Friday, February 27, 2009

Nicaragua part Duex: Follow Ups, Researching, and Connecting

Follow Ups

I will be spending time at CISAS (the organization featured in the manuscript and DVD) and following up with the HIV Self Help Group and the individuals I interviewed last year. (See photo album on side bar for Nicaragua)


Besides updating my research, I will be paying particular attention to the local perspective of Obama and the economic crisis. Also, what effects the locals have seen since the economic downturn (reduced numbers of people leaving, less money being sent home, people returning etc). Lastly, I will be meeting with a microfinance center that works with Kiva to learn more about how they operate, the relationship with the organization, and to see if there are any Kiva fellows around to interview.


1. I will be helping a group of college students from Fairfield University with their field research during the week. There are two students researching women’s roles and rights post Sandinista revolution and another comparing the HIV incidence rates between Honduras and Nicaragua. I have set up meetings and interviews as resources for the students. I will be joining the group from time to time for field visits, group presentations, and introducing them to the famous Sandinista music and spirit of León.

2. I will be blogging, facebooking, and tweeting (under ID - Marcoambrosio) everyday while in country. It will be the best way for anyone to ask questions, comment, or contact me. I will also be traveling for the first time with the much buzzed and raved about Flip Video Camera . This will allow me to post videos of cultural notes, historical notes, and advocacy events of CISAS.

Make sure you visit because until March 10th there will be something new everyday (barring any electronic or technical misfortunes)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Emailed Question

I recently received an email from a senior sociology major from Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX. This is an exceprt from her email. "I would love to know more about your research and about your experiences. What interested you in doing such research and what methods did you employ? It seems a bit incredible to have conducted so many interviews across such distance. I look forward to hearing from you and about your experiences." - I decided to post my response.

Hello Tristine,

Thanks for the email. As you can imagine the answer is quite long. But in regards to methods and interviewing - I had separate meetings with an HIV/AIDS sociologist from Fairfield University, two infectious disease doctors (one of which ran a clinic in East Africa), and lastly a few phone conversations with a journalist from the Wall St. Journal. The sociologist helped me with setting up the depth and scope of the interviews, the doctors with research questions they thought would be relevant, and then the journalist taught me the "rules and standards of the trade". Each person looked over the consent forms that I created to make sure both the research and interviewing was done with expressed written consent given the personal nature of the work. I am happy to report that many interviewees have consented to use of identifiable pictures which provides a personal connection for the reader. It is the individuals I have met and interviewed that make my work special. Their voices, pictures, and stories are challenging and powerful.

Much of my questions stemmed from my personal experience interning in Nicaragua during college at CISAS and my work with FACEAIDS - a student run initiative to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and conduct advocacy/fundraising in the US. They do a marvelous job at keeping students informed with the latest studies. They also make sure the human component and socio-political underpinning reach their audience.

I would be happy to answer any questions you may have or share any experience with the research. It would appear a daunting task to conduct research in these different regions of the world but I have worked diligently to personally raise the funds, connect with the proper organizations, and count on the support of family, friends, and donors to continue my work. I am particularly indebted to the Emily C. Specchio Foundation who opened an account for my fundraising efforts and the Jesuit community. Many of my stays abroad have been through the vast Jesuit network.

Lastly in regard to the project. I invite you to use the photo bar on the right to locate past entries of my time in each country. Also I am proud to have produced an educational and inspiring DVD that features individuals and organizations I have covered around the world. Much of the DVD is comprised of my own photos, videos, and interviews. So far it has been purchased by people across the country (CA, MN, NJ, & CT).

Thank you for the email. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Marco Ambrosio

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Educational and Inspiring DVD Seeks to Promote Hope in the Global HIV Struggle

Ever since I started traveling the emails and the Facebook messages have come in from people wanting to know more about the country I was in, the organization I was covering, or a story that I found profound. They wanted more than the writings and photos on the blog. They wanted a deeper connection. I thought what can I do? The not so secret answer is the “Hope & Global HIV” DVD.

I produced the DVD through the videos, photos, and interviews I conducted while in country. It will not win a Hi-Definition award for best documentary but I promise it will intrigue, inform and move a viewer. It has two objectives. The first is to educatethe audience about global HIV/AIDS but to also provide interesting cultural and historical notes on each country. It is also full of links and country specific music providing depth and launching sites for independent googling later. The second is to inspire by highlighting the story of an organization or an individual that is building hope through action. The Ruths of California, Marias of Nicaragua, and Daxas of India will provide poignant examples that we must never underestimate the power of the individual to greatly impact their community.

Each of the five countries has there own chapter in the DVD and I have shown the Rwanda, Nicaragua, and San Francisco chapters at presentations in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, and Connecticut to the exact reviews I hoped for. “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “Powerful”. I have already sold a third of the first production batch and I am immensely proud of the reviews and feedback from the DVD. Anything that both high school teenagers and adults find intriguing and powerful is a feat by itself!

I have personally raised all funds for my research and work. Much of it has been channeled through the Emily C. Specchio Foundation to ensure tax-deductible donations. The DVD is available for $20 and can be purchased via credit card on the Right Side Bar or if you wish to make it tax-deductible then it can be purchased via a donation to the foundation that clearly marks “Ambrosio HIV Project”. Thank you for the continued support!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Speaking Updates

I am pleased to announce I will be guest lecturing at Fairfield University twice in February.

Feb 17 – Course: Nursing
Topic: Researching in Nicaragua: Expectations and Cultural Sensitivity

Feb 18 – Course: Justice in the Developing World: Nicaragua
Topic – Healthcare in Nicaragua: Role of Non-Governmental Orgs.

Last week I presented “Faith in Action” to the Senior Class at Regis High School in NYC. I was very impressed with the service learning and service opportunities afforded to students at the school. I am currently working on a blog entry regarding my experience at Regis. The entry is a reflective piece stemming from a question I routinely get following a presentation - How did this all first start?

I've added the Twitter feature to the side bar and invite people to follow me on the newest rage in social media. My twitter name is Marcoambrosio

Monday, February 2, 2009

Science and Rice – A Mixture Saving Lives

Genetic Engineering a Valued Partner in Fighting Hunger, Famine, and Death

During yesterday’s Super Bowl a commercial stated 1 in 3 children are overweight in the United States. Almost immediately I thought of the countless children I met in the streets of Nicaragua or villages in India who had red patches in their hair – a universal mark of protein deficiency. It is said that nearly half of world’s population depends on rice as a staple food. Rice equals life for an alarming percentage of that half. It is at times one of the few barriers between life and starvation or starvation and death. If so many people, including the worlds poorest consume rice then how can we make it go further and do more? Scientists, particularly geneticists, have moved into the forefront to answering these questions.

Applying advances in science to real life use is sometimes controversial. Say the word genetic engineering and cloned sheep may jump to mind, but science when used for the greater good (admittedly a matter of perspective and relativity) can wind up to be a match made in heaven. If countless millions of men, women, and children suffer from malnutrition, chronic illnesses, and die due to lack of access to food, then should not science be used to answer the call?

One breakthrough response has been “golden rice” – rice that has been genetically altered to contain (express in genetic terms) beta-carotene. The beta-carotene provides vitamin A to the eater. According to the World Health Organization, vitamin A deficiency is responsible for 250,000 to 500,000 children going blind a year; half of which die within a year as a result of their blindness. The project’s objective is to provide a day’s worth of vitamin A in rice rich societies through enhancing what they already have available. It is worth visiting the Golden Rice Project to read about the how, why, and what is next of the work.

In 2008 soaring rice prices, due to higher energy costs (think fertilizers and transportation costs) and failed crop yields (both droughts and floods), left many developing countries and international food programs in dangerous and life threatening scenarios. One hopes the tipping point has been reached for renewable energy sources but one auspicious answer to the failing crop yields is “flood-tolerant rice”. In this case, geneticists have been attempting to alter genes to increase resistance of rice succumbing to flooding from the normal three days to up to seventeen. Scientists say flooding is responsible for ruining an “estimated 4 million tons of rich each year; enough to feed 30 million people”. Targeting flood prone sectors and introducing the genetically altered rice could present a viable solution for increasing access to a vital basic staple.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in both Golden Rice and flood tolerant rice is passing the taste test of the locals and yield productivity measures of the farmers. Both projects took several years going through testing and trials because as with any gene altering or biotechnological project substantial testing and quality assurance is critical in both protecting the consumer and the local ecosystem. Unfortunately at times confidence wanes when programs are driven by profits and not social and corporate responsibility. It seems daily we are reminded of irresponsible acts of profit driven business executives or FDA announcements of salmonella outbreaks in tomatoes and peanut butter. Finally, one can not forget the viral video on Youtube of diseased cattle in the meat packing line. It makes understanding the delay and the lengthy debates regarding biotechnology understandable, but the future of hunger and malnourishment changes with each potential experiment.

Whether it was with red beans in Nicaragua (known as Gallo Pinto), curry and cilantro in India, plain in Rwanda, or as a bed for other foods to be served on in Thailand, the ubiquity, demand, and importance of rice left quite the impression on me. Food plays such a vital role in maintaining health and a dignified level of life that my experiences made realizing the breakthrough potential of these discoveries an a-ah moment; one where it seemed to make clear sense. The advances of science utilized to address such basic global and human needs, particularly food and health remind me of a quote that summarizes much of my outlook on science that has stayed with me throughout my education: “Talent is a loan from God for relief of man’s estate”.