Public Health Without Borders' Third Trip to Ethiopia Focuses on Food Safety, Nutrition
Now in its third year of international public health projects, the School of Public Health’s student-run group, Public Health Without Borders (PHWB), returned to Debre Berhan, Ethiopia in January 2016 to continue partnership work in food safety and nutrition.
The PHWB-Ethiopia January 2016 team included Precious Ross, sophomore Biology major; Robel Tesfay, junior Public Health Science major; Aimee Tandoi, senior Behavioral and Community Health major; Hillary Craddock, PhD student in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH); Dominic Hosack, PhD student in Behavioral and Community Health; and Dr. Elisabeth Maring, Director of Global Health Initiatives in the School of Public Health. The team spent Jan. 8-19 in Debre Berhan, a rural community about 75 miles northeast of the capital city Addis Ababa.
Past PHWB trips to Debre Berhan, in January 2015 and June 2015, had explored the potential for a collaborative public health project to improve child nutrition in partnership with faculty, students, and staff at Debre Berhan University. During its third trip, the group was ready to distill research into practice: The team developed an educational workshop to pilot in elementary schools, a teacher evaluation of the workshop, and a survey on food safety and nutrition. Doctoral students presented seminars on urban agriculture and food safety at Debre Berhan University.
PhD student and graduate mentor Dominck Hosack was present on PHWB’s first and third trips to Debre Berhan, and noted how the group’s activities had evolved.
“As a student, my second trip to Ethiopia meant the expectations were higher and more specific,” said Hosack, whose doctoral research focuses on food security and nutrition education. “The sense of ‘observe and report’ from our exploratory trips was replaced with an obligation to produce. Our first trip afforded us the luxury of being newcomers; this third trip required us to focus our activities, and synthesize our previous trips into a meaningful visit.”
Undergraduate and graduate students played different roles, but the entire team collaborated throughout the entire trip. Most nights were spent brainstorming together around a table, Hosack said.
“Our partnership in Debre Berhan is a work in progress,” said Hillary Craddock, PhD student in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) and also a PHWB graduate mentor. “We got the best idea during this trip of what's actually necessary. DBU faculty expressed to us what they really needed and what they were looking for.”
The team used data on children's food preferences collected during prior trips to develop an Ethiopian version of the U.S. “MyPlate” program, which involves a visual model of food items on a dinner plate. Undergraduate students Precious Ross, Robel Tesfay and Aimee Tandoi presented “MyInjera” to about 60 students in two local schools, categorizing popular dishes by their nutritious content and benefits. DBU faculty, teachers, and parents observed the workshop and provided evaluations
Craddock and Hosack drew on their respective research backgrounds to prepare and present seminars open to the Debre Berhan community. Hosack provided an overview of the intersection of public health and urban agriculture in the 21st century. His presentation focused on urbanization and food security for poor urban residents, as well as recent urban agriculture efforts at local, state of Maryland, and international levels.
Craddock, a first-year PhD student who studies food safety and foodborne illnesses, presented on contemporary food borne illness and risk-management in the U.S., and prepared a review of the literature on food safety research in Ethiopia.
“I think learning that the U.S. has its problems with foodborne illness really opened communication between us and DBU faculty,” Craddock said. “They were surprised to hear that we have these issues in the U.S., and told me that they felt more comfortable sharing their challenges knowing that we have our own.”
That kind of community engagement is critical to understanding cultural issues that may be at play, Craddock said. For example, kitfo, and other foods like it, are Ethiopian dishes where meat is served raw.
“If our group had simply come in handing out meat thermometers and saying that everyone must cook their meat to a certain temperature, we might have missed the opportunity to ask key questions about food preparation practices and the cultural relevance of certain ingredients,” Craddock said. “Those conversations are essential in learning about how best to open a dialogue with the community and work together to improve health.”
The group plans to continue work in Debre Berhan, if possible.
“This is definitely a multi-year project we're working on,” Craddock said. “That’s part of Public Health Without Borders’ work: continuing to follow up on the needs of the community. We’re not going back and just doing the same thing. We’re saying, ‘We've done one thing, what else do you need from us?’”
PHWB’s work in Ethiopia is built on ties established by retired University of Maryland Extension horticulturalist Hiwot Menbere, who is an expert in community gardens, and former SPH faculty Stephanie Grutzmacher (now at Oregon State University), who worked together on the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Women in Agriculture project in Ethiopia. Mr. Menbere founded a nonprofit organization, Good to Grow, Inc., to help build more school and community gardens as a means to increase access to nutrient-rich foods.
Past PHWB trips to Peru and Sierra Leone have partnered with Maryland Sustainable Engineering and the University of Maryland chapter of Engineers Without Borders to improve local health and infrastructure.
Dr. Lis Maring, director of the Global Public Health Scholars program and PHWB faculty advisor, traveled with the 2016 Ethiopia team.
“What I love about mentoring students in Public Health without Borders is that they are energetic and committed, and are learning to be flexible, culturally-sensitive, critical thinkers,” Dr. Maring said. “I am confident that members of this Ethiopia travel team will continue to seek collaboration.”
Check out highlights from the PHWB-Ethiopia January 2016 trip here: