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Students Abroad Show Adaptability, Understanding in Building Communities

July 14, 2008

Instead of following pre-existing and stoic mandates to instill their own agenda on others, Duke students involved in global health efforts this summer are finding ways to adapt and modify their message to better address the needs of overlooked individuals.

In Podgorica, Montenegro, Jovana works with at-risk populations who currently lack knowledge of HIV/AIDS and its transmission.  Jovana has identified ways to increase the efficiency in the current outreach program, developing better standardization of guidelines, and identifying more funding opportunities for drop-ins at the clinic.  By addressing these issues, Jovana hopes to provide sterile needles and promote safer practices to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS in the area (which currently has 70 reported cases).

“I want to get more involved with the outreach work as I feel I can contribute in that area,” noted Jovana on the potential to make great strides in the program, “I am excited about getting involved in all these aspects of the outreach work and I will start this next week… [I] want to go out for the outreach work as much as possible and to start working with the outreach team on alleviating [participant overstretch].”

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, Tuyche contributes to increasing the education standard of the economically poor region of Guayanbo by teaching English at a local school.  Keeping the children interested and recognizing the varying proficiency levels, Tuyche tries to show them the applicability of English outside of the classroom, whether through weekly excursions or watching American films.  In doing so, she has created an ethic of sustained learning which will continue after she leaves. 

And in South Africa, Brittany and Sarah vie to raise the nutrition of individuals in the Khayelitsha Township.  They are establishing customized guidelines for citizens through the creation of a “menu” derived from surveys of the existing populations and South African dietary guidelines.  They also provided journals to monitor the efficacy of the menu and to adapt/change certain areas, if needed. 

Ultimately, Sarah and Brittany hope that their project will not be a simple top-down approach to improving nutritional standards that tells citizens what to do, but rather a awareness program that empowers each individual to stay healthy without outside intervention. 

“We believe that our goal is not to just give them a menu and to have them follow it,” they said, “instead, our goal is to actually make them aware of their diet and how to change it so that they will be healthier.”

As their stays lengthen, DGHI fieldwork participants will continue to adapt their projects to the new changes in environment. Such flexibility facilitates the creation of lasting change for the community and highlights the commitment of DGHI students in service. 

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