There have been failures,
too. "Many of these kids, when they come
to Roca, avoid thinking about their future. They don't see that they
have something to offer," Díaz says. But being able to affect
even a few lives is why she continues to walk through those doors, and
up that ramp.
In 2000, Díaz moved to the United States to study psychology and sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. During a class in restorative justice, she learned of Roca ("the rock") and started down the path that would lead her to HSPH. Encouraged by a professor, Díaz began volunteering at Roca, training teens to lead peer workshops on issues such as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. Roca's results-oriented approach impressed her. "I have to work in a place where things get done, where you see people turning their lives around," she says.
MAKING A CONNECTION
After college, Díaz signed on with Roca full-time, but the idea of returning to school began to tug at her. "Psychology and sociology taught me the ins and outs of problems, but nothing about solutions. I wanted to learn how to keep the violence from continuing," she explains. In 2004 she enrolled at HSPH, drawn to the Harvard name and the School's coursework in methodology, outcomes measurement, and community intervention.
LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE
These experiences have "brought home to Ana the importance of measuring the effects of programs intended to lessen violence," says one of her mentors at HSPH, David Bloom, the Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography and chair of the Department of Population and International Health. Frustrated by the gap between grassroots organizations' experientially-based theories of change and the evidence-based theories of academe, Díaz aimed to bridge that chasm with her thesis by designing a methodology to validate the work of Fundación. Evidence of its effectiveness has been largely anecdotal, she says, and it has been difficult to pinpoint and quantify the magic ingredient that makes the program work.
The obstacles in her quest have been numerous: The long-term monitoring of an often transient population and the self-selection of participants hinders efforts to measure progress at a community level, and forgiveness--a cornerstone of Fundación's program--is a concept more prevalent in psychology than in public health. Díaz has had to forge her own way, marrying the two fields to measure the efficacy of the forgiveness model.
With graduation behind her, Díaz continues to chip away at refining her methodology--one that will benefit her work at Roca, where she returned as VIA's co-coordinator in July. At her initiative, Roca now works closely with Fundación, and has adopted its forgiveness and reconciliation model. Díaz appreciates that her two worlds have come together. Hoping one day to return to Colombia, she says the connection makes her feel a little closer to home.
Jesse Nankin is the
development communications coordinator in the Office for
Resource Development at HSPH.
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