Saturday, September 17, 2011

But what exactly are you doing??

The investigation on the youth of the vicaria is zooming along. This is probably one of the most interesting and meaningful things I’ve ever participated in. It’s also one of the most exhausting. The project is so necessary, but so immense. I wish I could just post my briefings on here so you could learn everything you ever wanted to know about where I live, but it’s all in Spanish. I’ll try to put up a few summaries soon, particularly about the more peculiar aspects of the vicaria, like land regulation in the agricultural district. Okay…maybe that’s only interesting to me.

Here’s a little summary of what I’ve been doing and why you haven’t heard from me in weeks:
To begin with, the zone assigned to us is right in the middle of the poorest and historically neglected region of Cochabamba. In addition, the vicaria where we operate spans two districts, one of them is primarily urban and the most densely populated in the region. The other is the largest and least densely populated, where the majority of the habitants don’t even have access to water or electricity. The two are both extremely troubled areas but about as different as you can imagine. Right now I’m doing a massive literature review and collection of secondary data, but I’m already starting to see themes emerge that we can begin to plan our own studies on. Because the information is so poorly synthesized I’m getting a crash course in land regulation, school administration, urban planning, migration studies, cartography, economics and labor distribution, public health, etc. etc. etc. The information comes as fast as I can retain and process it. At the end of each month I give two presentations and turn in two reports: one to all the social services coordinated through the church (which is the majority of the social services, given that everyone is afraid of Zona Sur. The state hasn’t even established police presence here despite it being almost half the population of the county), and the other to the Comisión Juveníl, a small group dedicated to identifying and responding to the problems of the youth in the zone.

The first was a geographic and demographic study of the two zones, an analysis of their common and contrasting characteristics from the perspective of our social services, and some ideas about how their characteristics both illuminate or hide psychosocial difficulties, For example: district 5 supposedly enjoys a dramatically higher quality of life than most other districts, but indicators of community violence, school enrollment, etc. are pretty grim. Looking carefully at the census data you can see that the majority of the indicators they used for standard of living don’t have anything to do with the actual socioeconomic situation of each family, but rather access to government-regulated resources like water and electricity due to proximity to the city center. The location of the district improves some factors but hides a lot of the actual needs of the community.

The second will be a summary of psychosocial conflicts and identity formation in migrant communities in the periurban zones of the vicaria. Most of the information comes from interviews from neighboring districts. The university had a bunch of interview transcripts that they just gave me. Never underestimate what you can get hold of simply by asking. Using existing research I’m trying to identify which communities are comparable. Can I use an interview about internal migration from Villa Pagador to talk about the experience of young people in Loma Santa Barbara? Yes. To talk about youth in Itocta? No. Because one hit its population boom six years before the other and one community is primarily from Potosí while the other is from Oruro. What a mess. But it’s REALLY helping to identify some of the most urgent concerns in the vicaria and will give us an idea of how and where we want to do our own studies soon.

The summaries and presentations help us to coordinate, extend, and improve services. A lot of the existing works, including all the ones run through the church, don’t communicate and don’t necessarily recognize the needs outside their particular region or specialty. Laying out the data gives everyone a common lens to view the problems in the populations we serve and a common vocabulary to begin problem-solving together.

Finally, when OFPROBOL is searching for a financer for a new project in the zone, they need a briefing on how, empirically, we know there’s a need for the project. I’m preparing one now on why we suspect a high instance of sexual violence despite the very low reporting rate in the zone. We’re hoping to create a second operating base in Zona Sur for CUBE, an organization dedicated to preventing and responding to sexual violence. When they get settled, probably early next year, I’ll be extending one of their previous studies to be able to compare sexual violence and reporting rates amongst teens in the Zona Sur and the wealthier city center.

So that’s the basic outline of what I’m doing this year. As you can see, the year is going to fly by!

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