Sally Kemp, a 72-year-old retired pediatric developmental neuropsychologist and Adjunct Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Missouri was named to the 2012 Fulbright Specialists Roster. Kemp, who now lives at the Lake of the Ozarks, later traveled to Barranquilla, Colombia with her husband to assist graduates at Universidad del Norte conduct research on predictors of early learning in children of low socio-economic status in Colombia.
“The city [Barranquilla] is home to one of the most important folk and cultural festivals of Colombia,” she said. “The Carnival of Barranquilla was recognized as a Cultural Heritage Event by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2003. For four to five days and nights before Ash Wednesday, the Carnival de Barranquilla is celebrated by everyone with traditional dress, fancy costumes, dancing in the streets and general merry-making.”
The Fulbright Specialist Program (FSP) promotes connecting U.S. academics and professionals with institutions overseas, awarding grants to qualified U.S. faculty and professionals in select disciplines to participate in short-term projects at host institutions worldwide.
A former colleague from Columbia University, N.Y., now a professor at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia contacted Kemp after seeing her listed on the Fulbright Specialists Roster to request her assistance at Universidad del Norte to take part in presentations and assist with graduate research projects.
Kemp was unable to receive funding from Fulbright Specialists Roster, but the Universidad del Norte agreed to fund Kemp’s two-week trip.
Universidad del Norte focuses on promoting, developing and enhancing higher education in the Caribbean Coast. Universidad del Norte “aims to become a center of leadership in research and analysis of regional problems, to achieve the goal of irradiating culture and science at its best, that is, to become a center of influence in the Caribbean of Colombia,” According to Universidad del Norte’s website.
Upon conducting research on the low socio-economic status of children in Barranquilla, Columbia and presenting the information to a board of university representatives and professors, Kemp said the statistics were daunting.
“It was disheartening to see where these disadvantaged children scored on assessments as they entered school,” she said.
“The longer I worked with the students and lived with our gracious host family, the more I realized how complex the problem of education is in Colombia,” she said. “Our host and hostess worried about our safety constantly, as kidnappings are not uncommon in Colombia, and we did stick out like sore thumbs. Garry and I have traveled extensively, but have never felt so constrained. We realized that our hosts’ fears seemed real, so we certainly wanted to respect them.”
Kemp said that they encountered one such incident upon their visit to a small community to enjoy refreshments. Their hostess’ gold necklace was stolen.
“The little community was tidy, and there was a pleasant little bodega on the corner with bright tables and chairs,” she said. “We purchased our cool drinks and sat down at the table to relax, when a well-groomed young man walked toward the table, and in a flash ripped the heavy gold chain from our hostess’s neck, leaving bruises behind. He leapt on a waiting motorbike and he and his partner sped off. We were all immobilized. ‘Get in the car!’ her eldest son yelled, and we, too, sped away in the opposite direction. This was the type of danger our host family had feared for us when they had insisted on driving us everywhere. We had felt constrained by their protectiveness, but there was a reason for it in this beautiful country of contradictions.”
As Kemp continued conducting research with graduates at Universidad del Norte she said that they began noticing a separation in social class amongst locals.
“What was more concerning was the complete separation we began to realize existed between the well-to-do professional class and others,” she said. “In conversation with our hosts we began to realize that they and those in their social class had lives which existed within a closed circle: social and sports activities at the country club, private (usually bilingual) school for the children, and fraternization only with those of the same social class for both adults and children. What is more, a country club for this class exists in each town and city, so that wherever they go, members of one club can use these facilities rather than mix with the general population.
“All of the children are expected to become professionals or be involved in financing businesses. The higher a college degree an individual holds, the more respected he/she is, especially if the higher degree is earned in a prestigious U.S. university. Essentially, the children of this class live in a closed circle of friends so they marry among their class.”
Kemp said there were areas near Barranquilla that were covered with small dwellings and strewn garbage.
“That week we spent some time between work sessions on the beautiful beaches of Santa Marta about an hour from Barranquilla,” she said. “As we traveled north, however, the barrios of Barranquilla emerged: tiny tin hovels and crumbling adobe dwellings, masses of vendors hoping to sell their wares; this was the face of poverty at its worst. The countryside between Barranquilla and Santa Marta was dotted with gatherings of hovels, piles of garbage, and unwashed children trailing behind their mothers. Most Americans cannot imagine such a picture. These were the children whose plight was beyond belief.”
“Despite these fears, my colleague had pursued her project to make life better for hundreds of poverty-stricken children, and I hope to have the opportunity to help her see it to completion.”
Kemp plans to continue helping in this endeavor through the Internet.