Global Health in Action: Students in the Field—Surveying in Guatemala
Students Andrea Clinger and Katherine Um travel to Guatemala to perform their first rapid needs assessment.
An hour drive over multiple speed bumps through small towns crowded with playing children, skinny dogs, and dilapidated homes was just the beginning of the day for Andrea Clinger and Kate Um, two student volunteers who participated in the rapid needs assessment trip to Trifinio (southwest corner), Guatemala last October with the Colorado School of Public Health Center for Global Health.
The students made this journey every day to and from Trifinio, a very rural region of close-knit, shantytown communities surrounding the Banasa banana plantation. Andrea, a Colorado School of Public Health master’s in public health student with a community and behavioral health concentration, decided to become involved in this global health project because she believes that “public health involves everybody, especially those that don’t have as many resources as developed countries”.
A native of Lima, Peru, Andrea received her undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish from the University of Colorado Denver. Despite having grown up abroad, this was Andrea’s first global health experience in a developing country. Her Spanish background and experience with qualitative research were put to great use on her first rapid needs assessment.
Kate, an anthropology student working towards her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado Denver, was invited to apply to the project by one of her instructors, John Brett Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Brett participated as a team member in the rapid needs assessment. After applying and interviewing with the Center for Global Health, Kate traveled to Guatemala for her first global health experience.
For ten days, Andrea, Kate and the team conducted door-to-door interviews and led focus groups from eight in the morning to five in the evening. The rapid needs assessment was sponsored by the Bolaños Foundation, which has taken a great interest in the communities of the Trifinio zone as many of the men and women in the area work for their company.
The Bolaños Foundation currently sponsor the “Mis Mejores Familias” program, which aims to teach women whose husbands work for Banasa about nutrition, food preparation, sanitation, and hygiene.
Andrea and Kate worked in three-person teams composed of one “monitora,” a mother from the community involved in the “Mis Mejores Familias” program, and themselves. According to Andrea, working in groups with these community members allowed them to communicate effectively with the native population and what was initially going to be 150 surveys quickly became 290.
What did they find?
Of the women interviewed, twenty percent had more than six children and fourteen percent of them reported the death of a child under age five. Children in Trifinio suffer greatly from diarrhea and
respiratory illnesses. According to Andrea, the teams often gave their banana plantation provided lunched to the malnourished and clothes-less children while they were out in the communities. This was the reality that she and Kate witnessed every day.
Both Andrea and Kate agreed that the greatest challenge of the trip was experiencing first-hand the level of poverty.
“I had moments of sadness and anxiety because of the circumstances I encountered” stated Kate, following that she also “had moments of pure inspiration because of all of the amazing members of the community that I had the pleasure to sit down and speak with extensively.”
“It’s very humbling. You learn to appreciate what you have,” added Andrea.
Both students observed the poor condition of the healthcare system; the local health post had minimal supplies, was open from eight to five and the nearest hospital was two hours away. They hope to evaluate the outcomes of this health education program and use the results of the needs assessment to offer more improvements in the future.
Andrea and Kate cherish the experience and encourage other students to become involved in global health projects. Andrea would like to continue to work on projects abroad to develop her skills as a public health practitioner but also as an individual. She would like to focus on preventive care by furthering her education and continuing her international work.
When the students were asked what advice they have for other students preparing to embark on their own global health journey, they replied “Go with an open heart and an open mind. Allow yourself to learn and grow through those that you meet in the community and those that are in your research group. You can grow and learn more than you will ever imagine.”
Rapid Needs Assessment team who traveled to Guatemala:
Steve Berman, M.D., F.A.A.P., Director, Center for Global Health, Colorado School of Public Health
Edwin Asturias, M.D., Senior Investigator, Center for Global Health, Colorado School of Public Health
John Brett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver
Sheana Bull, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Community and Behavioral Health, Colorado School of Public Health
Susan Niermeyer, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Neonatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine
Elaine Gantz Berman, M.P.H., Colorado Board of Education Katie Kidwell, MD, Resident, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado/Children’s Hospital Colorado
Gillian Noel, M.D., Resident, Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado/Children’s Hospital Colorado
Merida Carmona, M.P.H., concentration in Global Health and International Health Disparities Colorado School of Public Health
Kate Um, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver
Catia Chavez, M.P.H., concentration in Community and Behavioral Health, Colorado School of Public Health
Andrea Clinger, M.P.H. Candidate, concentration in Community and Behavioral Health, Colorado School of Public Health
To learn more about the Center’s Trifinio Guatemala Project, please contact Edwin Asturias, M.D., Principal Investigator of the project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find this story and others in the March 2012 edition of Global Health Link.