Developing countries enjoy a steady stream of energetic and highly educated college student volunteers who expend time, talent, and treasure to help improve the standard of living in poor communities. The challenge is to ensure that the good intentions of volunteers are channeled effectively into endeavors that generate locally acceptable, sustainable improvements in health.
In December 2009, my husband, a professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC), and I led a group of his students to Gujarat, India. He had created a term-long honors seminar class focused on the development of sustainable technologies for sanitation, potable water, cooking, and agriculture in developing countries. The UC Honors students, a multidisciplinary group of business, engineering, and industrial design majors, specifically focused on the development of a drip irrigation system that would allow farmers to grow cash crops. Design efforts focused on affordability and acceptability for the Gujarati people. The class worked with a local NGO, NM Sadguru, a non-profit located in the Dahod District of Gujarat. Sadguru focuses on watershed management, rural development, organic farming, agroforestry, indigenous rights, and women’s rights. At the end of the ten-week-long term, a team of ten students traveled with us to Gujarat to implement and refine what they learned.
I tried an experiment with this trip. I suggested that we provide two nurses from India with scholarships to work with us in Dahod. In return the nurses would be asked to assist the UC students in implementing course knowledge using principles of sustainability with a focus on local environmental conditions. It was my hope that the nurses would be able to equip the UC students to address a comprehensive range of social and biological determinants of health within this community of indigenous people.
When I told Dr. Barbara Dossey, International Co-Director for Nightingale Initiative for Global Health (NIGH), that I was traveling to India, she told me she had contacts in India that had assisted NIGH and they were at the top of organized nursing in India. She put me in contact with Phalakshi Manjrekar, director of nursing at Hiduja Hospital. Mrs Manjrekar encouraged two remarkable nurses, Shweta Dixit and Ancy Chacko, to partner with UC.
At the end of the two-week-long trip, Shweta Dixit reflected, “In innumerable ways I benefited personally as well as professionally from this trip. We conducted household surveys including the health and agricultural aspect of the villagers. We did water testing from the lake, hand pumps, and wells. We educated villagers about health aspects of water and sanitation and also about drip irrigation and composting. Anthropometric measurements were performed on school children to assess their nutritional status. We presented the health aspects of the project to the community leaders of the village.
Our best experience of the trip was when we informed the community about elevated nitrate levels in one drinking water well. Nitrate is a common contaminant often found in wells in agricultural areas. Major sources of nitrate contamination can be from fertilizers. Elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water can cause Blue Baby Syndrome in infants. The level for this community was greater than 50 mg nitrate-nitrogen per liter. In the United States, if the level is over 10 mg/l everything is shut down. We helped inform the community of the health risks, and the community responded by immediately discontinuing use of the well. The local NGO will start to work on educating this community about the risk of disposing of fertilizers near wells.
It was very encouraging to work with UC students and we were surprised with their friendly and extremely warm welcoming behavior. We have learned lot of things while working with the other disciplines, especially that it creates innovative ideas which can’t be created if people from same the base of knowledge work on a problem. Also, it gives ideas about the way a person from different disciplines address a problem. For example the way of looking at a problem of business student is different from the engineering student.”
Ancy Chacko, agreed and said, “I have been into serving patients in the hospital in various departments, this trip has helped to improve my interaction to a greater extent and it has helped me update myself with health and sanitation problems in the villages.”
All of the UC students from the class said the best part of the trip was the two nurses because they were able to provide cultural insight into the project and they were able to explain health from an Indian’s point of view.
Visit You Tube for a video about previous trips to India.
Shweta Dixit, RN, MBA(HA)
Ancy Chacko, RN
Sarah Eileen Oerther, MSN, M.Ed., RN
Drug and Poison Information Center
Cincinnati Childrens Hospital Medical Center
3333 Burnet Ave, ML-9004 Cincinnati, OH 45229
Business phone: 513-636-5111
E-mail address: Sarah Eileen Oerther
All of these stories were first published online during the 2010 International Year of the Nurse / Florence Nightingale Centennial. They were chosen to feature how nurses have become 21st Century Nightingales, in many settings and practice approaches. Around the world, they are achieving and advocating for the 8 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
These stories are reprinted here with permission from the original website at www.2010IYNurse.net. The MDG logos used were created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for everyone's use worldwide, to increase widespread understanding about the importance of these Goals for all of humanity.