Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Burning with passion for the world

The burners are on high for Marshall Scholar Shivani Jain, whether she's cooking for the homeless in Atlanta or using art to teach environmental education in Africa.

“My father always told me that you should burn with passion and love for the rest of the world. You should take what you learn outside of yourself and apply it,” says Shivani Jain. The Emory senior is taking that advice to heart, planting seeds of change from Atlanta to Africa as she blazes through a degree in sociology.

Jain recently received a Marshall Scholarship for advanced studies in Britain. She plans to study global health and economic development at University College London, health policy at Cambridge University, and infectious disease control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“I still can’t believe I got it,” Jain says of the highly competitive, all-inclusive scholarship. “It’s starting to sink in.”

Jain grew up in greater New Orleans. Her father came from Punjab, India, and her mother is from Calcutta. She was a junior at an all-girl’s Catholic high school when Hurricane Katrina hit, sending her off to boarding school in northern Louisiana.

“It didn’t make sense for me to be at home anymore,” Jain says. “My school was closed and the city was like a war zone.”

Being uprooted and sent to the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts “turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Jain says. “I was exposed to much more diversity, in terms of the students’ varied religious and ethnic backgrounds.”

Jain began her Emory career at Oxford College, thinking she would major in political science, until she enrolled in a class taught by sociologist Michael McQuaide. The course on globalization and the developing world included a trip to a remote village in Ecuador. “It changed my world view,” Jain says. “The people there are much more connected to their natural environment. Their health system is rooted in shamanistic ideology.”
Trying on Kente cloth in Ghana. Jain's field work in Ghana inspired her to create a non-profit organization, RISE Glocal.

Her love of cooking led Jain to help organize the Emory Culinary Club, which feeds the homeless and assists organic farmers. Her interest in women’s issues and theater inspired her to direct, produce and act in “The Vagina Monologues,” aimed at preventing sexual violence. Her involvement with the Barkley Forum debate team moved her to teach debating skills to teens in inner-city Atlanta.

“I like to use what I’m learning in the classroom,” Jain says.

Under the guidance of Emory sociologist Tracy Scott, Jain interned at hospital wards in greater London, and did comparative studies of health systems in the U.S and the U.K. Last year, she traveled to Ghana, to assist in a study of water sanitation policies in the capitol of Accra. She interviewed people who lived in slums, without latrines or running water.

“Many people didn’t see a problem with their children wading in the gutter water, even though they knew it was dirty,” Jain says.

Staggering deficits in education, infrastructure and policies may seem hopeless to some, but to Jain, they signal a call to action. So Jain and Neema Iyer, a graduate student in the Rollins School of Public Health, founded a non-government organization, RISE Glocal. It uses creative arts to bypass culture and language barriers and connect people to health and environmental education through their own music, poetry and drama. Based in the United States, RISE Glocal now operates in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Jordan and Mexico.

“I’m pretty busy,” Jain concedes. “In general, my thoughts are racing. Sometimes being so involved means you sacrifice other things, but I enjoy what I do and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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