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Zobeida Bonilla
Department of Applied Health Science

Debra Kent
School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation

Last modified: Monday, November 17, 2008

Indiana University's School of HPER expands work in the Dominican Republic

Nov. 17, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation is broadening its work in the Dominican Republic to include two new field laboratories at which students and faculty will work with local communities to address critical health and tourism-related economic development needs.

Robert Goodman

Robert Goodman

Print-Quality Photo

The initiatives expand on years of archeological research -- most recently the investigation of the Captain Kidd shipwreck Cara Merchant -- involving the School of HPER's Office of Underwater Science in the Department of Kinesiology.

The new field labs draw on public health and tourism expertise in the School of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science and Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, and continue researchers' efforts to collaborate with U.S. and non-governmental agencies, local business groups in this Caribbean nation and Dominican Republic governmental agencies.

The field labs will result in new courses at HPER, internship and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and research opportunities for faculty within and outside of HPER. The goal of opening the laboratories is to continue partnering with Dominican Republic communities in a tangible way that includes their input from the start.

Zobeida Bonilla

Zobeida Bonilla

"If a university simply goes in and conducts research without leaving capacity behind, especially in impoverished places, it's perceived as exploitation," said HPER Dean Robert M. Goodman. "If we consider the people as shared partners, in a participatory way, we can work together to research and solve important public health and economic development problems. From the school's perspective, it's also important to provide students with these experiences, which can be transformative in their appreciation for global health and development. This is learning at a 'seen' and a 'felt' level, rather than just at a book level."

Zobeida Bonilla, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science, will begin this work in February when she engages community leaders in a village near the Haitian border in a strategic planning process geared toward addressing their health and medical needs. Many Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic seeking better economic opportunities, putting pressure on existing resources. Goodman said HPER is working with a non-profit, private organization called Batey Relief Alliance to support and build upon health-oriented work in impoverished border areas.

The second field laboratory will focus on developing tourism and economic development, and will be located in an area that was once considered the "Caribbean Alps" before environmental hazards from agriculture and other industries brought tourism to a halt. Residents also have public health needs related to clean water, diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and other health conditions.

Goodman said the School of HPER has begun looking for grant funding to support these initiatives just as it did with the Captain Kidd project, which is using a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to preserve the shipwreck while protecting threatened corals. As with the Capt. Kidd project, the field laboratories will be interdisciplinary, involving the Department of Anthropology and other academic programs on the IU Bloomington campus. Goodman said he is in the process of exploring ways that other IU resources and researchers can be involved in these initiatives.

The field laboratories should be operational by the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, Goodman said, and possibly earlier.

For more information, please contact Bonilla at 812-856-5122 or