The University Record, January 30, 1996

South African architect wants to rebuild country

By Janet Nellis Mendler
News and Information Services 

"Now that we have a democracy, I want to work with the government and with fellow architects in rebuilding the country," South African architect Jo Noero told an audience of more than 300 at the fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Research Symposium sponsored by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP).

Noero, founder and principal architect of a Johannesburg firm, delivered the keynote address to the forum, "Community-Based Research: Communities in Focus," which also featured presentations from UROP students and their faculty advisers.

Noero, who later spoke to a College of Architecture and Urban Planning forum, said that he had a very clear idea of architecture's relationship to the Apartheid government in South Africa---that it was an absolute disgrace to the profession to work for the state in the Apartheid era. Now that a democratic structure exists, he says he wants to work with the government and fellow architects to rebuild the country.

While his own firm is designing educational and community resource centers within the previously segregated townships, he says that South African architects must help design low cost housing, public works and urban renewal projects.

"The community of South African architects---small, highly skilled and expensive though we are---must contribute vigorously to the issues that are changing the physical structure of our country," Noero said.

Following the architect's talk, several UROP student groups reviewed their community contributions in the Detroit area and nationally.

School of Social Work Prof. Robert Ortega works with students on the Latino Child Welfare Project; Prof. Lorraine Guiterrez of social work and the psychology department sponsors "Identifying and Analyzing Community Functioning"; Center for the Education of Women Researcher Anna Santiago directs "Violence in Latino Families"; while social work Prof. Marti Bombyk works with students on "Youth Participation in School Communities."

The Latino Child Welfare Project, presented by Ortega and students Noemi Cortes, Theresa Dakin and Rebecca Davila, is an attempt to understand the relationship between poverty, mental health, child abuse and neglect in the Latino community. The group is analyzing national data in an attempt to discover successful intervention programs as identified by professionals from across the country. In the Detroit area, they will host focus groups in an effort to assess community concerns and needs.

Merkys Gomez and graduate student Sherrill Sellars assist Guiterrez in working with the Michigan Neighborhood Partnership and its member groups in Detroit area Arab American, African American and Hispanic American communities to develop education programs that will teach practical life skills, aid in making available education resources such as reading programs and GED classes, and after-school and weekend activities for children. Another objective is help with searching for and getting jobs, and a third aim is a strengthening of families by helping to open channels of communication to bring families closer.

Students Erica Green and Julie Jackson work with Santiago to collect and analyze data from Hispanic American women on family life and conflict resolution. More than 40 percent of their sample reported physical abuse; and 70 percent said they were victims of emotional abuse. The researchers' ultimate goal is to examine the role of the extended family in reporting abusive situations, and to identify what factors influence women to stay or leave a violent environment.

Bombyk's students are focusing on youth in Detroit. "All of us have to look at how we can help make Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream come true, and we believe that we must begin with young people, " Bombyk told her audience.

Student presenters Kristin Clearly, Sandra Fabre, Francine Farmer and Regina Werts are analyzing data from an international sample of young people 15---17 and developing a format for presentation of the data. They also reviewed their interaction with the Detroit Youth Department and plans for a March 9 Youth Summit at Detroit's Cobo Hall. Its theme will be POWER, People informed, Overcoming obstacles, Working together, Energizing the community and Reaping rewards. Suggestions from the session will be presented by young people to the Detroit City Council, the State legislature and to Congress.

Farmer, in addition, is part of the Detroit Peacemakers, a group that teaches alternative methods of conflict resolution to school children in Detroit. The Peacemakers follow up with the participants and contact parents and school officials to assess the children's academic and social progress. While the main objective, said Farmer, is to offer alternatives to violence, another goal is to help youth become involved in their communities as leaders and to increase their beliefs in self-determination.