Deborah Aller
Majors: Anthropology, Environmental Studies

Michelle Pizer

Majors: Environmental Studies, Political Science

Research Mentor:
Dr. Kamazima Lwiza, School of Marine & Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS)

Dr. William Arens, Dean, International Academic Programs; Dr. Jasper Ijumba, University of Dar es Salaam ; Robert Wallace (Geosciences)

International Travel Policy - International Programs - more information here

"When you first get there, you’re in shock. When you come back, you’re like…wow I’m really lucky to have what I have. I’m more appreciative of everything, once I’ve experienced that. "-D.A.

" You wouldn’t think someone would drink from that … After the interview, I was tearing up. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe someone would have to drink that, that they would have no choice, knowing that it’s not healthy. They know it’s not clean, not safe. But they have no choice.". -M.P.

Interview:

Researchers of the Month: past features


Researchers of the Month

About Deborah & Michelle

MPizerandDAllerSB undergraduates Deborah Aller and Michelle Pizer teamed up this summer in Tanzania to collect data and do field work for an ongoing research project on Availability and Quality of Drinking Water in Tanzania— with support from Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities (URECA). Their mentor, Prof. Kamazima Lwiza of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) had in February 2008 convened a symposium (which Deborah & Michelle attended) on "Access to clean drinking water in Tanzania," at SoMAS; and is committed to training undergraduates through exposure to real environmental problems in an international arena. More of Prof. Lwiza's students will be following-up on the research in future summers.

Both Deborah Aller and Michelle Pizer had done some preliminary investigation on the topic in summer 2008. Although their research abroad experience was not without its challenges (including a case of bacterial infection, calls at three am to their mentor, etc.), its positive, transformative impact was deeply felt by both. Deborah Aller reflects: "I think it’s the best way to learn, to be honest with you. Outside the classroom, if you have the chance to do something like this, I would take it in a second. . . I definitely changed from it. " Michelle Pizer, graduating this December, will soon return to Tanzania to teach at a boarding school following graduation; she also plans to pursue a graduate degree in environmental public health. She too found the experience tremendously beneficial: "I feel like I could do a lot now, pretty much anything! " Below are some excerpts of their interview with URECA Director, Karen Kernan.

Deborah Aller

  Major: Anthropology & Environmental Studies major, junior

  URECA Summer Research (2009), SBU Women’s Soccer Team, Study Abroad (Tanzania, 2008)

Michelle Pizer

  Major: Environmental Studies & Political science, senior (Dec. 09 graduate)

  URECA Summer Research (2009), Stony Brook Environmental Club (president), Earthstock Student co-chair (2009), Long Island Pine Barrens Society intern

The Interview

Karen: Tell me about your research –how you became involved with your project.

Michelle: The exact project was researching water quality & availability in Tanzania. We picked the driest part of the country to investigate. And we went at the peak of the dry season. I was there last summer too, but in a semi-arid region of the country and had done some preliminary work.

Deborah: I did Study Abroad in 2008 with Dr. Arens, so was also in Tanzania last summer. You have the option, with Study Abroad, of doing an independent research project. I chose to look at water availability in the Arusha and Kilamanjaro regions, which are both much wetter than the region we travelled to this summer. One thing Prof. Lwiza and I talked about before this recent trip was comparing data from a wet region (Arusha) vs. the dry region (Kondoa) where Michelle & I were this past summer.…

Michelle: In planning for this project, we knew we would be investigating the water availability, and realized we had do the science, test for pathogens in the water, etc. But we also realized that we needed to know the social aspect of what’s happening to people. We can get this data but what does it even mean?...I was in charge of interviewing 10 villagers per village, to get general information about the household, and their general background: where they get water from; how many times a day; who goes to get the water. We also wanted to collect information about different illnesses— incidences of illnesses per month like diarrhea, typhoid, malaria.

Deborah: My side of it was more biological. I did 4 tests on the water. I was looking for total micro-organisms, testing for iron and manganese, looking for total coliform bacteria, and suspended solids. We wanted to get data on the quality of water in terms of contaminating microorganisms and environmental factors that can inhibit disinfection treatments, particularly the use of ultraviolet radiation.

Karen: What did you find out? How different were the communities you visited?

Michelle: As far as illnesses, it was pretty similar throughout the villages. Diarrhea 2-5 times a month, malaria much higher, typhoid similar. The villages were very similar...the water would be several kilometers away. It was usually the women who travelled to get the water. They would get 5-10 buckets a day. It would take a couple hours depending on if there was a line. . . . The women in Tanzania and Africa as a whole are most amazing ever. They do everything. They get the water, they cook, they clean, take care of the children. They never ever stop. Being there longer…I really saw how incredible they are and the amount of work that they do every day. They would go to get the water, spend hours with babies on their backs. It was a long process, every day.  . .

Deborah: A lot of the taps are only turned on for a couple hours during the day. So people will all go in the morning and try and get water, and then water will stop at some point in the day and it won’t refill until evening. So they have to go back. They’re might have been, for instance, 3 taps/sources of water for a village of 10,000 people to share. That means people lining up, waiting for hours to get water. Another part was they had to pay for the water and people make very little. .

Michelle: There’s not really a sense of currency as we know it. It was…in terms of bags, bags of food per year. I would ask them their income range per year: they would say 10-15 bags. It’s in terms of food.

Deborah: I had brought an incubator with me because I had to incubate the samples that I would be testing for coloform bacteria overnight. The following day I would find out the results of the test, and whether the samples had E coli. Eighteen of the 20 samples I collected were positive for E. coli. So basically we could see evidence that these people are getting sick because of E coli. That’s not a problem we think about much here in the US, but it’s something that most of the villages there have to deal with.  .

Karen: What was the most surprising result you found?

Michelle: With one of the families, actually the first family that I interviewed…their water source was probably the dirtiest water we had seen. You wouldn’t think someone would drink from that … After the interview, I was tearing up. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t believe someone would have to drink that, that they would have no choice, knowing that it’s not healthy. They know it’s not clean, not safe. But they have no choice.

Deborah: Most of the time, if you let the water settle, all the sediments will go to the bottom. But they would need water, and would just use it all mixed up. It was basically completely brown. There were feces in the water.

Michelle: For that particular case, and other cases, the animals and cows, donkeys, goats would drink from the same water. That source was shallow enough that they could walk in and drink it.

Karen: What kind of medical treatment was available, typically?
Michelle: Usually each village had a clinic. For each villager, it would be a different distance and it was often 6-7 kilometers away. There would be one nurse at the clinic, and not enough medicine. At the end of the interview, I would ask the villagers: what’s the most important issue, regardless of what the survey is about, that you’d like to see addressed? They would often say: 1) water; 2) the clinics were too far away; and 3) there was not enough medicine. The district hospital was by foot, hours away. No one had vehicles. Very few people had bikes.

Deborah: One of the worst things I heard, which really upset me, was about a clinic in Kondoa. The region is Muslim. American Christian people had come to the clinic. They wouldn’t give people medicine unless they prayed to the Christian god. Basically based on their religion they wouldn’t give them medicine.

Karen. What were some of the challenges you faced while doing this research?

Deborah: Not being fluent in the language was challenging. Having to find your way around, taking public transportation in a foreign country…

Michelle. We did everything on our own. We went there and had to find our way…It was an extremely interesting experience. . .  We cooked for ourselves too. We ate lots of rice, beans, chicken and bananas for two weeks. Let’s just say I lost weight!

Deborah: I got sick– about halfway through our stay. We were very close to going to the clinic. Once I got back here, I went to the doctor. Turned out to be a bacterial infection. You get it from contaminated food, like chicken, and not handling food properly.

Karen: What do you like best about the experience?

Deborah: The best part for me was when we got to a village, seeing how much the people wanted us there. And how much they honestly needed help. When we arrived in the village, and when they heard we were coming to help with water, they were very enthusiastic. They all honestly want to know the results to see what is wrong with their water.

Michelle: I think that was the hardest part too. The people we met would be so happy we were there but they would ask: when are you coming back? when are you going to be able to help us?

Karen: What are your long-term plans?

Michelle. I’m going back to Tanzania in January. I’m going to be there for 5 months. During my last week of travels (I stayed an extra week to travel by myself), I met up with a lady who is friends with Prof. Malcolm Bowman. She’s the president of Friends of Flax Pond. And she’s volunteering at a boarding school. . . Prof. Bowman was telling me his friend was in Tanzania. He made me chat with her on Facebook. I wouldn’t have met her otherwise.....I went to see what it’s all about and ended up really liking it there. I started an environmental club there, taught a couple of environmental science classes. The principal wants me to come back. And they're going to pay for me to come back. So I’m going to go back to the school. I’ll have a place to stay, food, and get a weekly stipend. I’ll be teaching and helping with extracurricular activities. I loved it there. There were 9 orphans that live there that I just grew so close to in a matter of a week. That’s the main reason why I want to go back.

Deborah: I still have two years left of school —but am going to try and publish something if I can connect both the results from last summer and this summer.

Karen: What do you gain from doing a research experience such as this? What do you learn that you wouldn't necessarily learn in the classroom?

Michelle: I learned that I can certainly take care of myself. I’m confident in traveling alone and trying to figure things out. I don’t think I would have been able to feel that in any other way. You need to go out there and be on your own. It’s different than being in familiar surroundings. To be on your own, actually try to speak another language and find your way around..

Karen: Has it built your confidence?

Michelle Oh definitely! I feel like I could do a lot now, pretty much anything!

Deborah: I agree with that. I feel like I could do anything now. Being in the lab, being in a sanitary, clean everything-right-there place vs. having to find stuff on your own and not being able to directly communicate with people was very difficult....just overall, I learned that you can do basically anything. It’s so different even from traveling in the US, going there. . . . I think it’s the best way to learn, to be honest with you. Outside the classroom, if you have the chance to do something like this, I would take it in a second!

Karen: What advice do you have for other students?

Michelle: Take advantage of every opportunity that you get. I’ve talked to so many people who tell me, I’d love to do something like that. But you have to go out of the way to prove that you’re capable of doing these things, that you’re really interested  . . .you have to go the extra mile.

Deborah: I would say… don’t be afraid just to go up to a professor and tell them you’re interested in doing something, that you want to be a part of. When I came in as a freshman, I was so scared, so afraid to go up to a professor and introduce myself. Now, I will approach a professor with confidence and just talk with them.

Karen: Tell me more about your mentor, Prof. Lwiza.

Michelle We’re lucky to have Kamazima. He’s amazing…. …he cares so much about his students. He genuinely cares … He wants students to get involved, to r eally make a difference and learn. He makes you want to learn.

Karen: I can see that your experiences in Tanzania have had a big impact ...

Michelle: It’s really hard to convey what you see, to share your experience sometimes. Anything you say doesn’t do it justice. It’s hard to even put into words. Even with pictures…it’s something that I have to keep in my head.

Deborah: Same thing. You come back and tell people some things that happened, they don’t believe you or understand ..

Michelle. To jump right back into your life here, that was the hardest part for me. Once I got back here, I started bawling, crying. It’s hard to adjust, hard to see people take for granted everything. It’s a whole different world. It’s unsettling to come back.

Deborah: I definitely changed from it. … one thing was food. You come back here – and you see how they give you so much food and half of it goes to waste. There you eat everything you’re given.

Karen: You’re more cognizant of excesses?

Deborah: Exactly. There, they re-use everything. And they use everything they find. Here we throw away something that would last for years there.

Michelle. I guess I’m just very emotional. A lot of times when someone starts a conversation about Tanzania, I start crying. It’s so hard not to cry. I just think about everything I’ve seen. …. What I found out also from the research is that malaria is such a big issue. I was under the impression that every child had a mosquito net. But more don’t than do. In the last village, this old woman was holding me, and she was so grateful that we were there. She said, "water is such an issue here but also malaria. I see kids every day. You see them shaking…" It’s because they have malaria ,and there's nothing they can do about it. They’re shivering, there’s nothing they can do…  

Deborah: The people don’t have money, they have no way of paying for medicine. Mosquito nets are supposed to be free from clinics. Oftentimes, they told us they had to pay a couple of shillings to get them. If they brought a child there that was sick, then they would get a mosquito net. You would have to go to the clinic and be sick and have malaria already in order to get a mosquito net from the government. . . . When you first get there, you’re in shock. When you come back, you’re like…wow I’m really lucky to have what I have. I’m more appreciative of everything, once I’ve experienced that.

I love to travel. I’ve been traveling since I was little. . . but I absolutely loved Tanzania. The people are so nice. I loved it there. That’s why I decided to go back after being there with Study Abroad in 2008. This time, I brought a full suitcase of soccer balls and cleats that were not very worn. Every village we went to, we gave a soccer ball. The children usually will make balls out of string-or just trash, and will kick that around. So when I gave them a real soccer ball, they didn’t stop smiling..

Michelle That’s definitely the best part of the country – the people by far. They’re so loving and welcoming. And the children.. they were overwhelmed with excitement to see us. They want to be your friend, no strings attached. I’ve traveled before. And I’ve never ever met people like this.