Austin Snowbarger

MA in Development and Emergency Practice, Brookes Alumni Fund supported field trip

Austin Snowbarger

In January 2016 Austin and seven fellow CENDEP students travelled to Gujurat in India to carry out field research. Their focus was on how people had rebuilt their lives following the terrible earthquake of 2001, and on the impact of reconstruction efforts.

Austin was able to undertake the research thanks to support from the Brookes Alumni Fund and really values the experience.

“Connecting theory with practice is what the course is all about. The field trip was really beneficial in doing that,” he explains, “It allowed me to get out of the classroom and continue the learning in the field.

“As rich as the lectures and discussions are here in Oxford, there are things you can’t totally grasp until you sit down with someone and have a conversation – until you’ve seen what they see, heard what they hear, and used all your senses to understand.”

During his time in Gujurat, Austin met people affected by the earthquake in different ways.

“There was a group of woman artisans. After the earthquake they were determined to work together and continue supporting their families. Despite all the devastation they got back to work immediately, which was pretty remarkable.

“I also met a teacher who worked in a nursery school – her enthusiasm for her work was intoxicating. She had moved to the area since the earthquake. The state government had provided resources after the earthquake to build new structures and hire people like her.

“But people didn’t just want to talk about the earthquake. Drought is a major on-going problem in Gujarat and many wanted to talk about that. It was a good reminder that whatever you think the important issues are, you have to actually talk to people to get a true picture.”

The research demonstrated that where people had been given a voice and listened to, they were able to recover from the earthquake. But where their concerns had been ignored, they have struggled to rebuild the life they wanted to live.

The choice of India for the field trip suited Austin. Although he is enjoying life in Oxford – and his wife has got a job locally with Oxfam – his plan is to return to Asia.

“I want to work for an NGO involved in disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Although I’m from the United States, I want to be designing and implementing projects in South or South-East Asia.” Austin is due to complete his Master’s in September 2016.