Brooke Goes Global: South Africa

October 18, 2018

The birds sang their morning song as I began to wake.  I blinked my eyes continuously and rubbed last night’s sleep from their lids.  I slipped on long pants, a cozy sweatshirt, and some warm socks.  I tiptoed out of the room and headed up the stairs.  I crossed the lawn to the metal staircase, twirling and winding up the side of the building.  Quickly, I ascended the stairs and struggled to catch my breath at the top.  The hostel roof, unmistakably, offers its best views before 6:30am.  I sat close to the edge so as to not miss a single wave produced by the vast blue ocean.  My cheeks burned as the salty ocean breeze brushed them red.  The morning mist dotted my hair in a layer of damp cold.  The weather invited families of clouds to scatter across the sky.  But the waking sun was not to be silenced.  Finding the only break in the clouds, the sun peaked its way into existence.  Sun beams slowly reached their arms out of the dark clouds and spread across the sea.  I smiled and turned my head to what I once ignored.  To my surprise, the green luscious mountain, standing close behind, applauded the performance.  I closed my eyes tightly to fathom this moment, this experience, this life.

Muizenberg, Cape Town sunrises became my first friend on the continent of Africa.  After the third day at the beautiful ocean town, I reluctantly waved goodbye to the hostel and said hello to a new homestay, in a new country, in a new continent.


The morning’s view from our hostel in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

Here I am, in South Africa.

My homestay in Cape Town is in the historic neighborhood of Bo Kaap.  Houses stand side by side in organized, bright, colorful rows.  People are neighbors streets away.  Neighbors are friends and friends are family.  The Bo Kaap is the epitome of a community that cares for one another.

We had just arrived to the Bo Kaap, when we starting following the lead of my homestay mother, Omi Mia.  She led us through the streets, pointing out houses and pairing them with her many friends’ names.  All conversation in that moment was ignored as my brain concentrated on what the eyes were sensing — beautiful, bright rainbow houses.  All connected.  All so inviting and radiating.  My daydream was abruptly ended when Omi stopped us in front of a bright yellow home.  We emerged into a quaint and cozy living room filled with family photos and memorabilia.


One of the beautiful streets of the Bo Kaap neighborhood. I live in the very last yellow colored house you can see in the photo.

Dinner after dinner, I excitedly sat at the table and listened as Omi shared her life story with us.  Omi is an intelligent, witty, and incredibly caring woman.  She is the oldest of four children.  At 72 years old, she is the hub of social gatherings among her family and friends.  On the night of our arrival, the table was set for seven.  She apologized for the small gathering that night, and I chuckled thinking back to normal family dinners with just my mom and me.

The Omi Mia household is one of 24 other households in the Bo Kaap housing IHP students.  The families hosting us students all know one another.  They adventure together.  They vacation together.  They eat together.  This is a community.  This is a neighborhood that cares for one another.

From 1948 to 1991, the Apartheid government attempted to make the city of Cape Town a whites only city.  This resulted in the Group Areas Act of 1950 forcing the segregation of different ethnic and racial groups.  Families were forced from their homes, told they only had minutes to put their belongings in a truck that would drive them to their new government issued house.  During this era of segregation, the Bo Kaap was, by law, deemed a Muslim only area.  The neighborhood’s history shapes its present.  Today, the Bo Kaap is a community of mostly Muslim families.

Unfortunately, gentrification and greedy politics are forcing families out of their Bo Kaap homes — homes that have been in their families for generations.  With the growing popularity of South African property, the Bo Kaap has become a hotspot for development.  It is in the central part of the city.  The waterfront harbor, museums, and countless amenities are all within a short distance’s walk.  As a result of this perfect storm, the demand for Bo Kaap property has exponentially grown.  This increase in property value causes taxes to soar.  New city regulations require monthly fees never charged to families before but are now deemed required and necessary.  Older generations pass and their children are unable to afford the adjusted finances of the now million dollar homes.  In turn, families who’ve grown up in the area are priced out of the Bo Kaap.

Gentrification is pushing history out of the neighborhood.  People move in for the convenient location while ignoring the community’s culture and individuality.  South Africa’s oldest mosque, over 200 years old, is located on the streets of Bo Kaap.  In practice with the Islam religion, the mosque plays a call to prayer at certain times of the day.  Within the past few years, an individual from Europe bought a house in the Bo Kaap.  Annoyed by the daily 5am wakeup from the call to prayer, he complained at a community meeting.  He demanded for the call to prayer to be stopped.  He believed as a foreigner, an outsider, and a non-Muslim that his needs should come before everyone else’s.  He willingly bought the house in the Bo Kaap.  He willingly moved in to this historically Muslim neighborhood.  But now, he is unwilling to accept the community he moved himself into.  Thankfully, his request was denied.  And at 5am, I happily lay in my bed listening to South Africa’s oldest mosque’s call to prayer.   

Another problem within the Bo Kaap is the consequences of tourism.  The Bo Kaap is deemed a must-see destination for South African vacations.  Tour buses park at the entrance of the neighborhood so their customers can get out and take photos.  Tourists ignore the privacy and property of the street’s natives and climb on their porches to snap the perfect photo.  Tour guides lead groups through the community’s sidewalks, spewing ignorant and downright wrong information about the neighborhood.  Omi has overheard tour guides tell groups the houses were painted different colors as a solution to them not being able to identify their own home when they come home drunk.  Yet, as a predominately Muslim neighborhood, most individuals do not drink in their town.  Tour guides still continue to share inaccurate and disrespectful rumors about real people, living in this very real place.  Tours of the Bo Kaap are advancing tourist companies, the city, and the outsiders.  Those living in the Bo Kaap are not reaping any benefits from tourism.  Instead their reputation is tarnished and their property is trespassed.

Nonetheless, I am thankful to say I am part of the SIT/IHP abroad program.  As a student of IHP, I am contributing to the preservation of the Bo Kaap and its stories.  Our homestays are compensated for housing students.  These working class families are paid generously by our program for kindly inviting strangers into their house.  Students learn from the families.  They learn the truth, the facts, the reality from citizens of the Bo Kaap.  But also we share our experiences, lives, and stories with the families too.  It is important to remember reciprocity when you’re abroad.  As much as we take from a foreign country as American students, it is just as important to leave a compassionate legacy behind.  I am honored to share the stories born and cultivated from Bo Kaap history.  I do not take this task lightly.  To have the opportunity to share someone else’s story, through my eyes, is truly a powerful adventure.  I am grateful to have this platform as an occasion to share the stories of these beautiful people in Bo Kaap, Cape Town.  


The sea and the mountains — what more could you ask for?

Brooke Goes Global: The Caste System

September 26, 2018

Goodbye has inevitably arrived.  Its long awaited arrival has brought gifts of humbleness, compassion, and independence.  Here I am and here I go with faith in the process of hellos and goodbyes.  Goodbye, India.  Hello South Africa.

Still, feelings of bitter sweetness and surrealism consume my mind as I prepare for the next adventure.  Something as simple as a plane ride becomes my gateway to a new and exciting experience, moment, life.  My reality becomes the categorization of the past, present, and future.  India my past and South Africa my very near future.  And for the present — it lives in its own purgatory, fighting for the existence of both realms of the past and future.

This state of temporary madness causes the past few weeks to stir in my head.  My mind connects this with that, analyzes this, questions that, and ponders everything.  It bullies the rest of my body as all physicality fights to keep up.  Fighting the jet lag.  Fighting the weather conditions.  Fighting the sickness.  Fighting the need to sleep.  Yet my mind continues to grow, expand, and explore.  It needs not to fight any barriers.  It’s the one pushing me to keep going.  Temporary relief of my body’s contradiction only comes when writing.  So here I am, writing as my fingers become the newest victim of my brain’s wandering.  My mind thankfully settles into a steady pace as it chooses a topic of choice for my last post in India.  A topic that stirs up controversy, history, and oppression.  A topic that even Indian natives are unable to fully comprehend the consequences to.

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Before I begin, I want to remind my listeners that my writing originates through the eyes of a female, an American, a student, and an outsider.  By no means do I claim to have a overarching understanding of the complications of the Indian culture, but I do claim the right to share my experiences and interpretations of what constituted my life for the last month.

So I dive in, and here I emerge, knee deep in a 3,000 year old system of oppression — the caste system.  The caste system is unique to the Indian sub-continent.  Although other oppressive hierarchies, based on uncontrollable factors, have existed across the world and across time.

The caste system has roots in the Hindu religion.  In which more than 80% of the Indian population claim to practice.  The religion’s core foundations teach special individuals were formed from a particular body part of the Hindu god, Brahma.  Each body part represent a certain status within the earthly society.  For instance, the priests and teachers of the Hindu population were said to have been born from the head of Brahma, the highest honor.  The warriors and rulers were born from the shoulder of the god.  The farmers, traders and merchants were born from the stomach.  And the laborers were born from the foot.  This foundational teaching of the religion created a social hierarchy, justified by faith and culture.  The caste system expanded past the Hindu religion and spread to other religions including Islam and Christianity in India.   Over time, people’s occupation no longer determined caste.  Today, people are born into a caste.  They remain in this particular caste for the rest of their life and then pass it down to their children.

To go over some basics, the first three caste tiers are called Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas — born from the three highest places on the body.  These three tiers constitute the upper caste.  The lowest tier is called Shudras.  These four castes are born from the god Brahma and so deserve the corresponding respect and dignity paralleling this official status.  Then there are people who are considered the least pure in status.  They have not been birthed from the god Brahma.  These people make up what is called the scheduled caste.  This is the politically correct term for the Dalit caste, Untouchables, and tribal individuals.  The majority of the Indian population is part of this scheduled caste.

All of these individuals were deemed “untouchable” by the government, by religion, by society.  The scheduled caste was not permitted to use the same silverware as the upper caste.  They were segregated from the rest of the world because their “impure” bodies would contaminate the upper caste’s so called hygienic and luxurious life.  Culture decided the majority of the population did not deserve to be treated like a human because of a social label.  The scheduled caste became victim to horrendous and heinous crimes because of the nation’s caste hierarchy.  Massacre of the unarmed Untouchables in their homes became justified.  Rape of Untouchables became justified.  Brutalization and abuse of Untouchables became justified.  Police turned a blind eye well thousands suffered.  All justified through the caste system.

In 1950, the Indian government abolished the practice of “untouchability”.  It is 68 years later, and here I am, visiting a country with a rich history of violent inequity.  And 68 years later, the stigma and physical violence against the scheduled caste has decreased tremendously.  Nevertheless, I argue structural violence against the scheduled caste still exists.  It is perpetuated by institutions repressing the social rights of a large portion of the population.  This top down systemic violence causes a normalization of oppression and persecution for people of the scheduled caste.  History explains the present, so it is important to understand the context of the caste system.  I remind myself this as I try to understand the perspective of an upper caste, upper class individual who so blatantly told me that if you are educated in the least bit, you know the caste system does not exist.  But, here, I write out my contradiction to this statement. 

Today, more than 98% of manual laborers in India are people of the Dalit caste.  To illustrate the day of a Dalit worker as a manual laborer, I describe the job of a sewage worker.  In nothing more than a t-shirt and khaki pants, they are lowered into an underground pool of shit.  They submerge every inch of their body into the city’s cumulation of poop, piss, and toilet paper.  Diving into this disgusting mess of feces, they are forced to unclog the sewage pipes.  Two to three individuals die a day doing this work.  Yet, the caste system does not exist.

I had the opportunity to talk to an individual who worked at the National Dalit Campaign for Human Rights.  This individual was an advocate and activist for the Dalit community.  He was able to overcome persecution from his own country and climbed the economic ladder while still inevitably remaining at the bottom of the social ladder as a Dalit.  He now has a master’s degree in sociology and continues to fight for Dalit human rights every day.  His life trajectory, nonetheless, is much easier said than done.  He grew up during a time of post-abolition “untouchability” laws.  Yet, still labeled as a Dalit, he faced incredible instances of prejudice and bigotry.

He had successfully completed his senior year of high school.  This in itself is a great feat for someone of the Dalit caste.  Too often they are forced to drop out because they can no longer withstand the mental and physical abuse they receive from upper caste classmates and teachers.  Or too often their family decides the child will contribute more to the family by dropping out of school and working instead.  This was not the case for this determined student.   During the last week of his schooling, his teacher informed him he would be graduating as top student in the class.  He would graduate as Valedictorian.  When he read the list of names posted on the school wall, to his surprise his name had been printed next to number two.  The school refused to have a Dalit as their Valedictorian.  The school refused to let a Dalit represent their academics.  His studies, effort, determination, and intelligence had been invalidated because of a societal label.  Yet, caste does not exist.

During our week long visit to the rural Indian district of Bahriach, we stayed in the neighborhood’s private elementary school.  Here, a Dalit cleans the bathrooms.  He has worked as the school’s janitor for 4 years and has worked for the community municipal building as a street cleaner for 9 years.  Nine years ago, his family asked him to stop attending school and to instead find a job.  At the age of 14, he was the only one in a house of two parents and 4 children who brought in an income.  In 9 years at the municipal building, never has he received a promotion.  In 9 years, never has he received a raise.  I asked him, “do you feel your job compensates you fairly for the work you do?”.  I watched as he took a moment to comprehend the translator’s interpretation of my question.  His eyes shifted as his lips created foreign sounds unfamiliar to me.  Then, the translator spoke, “Anything they give me, I am thankful for.”  I stood in shock as I attempted to digest his heartbreaking response.  He doubts his ability because his employer, school, society, religion, and government have all told him he is nothing.  He is replaceable.  He is unsuccessful.  He is not a worthy member of the Indian society.  Structural violence has shattered his self-confidence and his self-worth.  Systems and institutions all play a role in oppressing his life.  He has lived in a state of structural violence for so long he sees no path towards opportunity.  Yet, caste does not exist.

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The caste system does not exist, but no one I talked to married outside of their caste.  The caste system does not exist, but official government forms still ask for your caste.  The caste system does not exist, but Dalits are still experiencing structural violence every day.

We’re six weeks into the program and in six weeks my life has been turned on its head.  My standards of normal have been challenged.  My culture has been ignored as a new one forcefully replaced it.  And the funny part is, it’s happening again today as I move to South Africa.  And then again, in one month when I move to my final country of Brazil.  But this is what I asked for.  I asked for a challenge and an adventure.  By all means, I have not been disappointed.

Brooke Goes Global: Jaipur Travel Weekend

September 21, 2018

I have been on my abroad trip for 5 weeks and in India for 3 weeks.  I have told you ample about my classes and experiential learning.  However, I have dropped the ball on providing information about my touristy, free-time experiences.  Last weekend, IHP, our abroad program, gave us the opportunity to have a travel weekend.  A large group of students decided to go to Jaipur, a popular city in Northern India.  

From New Delhi, we headed on a 5 hour train ride to the city.  After many hours of staring at the “touristy Americans” throughout our transportation experience, we finally arrived in the city.  That evening we arrived at our hotel, the Anuraag Villa.  Consider this post to be a Yelp review for the Villa.  Every employee was kind and helpful, allowing their guests to make the most of their visit.  When we stepped inside the hotel, you were transported to a time when India was under British rule.  British colonialism seemed to be the decor theme of the hotel with their light blue bedroom walls, with adorned doors and large sliding locks.  Also, helpful tip: hotels are deemed some of the best places to eat authentic Indian food.  Professional chefs are hired by hotels, and because hotels cater to tourists, the food’s cleaning and cooking process is safe for a foreigner to enjoy.  Anyways, back to my Yelp review.  I certainly got the most bang for my buck at this hotel.  I shared a room with another girl in the program, and for two nights we paid $1,300 rupees.  This in terms of USD comes to about $13 per person for both nights.  It was not the most extravagant hotel I have ever been to, but it certainly contributed to my exciting time in Jaipur.  

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Me eating breakfast at the Anuraag Villa, enjoying the feeling of eating like a queen in India

Unfortunately, our time in Jaipur was too short to see everything the city had to offer, but I certainly saw a lot over the two days.  Our first stop on Saturday, was to an elephant farm in the outskirts of the city.  Our group was very concerned about the well-being of the elephants, but we were assured by the staff and reviews of the farm that the animals were treated humanely.  We had the opportunity to meet six different Asian elephants, each with their own individual handler.  Elephants are some of the smartest creatures in the world.  In the four hours we were with the elephants, we are able to make such a strong impression on them that if we came back three years later, they would remember us.  It was such a fascinating and invigorating moment to spend time with such large, yet gentle animals.  

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Playing with the elephants has been a highlight of my time abroad so far


After, we took off to the historical and iconic city of the Pink City.  The rumors are true.  Every structure within the boundaries of the city is pink.  Shops and vendors align the streets with colorful food and clothing.  The rainy weather caused a thin layer of mud to form on every inch of every sidewalk.  The bumper to bumper traffic caused a symphony of car horns.  And on occasion, a camel or an elephant made an appearance as a form of transportation.  We stopped for lunch at a rooftop restaurant.  We were able to eat some amazing food while enjoying some amazing views of the city.  The juxtaposition of the rolling hills against the building structures of the city created a sight that took my breath away.  Is there a better location to build a city than in the valley of a hill? 


The beautiful view from our rooftop restaurant

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The Hawa Mahal in the Pink City

We spent the evening at the Amber Fort light and sound show.  The hour long performance gave a detailed history of the royal fort through narration, lights, and song.  The Amber Fort sits at the top of a hill, with a view of the city below.  With the mountain breeze sending a chill down your spine, it was a refreshing night to a long, tiresome, and hot week in New Delhi.  


Amber Fort lit up at night

And to end the weekend, we spent Sunday morning at two historical sites including Jantar Mantar and the City Palace.  Jantar Mantar is a culmination of thousand year old sun dials that are able to tell the accurate calendar day and time of day based on the light from the “universe’s goddesses” — better known as the sun and the moon.  The City Palace constituted incredibly detailed buildings that showcased textiles, a royal and political meeting space, and chandeliers triple my size.  I appreciated the time we were given to experience a different part of India.  

PICTURE 7, 8, 9: The above three pictures depict the City Palace, a structure with exquisite detailing and architecture.

Brooke Goes Global: Globalization

September 13, 2018

Disclaimer: This post is not my attempt to make a blanket, political statement about capitalism.  Instead, this post is an attempt to illustrate the institutional systems role in perpetuating poverty, which is stimulated by globalization.  As a result, there are structures put in place that advance the middle and upper classes while inevitably hindering the lower class. 


This picture depicts the common life of a child in the rural area of India.  Despite his isolation from the city, globalization contributes heavily to his life.

Starbucks — a franchise recognized across the world.  It’s a caffeine boost.  It’s a free wifi hotspot.  It’s a familiar logo of home.  Because Starbucks is such a recognizable part of many people’s lives across the world, it is an ideal artifact to study in relation to globalization.  The local is the global and the global is the local, and the Starbucks franchise fits into both the interdependent categories perfectly.  

According to a news report by CNN, the first Starbucks cafe in India opened in 2012.  This change to the environment and culture of India has its foundation in globalization, utilizing the ever connectedness of countries, corporations, and markets.  India’s new economic plan in the 1990s — encompassing liberalization, privatization, and globalization — paved the way for the multi-billion dollar company to open its doors within India’s borders.  Studying the key fundamentals of the larger corporation and its individual cafes will help understand the structural oppression that is shaped to advance the health of only a portion of India. 

In order to analyze the effect of this artifact further, Starbucks industry’s source must be identified.  The headquarters are located in the United States, in the state of Washington.  There are over 27,000 Starbucks locations across the globe; more than half of these locations are in the United States.  Comparatively, there are around 100 Starbucks cafe locations in India.  The chain store began in the western hemisphere and migrated to India 41 years later.  Nonetheless, this flow of business, capital, and frankly, Starbucks coffee is relatively new to the area — considering its first store opened only 6 years ago.  The chain, however, quickly spread.  For each year since the opening of the first Starbucks in India, another 17 stores were opened annually.  

Additionally, the business’ motivation for spreading is a key element to its global flow.  This motivation is fundamental to understanding its health effect on the overall population of India.  For example, the first Indian Starbucks was opened in Mumbai, a location specifically and strategically chosen by the corporation.  Mumbai was discussed in class as a relatively wealthy area.  It is a movie producing hotspot.  It is a tourist destination.  These aspects of the city point to a particular lifestyle — a lifestyle of luxury and expense.  The citizens of Mumbai have a disposable income that can be spent on breakfast sandwiches and overpriced coffee.  Starbucks chose Mumbai as a location that would bring in revenue.  Mumbai chose Starbucks as a business that would benefit the city.  The global is interacting with the local and vice versa, each contributing to the worldwide spread of people, goods, and services.

In addition, the meticulous placement of Starbucks is emphasized by my personal experience in India.  Our homestay is in the wealthy neighborhood of Greater Kailash; and down the street is a Starbucks.  People come to reap the benefits of clean water, free wifi, a sewage system, and nutritious food at the cafe.  These are basic elements of the Starbucks franchise.  Therefore, wherever a Starbucks is built, these factors of wellbeing are built into the neighborhood as well.  

However, this strategic and revenue maximizing business plan further stretches the gap of social capital between the rich and the poor.  The rich live in areas like Greater Kailesh and Mumbai which have stores like Starbucks.  The poor live in areas where Starbucks and similar businesses would refuse to open a location.  To demonstrate the contrast, two illustrations must be drawn. 

Example one: A local of Greater Kailesh decides to go to a nearby Starbucks cafe for a cup of coffee.  There, they have the opportunity for free wifi, aiding them in their studies.  They have the opportunity to get a cashier job, benefiting their finances.  They have the opportunity for a hygienic social environment, benefiting their mental health.  Therefore, it is fair to say Starbucks indirectly provides resources that advance life for only a portion of the Indian population, its customer base.  

Example two: This information is gathered from our class’ recent visit to a New Delhi “slum”.  Within the group of small and connected houses, I noticed two places the families of the particular neighborhood could purchase food.  Both places were small snack stands.  The vendors provided bagged food — processed and high caloric.  No kitchen for fresh meals.  No bathroom with running water.  No wifi to help complete homework.  No hiring opportunities.  The food “cafe” of this neighborhood is merely a provider of unhealthy junk food.  It provides no additional advancements to the community.  

With this stark contrast in mind, Starbucks in India — a product of globalization — provides resources that advance life for only middle to upper class individuals.  Therefore, the artifact of Starbucks demonstrates a motif of the larger problem of systemic oppression.  For those living in low-income neighborhoods are not able to reap the benefits of a Starbucks cafe because they don’t have access to one.  Outsiders seem to be ignorant of the institutional oppression that creates this perpetuation of poverty.  It’s a cycle with outside influences, influences that flow from the home country and the entire world. 

Brooke Goes Global: Culture Shock

September 3, 2018

It’s been seven days.  Seven days that have simultaneously flown by and dragged on.

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To give you some background, I arrived in India on Monday.  Our program is based in India’s capital, New Delhi.  This post is a regurgitation of the plethora of information I have learned over the past week.  This information has spun the wheels in my head and reaffirmed my love for public health.  While sharing, I did my best to remain partial.  By neither categorizing aspects of the Indian culture as right or wrong, I attempted to write and understand from a perspective of historical particularism — understanding that a country’s current systems, culture, and social norms are shaped by its unique history and development.  With this being said, my perspective is very limited.  By no means do I have a complete understanding of India’s history, community, and traditions.  Nonetheless, I still want to expand on my experiences of a new normal.  I hope I am able to do justice to the complicatedly beautiful culture that is the Indian culture.  

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These two pictures are of a tourist hotspot in New Delhi called Delhi Haat.  The markets here are scattered with a beautiful spectrum of colorful clothing and trinkets.

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I start with my first topic: women.  This is my starting point because it is the topic I choose to be a little more flexible regarding my partiality.  As a woman within this program, I was instructed to cover my shoulders, chest, legs, and at times my hair.  Respectfully, I have and will continue to abide by this cultural norm.  Nonetheless, despite me being completely covered up in temperatures reaching beyond 100 degrees, I have never been more aware of my gender.  I have been told to not look a man in their eyes, for it can be construed as you initiating sex.  I have been told to not smile at a man, that too can be construed as you, a woman, initiating sex.  It is the woman who must alter her behaviors to best contain the sexuality of a man.  It is the woman who must cover up.  It is the woman who must be invisible.  These cultural norms perpetuate the ideology of women inferiority.  

Nonetheless, I am aware and proud that India is progressing in a new direction.  Young adult women are occasionally spotted in freely dressed clothing, confidently paving a new direction of education, equality, and feminine authority.  Nonetheless, strict changes need to me made to society in order to create an environment where females feel safe, able, and accepted — this includes but is not limited to India.  

I move on to discuss the beautifully chaotic city of New Delhi.  The hustle and bustle of the city is what makes it unique.  I enjoy being thrown into a place that is so different from any other place I have ever been.  The population of the entire metropolitan area of New Delhi is about 24 million people.  To put this into perspective, the population of the entire United States is around 324 million people.  Needless to say, it’s a crowded city.  Two lane roads are turned into four lane roads with cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws creating their own road rules.  Food stands, vendors, cows, dogs, and monkeys all compete for a place in the city.  

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You have not experienced the true Indian culture if you haven’t had a near death experience in a rickshaw.

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These are only a sneak peek into the many friends you will encounter walking the streets of Delhi!

This weekend, we traveled to the Taj Mahal.  The Taj Mahal is a beautiful memorial commissioned by a Mongolian King in the 1600s to honor his deceased wife.  This wonder of the world was breathtaking.  However, what shocked me the most was our drive to the Taj Mahal.  Staying in New Delhi, I have experienced the urban lifestyle.  However, during the 4 hour drive to the Taj Mahal, I was able to experience the rural lifestyle — even if it was just through a bus window.  I saw countless farming families.  Their fields flooded with water from the monsoon season’s storms.  Cows and dogs scattered across the land.  And to call their homes shacks would unfortunately glorify the structures.  These homes were held up by wooden sticks with thatched roofs and tarp walls.  I saw a father and son duo showering in the rain.  They stood by the road, in soapy clothes, as they rinsed their shampooed hair with the rain fall.  It was quite a humbling experience to be grateful for my homestay’s bucket showers that consists of four walls and hot water.  

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This is an example of the stark contrast of the close living proximities of both the middle and lower class.  This was snapped from the metro.

In seven days, I have seen the stark contrast of the urban versus the rural.  The rich versus the poor.  The developed country of the United States versus the developing country of India.  In India, structures, institutions, and globalization have caused the gap between the rich and poor to grow.  Because of the recent switch to a market based economy, India’s GDP has grown by 6% in the past few years.  Nonetheless, these economic benefits have been concentrated to only 6-8% of the population — consisting mainly of the upper class, the educated, and males.  In present day India, 100 people control 27% of India’s GDP.  As part of a group of intelligent students, my peers and I look to be an educated and appropriate voice for the marginalized.  But our program coordinator of India reminds us “you are here to learn, not to change things.  Finish your education.  Then come back to see me, so we can change things together.”  And this, my friend, is what keeps me on the edge of my seat.

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I couldn’t finish this post without adding a cliche tourist picture of me at the Taj Mahal.  The World Wonder was beautiful and breathtaking!


Brooke Goes Global: Why Band-Aids Aren’t Enough

August 26, 2018

I’m currently sitting 3,500 miles above the world.  Above the people and the animals.  Above the passing trains, cars and buses.  But my concentration, instead, is on the clouds.  The clouds that seem so endless and infinite in a sky just as vast.  As I sit in this state of existentialism, my body flies to India while my mind remains in America.  My mind — filled with American customs, norms and Westernized idealisms of health — is about to experience the culture shock of one of the fasting developing countries in the world: India.  

Photo 1, Adams Morgan

After two weeks of living in a hostel in the hip and trendy town of Adams Morgan, it is time to say goodbye to D.C., and hello to New Delhi!


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The last night of Washington, D.C. was spent exploring the city’s monuments with a fellow Richmond student on the sister track of my program.  The monuments are a completely different experience at night.  If you get the chance, go and check it out yourself!

But I digress to my last week in Washington, D.C., simply because during a time of venturing into the unknown, focusing on something concrete and wholesome steadies my mind.    

Across America, food is passed out, yet hunger still remains.  Jobs are available, yet people still can’t afford rent.  Shelters are open, yet people still sleep on the streets.  These Band-Aid approaches to health are not enough to stimulate long-term physical and mental health.  Many organizations narrow their aid to one specific focus.  It’s an incredibly complicated situation, because people have immediate needs and these needs must be met, but narrow-minded help is a temporary solution to a permanent problem.  Nonetheless, the city of Washington, D.C. has paved a new path of holistic care for its citizens.  

To help illustrate this example, I cite the streamlined and progressive non-profit of D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK).  Their mission is to limit food waste and help lift people out of poverty.  Their motto is “Food alone will never end hunger.  Jobs will.”  With this in mind, DCCK takes many active roles within the community.  Everyday, they cook over 5,000 meals to distribute to homeless shelters and half-way houses.  They also provide a 14-week culinary arts training program for the unemployed.  The training program is for marginalized individuals with a history that typically stigmatizes them out of the job market.  This includes people who are homeless, were previously incarcerated, without a high school diploma and/or struggle with addiction.  

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DCCK views poverty through multiple lenses of social determinisms which enables them to have a holistic view on health.


My fascination with the program lies in its ability to treat the whole individual.  To provide support for the individual’s immediate needs while also creating a platform of stability and advancement for the future.  The culinary training has many aspects including cooking and kitchen skills but also focuses on self-empowerment and financial planning.  Rehabilitation teaches the students to believe in their worth and purpose within the larger community — something they have forgotten after years of being ostracized.  During the last stage of the program, students are assigned to an internship within a local restaurant or catering company so they can grasp what it truly takes to work in the culinary world.  Each step of the program creates one more building block to a healthy and stable life.  

However, all of these steps would be irrelevant if the students did not have the basic needs of survival.  Because without food, you cannot be productive in the kitchen.  Without a roof over your head, you cannot focus on your studies.  And without money for transportation, you cannot arrive to the designated location for learning.  Therefore, DCCK goes one step further to insure these individuals are supported throughout the training program.  The non-profit supplies its constituents with groceries weekly.  They help to organize living arrangements for the individuals.  And they also provide students with a transportation stipend.  

The cost of this program is not cheap.  However, its statistics show the programs’ funding and mission is paying off.  There is a 85% graduation rate.  There is a 90% job placement rate within one month of graduation.  And after a two year followup, 70% of the graduates are still employed long term.  These individuals now have full-time jobs, health insurance and permeant housing.  They contribute social and economic capital to America.  A holistic approach to health is the cure to a long standing and perpetuating cycle of poverty.  

So I urge you to stop the stigma.  Stop the marginalization.  Because the homeless and the jobless are typically not lazy.  In fact, 70% of the homeless population in the United States have jobs, showing they don’t suffer from laziness.  They suffer from a lack of livable wage and affordable housing.  They want to help themselves.  They want to better their lives and their family members.  However, the one-size fits all model for health and wellbeing does not work.  Instead, organizations and programs intended to help the impoverished, the hungry and the jobless need to bring care to the individual and not the individual to care.  



Brooke Goes Global: Gentrification in Washington, D.C.

August 17, 2018

Change is inevitable. The economy goes in cycles. The unemployment rate will fluctuate. And gentrification and development will overcome cities. If these processes are inevitable, how do we, as a community, adapt with the change? How can institutions, as part of the community, continue to preserve the population’s culture and diversity?

Before 24 of my fellow classmates and I take off for India, we are spending two weeks in the nation’s capital. While in Washington, D.C., we are studying America’s health systems, health inequities, and the related role of systems and institutions within the field. 

The International Honors Program pushes their students to view health holistically — understanding there are ample factors influencing one’s health. One major factor to the health of an individual is their home and community.  During a recent experiential learning day, we explored a city within the D.C. area.  My group, a total of five students, set out on the metro to study the area of Howard-Shaw. 

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The Howard-Shaw area has beautiful murals scattered among the neighborhood.  The street art represents and maintains the city’s rich history and culture.


When we emerged from the underground metro station at Howard-Shaw, we were met with vibrant store fronts, colorful restaurants, and a lot of construction.  I stood in the center of a city that very clearly was overcome by the controversial topic of gentrification.  To explain, gentrification is the process of developing an area.  This involves stimulating a neighborhood’s economy through the building of up-scale real estate, restaurants, and modern boutiques.  As a result, the neighborhood generally becomes more aesthetically pleasing and economically viable.  However, this also displaces the original locals of the neighborhood, as they become priced out of their current homes.  Rents increase and developers pressure homeowners to sell their homes for a portion of their worth.  In Washington, D.C., Blacks are disproportionately affected by this forced moving as a result of gentrification.  

In Howard-Shaw, as you look beyond the beautiful architecture of a historic building, you are struck by the overwhelming and ever-consuming construction cranes, trucks, and bulldozers.  This week, I had the opportunity to listen to the locals of Howard-Shaw voice their opinions on how they are directly affected by gentrification. 

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The Howard Theatre is a historic landmark  in the neighborhood.  It was recently renovated in 2012, and it still acts as a functioning theatre.  The crane in the background demonstrates the ever-present condominium construction across the city.

A physical education teacher at a local school, named Pamela, had the biggest impact on me.  She works at a public school with grades pre-school to fifth grade.  Her official title is the physical education and health teacher, but unofficially she is the community liaison.  Pamela described the changing demographics within the school as a result of the last couple years’ development.  The older grades are predominately made up of Black and Hispanic students.  Whereas the younger grades are predominately made up of White students.  We asked Pamela what these new changes to the neighborhood meant for her and the students.  Her response, “I’m a half-full kind of person.  You just have to take advantage of it.”  And taking advantage of the situation is certainly what she is doing.  She creates partnerships with the new businesses that inhabit the neighborhood as a result of the development.  She brought in local businesses and their employees for a school-wide Career Day.  She partnered with a nearby recreation center so the students have the opportunity to swim.  When she was not able to stop a bar from moving in across the street from the school, she convinced the business to instead donate a portion of their profits to the school.  Last but not least, she assisted with the partnership of a nearby clinic, Mary’s Center, to open within the school.  The clinic has health services —  including mental health — for the students and their parents, open from 8am to 6pm.  A change and evolution of a neighborhood is inevitable.  Nonetheless, Pamela is bravely ensuring the change is positively influencing the children of the area. 

Additionally, to reference Lawerence, another employee of the Howard-Shaw area, individuals who contribute to gentrification are part of a complicated relationship.  As they bring something new and vibrant into the area, they also push history and culture out of its original place.  However, Lawerence believes development does not have to constitute displacement.  Lawerence urges the development companies to change their plans to accommodate those who already live in the area.  He believes condominiums should be built for a mix of incomes.  Apartments should be of mixed value, so that a range of income levels can live in a newly developed building.  Nonetheless, in order for this to happen, development companies and contractors must prioritize communities, culture, and individuals over profits.  

Neighborhoods are pleating and begging for their voice to be heard over the noise and selfishness of big businesses.  And without their voice and opinion, culture and history will be lost to modern and expensive real estate.  

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The future calls for development without displacement.  Beauty without a loss of history.  Diversity without isolation.  It calls for a culture that uplifts entire communities, not just particular groups of individuals.


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