A new prespective

Sleeping bags, canteens, makeshift homes and masses of people-no, we're not talking about Krzyzewskiville.

Those were the conditions at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, recently attended by Neil Gupta--who graduated Duke last year and is serving as a Hart Fellow in Health Policy and Social Medicine in Victoria, Brazil.

For the third year, the World Social Forum has drawn thousands of people who congregate to address issues of an increasingly globalized world and social problems such as human rights, environmental reform and health care. "Another World is Possible" was the theme of this year's conference, held Jan. 23-28.

"There were about 100,000 people of all different backgrounds chanting and marching for their own crusades, all social programs and social work," Gupta said.

The forum developed as a response to the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Groups that desired to address issues of social ills paralleled the economic gathering with a forum of their own.

"I guess it's kind of channeling all the frustrations with an increasingly globalized world... into actions to promote equality and justice around the world," Gupta explained. "It's kind of like dreaming about things you can actually put together, and these are all concrete things people are doing."

Gupta has been in Brazil since last July, and is working on a project that addresses adherence by HIV patients to anti-viral treatment. The Hart fellow, who plans to attend medical school next year, is monitoring which type of medical service best stimulates adherence. "The reason I'm doing this fellowship is that I wanted to get an international and health policy perspective," he said.

His advisers in the Sanford Institute for Public Policy were not surprised to hear that Gupta had chosen to participate in the forum, noting that he always struck a special balance between his capacities to excel at science and to understand the needs of people.

"During his time at Duke, he shined in the areas of neuroscience, but also in the humanitarian world. He has a real passion for humanitarian work and issues of social justice," said Matthew Reisman, Trinity '00, a program coordinator for the Hart Fellowship Program. "I have a feeling he could speak to issues of the well-being of AIDS patients because he has experience of people and communities affected by AIDS."

Along with 100,000 delegates from 128 countries representing over 5,500 non-governmental organizations, labor unions, human rights groups, leftist political parties, environmental reformists and more, Gupta participated in a variety of workshops, discussions and performances.

Gupta said that he was particularly struck by seeing first-hand a global demonstration and the people working with NGOs. "To know that there are tangible goals that have been met, that's what the World Social Forum demonstrated," he said.

His friends in public policy studies agreed that the forum must have fit Gupta like a glove because of his attention to both practical goals and collective learning and dreaming.

"What stands out to me is this talent he has to integrate his interest in social injustice and his skills largely in research," said Sara Jewett, Trinity '00, also a program coordinator and former Hart fellow who traveled to Nicaragua with Gupta when they were both undergraduates. "What he's able to do is go into a different culture and be professional, but also very personal."

It was the personal side of the forum that Gupta seemed to take to heart the most.

"What I took away more than coming up with some sort of movement or concrete steps of what I want to do in my own social work was a great experience meeting people from all over and sharing this collective movement," Gupta said, "sharing ideas with them and coming together with a common cause."


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