(By Danna Quiñones Rodriguez)
I joined Centric two years ago in a real situation as I did not know where I was going in life. I was even apprehensive of joining the training as I did not feel I was good enough as an Afro-Columbian South American Spanish-speaking woman who spoke English as a second language. The Centric training and support from its Community Research (CR) team have enriched me to believe I can be someone who contributes to the world.
Going on this trip to the Dominican Republic on behalf of Centric has made me realise the power I have as an Afro-Latina and the contributions I can make when it comes to assisting communities in research in Latin America and empowering others. I want to continue this with my community in London who are very much a minority within a minority. I cannot wait to get more involved in this in 2023!
(By Dr Shaun Danquah)
Based on the Connectors in Engagement Workshop in Cape Town recently with colleagues*, Danna Quiñones Rodriguez from Centric and myself visited Julio Canario from the Dominican Republic to explore the scope for building the capacity and public engagement capabilities among local communities in his country. There are gaps as to how, in a context such as the Dominican Republic, people can be brought into equitable research partnerships to explore local issues and challenges.
Julio was inspired by the Centric approach of being able to break down research into more digestible and palatable chunks. He was particularly impressed by our ability and emphasis on harnessing both local knowledge and cultural intelligence to initiate community engagement and action. He was keen to develop the continuum model and ensuring seldom-heard communities, often difficult to access, are involved in every stage of the research process.
Our partners in the Dominican Republic are also interested in replicating best practice. Starting from the learnings from the medical scepticism project and also from the urban milieu of South London and its propensity for distrust, cynicism and apathy among disenfranchised communities. With Centric’s new approach of global collaboration around emerging themes in the ever-contested medi-scape, which includes nuances of medical pluralism, health activism and rethinking healthcare for marginalised communities, such transnational connections are important.
For Centric, global collaboration of this kind is important and, as Hardy et al. (2005: 59) discuss, can represent a “complex set of ongoing communicative processes among individuals who act as members of both the collaboration and of the separate organisational hierarchies to which they are accountable”. While Almansour (2015) included, within the spectrum of the principles of effective collaboration:
Effective collaboration depends on the relationship of the all partners who must continue negotiations amongst themselves for the duration of the collaboration. Effective contact with international institutions is built on trust which needs time (Almansour, 2015).
Knobel et al. (2013) state that elements of exploitation can exist when international collaboration involves partners of unequal scientific strength. Hence, Centric, as per our ethos, approached the challenge of the Dominican Republic from the positionality of curious partners rather than as ‘teachers’ or ‘trainers’ from a dominant epistemological ivory tower, with reciprocity as pivotal.
It is the soft factors, such as a willingness to collaborate, ethical issues, norms, values and trust which influence partners’ preparedness to collaborate (Rosas and Camarinha-Matos, 2009).
Often language barriers can impair effective communication when interlocuters have different languages and there is a lack of a common lingua franca (Tenzer et al., 2014). Such language barriers can damage and distort relationships (Feely and Harzing, 2003). In light of this concern, and Centric’s adherence to ensuring a decolonised research approach in conjunction with communities, Danna Quiñones Rodriguez of the Centric team and an Afro-Columbian Spanish speaker was able to fill this gap and provide succinct language coordination for Centric. Danna translated key concepts of our approach into Spanish and harnessing this linguistic credibility enabled us to bridge gaps. I would say due to my Ghanaian heritage, this was able to bridge cultural gaps too.
Fresh and new approaches can thrive alongside positive collaboration where there is sufficient common ground and cultural understanding (Kang and Jiang, 2012; Iino et al, 2021; Fu et al., 2022). Cultural distance may undermine the process of international collaboration and lead to the delay or failure of projects (Chen et al., 2019; Fu et al., 2022). As a result, Centric have also set up a Latin American branch entitled Centriko which will operate in Latin America and the Afro-Latin diaspora, headed by Danna.
In the Dominican Republic, I witnessed societal inequalities and polarisation between rich and poor. There are also challenges around serious youth crime issues in the country. Yet there’s a dearth of research in this context and I was motivated to take a deep dive into the hard end of these communities to understand the dynamics.
During parts of this visit, I was quite out of my comfort zone, away from the urban backdrop of UK’s inner cities and amidst a Latin American nation which has its fair share of crime, robbery and drug cartels. Where Haitian gangs jostle openly over drug deals with local Dominican Republic gang members. It was somewhat of a culture shock, to the extent that for safety, I felt the need to place my watch in my pocket so as not to arouse the eyes of any opportunist robbers. So, in navigating this new space, my own vulnerabilities came to the fore. I also observed identity issues as per the Black identity-category which we will be developing in January 2023.
We met local researchers**, community health workers and others to explore the hidden transcripts of the country’s disempowered communities in Santa Domingo, where there is a lot of distrust. Communities were aware of extractive methods of research and hence the Centric ethos resonated with them. So, people opened their doors and let us into their homes to discuss communities being involved in research in an equitable manner and training in this regard.
This spoke volumes to me about the importance of the Centric ethos and its philosophy of engaging communities in the research processes. Considering this, we will be conducting community research training with partners in the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ghana, Morocco and the Gambia.
We have found associated projects in Africa to be impactful and useful when apathy is prominent, and around 300 individuals from South London have now expressed their interest in being more involved in such an initiative. Moreover, projects situated in deprived urban locales of Latin America resonate with the Afro-Latin diaspora in London. Making Afro-Latina Spanish connections will help with the Centriko Spanish programme launch with the Afro-Latin community in London and its health inequalities.
References and Relevant Links
Dec 23rd 2022
DANNA MICHELLY QUINONES RODRIGUEZ - CRRead More
Dec 23rd 2022
Shaun Danquah -Read More
Dec 23rd 2022
DR SHAUN DANQUAH - DIRECTORRead More