Volunteer Students

DukeStudents--Summer2009
Much Accomplished in Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

Medical Missionaries and the people of Thomassique owe a debt of gratitude to two students from Duke University who have spent a major part of their summer at St. Joseph Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti, working to improve the quality of water and sanitation in the region and teaching adults and children the importance of good hygiene.  Meryl Colton and Christina Booth volunteered to serve the people of the Central Plateau of Haiti, who are among the poorest of the poor in the Western Hemisphere.  Meryl is a Sophomore at Duke, studying Environmental Science and Global Health.  Chrissy is a Junior at Duke, studying Religion and Global Health.

The work of these students plays an important role in dealing with health problems in the Thomassique region.  St. Joseph Clinic treats between 25,000 and 30,000 people per year.  Many of those patients suffer from diseases they pick up from contaminated water and poor sanitation.  (Fewer than 12% of the households in Thomassique have latrines.)  Using guidelines from a World Health Organization program (WASH -- Water And Sanitation and Hygiene), Meryl and Chrissy worked to eliminate some of the underlying causes of those diseases.








Meryl and Chrissy arrived at the clinic during the third week in May, staying in the Staff House with Rita Baumgartner, a Duke graduate and Medical Missionaries Fellow in Global Health.  Rita was finishing a full year of volunteering at the clinic and was in the process of completing a pilot study of the effectiveness of two systems for home-based water purification.  A main task for Meryl and Chrissy would be to extend the water program to other parts of Thomassique.


(Christina Booth and Meryl Colton)






Prior to the arrival of Meryl and Chrissy, Rita had identified 60 households in the Eastern sector of Thomassique to participate in a study of two methods for purifying water at the household level.  One third of the households received a granular chlorine system
(Klorfasil), one third received clear plastic bottles for solar disinfection (SODIS), and one third served as a control group.  Rita visited each of the households, teaching them about the importance of water purification and how to use the systems.





On their arrival, Meryl and Chrissy accompanied Rita on return visits to the households in the study, gathering follow-up data.  Based on initial data from the pilot program, Meryl and Chrissy began to expand the use of the SODIS system to other households in Thomassique.  This included additional door-to-door canvassing and educating families one at a time.  (By the way, the educational materials and instruction was all done in Creole.)









To reach even more people with the message about the importance of water purification, the volunteers conducted group education classes after Masses in the Catholic church in Thomassique.



Purified water and good hygiene are only part of the solution to the spread of disease in Thomassique.  Few homes have latrines.  Feces are not disposed of in safe ways, leading to increased diseases.  Knowing that they could hardly make a dent in solving this problem during their time in Thomassique, Meryl and Chrissy decided they might provide a foundation for change by at least introducing the students at area schools to good hygiene.  So, they identified eight elementary schools, met with the directors of those schools (shown in this photo), and set up a hygiene program in each school.  They purchased wash bowls and pitchers for the schools.  They purchased a water purification system for each classroom.  They developed hygiene education materials for the teachers to use with their classes.








When Meryl and Chrissy learned that four of the schools in the WASH program had no latrines, they arranged for a two-pit latrine to be built at each school.









Although these might seem like simple additions to a school, their potential for the community is great.  All the children attending these schools will learn good hygiene practices.  Each will understand the importance of a latrine, washing hands, and drinking purified water.  Over time, the hope is that the students will be able to transfer these technologies and practices to their own homes.









Through their efforts, Meryl and Chrissy are helping families who live in conditions like this to have a more promising future, starting with better health and longer life expectancy for their children.



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Medical Missionaries' partners in improving health

 
 
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Feed My Starving Children

 Meds & Food for Kids

 Project Hope

 Catholic Medical
Mission Board

 Klorfasil

 Vitamin Angels  


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