Ganga Moorthy, a senior at OU, recently completed Dr. David Sabatini's honors course on " WaTER for Health, Education, Development and Peace in Emerging Regions". Little did she know how quickly she would be putting the information into practice!
The OU chapter of Global Medical Brigades, a non-governmental organization that works in disadvantaged countries, traveled to Ghana during winter break to provide free healthcare and talk to residents about health, nutrition and sanitation issues. Thirteen OU students worked with a group from the University of Virginia. They spent 11 days in a community in central Ghana, said Ganga, the group's leader, working out of a mobile clinic and knocking on the doors of homes. The students left water filters in about 45 homes and taught the residents to use them, Moorthy said. They also demonstrated how to purify water without a filter.
By improving access to clean drinking water, Moorthy said, the students had the chance to improve the overall health of the community, rather than simply treating symptoms. “It's easy to treat the symptoms of disease,” she said. “It's harder to treat the causes of disease.” The volunteers were able to get to know some of the residents and get a better understanding of how they live. They typically began conversations by asking about their lives and their families and then moving toward health issues. Meeting the residents in their homes and having personal conversations with them helped the students see the residents as people rather than as patients, Moorthy said.
Group member Beth Huggins said the public health training was the most rewarding part of the trip and one of the most important functions. Health education is designed to help prevent illnesses from returning, she said. The nutrition education was also valuable, Huggins said. Although many of the people in the community grow more nutritious crops such as tomatoes, they typically sell those crops and eat cassava, a less-nutritious root vegetable, she said.
Huggins is scheduled to lead a trip to Honduras in May. “I've always been interested in helping other people and different cultures,” she said. “So it was right up my alley.”