March 26, 2013

Peer Review: Students Identify Health and Nutrition Concerns in Ghana

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One-hundred feet above the ground on the ladder-like steps of a canopy walk, eight Cornell students and one professor clung to the surrounding ropes as they slowly inched forward.

But the canopy walk was merely one stop in their week-and-a-half long trip. These Cornellians were not in Ghana for a winter break vacation. Instead, they sought to identify key health concerns in Ghana and implement projects to address them by speaking directly to native Ghanaians.

Members of two Cornell groups, Big Red Relief and Cover Africa, visited various sites in southern Ghana to speak with local residents, assess their needs and come up with new, sustainable projects.

Big Red Relief aimed to implement projects which address issues on general disease prevention and nutrition, while Cover Africa focused more specifically on malaria.

“Instead of having preconceived notions of how we want to help [the Ghanaians] fix the problems, we wanted to hear what they had to say about their issues. We decided that listening to their concerns, their challenges and their day-to-day lives was the most valuable thing that we could take from our trip,” said Juhi Purswani ’15, co-president of Cover Africa.

Through open forums and individual interviews, the students spoke to a number of Ghanaians to determine how to best help the communities they visited. Although the two groups travelled together, their agendas differed and they conducted separate interviews.

“The stories were really powerful, and a lot of them were really emotional – it was so magical that they were so open to us, having just met us 10 to 20 minutes earlier,” Purswani said.

When Big Red Relief spoke to the communities, they discovered that the people faced a variety of diseases. Such ailments included sexually transmitted diseases, typhoid, yellow fever and many more. According to Madhvi Deol ’13, the Ghanaians also face widespread malnutrition and weight problems because of their unbalanced diet.

“Eating the food myself and knowing the balance of food inspired a nutrition focus [for the trip]. The Ghanaian diet has a lot more focus on carbs and proteins than vegetables and fruits. They do eat [vegetables and fruits], but the proportions are really off,” Deol said.

Cover Africa explored malaria. At the sites the students visited, they observed that open gutters and pollution contributed to the breeding of mosquitoes and spread of malaria. They also saw that a lack of mosquito netting also plays a factor in spreading malaria. Cover Africa is currently fundraising to buy more mosquito nets to combat the spread of this disease.

Now that the students have a better sense of the communities’ needs, they hope to develop projects this upcoming year. When they revisit the sites next winter break with a new group of students, they aim to implement such projects, rather than merely assessing the situation.

“[The Ghanaians] really trusted us to bring these stories back to Cornell and to spread them among all our colleagues here. I hope to harness that passion and energy to go back and learn more. Now, we’re just in the process of figuring out what to do with all these narratives, how to put it together and create a great partnership,” Purswani said.

Original Author: Camille Wang