By Shelby Weiss
I am an undergraduate at CSU and have had the pleasure of working as an intern for the CCC since the fall of 2011. This semester, I decided to study abroad in Tanzania with SIT on their program for Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology. In the past, my job at the CCC has mostly been working online- either with Facebook/twitter or the CCLN. So I was excited to get away from computers for awhile and come to Tanzania to see how many of the issues and conflicts in conservation have played out (or not played out) in the past and present here. And of course to spend some time viewing all the amazing animals that many a wildlife biology major dreams about.
So far, I have been in Tanzania for 7 weeks and have seen and learned an incredible amount- both culturally and ecologically (and sometimes both at once). It has been exciting, however, at times I have been frustrated by the corruption that exists here and how obvious it can be as to whose interests are being served in certain situations. It has also been quite eye-opening and unsettling to have been made aware of my own power and privilege here just by being an American tourist and student. This is made particularly clear too by the many calls of “mzungu!” that our group gets wherever we go. It has also been something that I’ve been considering too as I have been planning a small research project here as a part of my program’s curriculum.
My project will involve interviewing farmers who live in a wildlife corridor that connects Ngorogoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park, and Tarangire National Park to gain their perceptions on crop raiding and their feelings about Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), who they have been told to seek out help from in the event of conflicts with wildlife. I am hoping to then look at the spatial distribution of these perceptions. I have spent a fun week doing preparation for this, going around a few of the villages and sitting down with some of the farmers (with the help of my translator, who often introduces me as coming from the country of Obama) to ask sample interview questions. What I am stuck on though, is how can I make the work I am doing here a benefit to the communities that I am working in?
For the past few days, during my interviews, I was asked time and again, what help they can expect from me and what my research will do for them. This area has had many researchers asking similar questions to what I am asking, so this was not an unexpected question. I think many farmers are probably tired of not seeing results from the research they help with. My response was to be open with my results and make sure that the villagers can see a copy of whatever I produce (which I’m hoping will be a perceptions map of sorts). However, I have not been very satisfied with this as an answer. My project is extremely small and very short – I will only be able to interview people for 20 days, so it has been hard for me to see how what I am doing can have real benefits for the communities. It’s something that I will probably continue to struggle with for rest of the time that I am here, but I have two weeks before I officially begin my research, so I thought I could open it up for discussion here on the CCLN and see if anyone has thoughts about this topic since this is my first time doing this kind of research.
Thanks for any of your comments!!