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Sunday, October 17, 2021

New seminar next quarter outlines infrastructure of orphanages

On an average day, most people aren’t thinking about the lives of orphan children in Sudan or Saudi Arabia who are possibly experiencing a life of political turmoil, social unrest and dangerously unhealthy living conditions.

But, after over six months of research digging deep into the lack of international standards for orphanages across the globe, three UC Davis students have joined with the Experimental College to offer a “Capturing the Orphan Crisis” seminar next quarter.

“I’ve never had a job where I was searching through pictures and need to cry all of a sudden,” said Lindsey Black, a fourth-year history major and student researcher. “There are some really devastating things that just have to be known and that’s why we decided to do the seminar.”

The free-of-cost seminar will be put on through the Experimental College’s Alternative Learning Project for the entire Winter Quarter.

“The experimental college is an outlet for individuals to share what they’re passionate about in an informal, open setting,” said Stacey Lee, Experimental College course coordinator and fourth-year international relations major, in an email interview. “The goal of the Alternative Learning Project is to bring back learning new knowledge as an extra-curricular.”

The hired researchers, third-year English and history double major Naomi Nishihara, fourth-year international relations major Emerald Shilengudwa and Black, will act as professors for the series, which is open to the general public.

However, before the idea of the seminar was even fathomed, civil engineering professor Debbie Niemeier hired the students to research orphanage infrastructures across the globe and the laws that govern them.

“I have three kids who were adopted and I worked in Africa so I wanted to combine those interests together,” Niemeier said. “I wanted [researchers] who didn’t look at this from an engineering perspective.”

The research idea is also backed by Article 27 of the United Nations 1992 document Rights of the Child. Although the article discusses a few features of orphan care, it does not talk about orphanages or orphan housing.

Each of the researchers focused on three countries for study, totaling nine nations spread across most continents. Studies included each country’s social and economic state, as well as political influences and cultural aspects for the purpose of going into every facet that can potentially affect orphans’ lives.

“It was really eye-opening, just how incredibly different orphanages are,” Black said. “[I think] trying to figure out what you can do about it is the most crucial factor. The most important thing is how you can make a difference in the world.”

The research also included how developed each country’s infrastructure is, including the orphanages’ size, capacity and safety. When the researchers started writing a paper outlining their work, Black said they were all looking for a way to share the information with other people.

“When we talked to friends about the work we were doing they always seemed really interested and surprised at the information,” Black said. “It was actually a really mutual creation of ‘how can we tell others?’”

Black said the trio thought about creating a club or outreach group but saw flyers for the Alternative Learning Project and decided to apply for a seminar instead.

“[We thought] if we taught a seminar, we could let people know what we learned and what we are thinking and how college students can make a difference,” Black said. “It also seems like such a rare and incredible opportunity as an undergraduate to have.”

After Black and Nishihara presented the course outline to Lee, Lee said she was very pleased with their work.

“I immediately accepted the proposal, because I believe it is crucial for the public to have access to classes on contemporary social issues,” Lee said in an email. “In the 1970’s, the Experimental College offered ethnic and women’s studies classes, which were considered very progressive and revolutionary at the time. Right now, we decided to restore the original philosophy of giving the public an alternate voice in education, and this seminar does exactly that.”

A different country will be discussed in each lecture, allowing registered students to attend at their leisure with separate discussions every week.

“It’s terrific, it’s very interesting and I’ve learned some stuff that I never knew,” Niemeier said. “They are going to lay the groundwork for some really interesting discussion. This is their gig, and I think they will do a terrific job of it.”

Black said she is both nervous and excited to teach because she has listened to some amazing lectures, as well as some boring ones.

“I think the biggest thing is that we really care about the research that we have done,” Black said. “If I was trying to teach to [a] math class, I’m pretty sure it would be tragic. But we are all really engaged and interested in this, so it should be really great.”

Both Lee and Black said the information to be covered in the lecture series is pertinent to all majors and interests.

“I believe this seminar will garner a lot of interest from a wide audience — social activism tends to bridge together many people,” Lee said. “The material presented is thought-provoking, in the sense that we gain a broader understanding of the living circumstances of the underprivileged, in relation to their own communities and governments.”

In Black’s opinion, students should register for the seminar because knowing about social issues in the lives of other human beings is important.

“I think it’s hard to know how to help people if you don’t know where they are or how to help them. It’s important to be informed about the best possible ways to help other people,” Black said. “It’s really powerful and nice for us to learn about the world we are going to go out into after we graduate.”

The seminar will be held every Thursday of Winter Quarter starting on Jan. 17 from 7 to 8 p.m. To register, use class number 928-1 at ecollege.ucdavis.edu/courses/catalog?group=210.

RITIKA IYER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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