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by Tiffany Aquino

Imagine living in a community where your whole life, your village is situated around a rough, barely passable dirt road. One day, the president of your country decides to visit your region, so trucks full of dirt come rolling in and lay a beautiful, fairly even road outside your home in a matter of weeks. All of the sudden, your road goes from barely passable, to cars passing regularly...and not just any cars, for the only ones who generally venture out this far are the heavy duty trucks and SUVs, ones that are tough enough for the dirt road and potentially rough ride. You go from barely ever seeing a car in your community, to them flying by at 20, 30, even 40 mph. Or even more dramatically, you get a paved road and now these vehicles can pass by your house at full speed, with drivers barely seeing you as they go about their journeys.

Now imagine what your first instinct would be. Would you, even as an adult, stop and say to yourself "I should look both ways before crossing the road now". Probably not. Maybe you keep walking on the road as you always have, maybe you move further to the side, but still are grateful for an easier walking path.

It's quite the paradox - infrastructure development actually ushering in significant health and safety risks to a community. Communities are being infused with economic opportunity and access to goods and services from new roads, while these leapfrogging technologies lead to a significant increase in safety risk. I could go into citations of studies and history of such types of technological leapfrogging, but instead I'm just going to give my own personal theory (disclaimer: I'm sure it’s possible others have theorized about this too) of why this paradox exists, based on my experiences and observation from living in a variety of contexts, the most recent of which was a rural village in Eastern Africa.

Growing up in an environment like the US has plenty of perks, one of which was being born in a time and place where road safety was already being emphasized. From the time I was old enough to run, I was taught to look both ways before crossing the street. I was required to sit in a car seat, and never left to play by the roadside. Though some towns may not have had paved roads by then, they were the minority, and road systems and safety policies were developing at a pace fairly even with automotive technology. Essentially, places like the US had time to build cultural norms, values and policies around the concepts of road and car safety as the cars got quicker, bigger, and more widespread. Infrastructure improved over long periods of time (think: it’s taken us over a century to reach the road quality we have now), paved roads were not instantly built in communities as soon as the Model T rolled off the assembly line.

Now, in many developing contexts, communities will go from no roads (or very poor ones) and no cars, to a modern paved highway and full speed modern vehicles, even semi-trucks, in a few years’ time. To me it seems that even when policies are in place for safety, nothing can replace the longer term cultural shift that must take place in order for safety behaviors to become instinct. Perhaps it’s time to focus on new ways of leapfrogging progress in societal safety norms to catch up with the leapfrogging development. Day after day I watched hundreds of community members walk along the roadside (or in the road) headed to the market, to their jobs, or wherever that day's activities took them, and day after day I saw close calls, too close for comfort, of people not watching for cars, of scary night time driving, of children unattended running out in the road, of drivers with no regard for pedestrians or road hazards - all kinds of continuous threats to a community's safety.

The best I could do was to travel with this knowledge, to remember that not everyone would have the same safety instincts I do, and to walk, drive and ride with caution, and encourage others to do the same. Hopefully in the process I was an example to others, and helped a little in moving the cultural norms in the direction of safety.


Tiffany AquinoTiffany AquinoTiffany completed her undergraduate studies in Psychology at Drexel University. After college, she volunteered with a medical team in Bolivia and worked as a foster care social worker in Philadelphia. Eventually, she returned to work in mental health as a clinical research coordinator, where she managed studies examining drug efficacy, relapse prevention and pharmacogenomics for anxiety and depression. She co-authored several peer-reviewed publications on this research. Tiffany earned her Master's in Public Heath from the University of Pennsylvania. This lead her back to Latin America, where she completed a master's internship in Nicaragua with Acción Médica Cristiana, a community health NGO. There, she learned from and worked alongside community health workers, focusing on health education and outreach for maternal and child health, food security and access to medication. Tiffany was a 2012-2013 Global Health Corps Fellow, working in Rwanda as a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Partners in Health. She has traveled to many additional countries in Latin America and Europe, as well as Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, and Uganda. She currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, yoga, sewing and traveling.

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About the Authors

Bobby Gondola
Debra Bokur

Globe Tripper
At Grand Central Station when she was 9 years old, Debra Bokur decided that a different train from the one her parents were boarding looked as though it might be going someplace more interesting, so she took that one instead. She still loves trains, and has since traveled the world as an award-winning journalist, magazine editor and filmmaker. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Debra contributes regularly to Global Traveler Magazine, and serves as the magazine website’s daily feature writer.

Debra is a contributing author to Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry (The Bench Press, 2001). She holds degrees in both Theater and English Literature, and has been the poetry editor of the nationally acclaimed literary journal Many Mountains Moving since 2002. She has also been the travel editor at national publications including Healing Lifestyles & Spas Magazine, American Cowboy Magazine, and Fit Yoga Magazine, and has been a frequent guest on Wine Country Network’s national radio program discussing the topic of international travel.

Debra once lived a double life training horses professionally in the disciplines of dressage and three-day eventing while serving as an editor and writer at several equestrian-themed publications. Her current favorite places to wander are Iceland, Switzerland, the U.K., Israel and Italy. In her new blog, Globe Tripper, Debra will bring us along on her adventures.

Bobby Gondola
Bobby Gondola

World Wanderings
Bobby Gondola serves as Director of Operations & Development at Year Up, a nationally recognized workforce development and higher education program for urban young adults. He leads both the internal operations and external relations. Previously, he was Director of External Relations at Opus 118 Harlem School of Music in New York City, the Harlem-based violin program made famous by Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart. He also worked as a community development consultant in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.  

Bobby earned a B.A. in painting and politics from Salve Regina University and studied abroad in Rome, Italy. He also holds an M.P.P. in Political Advocacy and Leadership from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was a Public Service Fellow. Bobby lives in Providence, Rhode Island and serves on theWaterFire Providence Board, College Leadership Rhode Island Program Committee, and the Providence Public School Board. He has traveled to all continents, except Antarctica and Australia, which he’ll get to. Eventually.

Aaron Shapiro
Aaron Shapiro

My Driver Project
Aaron Shapiro is a 2011 alumnus of University of Maryland, College Park, where he received a B.S. in Global Health and completed a minor in International Development and Conflict Management. After graduating, he joined the Global Health Corps as a program manager for Gardens for Health International in Kigali, Rwanda. Aaron has interned for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Food Security, the Social Justice Coalition in Cape Town, South Africa, and volunteered at St. Lucia Hospice and Orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania. Aaron has also traveled in Congo, Burundi, Uganda, and Zambia. He is currently working in Washington, D.C. and applying to medical school.

Photo of Natalia Jaffee
Natalia Jaffee

Traffic Lights are Optional in Hanoi
Natalia Jaffee is a 10th grade student at the United Nations International School of Hanoi. She grew up in Potomac, MD and attended Cold Spring Elementary School and Cabin John Middle School. While visiting Maryland in the summer of 2011, she interned at ASIRT and published a personal account of the road situations in Vietnam. Natalia enjoys traveling and has traveled throughout East Asia. In her free time, she enjoys running, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.

Photo of Laura Blanar
Laura Blanar

From A to B Safely: A Transportation Travel Blog
Laura Blanar traveled through Asia, Africa and Oceania with her husband, Adam, for 14 months. Prior to her travels, she worked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as a research scientist, and in injury and violence at PAHO/WHO as a contractor. Laura holds a Masters of Health Science from the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a specialization in health systems, and also obtained the B.A. in public health from the Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in several professional journals relating to injury and public health. In September 2011, Laura entered a PhD program at the University of Washington in public health, with a focus on injury. When not traveling, Laura enjoys running, wood carving and reading non-fiction and mystery books.