Professor takes snapshot of education in Africa

USF Associate Professor of Educational Psychology, Darlene DeMarie, Ph.D., was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship this year to develop a campus child care center at the University of Limpopo in northern South Africa and conduct research in elementary schools. Since arriving in South Africa in June, DeMarie said she has been overwhelmed by the impact of HIV/AIDS, the legacies of apartheid and the crushing poverty faced by the rural children she is helping. Before coming to USF, she worked with schoolchildren in a rural part of Southeastern Ohio. DeMarie’s specialty is experimental psychology, and her specific area of research is memory development and its connection with the pictures children take.

Oracle: Why did you choose to research children’s photography?

Darlene DeMarie: I first used children’s photography as a way to give children picture cues to assist their memory. After my son, who then was 5-6 years old, and I visited a place, I noticed that his photos and my photos had little in common. Yet we both were excited about the photos we took. It was then that I realized that photography was a great way to see the world through children’s eyes. Photography is a powerful way to discover what’s important to children. Their verbal skills are limited. Their drawing ability is limited. Photography doesn’t limit their expression, and they really enjoy it.

O: Had you started a child care center before you left for South Africa?

DD: I started a campus child care center at Muskingum College (in rural Ohio), so this was very familiar work for me. My first study using

photography was conducted with children at the child care center I started. When we went to the zoo with the 3- to 12-year-olds, I gave them cameras to “take pictures so others who couldn’t come to the zoo will know what the zoo is like.” The youngest children photographed only animals in their home or school environment (goldfish, goats, chipmunks, etc.). Looking at their photographs, you wouldn’t even know you were at the zoo.

O: What has shocked you the most about South Africa?

DD: The impact of HIV/AIDS on the children of South Africa. There are literally children raising children here. I went to a house that looked more like a tin can with another professor. He was delivering two loaves of bread for two children. The 9-year-old and 8-year-old lived alone, because both of their parents had died of AIDS the previous year. I don’t think that anything could have prepared me for this experience.

O: How have you seen the impact of apartheid in Limpopo?

DD: The effects of apartheid are still very evident in the rural region in which I am living. For example, in the campus restaurant, it is rare to see blacks and whites (what they call themselves) sitting together. In fact, within the blacks, there are those who come from the same tribe who sit together and speak their native language while those who come from a different tribe tend to sit together. Those who have immigrated to South Africa from Nigeria or Uganda or other nations in Africa tend to be excluded from these groups. Apartheid created a sense of helplessness, and it takes a while to overcome that feeling. There seems to be an unwritten rule that you do not criticize anyone. That makes it very difficult to help people to advance, because no one will say how something could be better. Apartheid unfortunately is not over in many ways.

O: How were schools affected by apartheid?

DD: The schools that had been traditionally all white have the highest tuition, and they still contain very few blacks. The rural schools where I am have very low tuition, and they are exclusively black. The latter schools tend to have broken windows, few supplies, and few books. I witnessed 54 high school students sharing nine literature books. They don’t have computers, but giving them computers would not help: some don’t even have electricity.

O: Are you involved in any other projects?

DD: I am completing a project for the American Embassy in South Africa. They gave high school students cameras to take photographs of what they consider landmarks of their community. I’m currently interviewing the students about their photographs and will develop an exhibit of 40 of their photographs for the Polokwane Art Museum. The differences between the students from town versus the rural regions are pronounced. The rural students have more photos of nature and seem to have more personal connections and richer stories about those places. The town students seem less connected to places. They simply say things such as “That’s the tallest building in town.” Once again, photography seems to capture things that may not be visible without this tool.

Christine Gibson can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or