Work with rural Ugandans earns professor recognition

Jennifer Nacin

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has awarded Robert Mazur, associate professor of sociology, the 2005 Liberal Arts and Sciences Award for Distinguished International Service.

The annual award is given to faculty who demonstrate exceptional international service through research, teaching or administration.

Mazur performs international service by acting as the director of the Sustainable Rural Livelihoods Program. The program works with international partnerships to attend to world poverty and hunger issues.

Mazur said the program has created working ties with Makerere University in Uganda, as well as Uganda’s non-governmental agency Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns.

“It is unusual that most universities do not have relationships like Iowa State does with non-governmental organizations,” Mazur said. “It allows us to do work that directly benefits world communities.”

He said the livelihoods program is working in four Ugandan communities to maintain a rural development support project in which representatives from each community are trained to more effectively ensure food security and engage in the food market. These representatives take these newly learned skills to their communities and share the knowledge they have been given, he said.

The program also aims to improve the diet, nutrition and health of people in developing counties, especially infants and children, he said.

“We are a land-grant university, and we should be involved with research and service,” Mazur said. “And this is exactly what we are doing.”

Lorna Butler, who holds the Henry Wallace chair for sustainable agriculture, has worked with Mazur in the livelihoods program and said his international experience was essential to starting this program. “It took, with his help and the help of the management team, a year to identify a country in which to work,” Butler said. “We are indebted to his leadership and indebted to his excitement for this program.”

She said the research and service allows the university to reach out and give people the skills they need to improve their lives and their country.

“We are working with people in Uganda, most of whom are very poor, but they have good ideas and wonderful backgrounds,” Butler said. “But they need further support in how to work together, increase income, improve technology so that it is useful and sustainable to them.”

Mazur was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe in the 1980s. He is also working with Grace Marquis, associate professor in food science and human nutrition, to research nutrition among children in HIV-affected communities in Ghana.