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The C.A.R.E Program: Student Research

Fundación ECO provides logistical support for students interested in conducting field research associated with the C.A.R.E. Program.

Longitudinal Reproductive Health Study
Emily Vala-Haynes, University of Pennsylvania

Emily and Lucy, a Qom field assistant

Emily Vala-Haynes obtained her Master in Public Health in 2007 from the Emory University Department of Global Health with a concentration in reproductive health and population studies. She is currently a third year Ph.D. candidate in Demography and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. With funds from the Pollak Summer Research Fellowship, Emily spent summer 2011 in Formosa, Argentina, collecting the third wave of longitudinal data about reproductive health and contraceptive use among the women in NamQom. She is currently in the process of analyzing these data for use in her doctoral dissertation on reproductive health inequalities in Latin America.

Emily’s worked aimed to assess how health and contraception use has changed in the past ten years in NamQom.  By visiting the same women who participated in Reproductive History studies with the C.A.R.E. project in both 1999 and 2006, Emily added to C.A.R.E.’s longitudinal demographic health database.

Preliminary results: Emily successfully interviewed 161 women out of 220 who had participated in 2006. Of the women interviewed, 35% use contraception, an increase from 31% in 2006 and 10% in 1999. The most common forms of contraception used among the participants were injection-method hormonal contraception (39%), and oral contraception pills (27%). Few women responded that their partners use condoms during intercourse. This data, along with the rest of the survey data that Emily collected, provides a general view of NamQom’s current community reproductive health.


The Diet and the Economy of Food in NamQom
Irina Denisenko, University of Pennsylvania

Irina with a family in Namqom

Irina Denisenko is currently an undergraduate in the Huntsman Program for International development at Penn. In the summer of 2010, Irina spent two months in NamQom researching diet and the economy of food among the Toba.  

Irina’s study: Irina designed a study to understand economic influences on the current-day Toba diet. She conducted a general study of the neighborhood’s kioskos (small family-owned stores) to evaluate the popular food products in the community and the movement of these products (who sells them, who buys, what are the most economic food staples). With this study, Irina obtained an image of the commonly consumed food products in circulation in the local economy.

Results: Irina found that bred, flour, oil, pasta, packaged chips and candies are the things most commonly sold at the kiosks. Looking at the local economy that surrounds sales at the kiosks, it is evident that much of the consumed diet in NamQom consists of carbohydrates and fried food.


Adolescent Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Sexuality and Sexual Health
Ronnye Rutledge, Harvard University

Ronnye and a Qom baby

Ronnye Rutledge is an undergraduate student from Harvard’s department of Human Evolutionary Biology. In June and July of 2011, Ronnye conducted a study on attitudes and knowledge of sexual health among Toba adolescents.

The study was a follow-up investigation, repeating a similar work done 10 years earlier by a prior assistant of Dr. Valeggia. Ronnye’s project aimed to understand how knowledge on sexuality and sexual health has changed in the last ten years among NamQom’s youth. She interviewed and collected anthropometric data from 60 boys and girls.

Ronnye is currently analyzing her results; her findings will serve to advise local school and health officials on the changes and developments in adolescent sexual knowledge and beliefs.



What is a Healthy Body? The meaning of health in NamQom
Elaine Yang, University of Pennsylvania

Elaine, Fidel and Celso

Elaine Yang (UPenn ’11) conducted Anthropology research in 2010 around the meaning of health for the Toba of NamQom.

Elaine’s research aimed to understand the interpretation of good health and a healthy body according to Toba men and women. In recent history, the Toba lived a less sedentary life. The diet of the Toba in these times consisted largely of fish and gathered fruits. Now, in the current NamQom community, the Toba do not fundamentally depend on hunting-gathering methods of food acquisition. The diet has changed drastically over the last century; Elaine’s research looked at the influence that this change has had on the health of individuals in the community.

Results: What is good health according to the Toba of NamQom?
According to the individuals with whom Elaine spoke, good health is the ability to work. But the term “work” is changing within the community. In the recent past, the demands of the life obligated great energy expenditure from individuals, the result of a life of hunting and gathering for food. Now, these physical efforts are reduced to household chores, community sports and the production of arts and crafts. Regardless, the ability to work persists as a high societal value and a requirement to having a healthy body.

Additionally, good health means eating well in NamQom. The typical NamQom diet consists of a large quantity of simple carbohydrates. Cheap food staples that are easily accessible are lard, flour, bread and canned foods. The Toba eat many fruits, their abundance varying by season: mangos, oranges and grapefruit.


 Women’s attitudes towards Contraception Use in NamQom
Lauren Kapsalakis, University of Pennsylvania

Lauren Kapsalakis traveled to Formosa in 2009 to research Toba women’s use of biomedical contraception in NamQom. She returned in 2010 to examine sharing practices among families in NamQom. Her Masters thesis, “The Informal and Formal Economies of Indigeneity Among the Toba of Barrio Nam Qom, Formosa, Argentina” was awarded the Society for Economic Anthropology 2011 Harold K. Schneider Student Paper Prize in Economic Anthropology.

Lauren and Alicia

Lauren wanted to understand how the Toba women use contraception and how the community assesses current contraception use, while gaining a perspective on traditional methods of family planning.

Lauren’s study showed that the majority of Toba women in NamQom fear contraception use; these women believe that hormonal contraception, new to the NamQom community, will harm their body and their fertility. For each form of contraception, there is a distinct communal fear. It seems that rumors and fears disperse rapidly by word of mouth in NamQom, creating a general negative reaction towards contraception. Economic, social and cultural reasons also play a role in polarizing contraception use among the Toba community.

The Economic and Political Environment in NamQom
Lauren Kapsalakis, University of Pennsylvania

Lauren and her god son, Lorenzo

“In 2009, I spent three months in the NamQom community to investigate the use of contraception among the Toba. After speaking with women in the community, and learning about their daily anxieties, I returned in 2010 to investigate the political environment and economy within the community. Worry among the Toba mothers often stems from a lack of income and a lack of food. I wanted to understand how women feed their children when there is not enough money. Also, I was interested in learning about the types of jobs available to the people in NamQom and the barriers they face in maintaining a steady salary.”

“I investigated social assistance programs and communal kitchens in NamQom. At the same time, I was interested in learning more about the culture of sharing that exists among the Toba, and the rules that determine at what moments individuals share, with whom and what types or things are shared.

“Above all, I was interested in understanding the incredible recuperative capacity of the community, in which individuals survive and fight against the enormous pressures of poverty and hunger each day. In spite of the profound poverty in NamQom, the tradition of sharing among the aborigines ensures food security each day. One Toba man told me of an aboriginal tradition: ‘if one has an abundance of groceries or resources, he has to share with other people in the community who have nothing’”


Health in the NamQom Community
Serena Stein, University of Pennsylvania

Serena Stein, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences (’09) is currently studying to receive a Masters in International development from Oxford University.

In 2007, Serena spent two months in Formosa, conducting medical anthropology research among the Toba. Serena’s research in NamQom was her first independent fieldwork experience that led to a year-long independent study on Indigenous Health in Latin America as a University Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Scholar. Her research in Argentina was an introduction to field anthropology, which led to a senior thesis in Guatemala and longer projects in Brazil and Mozambique.

Serena and Anabella

Serena’s Research in NamQom: While in Formosa, Serena examined health concerns and healthcare among the Toba. Serena was interested in understanding health seeking practices, health concerns and changes in health care through out the Toba’s recent history.

Serena’s work showed the Toba as having interest in being active participants in the gestation of their health. Her work illustrated the integral role that the Toba individuals that work in the community health center have in harmonizing cultural differences between Toba and governmental approaches to health.

For her academic and investigatory achievements, Serena has been the recipient of many awards, including: USA Today All-American Team Award; Beinecke Fellowship Award; the Carrie Hunter Tate Award from the National Association of Student Anthropologists; and the Rudolph Virchow award from the American Anthropology Association’s Society for Medical Anthropology.