Monday, July 23, 2012

From Iganga to Arkansas: Former UVP intern brings Ugandan health into the high school biology classroom

By Jennifer Jehnsen

I was a Team Leader for the Uganda Village Project’s Healthy Villages Initiative in summer 2009. In Nabitovu village, we focused on education outreach about insecticide treated mosquito nets and Waterguard as well as distribution of these at a subsidized price. We also focused on training the Village Health Team with knowledge about First Aid, HIV/AIDS, obstetric fistula, and malaria. These would become the leaders of the village in terms of health. Our day to day involved planning community meetings with village, district, and church leaders and doing community outreach at health centers and at schools. My biggest challenge was getting community members to come to outreach meetings. It was hard to have any sort of advertising in terms of when these were going to take place, so we really had to rely on word of mouth for the location and times of these community events. 

UVP solidified my interest in global health, particularly in rural health, because I witnessed the lack of resources for healthcare in rural areas, specifically for primary care. I saw the health centers without medicine or doctors, the clinics with one nurse and thirty people waiting in line. I've seen similar issues in rural areas in the U.S. and believe that the lack of adequate access to primary healthcare in rural areas needs to be addressed.

Currently, I am a high school biology teacher in McGehee, Arkansas. This summer, I am teaching at the Arkansas Governor’s School, a 4-week gifted and talented program that provides students an incredible opportunity for intellectual growth and social interaction while living on a college campus. I am using the knowledge and skills that I gained from being a Team Leader to educate my students about the public health approach toward tackling neglected diseases found in the developing world. I love talking about my experience in Uganda with my students. They usually have a lot of questions about what the people are like, what the buildings are like, and what the schools are like. I like to incorporate the health issues that I worked with in Uganda into my lessons so that my students can make real life connections about the relationship between biology and health.  I share with them challenges and successes our team encountered while setting up programs to prevent malaria, HIV, and waterborne diseases in Uganda. We also discussed the importance of community educational outreach and sustainability when implementing public health programs. 
 The students created skits for educating people about malaria prevention, and designed prototypes of sand filters that will not only filter pathogens out of the water but also provide a way to dispense water without recontamination. We had discussions about the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and its affects on prevention, treatment, and testing. The final project will involve the students designing a budget and project proposal for a public health initiative that will address a tropical disease found in a developing nation. 

The main focus of my class is that epidemics of neglected diseases are not caused solely by the virus, bacteria, or protist; economic, social, and cultural factors also contribute greatly to the spread of the disease. My goal for the students is to understand the complexity of the issues in international health and that the spread of these diseases cannot be stopped simply by distributing free medications. I hope that my students will spread awareness about the issues people are facing in Uganda and like a chain reaction, more and more people will become advocates for people living in the developing world.

Jennifer Jehnsen interned with UVP in 2009 and was a team leader. She currently serves on UVP's internship task force. Since attaining a BS in Environmental Sciences and minor in Global Poverty & Practice from UC Berkeley, she has been working as a high school biology teacher in McGehee, Arkansas. 


Alison Hayward said...

Jen, you are clearly doing a superlative job with teaching - I bet your students love your class. This is totally beside the point but also, in the first photo you look fantastic! Great picture!

phlebotomist said...
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