Baylor in Brazil: A Family Experience

July 3, 2023
Eva and Robert in Brazil

For decades, Brazil has been a love story for two Baylor faculty members. It is where Eva Doyle, PhD, Chair of the Department of Public Health, met her husband in 1979. Eva was a recent college graduate and volunteered to go to Brazil with a faith-based organization working in churches. Robert Doyle, PhD, Associate Chair for the Department of Biology, grew up in Brazil as the son of Baptist missionaries. Within a year of meeting, the two were engaged.

“Through the years we have been back to Brazil many times. We went back in 1990 to do dissertation research, as both of us were working on PhDs at the same time. Our youngest son was born while we were down there,” Eva said. “Brazil has been very much a part of our family for a very long time, for a lot of different reasons.”

Young Eva and Doyle.
Eva and Robert Doyle, in 2006, on their first Baylor in Brazil trip.

Eva felt called toward a career in public health. One of her favorite things to do is to be out in communities, intently listening to locals and providing tools that can be used or improved upon after she leaves. In addition to Brazil, she has researched in Armenia and worked with underserved communities, including migrant and seasonal farmworkers.

Robert grew up along the Amazon River and speaks fluent Portuguese. He was surrounded by wetlands and plants, so it seemed natural to become an aquatic ecologist.

The Doyles eventually settled in Denton, Texas, where Eva taught at Texas Woman's University and Robert taught at the University of North Texas. In 2001, Eva received a phone call from a colleague about a job opening at Baylor University. The opportunity allowed Eva to join the Department of Public Health, and Robert, the Department of Biology.

“That opened the door for both of us. We really believe that it was a God thing, because that doesn't happen very often for dual-career couples,” Eva said. “Looking back, we had our doubts about uprooting our children, but it turned out to be one of the best things for our family.”

In 2006, Eva and Robert co-designed a unique study abroad program, Baylor in Brazil (BiB). The immersive, five-week program is offered to students in the Department of Public Health and other health-related disciplines and is based in the state of Espírito Santo, Brazil. Students study and work in underserved neighborhoods in both the capital city of Vitória and the rural community of Anchieta, and then they wrap up the trip with an adventure to Rio de Janeiro.

BiB provides students an opportunity to engage in global and environmental health initiatives through service-oriented courses and a faith-based perspective. Partnerships with local churches allow the team to interact directly with locals, most of whom live in underserved communities. Students learn how to work with interpreters to ensure the messages are accurately conveyed.

Originally, Eva envisioned going into churches and talking with women's groups, with a focus on women’s health education. But, as she spent more time within each community, she heard a strong concern for children to learn how to make healthy choices in life. As a result, BiB pivoted to visit schools, alongside their church partners.

This summer’s trip to Brazil will be the first since 2019 due to COVID-19-related restrictions and precautions. Eva wanted to ensure that it was safe to go back into underserved communities before relaunching the trip. She is eager to return to a country, and to church pastors, who are like family. Along with their students, Eva and Robert will teach about reproductive health, bullying, how to prevent bullying and violence, and mental health to the communities they visit.

“Brazil has been very much a part of our family for a very long time, for a lot of different reasons.”

Ultimately, Eva’s goal for BiB is to provide resources and ideas to the churches so that they can continue the work themselves after the Baylor team returns to Texas. Realistically, she knows sometimes the local work continues, while other times it does not. But she is joyful when she hears success stories.

“On the third year with a particular church, they said they wanted to have their own health fair centered on domestic violence for women in the community. They brought in their own people! I loved it. I saw it from a distance and just watched. Women in the church brought in an expert from a non-profit, not far from their community. They were talking with women about domestic violence. And it was such a big deal! Each session had at least 10 women sitting there,” Eva said. “My heart was beating so fast, because that's not something that I could have done. I could not have gone into that community, as a stranger, and talked to those women about domestic violence in the way the women from the local church did. That’s when I get excited. We didn't teach them how to teach domestic violence. We just planted the seed.”

Eva knows her and Robert’s study abroad partnership may seem like an unusual one. But ultimately, their love for Brazil, and for serving others, make it successful.

“I think that's an interesting thing I sometimes see on Baylor campus. There are those faculty members whose research is not focused on people necessarily, but whose lives are. Robert is a good example of that. When we go into the school system he is not standing back – he's helping. He's a true partner in our school-based health promotion,” Eva said. “We developed a study abroad program that we could share, something we could lead together and that would be connected to Brazil.”