The impact was evident in the responses I received for applications to new positions after my Fulbright research was complete. I ended up taking a very prestigious position for my next postdoc which I would not have been able to get had it not been for the Fulbright award. This is the kind of impact which will propagate throughout my career and I am very fortunate to have had this opportunity.”

–          Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Israel, Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

The Fulbright Scholar Program, and its sponsor, the U.S. Department of State, are eager to engage postdoctoral and early career academics through new opportunities in a range of countries and fields.  Postdoctoral/early career grants target U.S. scholars who have recently completed their doctoral degrees – typically within the five previous years.  There has never been a better time to apply for Fulbright U.S. Scholar awards open to early career academics, with over 170 awards in more than 80 countries worldwide offered for the 2014-2015 academic year.

In addition to primary research or teaching activities, postdoctoral and early career scholars will be asked to give public talks, mentor students, and otherwise engage with the host country academic community.  Fulbright Scholars will also be expected to connect with graduate students in the host country and to be involved with host university training in cutting edge research in their specializations.  Grant lengths range from one semester to 20 months, depending on the host country.  There are also flexible options available to scholars currently unable to spend extended periods of time abroad.

Postdoctoral awards are available in all fields of study, from STEM, to the arts, humanities and social sciences.  Public health scholars should take special note of the Fulbright-Fogarty Postdoctoral Awards for research at a National Institutes of Health Fogarty site in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi or Zimbabwe through the African Regional Research Program, or in South Africa, Bangladesh or Peru.

The Fulbright Scholar Program presents excellent opportunities for recently minted scholars to deepen their expertise, to acquire new skills, to work with additional resources and to make connections with others in their fields, all while serving as cultural ambassadors and meeting the public diplomacy intent of the Fulbright Program – to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.  To learn more, visit the Catalog of Awards or contact scholars@iie.org.

Introducing: Fulbright-Fogarty Opportunities for Postdocs

New for the 2013-2014 academic year, Fulbright-Fogarty U.S. scholar grants promote post-doctoral research in public health in resource-limited settings.  Through a partnership between Fulbright and the Fogarty International Center (FIC) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, opportunities exist for post-doctoral researchers in Bangladesh, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Peru, South Africa and Zimbabwe.    Researchers will contribute to ongoing research projects at each site in a number of specializations.

Each site is a registered organization in the host country and has a U.S. university as a partner.  Here are a few examples of current research focus:

  • UNC Project Malawi has been in existence for more than 20 years and some current research areas are trauma/burns, obstetric fistula research, and treatment of HIV.
  • In Peru, researchers can join a number of projects including improving living standards in Northern Lima slums, research on zoonotic infections in the Amazon, and point-of-care diagnostics.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital-Harvard University partners with the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research and hosts projects related to microbiology, immunology, and molecular biology.

Awards are for post-doctoral scholars in public health within five years after completing terminal degree (Ph.D., MD, DPH, DDS, DVM).  CIES will host a webinar on Fulbright-Fogarty Awards on Thursday, June 28, 2012. To learn more about these opportunities and how to apply to the 2013-14 Fulbright U.S. Scholar competition, please contact Caitlin McNamara at cmcnamara@iie.org or visit http://www.cies.org/us_scholars/us_awards/.

The deadline to apply for the 2013-14 Fulbright U.S. Scholar competition is August, 1, 2012.

Scholar Stories: Roberta Levitow

Roberta Levitow

Roberta Levitow

What can a Fulbright grant offer an artist?

The following interview features Roberta Levitow, a former Fulbright Specialist in theatre, and was originally posted on the TCG Circle.  Levitow is an emeritus of the Fulbright Scholar Alumni Ambassador Program. Fulbright Stories is an interview series conducted by Theatre Communications Group with theatre practitioners who received a Fulbright grant.

Fulbright Stories: Roberta Levitow

by Jaki Bradley

March 27th is World Theatre Day, but TCG is celebrating the values of WTD throughout the month of March. Leading up to the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day, TCG is launching Fulbright Stories on the TCG Circle. In this series, we’ll be speaking with theatre practitioners who received a Fulbright grant to live and work abroad. The Fulbright program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, offers opportunities for artists to undertake research, teaching and study and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. In exploring TCG’s core value of Global Citizenship, we hope this series can inform and inspire theatre-makers to deepen and enrich their work globally.

To introduce the series, we’ll be talking to Roberta Levitow, co-founder of Theatre Without Borders and former Fulbright Specialist. As a Fulbright Specialist in U.S. Studies/Theatre, Roberta worked at Makerere University (Kampala, Uganda 2007), the National University of Theatre & Cinematography (Bucharest, Romania 2005), and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (2003). Since being tapped as a Fulbright Ambassador in 2010, Levitow has made it her job (or, one of her many jobs) to encourage artist-practitioners who are curious about international travel to consider participation in the Fulbright program.

What can a Fulbright grant offer an artist?

To my knowledge Fulbright is still the most reliable, long-standing mechanism to support international exchange for American students, scholars and artists. I don’t believe that there’s a comparable funding source. It gets you over there. Wherever you want to go in the world. There are longer-term Core grants, from 2-9 months, and those are ideal for research, teaching, study or collaboration projects. Those grants give people rare opportunities to build deep and lasting relationships with artists and communities within another culture. And there are short-term Specialist grants, for 2-6 weeks, which are great for people who want a shorter, intense exchange. For many professional artists, people who are deeper into their careers, leaving home for longer than 2-6 weeks may not be feasible. Specialist grants can work for those professionals who are ready to share their expertise about American theatre. Fulbright welcomes diverse applications based on the goals of the applicant. There’s really no determining mandate outside the artist’s proposal, except that you create a mutually acceptable and desirable grant proposal with your host country— that’s key. There are other great grants, like TCG’s Global Connections grant, but there are many, many more people who apply for those grants than get them, so what else is available for people who have an interest in international exchange? Fulbright is a singular way to have a life-changing experience, personally and professionally.

What got you interested in the Fulbright?

I was at Bennington College and I was teaching a really bad class on world theatre. I was at “a certain age”, and I wanted something renewing. I had lost some of my own enthusiasm for the work I was doing. I taught a really bad class on world theatre because I knew nothing about world theatre—I’d been in American new play development for 35 years, so I really knew nothing. On the day that we were studying African theatre a student turned to me and said ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go to Africa?’ And I thought ‘It would’. So I started looking around for opportunities and was linked up to a project through Martha Coigney and Philip Arnoult. And after I did that project in East Africa in 2001, I came home thinking ‘I really have to find ways to continue engaging internationally’. I found the Specialist Grant opportunity on the Fulbright website and applied. In less than two years, I was an artist-in-residence at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

I feel like the Fulbright is an underutilized grant for artists; we see the word ‘scholar’ and think that it’s only for academics or researchers. What do you think holds artists back from applying to the grant?

You’re right, it doesn’t announce that artists are eligible the same way it announces scholars- which is the history of the program. It doesn’t announce availability to artists the way most artist grants do. So if you’re used to looking at Guggenheim or MacDowell Colony or TCG or Sundance, you’re used to being talked to directly, artist to artist. But you’re not going to have that, so you just have to push on through and trust that we mean it, and that the Fulbright really does want artists and other professionals to submit applications. The other thing is sometimes people don’t know anyone in the place they want to go, they just know the name of a country or a kind of theatre they’ve seen and want exposure to. The distance between being there and wanting to be there is intimidating. Because it is a journey, and it does take time to build those relationships, to figure out what you really want to do. So some of the grants are not necessarily for tomorrow, they’re grants for the day after tomorrow, or next year, or the year after that.

And what do you think makes someone an ideal candidate for the Fulbright? What qualities prepare someone for the experience?

I just got another email at Theatre Without Borders, and I get them often, saying, ‘I’ve been thinking, I really want to go to, fill in the blank, India. Africa.’ These are big entities, the African continent contains over 50 countries. So, Africa–where? Or ‘I want to go to India.’ India’s a big country! There are many different cultural expressions there, so which style of Indian performance are you interested in? Traditional? Contemporary? Many times the interest is expressed in this very nascent way, it’s just like, ‘I have a feeling I’m drawn towards.’ And I think that’s actually a very positive thing. It’s that feeling that will create a good grant proposal. You have to have a feeling that you’re personally drawn towards something: an aesthetic, an artist, a place. But then I think ideally the person begins a journey of exploration and discovery and that journey opens the person to a universe of nation, culture, personality, language that is new and different. It’s also important for a person to have a sense of give and take, not just take and not just give. It’s important to go not as a teacher but as a learner. The inquiries that TWB receives are so often variations on this theme. Sometimes people want to go and help, sometimes people want to go and give, but the best is when people want to go and learn. Because really the great discovery is that it’s not only going to be you learning about another place and culture, it’s going to be you learning about yourself. You’re going with the intention of learning about others and you come home learning so profoundly about yourself and your own background. That’s the life changing part, isn’t it? That’s what changes you. You never see yourself in the same way and you never see other people -or the world- in the same way.

The Fulbright Program offers over 8,000 grants each year to U.S. and foreign students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists and professionals. View a full list of Fulbright grant categories and programs. To learn more about Fulbright Programs for artists, click here.

Roberta Levitow is a director, dramaturg, and teacher; Co-founder Theatre Without Borders, www.theatrewithoutborders.com; Co-creator TWB/Peacebuilding and the Arts Program at Brandeis University “ACTING TOGETHER” Project: Artistic Associate Sundance Institute East Africa. Fulbright Specialist Makerere University, Uganda; The National University of Theatre and Cinematography, Romania; Chinese University of Hong Kong. Honoree 2003 15th Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. Accomplishments and writings are featured in The New York Times, American Theatre Magazine, Theatre in Crisis?: Performance Manifestos for a New Century, The South Atlantic Quarterly, and Writing the World: On Globalization.  A graduate of Stanford University; faculty UCLA and Bennington College.  Presently Fulbright Ambassador.


Jaki Bradley is an Artistic and International Programs intern at TCG and a 2010-2011 Fulbright U.S. Student grantee.

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