IN THE SPOTLIGHT
CU-Boulder professor becomes immersed in the effects of war
Elizabeth Dunn, CU-Boulder associate professor of geography and international affairs, put her Fulbright grant to a surprising, study-altering use. Dunn originally planned to visit the country of Georgia in August of 2008 to study food safety and export; however a war changed all of that.
Fulbright scholar Elizabeth Dunn, based in the Republic of Georgia, shifted her research focus when Russia invaded South Ossetia in 2008.
Russian troops not only invaded Georgia, but also the village where Dunn intended to study. The food plantation had been damaged by aerial bombardment. When she and her 6-year-old son finally made it into the country in January of 2009, her plans for the study changed.
Instead of studying the food industry, she decided to study the displacement of people. Dunn concerned herself with two main issues: the effects of displacement on the health of people, and the politics of the welfare and health issues. “I was interested in what it means to have nothing,” she said. “I am very interested in humanity as a form of governance.”
Over a period of 11 months, Dunn lived in a refugee camp with internally displaced people (IDP) just miles outside of the disputed region of South Ossetia, while her son stayed in a nearby city. Dunn observed the aftermath of 28,000 people being removed from their homes, family, friends, and jobs, only to be relocated in an unfamiliar territory.
She immersed herself in the culture of the IDP. She lived in the same living conditions, in a small shelter with no running water. Not wanting to take from them what they barely had, Dunn ate less than the designated rations. She became malnourished, as many other IDP had.
To her, the effects of the displacement were obvious in the everyday lives of the IDP. Without jobs, Dunn said the IDP literally sat around all day with nothing to do.
Dunn became so involved with the study and with the hardship of her Georgian friends that she risked her life for a friend in an attempt to help her gain familiarity back, and to help lift the “nothingness” the IDP were overwhelmed by. “I followed my friend back into the remnants of her house for her glass jars,” she said. “We could have been shot and killed all because she wanted to have her things back.”
After spending 11 months in Georgia, Dunn watched billions of dollars in aid not quite reach the people intended. “The government and nongovernment organizations ate up the aid money,” Dunn said. “The IDP barely got anything out of it. They don’t need seminars. Tonight my friend is without heat, freezing in the Caucasus. She doesn’t need seminars; what she needs is heat. She didn’t get enough of that money to help her. Nobody did.”
Dunn will share her experience with the CU-Boulder community in an exhibition she developed with photographer Hannah Mintek, “Now We Have Nothing: People Displaced from South Ossetia.” The one-day exhibition will reveal the “nothingness” the IDPs felt day in and day out, and will take place Feb. 26 at 3:30 p.m. in the Museum of Natural History.
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