Latest update of this page: September 25, 2004

Muriel Visser

I often find myself prefacing my answers to supposedly simple questions, such as where are you from, where did you grow up, what is it that you do, with the weighty and wavering word "well" as a way of qualifying all that will follow. In part this is probably because my childhood may be a little less than usual, growing up in Africa, going to school for the first time when I was nine, volunteering at a blood bank when I was 15, doing three quite different university degrees (in rural sociology, distance education and health communication) on an equal number of continents. But probably more importantly my use of the word "well" is a reflection of the fact that life is complex, that what is reality for one person may be fiction for another although they may technically share the same space and time, that our perception of ourselves and others is shaped by so many different factors that it is only possible to speak of what we have in common in very cautious terms, and that there is really no such thing as a straightforward solution or a simple problem.

This "mini philosophy" - if you can call it that - extends to my professional life, a glimpse of which may be gleaned from my resume. I don't believe in simple answers or solutions. I do believe in the art of asking questions, of constantly challenging the boundaries of what we know and what we believe in by exposing ourselves to the unknown, the incomprehensible, even to that which we abhor or which frightens us. In a world where issues increasingly present themselves in the form of dichotomies, I believe that the understanding that comes from successively seeking, examining, accepting and disseminating alternative and multiple realities and interpretations is, and will continue to be, fundamental to human survival and development.

Humankind faces challenges far beyond those that are the immediate consequence of the complexity of human nature and human interaction. One of these challenges is the devastation, confusion and despair that are being brought on by the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Alarm bells regarding the potential impact of this disease were being rung - and largely ignored - as far back as the late 1980's, when I first started working in Africa. It was the confrontation with the impact of the disease - while working on various education and rural development initiatives in Mozambique in the 1990's - combined with my perplexity at the absence of a response by governments, institutions and individuals, as well as the experience of having a very close friend become affected by the disease, that strengthened my personal resolve to in some small way contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the many factors (poverty, politics, violation of human rights) that facilitate the spread of the disease.

Initially, I attempted to address the (potential) impact of the disease by integrating this concern in activities that I was already working on in the field of education and rural development in Mozambique. However, doing so made me increasingly frustrated with the limited impact of these strategies and activities and with my own lack of understanding of the complex interaction of factors that can make rational and even well informed human beings engage in irrational and potentially harmful behavior. And so I decided to step away from what I had been working on and to broaden and strengthen my skills by pursuing a Ph.D. in communication at Florida State University while actively (and concurrently with my academic pursuits) engaging in various research and development endeavors in the field of HIV/AIDS and other areas of health related human behavior.

A selection of topics that I have worked on over the past years can be found below, together with links to relevant abstracts, papers and publications, two of which can also be found in the "papers" section of the site:

Concurrently, I have continued to work as a consultant in education and health in Mozambique for a number of international and bilateral organizations (the French Development Agency, UNICEF, Irish Aid) as well as for a local NGO (UDEBA - Gaza). For details, see my resume.

In addition to my professional engagements, I very much enjoy photography as the pictures that I have included here testify.
In the coming years I hope to continue to explore some of the questions that have kept me busy so far. Not because I have come any closer to an answer - life is not as simple as that - but because what I have learnt so far has convinced me that addressing the challenges we face, such as those of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, requires that we continue to ask questions beyond our own, often simplistic, interpretation of the world. It is in this context that I elaborated a concept paper for research and activities in the domain of HIV/AIDS for the Learning Development Institute. It can be found on the relevant page for the Attitudinal and Behavioral Change (ABC) area of activity of this Web site. In the spirit of much of what LDI does, this is an on-going initiative which you are invited to examine and comment on.