From March 5 to March 14, the 21 members of Yale Health C.O.R.E. traveled to Isla de Mendez, a small, rural community in El Salvador, to conduct volunteer work. The work of the organization — which included conducting a comprehensive survey of public health, teaching about hygiene in schools and testing drinking water — was designed to contribute to sustainable economic development in El Salvador.
The Yale Health Community Outreach and Education consists of 20 graduate students from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health and one graduate student from the Yale Divinity School who all are concerned with low-income communities in Central America. Karen Cheung EPH ’05 said she considers the trip a success and hopes to make it an annual event if C.O.R.E. can continue to obtain adequate funding.
Participants said they enjoyed putting their classroom knowledge of public health and epidemiology into action in communities around the world.
“We sit in a classroom all the time, so this is one of the few times we put our knowledge and skills into the community,” Stephen Vindigni EPH ’04 said.
The largest project that C.O.R.E. worked on in the village was a survey of public health and economic concerns. Vindigni said the purpose of the survey was to gather information about the needs of the community so that other organizations could be better able to address its needs. He said the survey, which was conducted in Spanish with approximately 100 people in the village, asked questions related to topics including demographics, hygiene, drinking water and religion.
“The goal of the survey was to identify problems so that other organizations can help in the community year round,” said Lindsey Myers EPH ’04. “We particularly focused on water quality, such as where they were getting their water, and trying to see if drinking water caused any dental problems or illness. We haven’t analyzed the data yet, so we don’t have any final conclusions.”
One organization that plans to use the data from the survey is the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America, or FSSCA, which worked closely with C.O.R.E. to plan the details of the trip.
“[FSSCA] did behind-the-scenes stuff, such as getting us drinkable water for the trip, preparing the community for our arrival, and assessing our education programs to make sure they were culturally sensitive and that we addressed the needs of the community,” Cheung said.
C.O.R.E was also assisted by La Coordinadora, a Salvadoran peasant movement that works to address problems in the community such as poverty, hunger, violence and lack of education.
The educational outreach component of the visit entailed visiting local schools and teaching children of all ages.
“Our teaching at the elementary level involved mostly dental hygiene and basics of how to maintain better hygiene in general,” Vindigni said. “We taught older students about gangs and drug problems. We also were teaching adults how to do CPR and about HIV awareness.”
Vindigni said the Salvadoran community seemed to appreciate the work done by C.O.R.E.
“We stood out just because we are Americans in the community. But the kids really adapted really well to our being there,” he said. “We played baseball with them and so, when we went into the schools, we had built some forms of relationships with them because we interacted with them earlier in the week in the village.”