UAB School of Public Health students collaborate with Dominican Republic nonprofit organization Project Hearts through Global Health Service Learning course
UAB SOPH mentors and students with Project Hearts community members.Pictured from left to right: Anel Adea (PH engineer), Heather Lee, Dr. Erika Rinker, Leontay Timmons, Megan Evans, Elisa Joy Sarmiento, Claire Finney, Aurelina Gabot (PH nurse), Sean McMahon, Amina Isom, & Jose Luis Hernandez (PH Doctor).
BACKGROUND: The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health offers a course titled GHS 320 Global Health Service Learning in which twelve students were given the opportunity to collaborate with Project Hearts in their efforts to address the lack of access to clean water and general knowledge about health water practices in rural Baitoa, Dominican Republic, which has been suffering from a severe drought since March 2014 and poor governmental water management. Professors of the course Ria Hearld, PhD and Amy Balham, MPH of the UAB Sparkman Center for Global Health along with mentors Erika Rinker, PhD, Heather Lee, MPH, and Meghan McClain (Project Hearts US correspondent) guided the students through their endeavors.
THE ORGANIZATION: Project Hearts' mission is to develop individual and community awareness and leadership through participatory community projects and activities and to better the quality of life in Baitoa.
Project Hearts is a Dominican Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) connected with 10 communities of an area called Baitoa. The organization was established in 1995 by Project Hearts President Ruben Ottenwalder. It is an organization working in partnership with impoverished populations to achieve improved health and well-being. Activities conducted by Project Hearts include: leadership development, clean water systems, vented cooking stoves, improved latrines, housing construction, farming, nutrition programs to fight malnutrition, education, school construction, and community centers for education and community building activities. All projects are specifically related to the three pillars upon which the mission is set: Health, Education, and Economic Development. These pillars support the overall goal: to provide sustainable community development specifically improving the health and leadership for the future.
The twelve students were split into two groups of six: fundraising and research. The fundraising group got the UAB campus and Birmingham, AL community involved and held a number of fundraising nights with local restaurants of which a portion of the profits went to Project Hearts. The students managed to raise enough money to construct two Tinaco water harvesting systems.
The research group prepared a formal needs assessment of the current harvesting techniques used in the communities along with a literature review of the current water tanks Project Hearts utilizes. Community education modules using appropriate techniques for a low literacy community were created and implemented concerning environmental and health impacts of water to increase understanding, awareness and ultimately the desire to invest in the water harvesting systems, tanks, and water filters. The students conducted a needs assessment/ focus group meeting with the Baitoan Community Health Leaders in which data collection was completed via survey. A water day was also planned in which the students and Project Hearts members travelled to the Castillio community and performed house to house water sanitation education and sold 20 water filter in just one hour.
Many in the student group acquired field experience in which they were able to utilize the skills they learned while obtaining their undergraduate public health education at UAB. Some future UAB & Project Hearts collaborations to look forward to include: the Global Health Service Learning course to send more students to the Dominican Republic to further the mission of Project Hearts and the potential installment of an on campus Project Hearts student led partnership organization. Overall, the knowledge the group gained in working with this NGO first hand will be used to help further the success of Project Hearts’ future endeavors.