Public Health Without Borders Serves Local Schools in Sierra Leone and India
This summer, the School of Public Health’s student-run organization, Public Health Without Borders (PHWB) returned to Sierra Leone and made its first trip to India to serve vulnerable communities and educate local schools about safe hygiene practices.
Each group, comprised of SPH students, faculty members and staff, led educational workshops related to hygiene and sanitation, targeting the critical public health needs of the communities they served.
Continuing their work supported by the Madieu Williams Foundation, PHWB’s Sierra Leone team focused its efforts on sanitation, first-aid education and addressing the aftermath of Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak. In its previous trips to Sierra Leone, PHWB students from the engineering department installed an UV water sanitation system, responding to concerns about water hygiene in the community.
Driven by the need to address global health disparities, PHWB is dedicated to alleviating public health issues related to sanitation and medical care in poverty-stricken communities around the world. PHWB has established projects and forged collaborations in Peru and Ethiopia.
PHWB in Lucknow, India (July 25th-29th, 2016)
- Joshua Trowell '16, Honors B.S. in Community Health & Behavioral Sciences
- Nick Albaugh '17, community health & behavioral sciences major
- Prateek Mechicheni '17, cell biology and genetics major
- Dr. Dina Borzekowski, Research Professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health
Under the guidance of Dr. Borzekowski, Trowell, Albaugh and Mechicheni delivered 30-minute, interactive lessons on sanitation and hygiene in 17 different schools in Lucknow, India, serving a total of 550 children in a period of five days.
PHWB’s first trip to India was made possible through Dina Borzekowski’s connection to local schools in Lucknow, India. Dr. Borzekowski, whose work focuses on the intersection of media and health, worked with local schoolchildren to measure the public health impact of “Galli Sim Sim,” the Indian version of Sesame Street.
The lessons led by PHWB students included a handwashing activity, in which PHWB members would ask students questions about germs and then demonstrate the effects of handwashing using Glo Germ gel and a black light to reveal the spots left by the gel.
The students would wash their hands to get rid of the spots left on their hands, which served as a visual representation of germs. Using the black light, the students would discuss the differences they saw after they washed their hands and receive prizes for their participation.
PHWB worked with Lucknow schools that lacked adequate sanitation and had ongoing diarrhea outbreaks. Many of the local schoolchildren, the majority from low-income families, had to wear the same uniform every day, Albaugh observed.
“These kids have a lot going on. When they are not in school, they’re usually helping their families,” Albaugh said.
Albaugh, an undergraduate studying community health, said that participating in the project in India fueled his passion for community health. He hopes to return to India next year with a larger group of students.
PHWB in Calaba Town, Sierra Leone (June 2016)
- Ya-Maila Bangura '17, government and politics major
- Christina Memmott '17, public health science major
- Rianna Murray, doctoral candidate in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health(MIAEH)
- Laura Drew, doctoral candidate in the Maternal and Child Health
- Dr. Elisabeth Maring, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Science, Director of Global Health Initiatives
In their third trip to Sierra Leone, the PHWB student team focused their efforts on promoting handwashing, teaching first aid skills, educating local communities about malaria and encouraging the local community to share their experiences struggling with Ebola.
In partnership with the Madieu Williams Foundation, PHWB carried out an evaluation of Abigail D. Butscher School in Calaba Town in order to assess academic achievement, the quality of the instruction and the students’ access to clean drinking water.
The team led interactive handwashing lessons at the Abigail D. Butscher school, also using Glo Germ gel and a black light to demonstrate how germs can be washed away with soap and water.
Prior to traveling to Sierra Leone in Summer 2016, PHWB had dedicated the 2015-2016 school year researching and designing first aid education materials to provide to Calaba Town’s community. Based on original materials PHWB developed, the team delivered lessons on bandaging and other first aid skills.
“Many students expressed an interest in the healthcare field and they were excited to learn these new skills,” PHWB members reported in a summary of their trip.
Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Murray plans to dedicate herself to community engagement in her home country after finishing her doctoral program in the School of Public Health. Her experience working in Sierra Leone allowed her to put into practice the skills she has been developing in her program and her community engagement work in the United States.
“Just getting out and being able to do similar work in a whole different cultural setting— it’s very eye-opening,” Murray said. “It makes you appreciative of what we have here.”
As Sierra Leone recovers from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, misconceptions about how the disease is spread and treated still persist, Murray said. Aside from teaching and leading hands-on activities for disease prevention, the PHWB team also interviewed members of the communities who were afflicted by the Ebola epidemic through the loss of family members and the closure of schools and businesses.
Based on the input gathered from key community members and their own assessments, future PHWB teams will continue evaluating schools, focus on maternal and child health and expand their first aid training curriculum.