Barlow grant supports senior’s Christmas presence in Ecuador

Tiarra Abell ’12, a double major in Spanish and anthropology, is spending her December break in Ecuador doing research.

As the end of the semester approaches, Bates students are looking forward to a break from late nights in the library and a chance to spend the holidays with friends and family. But for senior Tiarra Abell of Louisville, Ky., winter break is a time to get some real work done.

At 4 a.m. Dec. 10, just hours after her last class of the semester, Abell began her journey back to Ecuador, where she spent her junior semester.

“A reality is coming true that I never imagined,” Abell said. “Although I didn’t want it to, I expected my time in Ecuador to end. But within just six months I’m able to go back!”

Along with 11 other seniors, Abell received a Barlow Thesis Research Grant. Established by David Barlow ’79, the grant’s goal is to enhance the study-abroad experience.

“I really like the Barlow thesis grant program, as it helps link the study abroad experience to the student’s academic program at Bates,” said Stephen Sawyer, director of off-campus study. “It allows students to return to their study-abroad country and interact with that setting in a more targeted way, building on their first experience.”

A double major in Spanish and anthropology, Abell is writing two senior theses, both investigating the lives of the Afro-Choteño community in Chota, a rural village with a population of 800. While living with a host family in Chota last spring, Abell was struck by the warmth and generosity of the Afro-Choteños despite the poverty in which they live.

“That was the first time in my life that I have experienced extreme poverty, in its real form,” said Abell. “The way they accepted me into their culture because I looked like them was very powerful to me. Just because I am black and I was doing well, they were very proud of me, as if I was one of their own.”

The timing for the return visit could not be better. After witnessing Easter in Chota, Abell was inspired to write her Spanish thesis on the role of faith in the lives of the devoutly Catholic Afro-Choteños. Abell hopes that spending Christmas in Chota will allow her to gather valuable interviews and photographs for her thesis.

After Bates, Abell plans to pursue a career in medicine. While in Chota, she volunteered at the local health clinic. She will return to the clinic to gather more field notes for her anthropology thesis on the economic and racial inequalities affecting medical treatment in Chota.

“This is a great opportunity,” she said. “Now I not only have volunteer experience in the medical field, but I have it in another culture.”

Most of her time will be spent in Chota, but Abell will visit Quito and Otavalo to gather books and articles that are not available in the United States on the Afro-Choteños. During this time she plans to meet Carla Guerron, the author of one of her primary sources, El Color de la Panela (“The Color of Brown Sugar”).

Abell will miss spending the holidays with her family in Louisville. “This is the first Christmas I have missed with my family, but being able to share and give back to people who don’t have nearly as much—who can’t even conceptualize the amount of things I have—brings me back to the true meaning of Christmas that my parents and family instilled in me.”

While home for Thanksgiving, Abell added, “my best friend’s sister gave me a big bag full of toys to give to the kids in Chota knowing that they would go to good use.”

— Erica Long ’12



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