Student Programs

2016–2017 Kenneth I. Juster Fellows

Jump to the Juster Fellow Research Update by Mattea Mrkusic ]

Image of Kenneth JusterThe Weatherhead Center is pleased to announce its 2016–2017 class of Juster Fellows. Now in its sixth year, this grant initiative is made possible by the generosity of the Center’s Advisory Committee Chair, the Honorable Kenneth I. Juster, who has devoted much of his education, professional activities, and nonprofit endeavors to international affairs and is deeply engaged in promoting international understanding and advancing international relations. The Center’s Juster grants support undergraduates whose projects may be related to thesis research but may have broader experiential components as well. The newly named Juster Fellows, all of whom will be undertaking their international experiences this December, January, and into the spring semester, and their projects are: 

David Coletti, a senior history and literature concentrator, will return to Brazil in January to finish his thesis field research on the influence of international tourism and capitalism on the LGBT community in São Paulo.

Caroline Kimetto, a junior economics concentrator, will explore the effects of good agricultural seasons on the rate of eighth-graders progressing to high school in the rural town of Kericho, Kenya.

Raya Koreh, a junior history concentrator, will travel to Israel this winter to begin her thesis research on American Jewish advocacy for Soviet Jewish emigration and its impact on Cold War foreign policy. 

Angela Leocata, a junior social anthropology concentrator, will travel to India to begin her thesis research on the impact of caregiving on community health workers in Goa, India.

Vincent Lin, an anthropology and molecular and cellular biology concentrator with a secondary concentration in global health and health policy, will travel to Sierra Leone to research the challenges, reflections, and opportunities for those who survive the Ebola virus.

Hanaa Masalmeh, a junior social anthropology concentrator, will research the intersection of local German governments and Syrian refugees in southern Germany.

Juster Fellow Research Update

By Mattea Mrkusic, a 2015–2016 Kenneth I. Juster Fellow, who traveled to Kiribati last year to study climate change-induced migration

Image of Kiribas climate activist on a boat

“Last year, at nighttime, a mini-tsunami hit. Our house fell down, our toilet flooded, and everything was swept away—our dishes, our pots. The next day, we slept on our kiakia [a traditional, open-air raised hut] because the water was flowing underneath us,” said Ruita Kauongo.

Gazing out to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, Ruita Kauongo has good reason to fear a future affected by climate change. Kauongo, a forty-six-year-old grandmother, lives on an isolated outer island in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati (pronounced Kee-ree-bas). Her beachfront home is meters away from the ocean, on an island that is—at its very highest point—just three meters above sea level. 

For now, Kauongo told me, her family has fashioned a makeshift seawall made of stones, coconut husks, and sun-faded rubbish. Walking around her property, it feels deeply unsettling to see imported trash protecting them from the force of the waves—an all-too fitting imprint of Western transnational pollution. 

Image of Kiribati coast from the airThis past spring, I decided to swap my textbooks for a camera, a microphone, and a plane ticket to Kiribati. On paper, I was undertaking senior thesis research on how I-Kiribati citizens conceptualize climate change-induced migration—the idea that climate change impacts might act as a migration incentive in coming decades. Inside, however, I had another motive. I wanted to explore the transnational injustice of climate change, and how we can better amplify geographically remote voices that will be disproportionately affected by climate change.   

During my time in Kiribati, I interviewed around fifty individuals. I spoke to local climate activists, fighting for climate mitigation through grass roots organizing. Under a grove of breadfruit trees, I listened to a village scribe recount his decision to relocate his home along with four other extended families. I was fortunate to interview the former president of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong, about the nation’s ‘Migration with Dignity’ policy, which aims to prepare I-Kiribati youth for migration to New Zealand and Australia through educational initiatives.

Image of children watching a mangrove plantingIn the eyes of most I-Kiribati, moving is a policy of last resort. For Petero Tabuariki, a pastor based in South Tarawa, relocating from the home and community he loves feels deeply unjust: “Why do we have to leave our home island, because of the consequences of what people are doing? The bible says you must reap your own consequences…but other people are reaping it for us.” 

I came back to Harvard with a series of video interviews, dozens of portraits, and a growing realization: I couldn’t publish my findings in a purely academic realm. It became clear that I needed to connect frontline stories with the high carbon-emitting audiences. I decided a creative thesis was the best way to amplify and elevate the voices of climate migration frontline community members. Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a multimedia storytelling website featuring a podcast, a series of photographs, and a collection of written stories about climate justice in Kiribati. 

I would like to express my thanks for the Kenneth I. Juster Fellowship and the Weatherhead Center for their contribution to this research, and encourage all readers to attend my senior thesis photo exhibit in the spring, entitled “Collapse the Distance.” Further details will be announced.

Image of child playing on sea wall at low tide

Photo Captions

  1. Center Advisory Committee Chair Kenneth I. Juster.
  2. A young climate activist sets off in a traditional canoe during a Break Free from Fossil Fuels event in South Tarawa, Kiribati. Credit: Mattea Mrkusic
  3. A view of Marakei, Kiribati from the air. Most of Kiribati is situated less than three meters above sea level. Credit: Mattea Mrkusic
  4. Two children watch a mangrove planting organized by the Kiribati Climate Action Network. Mangroves are known to protect the low-lying Kiribati from storm surges. Credit: Mattea Mrkusic
  5. A child plays on a rare stretch of formal sea walls at low tide. Most homes in Kiribati do not have sea walls to protect them from high tides or storm surges. Credit: Mattea Mrkusic