About Me

Hi all,

I’m Gabrielle Williams, and I’m a first year psychology major. I moved to Oklahoma from Texas to attend OU, but before high school I lived in Georgia for over a decade. I have one sibling, my older sister, who is currently in New York attending Colombia. My mom recently moved to Tampa for work.

I enjoy reading very much. It’s one of my favorite activities. My favorite genre is dystopian or science fiction. I love dogs. I’ve only traveled beyond the United States once, when I went to the Bahamas on a family vacation. I’ve taken a few years of Spanish in high school, and I would love to travel around Latin America. I didn’t know anyone in Oklahoma prior to moving here for school, but I chose OU  over the universities in Texas for its National Merit Scholarship.

I look forward to studying abroad as a Global Engagement Fellow, and I hope to hear some great accounts of the experiences of my fellow GEFs abroad.

🙂

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Crisis in Syria

The ongoing conflict in Syria is a major issue. Over a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed, and more than 11 million have fled their homes in the wake of battles between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, militants opposing Assad, and jihadist factions. Though the origins of the crisis occurred over 6 years ago with pro-democracy protests, the unrest in Syria has continued to escalate and affect the current population. People called for President Assad to step down after government forces opened fire on civilians at protests, and even at a funeral, killing several people who had been peacefully protesting for greater democracy. The conflict evolved into a civil war when the war between factions supporting and opposing Assad’s regime escalated into a battle between the Sunni majority and the Shia Alawite minority. The chaos bred by the fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels has allowed the Islamic State to gain land in Syria. The UN claims that all the factions involved in the crisis have committed war crimes, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Millions of Syrians, mainly women and children, have fled the conflict in their home country. However, this influx of migrants into neighboring countries and into Europe has led to political unrest in the countries hosting Syrian refugees as arguments break out over the burden of supporting so many refugees. For those that remain in Syria, the outlook is bleak, as the multiple factions involved in the conflict have refused to allow humanitarian aid agencies to access civilians. The crisis in Syria is a major international concern because it has produced an incredibly large refugee movement that rivals almost any other in recent history.

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Ebola in Sierra Leone: A Humanitarian Crisis in Historical Perspective Dr. Paul Richards

I attended a lecture by Dr. Richards that explored the difference in approach between forest edge communities in Sierra Leone and foreign humanitarian intervention organizations when addressing the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

Forest edge Sierra Leonean indigenous groups historically showed a stronger tendency toward self-reliance and cultural autonomy. It may not be coincidental that when Ebola began among one of these groups, the Kissi, there was strong local mobilization to defeat the disease. Their history of self-reliance encouraged the tribe to turn inwards to address Ebola. Although the Ebola outbreak peaked in November of 2014, the Kissi tribe managed to significantly reduce its cases of Ebola from August 2014 forward with effective quarantine practices. Their containment strategies began long before WHO declared concern. Ebola was declining when international humanitarian help arrived, and the outbreak had ended completely in some places, especially in the eastern forest regions. Locals used containment strategies such as burning bridges between villages to prevent spreading the disease through travel. They also warned villagers against contact with the bodily fluid of their ill family members, despite cultural norms of constant contact with the ill to encourage recovery. Tribes also mobilized volunteer burial teams that respected local traditions, unlike international teams that didn’t acknowledge the local rituals and struggled with the terrain. Although the international humanitarian response was well-intended, locals were sometimes denied resources while millions were invested in metropolitan Ebola treatment centers and cemeteries located far from the affected communities. This top down approach was less effective than some of the local efforts. The key lesson for humanitarianism is to listen to marginalized groups and empower them in advance of disasters while remaining open to local ideas and initiatives.

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Ebola Community Care Centres in Sierra Leone: Esther Mokuwa’s Presentation

I attended a presentation by Esther Mokuwa that explored the effectiveness of community care centers during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.

During Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak, community care centers, or CCCs, were favored over Ebola treatment centers, or ETCs that were funded and staffed by international humanitarian organizations. The CCCs were a local network of treatment centers in villages, staffed by villagers. Their proximity and local staff made villagers feel comfortable seeking treatment at CCCs. The British government sent teams to villages with live Ebola cases to evaluate the CCCs, and investigators found that CCCs decreased the epidemic by 30%. The ETCs took so long to process tests and were so crowded that villagers would not let people with fevers go to ETCs in case they had a less severe illness such as malaria, fearing exposure to crowded ETCs could increase their chances of contracting Ebola. CCCs, on the other hand, did very quick blood tests and were more transparent with their medical procedures, which increased the degree of acceptance of CCCs. ETCs were scandalously expensive and treated mainly international patients while CCCs used local materials and staffed from the huge pool of unemployed nurses who were qualified but had yet to receive a position due to inefficient bureaucracy. As a result, CCCs were cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than ETCs because they were well-accepted by the community. Sierra Leoneans were also very concerned with burial practices. Because the government emphasized safe burial, many teams put bodies in bags and pushed corpses with sticks into their graves. This greatly upset the locals, causing the government to begin emphasizing respectful burial.

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Unity in the Global Economy: Angola

I attended an IAS event that incorporated student and faculty lecturers who explored global economics and the increasing interconnectedness of the international community. This post focuses on a presentation about Angola’s history and the evolution of its economy and political system.

Although Angola is part of West Africa, it has closer political and economic ties to the south and a history of military intervention in Central Africa. Angola has a young population and large working population. The literacy rate exceeds 71% because the government invests in human resources, but it has failed to diversify the economy, falling into the prototypical poverty trap. Angola is rich in natural resources. Its economy depended on diamond exports for years until it began exporting oil. Oil now accounts for 50% of Angola’s GDP, which makes Angola prone too economic disaster because the international price of oi, which has been declining, strongly impacts the economy. Due to its discomfort with human rights violations in Angola, the US was supplanted by China as Angola’s main importer of oil. Oil brought Western investors and improved technology that increased the efficiency of Angolan business, but a lot of economic activity still occurs in the informal market. Angola still has challenges with poor infrastructure and lacking human capital, but the government is working to improve these areas. The government favors free trade, friendly policies for foreign investors, decentralization, privatization, and regional integration. There has also been an anti-corruption campaign in recent years because despite being one of the fastest growing economies from 2008 to 2014, the public did not benefit from the money entering the country because the corrupt government kept much of the proceeds. As the population becomes more educated, the informed public calls for an end to corruption.

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Ugandan Peace Symposium

I attended a symposium on peace building and community transformation in post-conflict environments where Evelyn Amony, wife of Joseph Kony, former member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and survivor of the conflict in Uganda between the LRA and the government, was a featured speaker. Evelyn spoke about her experiences in Uganda, the current state of the nation, and her hopes for the future. Foremost among these hopes was the desire to see the Ugandan government address the root causes of the prolonged conflict in northern Uganda and take preventative steps to ensure the devastating violence Evelyn and countless others lived through does not occur again. A brief summary of the current state of post-conflict Uganda follows.

The prolonged conflict in Uganda produced countless refugees, some of whom traveled across the border into Sudan. Recently, tensions in the border region between Uganda and Sudan have been exacerbated by the influx of Sudanese refugees. Many Ugandan communities are struggling to produce enough food the survive. The arrival of Sudanese refugees makes survival more challenging as some refugees cultivate crops and allow their animals to graze on land that belongs to others. An additional problem arises from the influx of refugees that formerly belonged to security forces in Sudan. Some of these former security forces are coming in with firearms that may easily end up in the hands of rebels, constituting a major security threat. Furthermore, many unaccompanied children are fleeing Sudan for Uganda, where there are not enough schools, hospitals or water to support them.

Concerns for Uganda’s future are emerging as the state government fails to prioritize addressing the roots of conflict in the northern region. A tenuous peace may have emerged in northern Uganda, but the LRA is still a threat despite diminished numbers. As a conflict fades in public memory, people, including decision-makers, begin to believe the problem has been solved. This pattern is shown in the failure of the Ugandan government to give adequate attention to northern conflict and national-level threats, which increases the risk of a return to violence.

In conclusion, Uganda’s post-conflict environment is facing a new challenge from refugee movements while still working to move forward from years of war. It is vital that the Ugandan government continue supporting efforts to rebuild and revitalize scarred communities.

Evelyn Amony and I are pictured below at the symposium.

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