Several Daemen College students traveled thousands of miles to rural Uganda to partner on a project aimed at supporting the health and well-being of children and young adults in the region as part of a unique international service learning experience offered by the college.
Over winter break, the Daemen group collaborated on two health-related projects at the Bethlehem Parent School (BPS) and Orphanage, located in Kyotera. Despite facing a number of challenges, BPS provides several valuable initiatives in the Ugandan community, including a high quality education to more than 400 primary school students every year and raising and supporting many orphaned children.
“The Uganda experience is a wonderful opportunity to engage students in hands-on learning outside the classroom while enhancing their skills and health sciences education in an international environment,” said Justine Tutuska, associate professor and chair of health promotion, who accompanied the students to Uganda. “By integrating this rewarding experience into the academic curriculum, it helps our students gain a global perspective through cultural exchange with BPS students and partnering with the school to address health needs that actively involve the community.”
The Daemen group of six undergraduate and graduate students who took part in the two-week Uganda experience represented various health sciences majors. Participants included Erin Fransen of Ashville, physician assistant studies major; Jordan Hardie of Attica, physical therapy major; Jessica Leone of Buffalo, master of public health major; Micayla Monks of Horseheads, physical therapy major; Adrianna Pencek of Dunkirk, biochemistry major; and Elizabeth Renner of Cheektowaga, master of public health major.
For Renner, the Uganda experience marked her fourth international service learning and study abroad experience during her undergraduate and graduate studies at Daemen, having previously traveled to Italy, Poland, and the Dominican Republic.
“My international experiences have given me the opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to real-life settings and to immerse myself in different cultures and see the world in a totally new way,” said Renner, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health promotion from Daemen in 2018. “In Uganda, I developed a better understanding of using intervention techniques and the lasting impact it can have on a community’s health.”
Renner, who plans to pursue a career in environmental health after graduating with her MPH degree in May, and other graduate students collaborated with BPS teachers on a handwashing and general hygiene project with the goal of reducing widely transmitted diarrhea-based illnesses. Daemen students created “tippy tap” handwashing stations, a hands-free system operated by a foot lever set up in areas where no running water is available. Students instructed BPS youngsters on the importance of handwashing and proper handwashing techniques, maintaining the tippy tap stations, and overall good hygiene behaviors.
“BPS has no electricity and no running water so the handwashing stations was a project that will have a lasting impact on the health of children at the school,” said Renner. “It was amazing to know that this project will be available at the school long after we leave.”
The undergraduate student project focused on feminine health that included a workshop on menstrual health, challenges surrounding women’s health in Uganda, and empowering young women against abuse and violence. Daemen students supplied the BPS young women with cloth menstrual pad kits, which were created by college and community volunteers in the months leading up to the Uganda experience, and instructed the women on making their own kits to sustain this effort in the future.