Two compelled to fight AIDS in South Africa
Both intend to spend next year working with local organizations in South Africa to combat the devastation caused by AIDS. For both, this plan seemed like the only reasonable course of action after the life-changing experiences of their last two years at Princeton.
For Manning, it was spending a summer in South Africa with the original intention of studying and working on the problem of poverty. She became gripped by the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic and made it the subject of her senior thesis.
"It's hard to learn about the AIDS epidemic in South Africa and not try to do something about it," said Manning.
"It would have been impossible for me to decide to just work in America in a simple, cushy medical practice," said Chen.
This dedication, along with outstanding academic records, earned Manning and Chen the Labouisse Fellowship, an annual award that supports research in developing countries by a graduating senior or a first-year alumnus or alumna who intends to pursue a career devoted to problems of development and modernization.
Usually the fellowship is given to a single student. On rare occasions two have been selected, but this is the first year that the fellowship has funded students working on the same problem in the same country, said Deborah Yashar, an assistant professor in the Woodrow Wilson School who coordinated this year's selection. The award, usually $15,000, was raised to $25,000 for each student.
"The committee was struck by the tremendous opportunity of having two excellent students working in the same country on one of the world's most pressing issues and doing it from complementary perspectives," said Yashar.
Manning, a Woodrow Wilson School major, plans to work from a public policy perspective on issues of AIDS education and prevention, while Chen, a molecular biology major, plans to work in clinics and the public health system.
'A vibrant place'
Manning began learning about South Africa her junior year when she took a seminar in which students worked as a task force to address economic development in South Africa. She decided to write her senior thesis on poverty in South Africa and traveled to the country last summer to volunteer and conduct research.
While she was there, however, she had the repeated experience of seeing the small gains made by grassroots anti-poverty organizations wiped out by AIDS, which killed family breadwinners and community leaders. In her fellowship proposal, she noted that the life expectancy in South Africa is projected to fall from 56 years in 1998 to 48 years in 2010 because of AIDS. At its present rate, the epidemic is expected to kill half of all 15-year-old boys now living in the country.
As she learned more about the problem, Manning changed her senior thesis plans and is now finishing a study of the politics of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
But something else also happened while she was there. "I also just fell in love with the country and wanted to come back and spend time there," she said. "It's a vibrant place because they are just coming off of apartheid and there is a real sense of optimism. Even when you are talking about poverty and AIDS, there is a belief that they will be able to tackle it and do something about it."
Manning has planned a three-tier project: she will conduct research in the University of Natal's Health Economics and AIDS Research Division; she will work with a local organization in Natal on AIDS education and prevention; and she will enroll in the university's graduate program for public policy.
Seeing the task ahead
Chen had a "vague idea" that he wanted to become a doctor when he came to Princeton, but it was only in the last year that he grew into the conviction that he would practice international medicine with an emphasis on tackling health issues of the developing world.
Although his thesis work focused on the genetics of a unique type of precursor cell that gives rise to all the different cells in blood, he learned about the AIDS virus through his coursework, which included a class on virology.
"Just because of the magnitude of the problem and my general knowledge, AIDS was a natural thing for me to be interested in," said Chen.
His ideas on the subject truly snapped into focus when he took Singer's course "Practical Ethics." He said he took the class primarily out of curiosity about Singer's controversial writings on such issues as euthanasia. Those are not the issues that captivated him, however. "The thing that really stuck with me is his stance that we have a moral obligation to help those in developing countries," said Chen, who then wrote a paper on the subject.
In his fellowship application, he wrote that he certainly believes in the merit of cutting-edge medical science, "but I believe more strongly in the need to first tackle the challenge of bringing all the people of the world up to a basic level of sustenance."
He said he sees medicine as a tool for accomplishing that goal, but does not want to spend seven years in medical training before "even catching a glimpse of the issues I want to address."
Like Manning, Chen has a three-part agenda for the year. He plans to spend the first six months working with a grassroots organization called Philani, which addresses the problem of malnutrition. He will work the remainder of the year with another group called loveLife, which focuses on HIV/AIDS education among adolescents. Throughout the year, he also plans to work with the Department of Health and Social Services of the Western Cape region of South Africa.
Both Manning and Chen said they are excited about the prospect of the other being in South Africa at the same time. Although they do not have specific plans to work together, they hope to meet and stay in touch with each other.
"It would have eased the pain a little if he had won because at least he would be addressing an issue that I feel is very important," Manning quipped. "But it is exciting to have both of us. It really adds something."
The Labouisse Fellowship was established in 1987 to honor
the memory of Henry Richardson Labouisse '26, who held posts
in the State Department and United Nations for nearly 40
years, serving as head of UNICEF from 1965 to 1979.