Six students from Loyola University New Orleans Parasitology class engaged in hands-on, experiential learning as they traveled to a rural village in Guatemala and implemented the Ecohealth home improvements that they studied in class. Students traveled to Almolonga, Jutiapa, Guatemala over their Mardi Gras break, Feb. 6 - March 4, 2017, and worked alongside community members plastering the walls, and "cementing" the floors of elderly villager Dona Maura’s house so that she would no longer have to worry about contracting Chagas disease, spread by the kissing bugs that live in the cracks and crevices of the walls in her adobe house.
Eco-health approach is a community-based, environmentally-friendly, and sustainable method to improve people's lives. We teach the villagers, using local materials and respecting local customs, to improve their homes so they can avoid contracting Chagas and other diseases. The work is an extension of Dr. Patricia Dorn's collaborative work with Dr. Carlota Monroy of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, Dr. Lori Stevens from the University of Vermont, and many other partners including community leaders and villagers, the Ministry of Health, World Vision, Kids for World Health, a group of New York school children raising funds for our work, and now private industry such as Cemento Progresso. More than 7,000 houses have been improved to date.
As some elderly villagers are unable to improve their own homes Dr. Dorn had the idea of Parasitology students doing this for service learning. The students had a tremendous opportunity to learn a great deal about the conditions in which most of the world lives, and what puts people at risk of parasitic diseases. Also, to see first-hand how important international scientific collaborations are in addressing the many challenges we face, participants were able to visit many homes in the village and tour and talk with health care providers at the local clinic. A professional film crew filmed the process (YouTube link). The few students who were unable to go on the trip participated by developing educational materials with Loyola design students, which we were able to deliver to the Guatemalan village. Donations of several large bags of children’s clothes supplied by Loyola alumna Traci Schlosser were also delivered to the village. Dona Maura gave a heart-felt thank-you. There was not a dry eye following her speech.