Internship takes senior to Thailand to teach English

September 24, 2013

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

For many, summer vacation means hanging out with friends and lying by the pool. But what if you could trade this for the opportunity to change the life of child in need?

Brett Troeger, a senior at Arizona State University in the Department of English, spent his summer in a remote Akha village in Thailand teaching young women and children how to speak English. Download Full Image

The internship was coordinated through ASU and Winnie Cain, an Arizona local, who founded the Ahka Women’s Foundation to empower the women within the Ahka village by providing them with education and health care programs that would otherwise be unavailable, due to a severe lack of finances. In fact, many Ahka girls are sold into prostitution by their families who are in desperate need of money.

To combat this harsh reality, Cain and students like Troeger dedicate their time to educating the girls so that they may secure paying jobs. For Troeger, the three-month endeavor left a lasting impact.

Upon arriving in the village, he was introduced to his host family and immediately began learning the local culture. Due to its remote location, locals have acquired a self-sustaining way of living. They grow their own crops and keep cattle as a food source. For entertainment, villagers enjoy playing soccer, something Troeger had in common as he once dreamed of playing the game professionally.

“I didn’t speak any Ahka and I was the only white person in the village, so I was almost like an outcast. Once I showed them that I could play soccer they began to respect me more. It was a great way to connect with them,” he said.

When he wasn’t playing soccer, the Indiana native spent his mornings teaching the schoolchildren. He tried to make each lesson plan fun and educational to keep the attention of the youngsters. However, Troeger says that he quickly saw a power-shift between boys and girls. After their morning lesson, the boys would leave and play games. The girls would stay to finish their schooling and then return to the village to work in the fields or do other chores.

“The girls do everything in the village. It’s amazing though, because they are so brilliant and studious. The foundation is the only opportunity they have for education and the chance of life outside of prostitution,” he said.

If his lessons were completed for the day, Troegar would often hike around and explore the land. He would also go fishing with his new friends and sit under the stars joking around. The group became so close that Troeger said he had to fight back tears when his journey ended.

“I’m definitely going back. I learned so much from them and had a great time. It was also rewarding to see them go from not speaking English to being able to tell me their name, age and things about themselves,” he said.

Now back in the United States, Troegar is working to complete his final year at ASU. He is still unsure of his exact career path, but is considering joining the Peace Corps or breaking into the travel writing business.

ASU research center receives Arizona Public Health Association recognition

September 24, 2013

The ASU Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center has been selected to receive the 2013 “Commitment to Underserved People” award by the Arizona Public Health Association. This award recognizes individuals and agencies for the delivery of health services to underserved populations in Arizona.

“We are honored to be recognized by the Arizona Public Health Association, a longstanding champion of community well-being” said Flavio Marsiglia, center director. “We have worked hard to ensure that our research findings are applied in the real world and can help address Arizona’s most pressing health problems, particularly among underserved populations. This award acknowledges the innovative and use-inspired intervention research efforts of our faculty, staff, students and community partners. ” Download Full Image

Among its major achievements, the center has developed a substance abuse curriculum for 6th-9th graders called Keepin’ it REAL, which has proven effective in preventing and reducing the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The curriculum has been adopted across the nation and other countries, and has been identified as a model program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Keepin’ it REAL has been culturally adapted to serve the needs of urban American Indian youth, resulting in a new intervention called Living in 2 Worlds. A supplemental parenting component for both versions of the intervention is under evaluation through randomized controlled trials.       

Among other projects, the center is conducting a community-based diabetes prevention research project, titled Every Little Step Counts, to determine the impact of structured physical activity and nutrition classes on insulin sensitivity and weight-specific quality of life in Latino adolescents. SIRC is also conducting health literacy efforts, such as a cardiovascular disease prevention project with African American men in partnership with Black barbershops and other health literacy initiatives within the diverse refugee communities of Phoenix.  

“We are so fortunate to have Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center as a local partner in health disparities research,” said Zipatly Mendoza, office chief of the Arizona Health Disparities Center of the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Their work truly emanates from our communities and they embrace partnership throughout the course of their research. I think that’s the secret to their success.”