By Kate Rix
Given every year to graduating seniors working on projects that heighten social consciousness and the public good, the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize aims to promote idealism and hope. For 2011-12, five new Berkeley graduates have been chosen from a competitive pool of applicants. Each prizewinner will use the award money to make a difference in the lives of others, either here in the United States or overseas.
Christopher Ategeka’s project aims to improve opportunities for children and adults in Uganda with a new program to distribute bicycles. Margaux Fitoussi hopes to protect citizens in the Democratic Republic of Congo by improving the documentation of human-rights abuse. Through an oral history project, Hector Gutierrez will preserve the life-stories of undocumented day laborers in California. To educate Kenyan consumers, Lauren Herman will create a consumer guide to micro-credit programs. Ekaterina Moiseeva hopes to bring attention to the growing number of young Russian women traveling to East Asia as sex workers by creating an ethnographic study.
“The passion and intelligence of Berkeley’s undergraduates are inspiring,” said Janet Broughton, dean of arts and humanities in Berkeley’s College of Letters and Science. “The Stronach Prize enables the award-winners to make a real difference in the world—and to stretch themselves while they serve others.”
Established by Berkeley professor of architecture Raymond Lifchez, the Stronach Prize celebrates the achievements of his late wife. Trained in art history, Judith Lee Stronach was a journalist for Amnesty International, an East Bay poetry teacher, and a patron of numerous arts, education, and charitable organizations. The Stronach Prize commemorates her commitment to lifelong intellectual and creative growth.
“Professor Lifchez has achieved a remarkable vision by creating the Stronach Prize,” says Broughton. “It is at once a beautiful tribute to Judith Lee Stronach and a way to enable extraordinary Berkeley students to make their own contributions in her spirit of generosity and engagement.”
Pedal or Power
Christopher Ategeka’s journey to Berkeley began when he was a child in rural Uganda where he walked to school every day, barefoot, rain or shine. Life was hard, particularly after both of Ategeka’s parents died and he had to take care of his five younger siblings. He was able to come to California to join a host family in 2006.
When he was seventeen and still living in his rural community he got his first bicycle.
“I vividly remember how my life was drastically changed,” he writes. “I started attending a better school, my grades improved tremendously, and having a bicycle helped expose me to the world outside the little village where I grew up.”
Ategeka wants to make bicycles available to children and adults in Western Uganda. Basic services are very far apart. A thing as simple as a bicycle can have profound effect on people’s lives, he says, improving their educational and job opportunities as well as their access to health care.
The Pedal or Power project will prepare used and new bikes for distribution to people in need, including orphans, healthcare workers and people with HIV/AIDS. The project also includes plans to help local people maintain, repair and even build their own bicycles.
“My desire is to help keep children in school, help healthcare workers reach out to more patients and ultimately ease poverty,” Ategeka writes.
Transforming Radio Operators into Human Rights Reporters
History major Margaux Fitoussi was working at the University of Cape Town in South Africa’s Refugee Law Clinic verifying information in asylum applications when she came across paperwork for a young man named Emmanuel. He had fled his native Congo and was seeking asylum and protection from a militant group in the region.
Fitoussi worked on Emmanuel’s case, but also became involved with a non-profit that attempts to alert local communities when militants are nearby. A communications system utilizing high frequency radio stations in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo helps villages contact one another for help when rebel groups threaten to abduct children as soldiers—and prevents the danger that led Emmanuel to flee.
“My project will increase the effectiveness of a communication system that could save countless lives,” writes Fitoussi. Her project includes plans to train the radio reporters how to track the militant group’s movements, in effect turning them into human rights reporters, “crucially taking the element of surprise out of [militant] attacks.”
Fitoussi plans to conduct the trainings in French. Her goal is that the program could become a pilot program for similar projects in the Central African Republic and southern Sudan.
Permanent Workers in the Temporary Economy
As a participant in Berkeley’s Haas and McNair scholar programs for undergraduates, Hector Gutierrez immersed himself in a scholarly analysis of the role day laborers play in local economies and communities.
He grew up in California’s Central Valley. Now a graduating senior, he plans to expand his research to include the Central Valley as well as the major cities of Southern California.
“I focused on the lived experience of a select group as they dealt with the reality of being both undocumented and increasingly under-employed,” Gutierrez writes. “I examined the ways in which these men used and created their support networks for strategies of survival in the face of the current economic downturn.”
He identified what he calls “cooperative dependency” in which the men rely on each other like members of a street family.
His goal is to expand his research to include the impact of law enforcement and surveillance on day laborers. He plans to produce a short documentary film, an anthology of oral histories, a website where the stories will be available and a published anthology of photographs.
“Given that over the past several decades the U.S. has been marked by an increase in the enforcement, arrest and incarceration of immigration related offenses,” write Gutierrez, “it is now more important than ever to offer a counter narrative of the day labor experience.”
Expanding the Realm of Consumer Protection
While working in rural Kenya with a program that gives small loans to local business owners, Lauren Herman became aware of the hazards of borrowing.
A tailor named Mary took out a loan to help finance her small business. When she became ill and had to stop working, she eventually lost her clients and her business failed. Under mounting debt and hardship, Mary continued to make payments on her loan—out of fear—despite the fact that her loan contract provided an emergency postponement option.
“She wanted to avoid the various repercussions that other women borrowers she knew had experienced when they defaulted on their micro credit loans,” Herman writes, “including social tension, physical abuse from husbands, loss of friends and loss of household items.”
Herman realized that while there is a regulatory framework for micro credit institutions, borrowers either may not understand their rights or may need more robust consumer advocacy to exercise them.
She plans to create a consumer index of micro credit programs based on interviews with borrowers, consumer advocates, Kenyan lawyers and finally the loan officers themselves. Drawing upon her research, she will create booklets and a web-based guide that will be translated into Swahili and various dialects.
“There exists a great deficiency in the realm of consumer education and legal protection for micro credit borrowers that results in the marginalization of women,” says Herman. “Once the consumer index is established in Kenya, the model can be applied and duplicated in other regions to contribute toward worldwide transparency in microfinance.”
The Dark Side of Russian ‘High End’ Prostitution
Ekaterina Moiseeva has both an academic and a personal interest in the burgeoning market for Russian prostitutes in Asia. A former Haas Scholar, she traveled to Russia and Japan for a research project called “The Russian Geisha.” As a girl growing up in Russia, she watched many classmates and friends become “high end” prostitutes.
“High end prostitution among Russians is socially accepted and often encouraged by women’s parents and spouses,” Moiseeva writes. Yet, these women face “as much dehumanization and abuse as trafficked women/children from South East Asia and India.”
Moiseeva plans to create an ethnographic account of the high end prostitution by capturing the intimate details of the lives of women leading often luxurious lives as paid sex partners. She wants to document the phenomenon of Russian “lover schools” where girls as young as fifteen can be trained for lives of prostitution. She also plans extend her study to the experiences of Russian prostitutes in China and South Korea, where the work is more dangerous.
Moiseeva is aware that her own safety, following and interviewing prostitutes as they go about their lives, could be at risk. All interviews will take place in public settings.
“I may not be able to stop border officials’ corruption, or eliminate all organized crimes that benefit from prostitution,” she writes, “but I am willing and prepared to deliver stories that could prevent other women from being lured into sex work in any form.”
For more information about the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, visit http://research.berkeley.edu/stronach/.