University of Vermont

Students Share Research on South Asia

UVM junior Daniel Rosenblum spent the summer of 2012 in India researching street children. He has an interest, he says, in "social processes and structural insufficiencies and how that relates to youth." (Photo courtesy of Rosenblum)

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 "street children" live within Delhi and as many as 18 million within the nation of India, reported junior Daniel Rosenblum during a presentation of student research he organized this month. Rosenblum spent the past summer in India, gathering first-hand accounts of the reasons children migrate from rural villages to urban areas in the country, either by running away alone or with other children, moving with family or via trafficking.

It was a topic that piqued his interest as a first-year student in anthropologist Jonah Steinberg's "Street Children" course. Rosenblum was so drawn to the topic, he spent the following year pursuing independent study with advising from Steinberg, whose research focus is on the Indian subcontinent and its diasporas, particularly society's most marginal members, including street children. Steinberg's four-year research project on child runaways in India, one element of which Rosenblum chose to take up and take in his own direction, is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

The independent study would prepare Rosenblum to make a compelling -- and successful -- case for securing undergraduate research funding at UVM from URECA (Undergraduate Research Endeavors Competitive Awards), APLE (Academic Programs for Learning and Engagement) and the Anthropology Department. With university funding in hand, he made the journey to India, ready to learn the finer points of ethnographic research in the most effective -- and nerve-wracking -- way possible: by diving in.

That was a point Steinberg highlighted during his opening remarks at the February presentation of research -- which included a summary of Rosenblum's work as well as work by three other UVM undergraduates who have traveled to South Asia to pursue research. "All four have done something extraordinary for students -- or even for human beings," he said, praising their willingness to travel abroad and put themselves in sometimes uncomfortable and difficult positions for the sake of a unique educational experience. "You were there, and you dove in," Steinberg said.

Diving in

For senior Peter Grunawalt, who conducted field research in India's Himalayan region through the Brattleboro, Vt.-based School for International Training (SIT), one uncomfortable moment came when setting out on a research excursion to a village with no pre-arranged shelter. Eventually, housing was secured with the help of his translator, and Grunawalt was able to spend time in the area, speaking with residents about the factors affecting youth migration. His presentation, "Why are Cities the Only Place for Dreams? Rural to Urban Migration in India," delved into the farming practices and educational structures, among other considerations, contributing to the growing influx of youth to urban areas in the northern Indian region.

Senior Sarah Gallalee, who also studied abroad through SIT, spoke on "Analyzing the Barriers that Prevent Access to Diagnosis and Treatment for Tuberculosis in Dehradun, India." Tuberculosis, a treatable and curable disease, is still among the deadliest agents in the country. Gallalee conducted interviews with patients, officials and health workers and pursued spatial analysis research using geographic information systems to look at reasons why tuberculosis persists as a public health problem even when India has taken measures to improve its policies regarding treatment and reporting. One barrier became apparent to Gallalee when speaking with young women who reported the stigma surrounding the illness -- one that "could destroy chances of a proper marriage." This factor and others, such as religious misconceptions and loss of working time, she said, are among the barriers that still exist to both diagnosis and treatment.

Sophomore Benjamin Ryan discussed two independent trips he's taken to Bangladesh, one during high school and one during a gap year prior to enrolling at UVM. Ryan discussed the fledgling research he conducted in slums that sparked his decision to found a non-governmental organization, the Foundation for Climate Change Refugees. Conducting surveys among residents of slums, Ryan learned that many of its inhabitants had been displaced due to the effects of global climate change. Bangladesh, with its sea-level elevation and geography that makes it prone to typhoons, is considered "ground zero" of global warming, and its people, Ryan said, all already feeling the effects. "Climate change is not something we have to be concerned about in the future," Ryan said. "It's something that impacts people every day. It's a contemporary issue."


The four students had met last fall about their mutual interest in contemporary issues in South Asia. Rosenblum organized the research forum, with support from the Anthropology Department, as a way to share their work with a broader audience as well as with each other. After their presentations, they answered questions from Steinberg as well as attendees, and spoke with each other on issues ranging from their personal health and safety while traveling to areas of common findings among their work.

Rosenblum's research on street children focused on agricultural antecedents to childhood migration, so his work, although dealing with a different region of India, had strong overlap with Grunawalt's. He was also particularly interested in Ryan's findings regarding climate change as a cause for migration since their areas of focus share a river system, similar weather patterns, and increased occurrence of natural disasters, Rosenblum explained.

Rosenblum has plans to pull his notes and interviews together into a research paper and hopes to one day return to India. "I definitely think I'll go back," he says. "I have a lot of connections and ties there now."   

In the meantime, he'll continue his global research on this side of the hemisphere: he departs this week with SIT for a semester abroad in Buenos Ares, Argentina.