Study Abroad: Students take data on cholera epidemic in northern Haiti

This past winter intersession, the motley crew of a Latin professor, five biology majors, an anthropology professor and a Geneseo alumnus spent their time in Haiti making a difference – one that most students only dream about.

Pioneering the first service-learning trip to Haiti from Jan. 3 to 13 were biology majors juniors Mike Mattiucci, Stephanie Kelly, Tyler Schwab, and Grace Trompeter, senior Hayley Martin and class of 2011 alumnus Phara Souffrant. Accompanying them were Latin professor Wes Kennison and anthropology professor Rosemarie Chierici.

Two years ago, members of the e-board of the Geneseo Community Health Alliance approached Kennison about a potential Haiti service-learning trip due largely to their interest in the cholera epidemic. "While we all have an array of interests, public health has always been a common issue that we are passionate about," Schwab said. Kennison then contacted Chierici, and the planning began.

Chierici is the co-founder of the Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa (H.O.P.E.) program that is responsible for the health of around 80,000 people in northern Haiti and is a partnership with community leaders in Borgne. The Rochester-based organization promotes social justice and provides various resources including public health care – the area of interest to the students.

First arriving in Borgne on the northern peninsula of Haiti, Kennison asked students how they could contribute based on who they were as people and as Geneseo students. With that goal in mind the five pioneers headed out into the jungles, markets and villages of Haiti. Working with the mobile health care units of H.O.P.E., the students were able to take raw data and bring it back to Geneseo for analysis.

 "Cholera is really quite tragic in Haiti, because all the deaths from it are needless," Schwab said. Due to the remote locations of cholera patients, mobile units were taken to treat the easily curable cholera and health providers saw as many as 200 to 250 patients in just six hours.

The most impressive aspect of this service-learning trip was the students' passion for public health. "I have been traveling with students for 30 years and every place you go is interesting," Kennison said. "What makes a trip great is the people you travel with and this trip was great."

Today these current Geneseo students are still making a contribution by analyzing the data from the mobile units and working on a collaborative paper they hope to publish. According to Chierici, the students' work regarding this information is highly valuable to the mobile units in Haiti and will help health professionals to better aid patients in need.