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2002 > May
Scholars work together to help the world's children
The plight of children around the world—children suffering from violence, displacement and starvation—was described during a day-long conference sponsored by the Tufts University Center for Children during which President Lawrence S. Bacow urged scholars to work together collaboratively to help children.
At TUCC's fourth annual conference, held April 10 in Ballou Hall on the Medford/Somerville campus, researchers from throughout the university presented work ranging from whether dogs can alleviate distress in children visiting the dentist to the effect of war on children and families.
The featured speakers were Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, professor of public health practice at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Dr. Barry Levy, adjunct professor of family medicine and community health at Tufts School of Medicine. Prothrow-Stith told the audience that violence must be viewed as a societal disease that can be prevented through public health strategies rather than as a law-and-order issue.
Levy talked about the physical, psychological and sexual impact that war has on children. He co-authored a paper on child prostitution published in the April edition of the journal Lancet. UNICEF estimates that of the world's 10 million children, one million are sold into sexually slavery each year, sometimes by family members.
Community of scholars
The scholars' presentations were offered by Jayanthi J. Mistry, associate professor of child development; Rosalind H. Shaw, associate professor of anthropology; and Paula Aymer, associate professor of sociology. The three presented vignettes from their research and discussed how culture is learned. They were introduced by Drusilla Brown, associate professor of economics and a founder of the Community of Scholars.
Mistry talked about how societal institutions maintain cultural patterns. She discussed strategies parents use in two peasant and two middle-class communities around the world. She noted that in some cultures, children are part of the adult world, helping to take care of younger children and perhaps remaining near parents who are working in fields.
Understanding cultural context
Aymer studied immigration from the eastern Caribbean to Venezuela and Aruba, where migrants work in the oil industry. She studied how the women who worked took care of their children and found they used extended family to find child care, including lending their children to other women. "What do host countries owe workers who are dedicated and hard working?" she asked. "What do school systems owe these children and families who are on the margins?"
Shaw looked at Freetown in Sierra Leone, studying youth who joined the Pentecostal churches. Many of these youth have been displaced by war and have witnessed the death of a parent or sibling. "With religion, they created a spiritual war between good and bad that they could control," Shaw said. "A world view of light versus dark was used to reshape their lives."
In the same way, he said, "we must find ways to come together to address the fundamental questions of development and find a common language in which to discuss them…We have done a good job of tunneling down within a discipline. Where we [Tufts University] can make a contribution is to make connections across disciplines."