Brittni Howard, an anthropology doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently returned from a Fulbright U.S. Student Fellowship to Ghana that supported her research on how the social networks and relationships of children and youth influence the decisions they make in working, playing, and learning. Howard was in the Greater-Accra region of Ghana with her daughter from February to September 2018. In addition, Howard explained that she takes students from the U.S. every June and July for a six-week study and service program, Star Service and Study Abroad that she co-founded and directs.
Under the supervision of Professor Krista Harper, Howard is completing her dissertation using community-based participatory action research (CBPR) techniques. CBPR is a collaborative research technique where communities, researchers, and organizations are equally involved in contributing expertise and input on the research process. During Howard’s fieldwork, she conducted participant observation, interviews, and focus groups with children, youth, and their families.
“Fulbright’s mission is person-to-person diplomacy through education and research, and Brittni’s project is a stellar example of how to bring these elements together. She designed her research to maximize benefits to local people and organizations in small fishing communities, while also contributing to our knowledge of children and youth around the world,” explains Harper.
During her time in Ghana, Howard facilitated a new partnership between the Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF), a Ghanaian nonprofit focused on child labor & trafficking in the region, and the Michael Walton Foundation, a US nonprofit that encourages youth career and leadership development. The organizations used the Michael Walton Foundations’ "Speak Out To Reach Out" workshops to empower youth by further cultivating their leadership and career skills and honing their talents and goals.
“I contacted one of the directors at CHF via email about their youth programs a few years ago. Our partnership has included working on professional presentations together, grant applications, and networking around youth empowerment,” Howard explained.
“Over the years, one of the CHF directors has introduced me to people in their network. Through these introductions, I was able to build partnerships with many other nonprofits and community organizations working on diverse projects” she continued.
Several youth from Ghana went on to participate in Howard's Photovoice project and photographic exhibition at the US Embassy in the Ghanaian capital of Accra. These activities allowed children, youth, and their families to present their stories to policymakers who shape programs related to health and education in small fishing communities.
“Because of the complexities of childhood to adulthood it’s important to build youth-centered collaborations at the grassroots-level in these localities," says Howard.
Howard developed methodological skills by participating in the National Science Foundation-sponsored field school, "Culture and Heritage in European Societies and Spaces" (CHESS). Howard received the funding for CHESS through an NIH grant awarded to the Anthropology Department to mentor students in fieldwork. CHESS enabled her to conduct archival research in the United Kingdom to gain insights on the history of international development efforts aimed at improving to children’s health and wellbeing in Ghana. Howard explained that “The CHESS workshop was an opportunity for our U.S. cohort to present and provide and receive feedback with students from Europe who were also conducting research projects (affiliated with Dr. Harper and Dr. Urla).”
“I am fortunate to have great faculty mentors like Krista Harper, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, and Tom Leatherman, who invest in our intellectual development, support our personal achievements, and inspire us professionally.” says Howard.
"Brittni’s research represents the best of the Department's tradition of community-based research with lasting social impact," notes department Chair Jacqueline Urla.
Howard plans to return to Ghana in January 2019 along with The Michael Walton Foundation, to work on youth empowerment outreach and programs with her partner organizations in Ghana. She hopes to see her final dissertation published in 2021.