International Field Program 2016: Updates from Argentina and Ethiopia

Published on July 22, 2016

Read Part 1 of the IFP 2016 updates: “2016 International Field Program: Updates from South Africa and Cuba”.

The 2016 International Field Program (IFP) offers students an opportunity to engage with local organizations and communities in six countries around the world: South Africa, CubaColombia, the BalkansArgentina and Ethiopia.

In Argentina and Ethiopia, students are currently conducting a wide range of projects, including work on the growing concern of urban pollution in Buenos Aires, and microfinance in rural Ethiopia.


Students in the Argentina IFP are working in Buenos Aires, along the Matanza-Riachuelo River, a tributary of the Rio de la Plata (La Plata River), which is the most contaminated river basin in Argentina. For over 100 hundred years, the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin (M-RB) has been used as a sewage sink for the entire city of Buenos Aires, and is one of the most visible environmental crises in the country. Of particular concern to the IFP, the M-RB is home to Argentina’s largest concentration of the urban poor, with approximately 3.5 million inhabitants.

The IFP students are conducting a qualitative research and media project entitled ‘Voces de Vecinos’, focusing on the personal experiences of those living and working in the informal M-RB neighborhoods of Villa Inflamable and Isla Maciel.

The Argentina IFP team in Villa Inflamable prior to a GIS mapping event. Students helped residents map out the neighborhood with GPS coordinates in order to facilitate GIS programming. Photo Credit: Natalia Gutierrez

The research project explores the themes of gender and urban infrastructure, social responsibility and the private sector, and children and infrastructure, aiming to provide a broader understanding of the connection between policy and lived experiences in complex urban development spaces. One of the ways students are facilitating such a connection is through a documentary that amplifies the voices of inhabitants of Villa Inflamable and Isla Maciel. The final project will be presented as an interactive website which will include research reports, GIS mapping, and their documentary. Explore their work here: ‘Voces de Vecinos’

An informal home in Villa Inflammable built on stilts above the heavily polluted water of the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin.  Photo Credit: Nathan Yardy


IFP students Taaryn Wingate (left), Nathan Yardy (camera man), and Lina Castellanos (right) interview teachers in Isla Maciel. Photo Credit: Natalia Gutierrez
IFP students conduct an interview in the backyard of a resident of the Villa Inflammable community, along the Matanza-Riachuelo. Photo Credit: Taaryn Wingate



Despite having one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Ethiopia struggles with poverty and remains ranked toward the bottom in human development indices. The Ethiopian government relies heavily on international aid to combat such significant socio-economic challenges— it is the largest recipient of aid in Africa, and hosts many inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations specializing in development programs.

Students in the Ethiopia IFP work with some of these organizations on themes related to poverty and development, education, and climate change. Among the client organizations that students are working with is the Consortium of Self help group Approach Promoters (CoSAP), an organization that works primarily with microsavings for women. The students created data collection tools on the response of women’s self-help groups (SHGs) to governmental and NGO aid, which were then used in the field during interviews with women. CoSAP will use this data to evaluate the efficacy of SHGs as a model for distributing aid.

Ethiopia IFP Student Richard Swoope (centre) interviews an Ethiopian woman with the help of an interpreter (right) during a field visit to investigate the efficacy of women’s self help groups. Photo Credit: Sarah Lazar

In some cases, students are finding that their field work is challenging the theory they have studied. Sneha George, an IFP student working with CoSAP, discusses her experience in her blog post entitled “Theory vs Practice”. She writes, “At my internship this week I attended a meeting of similar organizations that use micro-financing and economic self-help group (SHG) models as a tool to empower women… In the classroom I often criticize these types of organizations and models because it is still operating within capitalistic institutions that oppress many people in developing countries in the first place. I had thought that these projects operate with the idea “give a woman money and watch her change the world”, when in reality that instrumentalist approach perpetuates a lot of problematic ideologies and does not get to the crux of the issues that women face. But why am I, and many other academics, criticizing something that is working? Women need money. Poor, rural women, who have little to no education need money. And this money empowers them and transforms families, which then transforms communities, which then transforms local governments, you see where this is going. I see this unfolding before my eyes; it is evident through the projects and the amazing work that CoSAP does.”

Ethiopian women in Self-Help Groups gather to talk to IFP students about their engagement with microfinance and micro-savings programs. Photo Credit: Gina Bruno

In addition to working on micro-finance with CoSAP, IFP students in Ethiopia are engaging with many more client organizations. Read about their experiences and reflections here.

For a visual exploration of the 2016 IFP across all sites, follow @ifpnewschool or search #2016IFP on Instagram. To learn more about student work across the SGPIA program, including the 2016 IFP, follow @newschool_IA on Twitter.

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