Montana State University Students visit Zambia for Community Health Course
Akros recently hosted 14 undergraduate Montana State University (MSU) students in Zambia from May 14 to June 11, 2015. The students were enrolled in a course titled “Zambia: Community and Family Health,” taught by Professor Wendy Bianchini Morrison of the Health and Human Development department at MSU.
“I approached Akros management a year and a half ago with the idea for this course,” said Morrison. “I wanted to bring MSU students to Zambia to expose them to international community health work. Akros management was very open to the idea and expressed interest in collaborating on the course.” She reported that Akros was appealing because it is an established organization in Zambia that has strong relationships with the government, local ministries and communities across the country, and implements public health initiatives that use data and research to increase the efficacy of their interventions.
The three stories below were written by students from Montana State University during their time in Zambia.
“I wanted an opportunity for my students to really get a sense of long-term, sustainable public health work, and the only way to do that is to partner with an established in-country organization doing important work within communities,” said Morrison. “I also wanted my students to get outside of their comfort zones and be in a different country in order to increase their cultural competency,” she said. She further said that Zambia was an ideal location for the course as it is a relatively safe and stable country with a large public health need.
“Zambia: Community and Family Health” is a 6 credit elective course that students can also use for their undergraduate internship requirement. The course objectives are to help students understand what sustainable community development is and why it is important, improve their ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds, and provide first-hand, professional experience in international community health.
“Gaining cultural competency has been the most interesting part of the course for me as I can now relate better with people from different cultures. I am excited that I was able to effectively work in Zambia with Akros,” said Tory Evans, 21. “It has also made me appreciate the important role that each person plays in a team working for a common goal, and the importance of effective communication when working with so many systems, from the chiefs to the local ministries to clients to the local communities and the Akros team,” said Evans.
14 students were selected through a rigorous interview process. Morrison described looking for individuals who were mature, flexible, self-motivated and had a desire for the experience. All the students are part of the Health and Human Development Department at MSU, and the group is made up of Community Health, Family and Consumer Science, Nutrition, and Early Childhood Development majors.
“This experience has been really powerful in putting what we learn into practice by getting to experience how Akros works, and by going out into the field,” said Sarah Ramsey, 21. “It has tested our patience, taught us about ourselves and I now have a better understanding of what I want to do with my life in terms of international development,” she further said.
For one week the students went out into the field in pairs with Akros surveillance officers and conducted pilot district assessments throughout the country to identity the progress of the readiness of Akros’ water and sanitation programs to be transitioned to the Zambian government. The Akros WASH team said they were very interested in hearing the students’ feedback about what they heard from the districts during their assessments.
The students learned about Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) initiatives around the country that are working to make Zambia open defecation free. The first district in Zambia recently received this status in April, 2015. “My trip to Chinsali helped me understand the complexities of CLTS,” said Rachelle Morehead, 20. “Performing the district assessment, it was so interesting to discover that the Chinsali district has more latrines than I expected considering its low ODF status,” she further said.
“What I learned doing the assessment and hearing from the community leaders is that in order to improve CLTS, there is a need to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts that households make at each level in the process of meeting all the perimeters of an adequate latrine,” said Morehead. “There is a lot of work people are putting into becoming ODF, even if the assessment rating for that district comes out low.”
The students also assisted with District Health Information System 2 (DHIS2) trainings for district officials in the Southern Province Districts of Pemba and Zimba. Highlights of the trip included visiting Victoria Falls and Chobe National Park, Chikumbuso, an organization where HIV/AIDS widows are empowered to provide an income for themselves and their families, and spending the day at Lusaka’s Chifundo Mission School, a community school that caters to orphans and vulnerable children.
The students painted a classroom at the school, helped teachers in the classrooms, and played with the children throughout the afternoon. They further had multiple opportunities to hear from experts at Akros on malaria research and prevention using state of the art data collection technology, were visited by the Zambia country directors from the Center For Disease Control (CDC) and USAID, and had sessions on how to begin a career in international development.
As part of their assignment, students were tasked to write up stories focusing on their experiences working with Akros in the field, highlighting success stories or local champions working tirelessly to improve health and sanitation in their community. Akros will select pieces to post on its website and social media platforms.
“This was a life-changing experience for me,” described Rachel Fredstrom, 19. “Akros took such good care of us, I learned so much, and Zambia could not be a more of friendly, welcoming place. I can’t wait to come back!”
About Maswabi Precious Matantilo
Precious Matantilo is an Advocacy and Communications Officer for Akros and is a Global Health Corps fellow for 2014/2015. Before joining Akros, Precious worked for the Commonwealth Youth Programme as programmes assistant. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the Zambian Open University.