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From Guyana with great ideas

By | Published Sat, September 17th 2011 at 00:00, Updated January 1st 1970 at 03:00 GMT +3

Dr Stacy Hope, 27, an inspirational anthropologist from South America, is in Kenya to share her vast knowledge on how to address the ravaging drought, writes NJOKI CHEGE

When she walks past you, her petite frame, warm spirit and down to earth attitude can fool you that she is just another ordinary Kenyan girl. But 27 year-old Dr Stacy Hope is no Kenyan but an anthropologist from little known Co-operative Republic of Guyana, located on the northern coast of South America.

Dr Stacy Hope

Stacy is on a mission in the country to share her vast knowledge with government and other stakeholders on how to address the ravaging drought in Northern Kenya.

Stacy was touched by the ‘Kenyans for Kenya’ initiative to raise funds to feed hungry Kenyans in Turkana.

"‘The Kenyans for Kenya’ initiative was not just about fighting poverty, but also for humanity. I hope Kenyans will use that spirit to build Kenya," says Stacy.

To find out the root cause of drought in the country, Stacy is conducting a research focusing on Turkana and Samburu.

"The study seeks to understand the lives of the Turkana and Samburu people vis a vis the environment. It will help Kenya manage drought from a social perspective," she says.

peace building

Stacy is also rooting for long-term sustainable strategies to fight drought. She is working with various institutions in Kenya on this project.

Her research was sponsored by Sponsored Arts For Education (Safe), a charity that uses theatre and performance to communicate HIV and Aids, peace building and environmental sustainability.

"The director, Nick Reding invited me to conduct a research in Samburu for a week on the social issues facing the locals," she explains.

This took her to Maralal and Sirata, but due to perpetual rainfall, her trips to Baragoi and beyond were hindered.

During her first week, she volunteered one Saturday with Ahadi Trust on their anti-jiggers campaign, and is now working with Safaricom Foundation on documenting best practices within their economic empowerment framework.

Stacy is also working with Kenya Red Cross Society to research on the social implications of the agricultural activities around the Tana River.

Investment in agriculture, she says, is key in boosting Africa’s food security.

"It is possible to grow crops in Turkana and Samburu, if only we have proper water management and implementation strategies," she says.

According to her, for this to happen, it calls for greater participation from public and private sector.

Although she is in Kenya for a short while, she hopes to come back again.

"When I come back, I hope to work with different organisations on sustainable strategies to alleviate poverty," she says.

So who is this determined and driven woman?

Born and raised in Guyana, the 27-year-old doctor is the first born in a family of three children.

In high school, she was the head prefect, a member of the national volleyball and tennis.

After high school, at the age of 16, she left Guyana for the USA for her undergraduate studies at St Mary’s College.

"It was here that I explored my passion for people," she says.

Stacy studied Cultural Anthropology— the branch of anthropology that focuses on the cultural variations among human beings.

Together with two of her professors, the energetic don created the major ‘Ancient Studies’ that encompassed Philosophy, Art History, Ancient History, Literature and Cassical Music of selected cultures.

"The major was specific to me, it comprised all the things I loved about the world and the people within it. A variation of the major has been continued since then," she affirms.

Culture and people

Three years later, in 2004, she moved to Scotland, UK, for her postgraduate studies in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, which she completed in a year.

Here, she further explored her own ideas on culture and people.

After her Masters degree, she pursued a PhD in Social Anthropology at the same university.

For her PhD research, Stacy lived in the Amazon among the Wapichannao community located at the border of Brazil and Guyana.

Says she: "The focus of my research was marginalised communities and how society and the government perceived them. For 18 months, I lived with the indigenous community of Wapichannao learning about their way of life."

During that time, Stacy slept in a hammock (a hanging bed), showered in the open, dressed modestly, braided her hair and learnt Wapichan, the local language.

She says of the experience, "It was amazing. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I learnt Portuguese as I assumed they spoke it, only to realise that they spoke Wapichan and English. However, I didn’t let my Portuguese go to waste and taught the adults and high school students the language. I was paid using wild deer meat, fruits, cassava and other vegetables."

She learnt about the indigenous community’s work ethic — they hate laziness.

She recounts one experience: "One afternoon, I came home from teaching and found the older women grating poisonous cassava, which they had started doing even before I left for school. I changed my clothes and went into the hut and started grating for ten minutes until one of the husbands came in. I looked up and began to feel faint and dizzy. I dropped the cassavas and said ‘it’s not that I am lazy, but I am feeling a little ill’. The women laughed and said ‘Miss Stacy, it’s the poison’. I felt so foolish I sought refuge in my hammock."

To complement her research, Stacy discovered that the mainstream society portrayed the local community as a people of the ‘past’.

The unrelenting doctor who got her PhD at the tender age of 24 has worked at different organisations such as the Ministry of Education in Guyana, Conservation International, a London based mining company and has also been a visiting fellow at the University of St Andrews (Scotland).

She is currently a visiting fellow at the University of East London, UK.

She is also a book review editor for the largest online anthropology network in the world, The Open Anthropology Corporation.

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