PHWB member Jenni Young with Ethiopian school kids

PHWB member Jenni Young with Ethiopian school children

February 16, 2015

Public Health Without Borders (PHWB), a University of Maryland student organization based in the School of Public Health, sent two student teams to Ethiopia and Peru in January 2015 to partner with local communities on projects to improve community health.

This is the first time that a PHWB team travelled to Ethiopia, while it was the fourth PHWB trip to Compone, Peru, where they have partnered with UMD’s Engineers Without Borders to improve infrastructure and health since 2013. 

Promoting Child Health in Ethiopia

The PHWB Ethiopia team, which included two undergraduate students, two doctoral students and two faculty members, spent ten days in the capitol of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and the central Ethiopian city Debre Berhan. In Debre Berhan, they explored the potential for starting a collaborative public health project to improve child nutrition, in partnership with faculty, students, and staff at Debre Berhan University.

The group interviewed students, faculty, and administrators at Debre Berhan University, all of whom were enthusiastic about working together on a student-led assessment and intervention project addressing the issue of child malnutrition.

In Ethiopia, 44 percent of children under five suffer from chronic undernutrition, according to the US Agency of International Development (USAID). Because Debre Berhan is a rapidly growing city, changing economic circumstances have led to new challenges with food security and dietary quality.

“While Ethiopia's malnutrition challenges are among the greatest in the world, there is substantial investment in community health, agricultural development, and higher education,” Dr. Stephanie Grutzmacher, research assistant professor in the Department of Family Science and faculty advisor to Public Health Without Borders, said. “This commitment to capacity building is what enables us to work alongside talented Ethiopian faculty, students, and health professionals to do this project as partners,” she added.

In addition to visiting the university, the group also met with school teachers and students at two local primary schools, health officials in Debre Berhan, public health and agriculture researchers, and the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. This trip built upon ties to Ethiopia established by retired University of Maryland Extension horticulturalist Hiwot Menbere, who is an expert in community gardens, and Dr. Grutzmacher, who work together on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Women in Agriculture project in Ethiopia. Mr. Menbere has also founded a non-profit organization, Good to Grow, Inc., to help build more school and community gardens as a means to increase access to nutrient-rich foods. 

Following the assessment, the PHWB team has decided to move forward in addressing child nutrition and food security by expanding projects related to two existing gardens at primary schools. The PHWB Ethiopia team plans to return in late spring of 2015 to move forward with its partnership with Debre Berhan University to prevent malnutrition. The next trip will include faculty-mentored student practicum in school-based nutrition education. Students will conduct trainings for school teachers to integrate gardening and nutrition education into the standard curriculum.

The Ethiopia team included:

  • Dr. Stephanie Grutzmacher, research assistant professor in the Department of Family Science
  • Hiwot Menbere, retired University of Maryland Extension horticulturalist and consultant to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Women in Agriculture project in Ethiopia
  • Jenni Young, PhD student in the Department of Family Science
  • Dominic Hosack, PhD student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health
  • Anthony Slaton, PHWB Ethiopia project leader and junior in Public Health Science
  • Jesse Wilson, freshman studying Biology and Chinese



[Ethiopia photo credits: 1- unindentified; 2- Anthony Slaten (AS); 3- AS; 4- AS; 5- Jenni Young (JY); 6-JY; 7- Stephanie Grutzmacher (SG); 8-SG; 9-JY; 10-SG; 11-Jesse Wilson; 12-SG; 13-SG; 14-JY]

Road Safety and Health Education in Rural Peru 

In PHWB’s fourth trip to Peru, the PHWB team assessed road safety and first aid knowledge and practices within the farming community of Compone, located outside of Cuzco, in order to develop a health education program.

The PHWB group has partnered with Compone through pre-existing connections made by UMD’s Engineers Without Borders student group. This community, which primarily relies upon cattle and other types of farming for its industry, has had health issues related to inadequate water sanitation. EWB and PHWB worked together on previous trips to provide a new water chlorination system and health sanitation education to the community. On this trip, EWB and PHWB transitioned to working together to improve road safety in Compone. PHWB will also address first aid education.

The three-person PHWB team, including Gretchen De Silva, Lecturer in Public Health Science, Kinesiology junior Alyssa Foust, and Behavioral and Community Health senior Katherine Garcia, conducted youth workshops, focus groups, and door-to-door interviews to help assess first aid and road safety practices and needs within the community.

A large, busy highway crosses through Compone, which leads to both people and cattle being hit by vehicles, as there is no shoulder, stoplight, or pedestrian bridge.

“There are a lot of injuries due to car accidents,” Kathy Garcia said. “People do get run over, particularly animals and older people.”

EWB is in the planning process of building a bridge that will allow the community to more safely cross the road by vehicle and foot, as well as move their cattle, which will require a multi-year construction plan. The data that PHWB gathers will help assess the utility of the bridge.

As a benefit of its multi-year relationship with the Compone community, PHWB has support from community leaders. PHWB’s focus groups and workshops were announced on the community’s PA system, via a truck that circulates throughout the town every morning.

“If you’re going to be doing work outside of your own community, you need to be networked in,” Dr. De Silva said of their approach.

About 15 youth attended the workshop on first aid and road safety. They completed first aid workbooks, games, and road safety work sheets, in addition to receiving goodie bags that included Band-Aids, reflective stickers, tissues, and other items. PHWB conducted 11 interviews by visiting every seventh house along the highway, and held a focus group with women in the community. They also obtained data on illness and accidents from the local health post, which is the only medical facility nearby.

Both Ms. Garcia, and PHWB member Cinthia Ennaco, a junior Kinesiology major, spoke about the importance of prioritizing community needs in doing global health work. Ms. Garcia and Ms. Ennaco are PHWB Peru project leaders.

“In class you learn about how to work with communities and partnerships, but you don’t really know what it is until you get there,” Ms. Garcia said. “You can’t really go there with an agenda; you have to be flexible and go with the flow.”

Ms. Ennaco, who went on the PHWB Peru trip in August 2014, and was in the Global Public Health Scholars Program, concurred.

“Road safety is something the locals said they needed and we wanted to help them,” Ms. Ennaco said.

The PHWB Peru team is using the information gathered in January to develop a public health education campaign that will be implemented in upcoming visits.



[Photo credits: Gretchen De Silva]


PHWB trips to Ethiopia and Peru were supported by generous financial and in-kind contributions, including by:

Debre Berhan University
Department of Family Science
Engineers Without Borders
Hiwot Menbere
PHWB Students
UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
UMD School of Public Health
& others

Related Links

Public Health Without Borders Blog

Related People
Gretchen E. De Silva