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Gonzaga Doctoral Student Debbie Jean Brown Earns Fulbright Grant to Study Chewa Tribe in Zambia

Debbie Jean Brown

By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – Debbie Jean Brown, a student in the Gonzaga University Doctoral Program in Leadership Studies, has been awarded a Fulbright full research grant to Zambia for the 2014-15 academic year. 

Brown, who earned from University of Washington a bachelor’s degree in culture, literature and the arts and a master’s in cultural studies, will develop the first comprehensive cultural history of the Chewa Tribe in Zambia – from the colonial period to present. The project aims to document, archive, preserve, and share the tribe’s cultural history. The project’s four phases include: study and research, listening, archiving, and sharing.

“I feel truly humbled and honored to have been awarded a Fulbright grant to carry out research in Zambia next year,” said Brown, who spent time in Zambia in 2010 and 2011. “Documenting and archiving the cultural history of a people is both joyous and solemn and I am so grateful to my friends in Zambia for allowing me to be a part of their process.”

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Brown expects to begin the project in October, the start of fall term in the capital city of Lusaka at University of Zambia, and aims to finish in June 2015. She will spend the first half of her grant period doing primary document research in the UNZA African library, supervised by a UNZA professor. Brown, who has an intermediate level of fluency in Chichewa language, aims to intensively study the language in this phase and before going to Zambia to listen to oral histories in the native tongue.

The second half of Brown’s stay will be spent in a Chewa village close to the border with Malawi, where she will do ethnographic research, documenting oral histories in particular. Before returning home, Brown will wrap up the project at UNZA, although she hopes the archival interactive website that is to be created through this project will go on indefinitely to preserve a rich, vibrant, and diverse cultural history.

Brown says her use of the term “listening,” rather than “interviewing” or “recording oral histories” is intentional.

“When a person does not feel heard, the best thing one can possibly do is simply listen mindfully. I want to speak as little as possible and then listen, communicating to the storyteller with nonverbal cues that she or he is safe and that I will treasure her or his story and treat it respectfully,” Brown noted. “To me, this is the most critical and important phase of the entire project. History books give us nicely bundled facts. Storytellers breathe life and vibrancy and diversity into those facts. I will engage in the community by volunteering at the Tikondane community center and school, by living in Groeya Village, and by attending the Village church.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. It is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program provides participants – chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential – with the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. 
Fulbright Scholars can be found in over 155 countries worldwide.

The grant program that funded Brown’s scholarly work receives some 5,000 applications per year and awards approximately 830 grants. The grant includes round-trip airfare to the host country, books and other study supplies, a living stipend, and health insurance for the duration of the grant period, usually one school year (nine months).

Brown, who expects to finish her dissertation by summer 2016, hopes the project will be a catalyst of change for those who must endure a “hungry season” by showing them they are not forgotten.

“It is in celebrating one culture that we celebrate all cultures. That celebration is what the Fulbright program is all about,” said Brown, who aspires to teach African studies in college. 

Celebrating diversity and opening students’ eyes to the world beyond America’s borders will be her primary objectives in her classroom.

“My aspiration is to make the preservation of the Chewa tribe’s heritage my life’s academic work and to expose many college students to the joy of learning new perspectives and the value inherent in making friends around the world,” said Brown who thanked the many people who have contributed to her success.


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