Public Health Without Borders students deliver nutrition lessons to children at the Abigail D. Butscher Primary School in Cabala Town, Sierra Leone.

Public Health Without Borders students deliver nutrition lessons to children at the Abigail D. Butscher Primary School in Cabala Town, Sierra Leone.

July 16, 2019

Public Health Without Borders (PHWB) students have spent almost every summer since 2014 in Calaba Town, Sierra Leone delivering health education workshops based on the community’s needs. 

Their consistency nurtures a strong relationship with the community and is a mark of PHWB’s commitment. 

“We greet each other with hugs rather than handshakes,” said team lead and maternal and child health doctoral student Laura Drew on her third PHWB trip to the town. “We have built a relationship with the community and with that comes a sense of responsibility.” 

Although only a few students travel, the whole PHWB team spends the months ahead of each trip researching and developing culturally competent materials based on the community’s needs assessments from previous years. 

This year, undergraduate students Danielle Gans, Rhea Gupta, Samiye Miyashita and Zill Parikh along with graduate students Reza Datar, Laura Drew, and Julia Calloway delivered workshops on nutrition, first aid, hand-washing, oral rehydration therapies and Typhoid/Cholera prevention at the Abigail D. Butscher School from June 7 through June 19.

They taught community members how to supplement their rice-based diet within their means, use strips of cloth as bandages, cool burns even when clean water is unavailable and create a simple solution of water, sugar and salt to prevent dehydration. 

PHWB students also conducted a behavioral health survey with sixth-graders at the Abigail D. Butscher School. A preliminary look at the survey revealed that the students used a communal cup at the school water fountain—propagating the spread of germs and bacteria. With this information, the PHWB students taught the children about the dangers of this practice and how to drink from the cup without having it touch their lips.

Unfortunately, PHWB’s visit coincided with the early start of Sierra Leone’s six-month rainy season and not everyone could attend PHWB’s workshops. 

The town stands still during heavy rains—and with good reason. In 2017 a devastating landslide and flooding ripped through Sierra Leone killing hundreds. The constant threat of flash floods makes walking dangerous and highlights the community’s need for local clinics. 

“The nearest health center is nearly an hour’s walk away,” said Laura. “People only go there if they’re really ill or have a huge wound, normally they just go to a pharmacist or do nothing at all.”

PHWB is working on a sustainable solution.

During PHWB’s last visit, community members voiced their hopes for a more robust solution to the town’s need for a local health clinic. To help, PHWB students raised enough funds through Afro-dance and grilled cheese fundraisers this past spring to cover the educational and transportation fees of five female community health workers. They also raised enough to provide the community with much-needed supplies like sterile bandages and basic medications.

PHWB students also visited health centers throughout the area, interviewed members of the Ministry of Health and met Dr. Enette Chipungu—the only obstetric fistula surgeon in the country. 

Fears of Ebola loomed as ominously as the rain clouds—neighboring countries had recently reported a spattering of confirmed cases and PHWB’s visit to the Ministry of Health coincided with a presentation from Centers for Disease Control officials on Ebola’s predicted spread.

In light of this impending threat, PHWB students know that empowering community members is the key to building Calaba Town’s resilience. Their hope is to bolster sustainable community-based solutions one fundraiser and visit at a time. 

Read more about the PHWB student experience on their travel blog »
View a gallery of images from PHWB’s most recent trip to Cabala, Sierra Leone »

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Our Travel Blog - SPH UMD Community Members Report from Around the World

Flickr: 2019 PHWB Trip to Cabala, Sierra Leone