Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hatchet Article Highlights Unique Public Health Study Abroad Program in India

Sustainable Aid

GW public health study abroad program sends students to India to examine the impact of social entrepreneurship.

September 26, 2011
By Jennifer Eder

Nitasha Chaudhary thought she knew India. A first-generation Indian American, the GW School of Public Health and Health Services graduate student spent summers in India with family throughout her childhood. But a recent visit as part of a new GW short-term study abroad program opened her eyes to the poverty she had never seen before.

Ms. Chaudhary, M.P.H. ’08, was one of 16 GW students who spent two weeks traveling throughout India, shadowing a handful of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their travels took them to poor areas of New Delhi and Mumbai, under the sponsorship of GW’s Office of Study Abroad and the SPHHS.

“I was really in shock that I drove on so many of the same streets and never realized what was happening behind these tree barriers,” said Ms. Chaudhary, who is earning a graduate certificate in community-based program management. “It’s poverty everywhere.”

The study abroad trip was part of a six-week summer course called Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship: A Case Study of India. Led by Amita Vyas, director of the Maternal and Child Health Program in SPHHS, and Blaine Parrish, assistant professor of health policy and prevention and community health, the first four weeks of the course were spent on GW’s campus in the classroom. Students learned the difference between a nonprofit and social entrepreneurship – the development of ideas that lead to new approaches to social issues in a community.

“Nonprofit organizations tend to take donations and then turn around and provide services,” said Dr. Parrish. “Social entrepreneurs actually establish an organization that empowers the people to do their own fundraising or their own sustainable programming.”

The last two weeks of the course were spent in India, which is home to 1.2 billion people and an estimated 3.3 million NGOs.

What the group quickly realized is that many of India’s existing NGOs aren’t sustainable.

“The difference nonprofits make is the immediate difference. They don’t make a long-term difference. They deal with the immediate needs that the people have for housing, clothing, health care and immunizations,” said Dr. Parrish. “But where are they as people need work and some kind of basic infrastructure around them?”

This was the first SPHHS study abroad program, and it has already gained national recognition. Last week, the course was awarded the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health’s Innovative Curriculum Award.

SPHHS also has launched a new two-credit, 12-day health care study abroad program to Israel. The program, which is called Health Services Delivery in Israel and is housed in the Department of Health Services Management and Leadership, will begin in December.

On the India trip, students visited organizations such as ACORN India to learn about waste management in Mumbai’s Dhavari slum, the largest in Asia.

“Within five minutes of getting there, they were almost speechless because they didn’t even know how to respond to what they were seeing – over a million people living in one square mile without any real sanitation and living on heaps of garbage,” said Dr. Vyas.

Ms. Chaudhary, who received her master’s in maternal and child health in 2008 and came back to GW to get a graduate certificate in community-based program management, said the poverty in India is on an entirely different scale than what exists in the U.S.

“India has so many people that there’s not just pockets that are struck by poverty. There’s a beautiful mansion, and then right next door, there can be a huge slum,” she said.

As the students saw how widespread the poverty was despite the number of NGOs, they began to get frustrated and question what solutions could actually be effective.

“They kept saying, ‘I took this class because I want to make a difference. I want to save the world. I want to save lives. But I don’t know how I can really do anything. I don’t see how I can make a dent because it is so intense and so overwhelming,’” said Dr. Vyas. “Students have great ideas in the classroom, but it’s not until they get out into the field and see whether their idea is actually feasible that they can start doubting their good ideas.”

Part of the problem, Ms. Chaudhary said, is a weak infrastructure to support the NGOs, and that’s why NGOs need to have a sustainable business plan.

“In the end, just offering social services isn’t sustainable,” said Kelly Healy, a graduate student in the Department of Global Health. “But if you give them a small loan, for example, and help them start a business, they can provide for their family or community. It goes much further than a handout. You need to try to get to the root of the problem.”

Cara Hayes, a graduate student studying international development in the Elliott School of International Affairs, took the course because she’s interested in social enterprise, private-sector poverty solutions and global corporate responsibility.

Having little public health experience, Ms. Hayes asked very different questions than the other students on the trip.

“I would never think to ask how many babies are delivered here each month, or what are the main nutritional deficiencies,” she said. “Instead, I would ask, ‘What’s your five-year plan for growth?’”

Ms. Hayes’s favorite organization that the group visited in India was Population Services International, which offers lifesaving products, clinical services and behavior change communications in 67 countries, with a focus on malaria, child survival, HIV and reproductive health. In India, the organization is working on a campaign to promote the use of intrauterine devices as a form of contraception.

The students were required to write daily blog posts and reflect on their experiences. And after returning to the U.S., they created business plans for a social enterprise. Courtnay Oddman, an undergraduate student in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences studying communications, developed a business plan that would create a school for autistic children in India.
“The school would teach them different business and communication skills, and then the students can eventually take over the business when they graduate and become the teachers themselves,” said Ms. Oddman.

In the end, the trip was an “emotional, physical and intellectual journey,” Dr. Vyas said. “And they’ll carry this experience with them through the rest of their education and into their careers.”

For Ms. Chaudhary, the lasting impression from the trip was the importance of creating a sustainable impact, one community at a time.

“At the end of a day, when you’re working with a billion people, even if you are only making a difference in 10 people’s lives, they will make a difference in other people’s lives and therefore it’s a cyclical effect. This idea of social entrepreneurship can really make a difference. It’s communities teaching communities,” said Ms. Chaudhary.

Check out the link to this Hatchet article for a photo: http://gwtoday.gwu.edu/theworld/sustainableaid?utm_source=gwtodayemail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=gwtodayemail092611

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