Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another semester done...

Thank goodness!! Finally free to pack and clean and get ready for my adventures with Mike in Panama and Nicaragua!!! So, so very excited. :)

Check out my final paper, on child marriage and pregnancy. I think it turned out pretty good...could've been better with less procrastination, but overall I'm happy its done, and I'm homework free for the next month!

If you read it, drop me a comment and tell me your thoughts. I welcome comments and criticisms! I'm always trying to get more insight into my writing. :)

Happy Holidays and stay warm!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Density Equalizing Cartograms

I'm a big fan of maps -- I find that they can be a great tool for illustrating a point, and for better understanding a concept. Gapminder is one of my favorite websites for this. In class the other day, one of my professors was using a different kind of map, which I found to be quite useful for his points.

Density Equalizing Cartograms are maps where sizes of countries are illustrated according to whichever variable you are, land area obviously shows a regular map:

Nothing you haven't seen before, I know. But check out these other ones.
Total population:

Total wealth distribution in 2002:

Distribution of girls in the world not enrolled in primary school:

Those with lack of basic sanitation:

HIV prevalence:

Malaria Deaths:

Diarrhea Deaths:

Lack of Nutrition related deaths:

Water Use:

Military Spending in 2002:

Public Health Spending:

Check out more at:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Immigrant Health

I have been volunteering this semester at a health clinic in South Philly that primarily serves Mexican immigrants. It is a great program, and seems to provide great services to a community who otherwise would probably not have access to health care, which translates to them waiting until they have serious medical problems landing them in the ER. This program encourages prevention health care and easy access to doctors, so that ER visits are minimized and the population stays healthier.

Almost all the workers in the clinic are volunteers, myself included. With a few attending doctors, and then medical students and a mix of others such as myself. I decided for 2010 that I want to commit myself more to this program, as I really believe in their mission, and it will also give me a great opportunity to develop my skills in public health outreach and hopefully Spanish!!

So, I applied and was accepted as one of the Programming Coordinators. Which basically means that I will be on a team who develops and organizes health education and outreach programs for the community. I think this will be a fantastic experience for me, and I hope to develop relationships with the other volunteers as well as members of the Mexican community.

My ideas right now include workshops such as:
Agriculture / migrant workers healthy habits
Stress management, including learning about blood pressure, anxiety, depression, etc.
Women's health
Parenting healthy children

we shall see what can be developed. I'm very excited for new challenges and experiences in 2010!

Learning it:

Unlearning it: Over committing myself -- I think this program is a great fit for me, because I will be working with other people to develop programs, I won't be on my own. I think I'm establishing a good balance: work, school, yoga/exercise & volunteering (with some socializing in the mix!)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

how to avoid yellow fever.

and no, I'm not referring to a pursuit of Asian women. Ironically, the real virus does not actually occur in Asia...hmmm.

Anyways, so, I am traveling to Panama and Nicaragua in a month (SOO excited!!) and I called travel medicine (after my primary doc turned me down), to see what, if any vaccinations I was required to get before traveling.

I was told a whole laundry list of suggested vaccinations, and one requirement of yellow fever. Apparently I won't be allowed past customs if I do not show proof of this vaccination. When I asked the cost, I was told that they do not accept insurance, and its $75 for the visit and $150 for the vaccine. So I've called around to CVS, other travel medicine offices in Philly, and the cheapest I can find is $180 total.

So then, I was driving to work the other day and heard a story on NPR about a campaign being launched in West Africa for the yellow fever vaccine to be given to 12 million people. So, today in class, I asked, how much will these people (or whoever is assuming the burden of cost for this campaign) paying per vaccination?

I was not given any direct answers. Just that its all relative, to the supply and demand, to the amount being produced at once, to the area of the world its going. Which I understand. But a final guess put the estimates between $3 - $5 for a drug company to produce one vaccination. And, I am all for West Africans getting vaccinated.

But how is it that drug companies in my own country charge me so much more? I suppose I shouldn't gripe, because I'm much wealthier as an American than most African's will ever be. But, I'm seriously going to try to butter up one of the drug reps that comes in to chat up our docs everyday, and see what I can do to get my hands on one of these $3 vaccinations.

Another example of how capitalism is just not all its cracked up to be.

Considering it: Being grateful for the luxury of living in a country where yellow fever isn't a risk.

Unlearning it: Entitlement to cheap vaccinations.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

a sunshiney day of library time.

Today I spend my day in the library. Writing my term paper on the link between women's health disparities and early marriage and pregnancy in underdeveloped areas of the world. And prepping for a statistics project.

Normally this would be exciting...I LOVE the library. I love the smell of old books, the quiet, setting up shop for 8 hours researching and writing and being my usually nerdy self. I must say, its been a while since I set up camp for such a day, mainly because that length of concentration is not my strong suit anymore. But today may be especially challenging...its mid November and 71 degrees outside right now. And I want to go play!! But, its also 3 weeks from due dates on all of my term projects, time must wait.

I guess this comes with the territory of mastering an area of expertise.

wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

APHA conference reflection

My day yesterday was filled with lectures, debating and a great movie.

I went to the APHA (American Public Health Association) conference, whose theme this year was WATER. How convenient for me, as this is one of my favorite topics, and hopefully an option for my masters research and thesis.

I was able to attend presentations on everything from hand washing programs in Africa, bottled water in the US and sanitation and safe water access in El Salvador. It was inspiring, frustrating and informative. Most global health lectures mentioned how great the Peace Corps is and how everyone interested in working in global health should consider joining.

Most also talked about how desperate the need is for safe water and proper sanitation in developing nations, and the programs that have made a difference so far.

A few points that stuck out to me, some of which are opinions of the presenters:

- Chlorine water treatment (point of use and for storage) is the cheapest immediate solution for providing safe water. But how sustainable is it? It appears better for the long run to invest in potable water systems.

- Bottled water is not regulated nearly as much as tap water, and has been found to have levels of contaminants above what is regulated for tap water. It is also bad for the environment, as plastic water bottles cannot be recycled back into another plastic water bottle, they are used for fillers, chairs, etc. Bottled water though in vogue right now, is not sustainable nor is it as safe as drinking tap water.

- In regards to global health outreach: don't go into a community where you are not invited. The people you are helping should always be willing and enthusiastic about working alongside of you, not expecting a mere handout. Otherwise, the solutions will not sustain when you leave.

- Charity, or handouts, though good for the short term, is not sustainable long term. Justice, or teaching and developing programs where people have the opportunity to develop their community and meet their own needs, on the other hand, is a much more effective means of short term and long term volunteer work in a community.

Finally, at my last lecture, a women in the audience made a comment basically stating that young people these days were going into health care for the money (she used the exact # of $45 an hour), not for the good will or desire to help people. I found this a bit of an insult, especially since I work and go to school with so many young people who are passionate and excited about what they are doing, and not at all making that kind of money (myself included). If they were in it just for the money, why not just go to business school and work in corporate America? So, I spoke up, and said that I was a health care work and I was getting my MPH, and my reasons were not for the money. I also noted that I was not making $45 an hour, nor did any of the young people I knew in the field. Needless to say, I was respectful to her, but still noted my concern for her unfair blanket statement. A few people clapped, and I was thanked for my comments by one girl my age after the lecture.

The movie was on a water organization in Malawi that is founded and run by a native. They are doing a great job in the country, drilling bore hole wells and bringing safe water access to hundreds of communities. I was very impressed with the founder, who was able to be there to present the film, all the way from Malawi.

Consider it: donating your time or money to an organization who takes a justice approach to their work, training locals to sustain their community.

Unlearn it:
buying bottled water

Friday, October 30, 2009


take the stairs.

perhaps healthy choices can be fun? or fun choices can promote healthy behaviors?? I'd probably take the stairs at work more often if I had this to look forward to. :)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

continuing this thought

In addition to this...I'm torn about the option of a flu shot. Especially the H1N1 vaccination...when I'm in the one of the at-risk groups for this.

Since I'm studying Public Health, I suppose its automatically assumed I will be all about vaccinations. Which in general, they are a good thing. But when you need a new vaccine every year to stop the spread of something (which begs the question, is it actually encouraging the mutation of the virus?), how good of a vaccine can it be? And then I hear stuff like this, that just scares people, myself included. From a population perspective, this is like a one in a million chance. But looking as an individual, I don't want to be that one in a million. Maybe I'm spreading fear and unsupported claims, and if I find out that I am, obviously I'll retract this post. Let me know...

modern medicine - the good, the bad and the not so clear

today I'm wondering about the implications of modern medicine. Obviously, modern medicine is a fantastic advancement, a huge achievement for man kind. But at what point does it yield negative implications?

I look at the field in which I currently work (psychiatry) and wonder if we are advancing medications that are simply treatment of symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle or culture. Why are there so many anxious and depressed people in our country and all over the world? Why are we finding vitamins (i.e. B12 and Folic acid) are helpful in treating depression? Perhaps because people should not be deficient of them in the first place? Perhaps healthy dieting, stress management, and a different lifestyle are the medicine we really need -- that fixes the root of the problem instead of the symptoms.

At what point do we draw a line to say this is helpful, or this is enabling poor choices to continue to be made? From a public health viewpoint, what are the implications of mass use of antidepressants and anxiolytics? What will this mean if these meds eventually are consumed in developing countries as well??
Are we driving our society into madness by being consumed by busyness, greed, technology and isolation (caused by the American ideal of "independence")...and then using these meds as a band-aid? I need feedback on this one. I feel very perplexed by the whole situation.

Considering it:
natural remedies and healing vs. modern medicines -- what are the true implications of both, especially pertaining to quality of life.

Trying to unlearn it: taking something for every ailment -- i.e. ibuprofen, tums, etc..maybe the "fix it in the moment" meds are just masking symptoms that our body is producing to tell us there is a bigger problem??

Monday, October 19, 2009

a little perspective

check this out:

gapminder: population vs. water consumption

Maybe its not so cool to waste water...though advertising would tell us otherwise? Is this mentality why the US is closer to China and India on our total water consumption, though we are closer to Indonesia, Japan & the rest of the world on population size?

Monday, October 12, 2009

contemplation of population

cheesy title, I know...but this is seriously what my mind has been digesting over the past few weeks. In my global public health class, I am lucky to get the viewpoint of several different professors offering a wide range of views from Penn. So far, we have had guest lecturers presenting on food security, water, child health, history of public health, etc. We've discussed the implications of outside aid, outreach issues often overlooked, pressing problems that deserve immediate attention and more. Its so much to take in at once that I find my head spinning at times.

But the topic of population growth -- I should say the problem of population growth has been mentioned in every class. It is an underlying theme that influences every issue in public health. For me, its turning my thoughts and perceptions upside down. Current estimates, though varying, land the world population in the approximations of 10 billion in the next 50 years -- with conservative estimates assuming this will be the high point, where we will see a leveling off and potentially a decrease.

The problems this rapid growth implies are endless...a few obvious being lack of energy resources, lack of land, food security, and the list goes on and on. On an individual level I'm trying to sort out the implications for my personal mission to support fresh and local agriculture.

This topic came up in the population debate in class, and though I still can't wrap my brain around this entirely, I had a professor who was willing to stay after class for an hour as I grilled him for answers and stumbled through my explanations of my mindset. Overall, what I took away to process was that it would be impossible to achieve a sustainable approach to agriculture and food supply on a local level, especially as the population grows, because there is not enough land to do so. He explained that if we all go fresh and local that by the time our population reached 10 billion, around 40% of those people would be starving. I'm not sure what I think of this, or if this truly is the reality, but its totally opposite from my thought process. I'd like any and all comments you have on the topic as I ponder this further.

As I persisted, asking him what someone like myself can do to solve issues of food security and development issues in the face of such a dilemma, he gave a few suggestions. First, always work towards solutions, and adjust as needed as more information is provided. Ask lots of questions, and don't allow the popular view or the media influence you more than academic or empirical evidence. And finally, work on a local level to do what you can. Though he emphasized the lack of reality for food security if we decentralize agriculture, where it is possible, local food really is helpful for local economy and sustainability of a community. The population issues are most prevalent in big cities, where land for agriculture is scarce. I see his points, but I'm still not convinced local sustainability is impossible to reach. What I do know however, is that my desire to work in underdeveloped areas to reach sustainable options for health is still an important mission. Especially in water issues - where the largest problem is not availability of water, but the lack of access to that water.

check out for some illustrations that will help connect the dots on these issues...its a great website!

more to come as I learn and process further...

Consider it:
family planning options. adoption. wasting less and valuing the resources you have.

Unlearn it:
that you have a RIGHT to everything you have. if we all had a right to all the resources we abused, and everyone in the world used them so unwisely, we would have no resources left!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Progress with school & goals

Updates on my masters program...

currently enrolled in Global Public Health (and will be writing about some of my lectures soon) and Biostatistics. Enjoying both. And trying to keep up with all of the reading. So far, we've discussed quite thought provoking subject matters such as population control issues, family planning, child health and what is helping vs what is not.

Settled the questions over who my advisor is -- he's an ER doctor with a special interest in immigrant health and good contacts in Central America. Awesome.

Have met with a few different professors and determined my goals for the year need to be gaining as much experience with speaking Spanish as possible, narrowing down my ideas for my capstone (thesis) subject matter, and figuring out a plan for where/with whom to go abroad next summer. Scouting out some good volunteer opportunities and deciding what events are worth my time and what aren't. Full time work and part time masters classes doesn't give me much flex in my schedule for extra right now I'm successfully fitting in some socializing, yoga, exercising and volunteering.

Success -- went apple picking (reflecting on my past post on food that is local and fresh, I'd say picking off the tree is the best you can get!) -- also got 25lbs of tomatoes from the same farm for $12, Crazy!! Learning that if you buy things local and in season, they can actually be a better deal..and so much tastier! so my friend and I peeled them and made fresh sauce for storing....YUM...using the juice, skin and seeds to experiment with a few things, tomato based face mask (supposed to be good for blackheads), tomato ice cubes for blending with veggies for drinking, and juice for soup.

Considering it:
the possibility of fermenting my apples for a hard cider, perhaps if I find good home instructions for this??

Unlearning it: watching television during the week -- must give up the little I do watch if I'm going to keep up on my reading.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Natural Remedies

I often question if solutions found in nature, not synthetically made or picked up off the shelf at the drug store can really be effective. If they are, they can potentially be a great sustainable alternative to what is commonly expensive and presumably not too healthy to use. So, as I've come across suggested solutions, I've become my own lab rat to test them. This should not be viewed as empirical evidence, but its worth a try in my opinion. I'll be researching these further, perhaps looking for literature to see if they actually work.

mint as a bug repellent -- this definitely worked for me. Either steep the mint in water and put it in a spray bottle, or just pick it, twist it up and bruise the leaves and then rub them all over your skin.

plantain leaves for itch relief
-- not the banana like plantains you eat, but the short leafy plants disguised as weeds among your grass. I'll take a pic of these and add it soon. Bruise them as well and rub on the itchy spot. This worked well for me with bug bites!

soap & water or alcohol for mealy bugs -- I had an outbreak of mealy bugs on my office plants, and leaves starting dying off. So at the office I filled a water bottle with mild dish soap and water, shook it up and drenched the plants in them. It worked fairly well. I had to repeat a couple times, but so far they have not returned. This is supposed to work on most pests as long as you hit them directly. My neighbor suggests alcohol as a remedy for pests also...she says to get the cheapest bottle of vodka or gin you can find (or whatever cheap form of alcohol you have lying around, even rubbing alcohol) and to drench the plant in it. It kills the bugs on contact. Be sure to rinse with water a few times very thoroughly as to not kill the plant in the process.

I'm still on my quest for sunscreen that I am convinced is healthy enough to lather all over my body. For now, long sleeves and an umbrella seem to be the best alternative.

I've also converted to all natural, earth friendly toiletries, including shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and cocoa butter in place of lotions, and peroxide for mouth wash (also handy for teeth bleaching). Soon I'll be out of toothpaste and attempting to use a peroxide/baking soda mix instead. All seem to be doing the trick except the deodorant...but that will be another blog.

*A side note: my neighbor told me to scratch a bar of soap before gardening, so that your nails get soap under them instead of dirt. Then when you go to wash your hands after digging in the soil, the soap comes out leaving your fingernails squeaky clean! Its a great idea for someone like me, who always starts off wearing gardening gloves and 5 minutes in decides its easier without them on.*

I'll keep posting new remedies as I find them. Let me know if you have any to share!

Consider it: checking your back yard or garden for natural remedies to try out. Ask your neighbors or old people you know what they used before all of the stuff we use now was around.

Unlearn it:
buying for the brand name...just because it smells good and is in fancy packaging does not mean its good for you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where I'm at today

I've been starting to get really into yoga lately, which I am quite excited about. Besides the physical benefits which are obvious, I have been surprised to find the spiritual benefits are drawing me in. Not in a way that would contradict religious beliefs or what have you. But yoga seems to boost my spirituality, I suppose making me reflect on my self image, how I live in the moment, and my appreciation for life. One thing that has really inspired me from my classes is the concept of respecting myself where I am today, my capabilities, strengths, desires and limitations. I often discourage myself by thinking I am not doing enough, or am not capable of what I should be capable of. Yoga seems to take the word should out of use, only focusing on what is. As well, one of my teachers emphasized being an indtender in class last week. As in doing everything you do with intention, not be default or accident, but by active choice and with care and energy. I would go as far as saying that on top of it, we should not half-ass anything, but actually only do what we really have the energy and will to do with our full heart, mind and strength. So, I'm going to start my new semester of school with those thoughts in mind.

Classes I will be taking: Biostatistics & Intro to Global Public Health
Both are requirements, and I am expecting them to be challenging but useful.

As well, I am spending the rest of August pinning down my choice for an Advisor -- who will help me focus my degree and determine what/where/how I will be doing an international immersion for my internship, field work and eventual thesis research. I spent a lot of time researching professors, what they are interested in, what activities they do, and where they are connected. I've found a few that are promising, but one at the top of the list whom I think has a grassroots mindset that would compliment mine. He arranged a meeting with me next week, and instead of the normal "meet me in my office" style, he called and asked that I meet him at an immigrant clinic he volunteers at, to volunteer with him while discussing my ideas. Right up my alley -- and hopefully an opportunity to practice some Spanish. So, I intend to find out what his research of the moment focuses on, where his connections are for international experiences, and how my interests align with his. I'm looking forward to this.

Finally, I will be intentionally reflecting on how to integrate my Public Health career objectives in the job I currently have. Instead of going through the motions at work, I want to feel like it is prepping me for my future career instead of just paying the bills and enabling a free education (though these are important). I want to have confidence that the time I am spending now at work is not just for a paycheck, but in some way will keep me on the path towards something great.

Consider it: Writing out your intentions for the week and seeing how well you focus on them

Unlearn it: doing things by default, or without passion, energy or purpose

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

waste haters

I hate wasting!! I hate all of the office waste of perfectly good supplies...paper, office supplies, furniture, etc. When did we get so the point that throwing perfectly usable things out was a norm? How do I contradict this culture and inspire others to do the same???

I'm going to start a waste haters club I think. Are you with me??? It will be Naked Lady Parties (clothing swaps), yard sales, reduce/reuse/recycle campaigns galore!

Consider it:
Check out my link below and watch the Story of Stuff. And join me when I get a chance to go live here:

Unlearn it: trashing things that can be of good use

Sunday, August 9, 2009

what's food got to do with it?

What does it mean to pursue health in a sustainable context? Can I strive to be sustainable as an individual by the way I treat my own body? I suppose when I first reflect on sustainable health, I think of health care that can be maintained in challenging contexts, supplies and equipment being provided by the natives of that area, and practical application of solutions regarding the health and wellness problems in a community.

But what about in the context of the individual? What if I'm practicing poor consumption habits, not taking care of my health, hygiene or neglecting to exercise? I think in order for me to promote sustainable health in any context I must first master and sustain my own health and well being. I suppose its that concept of taking care of yourself in order to have enough to take care of others appropriately. I must say I am personally reexamining my own health and how to better sustain my own well being. It is a challenging thing to do, especially with the past few years I have had with health issues. Injuries only further complicates the matter, and I have come to realize that making all your doctor's appointments doesn't make you a healthy person.

The topic of food seems to regularly arise when pondering this issue. I went to a lecture a few weeks ago on antibiotic use in animals we eat. Which made me want to become a vegetarian. And then I went and saw Food Inc. a week or so ago - and I recommend you see it! It was quite insightful and gave me plenty to reflect upon. Perhaps sustainable health is partly achieved through eating sustainable foods. Being responsible and consuming that which has been grown or raised appropriately and without unnatural chemicals is quite important. I get discouraged with this though, because I am on a very limited budget, and I'm not great at planning out my meals and diet in general. I suppose having a gourmet chef in the house, though quite nice, also gave me an excuse to get out of the habit of thinking and planning out my meals...since he usually did this for me. But since he has left for the Peace Corps, I have realized how my personal choices for food need to be much more educated and deliberate than they are. And really if I learn how to be smart about it, buying fresh and local does not have to be too expensive. Perhaps more time consuming, but anything where you are changing a habit is. So I'm going to check out farm shares, and start researching where and how to get my hands on fresh, local and hormone free, pesticide free food products. And I'm going to start making a deliberate effort to not consume things which use CORN where it is not meant to be used. Any suggestions?

Consider it: Is this land your land or my land? Was this land was made for you and me? And if it is, why are we allowing such abuse to our resources?

Unlearn it:
that you are powerless over influencing change. Every time you eat, you are casting a vote for how your food should be produced [From Food Inc.]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Water conservation

Did you know that only 3% of the world's water is fresh water? How about that 1.7 million people die each year around the world because of their lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and lack of hygiene? Or that in the next 20 years the USA anticipates water shortage problems in over half of the country? AND that there are actually people IN the USA that do not have indoor plumbing and easy access to safe drinking water. Here's the topper: about 1 BILLION, yes, 18% of the population on Earth lack access to safe drinking water. Crazy, isn't it?

So, what can I do about it? I reflect on these horrifying statistics and I feel completely powerless. Large numbers like these tend to set hope just far enough out of reach that we step back and relinquish responsibility.

A friend of mine and I decided that for our book club (shameless plug - check out the metro development book club calendar in the links & join us!) we would pick a topic each month to focus our reading and research on. And in addition to those, we would adapt our behavior in some way to take responsibly for our contribution to problems in society, empower us to see a difference even if it is small, and give us some insight on the struggles others in underdeveloped areas face. So, July is the month of water. And for this we decided to treat water that way it should be treated, as a limited resource.

We definitely did not follow all of these, instead we just picked a few to start with that would be challenging for us individually. Nor did I succeed at sticking with the ones I chose every time I used water, but I put forth a valiant effort. I also learned how much I take for granted & how easy it is to save water when you are conscious of it. I plan to continue these personally, and perhaps soon they will be habitual. Let me know what you think:


Water Conservation Goals July 2009

Ways to eliminate water waste

1. Showers – 7 minutes max. If you are really serious, go with luke warm to cold showers and save energy too. Only wash your hair when necessary. Don’t use conditioner everyday, it takes the longest to rinse out – your hair really only needs it 1-2x per week anyways. Swap out your 2.75 gpm showerhead with a 1.75 water-conserving showerhead and you can save more than 7,700 gallons of water per year (Based on an average of seven-minute for a family of four). You can also take baths if quick showering isn't for you. A good test to see what will use less water: next time you shower, plug the drain and see if your tub fills before your shower is over. If not, shower, if so, take a bath. Or get wet, turn the shower up and lather up and then turn the shower back on only to rinse (this is for die hards prepping for third world bucket showering).

2. Brushing teeth & shaving – only use water to rinse, don’t leave it running.

3. Toilet use – only flush when necessary “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown, flush it down.” Replace older, less efficient toilets with 1.28-gallon High-Efficiency Toilets (HETs) to save up to 16,500 gallons of water per year.

4. Dishes – when washing dishes, don’t leave water running, use as few dishes as possible. I.e. when using water cups, reuse before washing. When getting a glass of water before bed, only fill as much as you will drink. Use a brillo pad for scrubbing instead of letting things soak.

5. Eliminating contributions to water purification needs – this is an important one we all forget about. The more waste you flush, throw in the garbage disposal or rinse down the drain, the more the water you use must be processed, using lots of energy and wasting valuable resources. The more waste there is in water, the more limited safe water becomes. This is often a reason for water shortages.
*So – do not use your garbage disposal unless absolutely necessary. Compost everything you can.
* Eliminate as much toilet paper use as you can (while still being sanitary, obviously). Or if you want an extreme third world experience, don’t flush your toilet paper, throw it in the trash can. (Yes, this is really what they have to do)
* Eliminate any excess waste you throw in the toilet, such as tampon applicators, tissue, etc. One of my friends suggested using tampons without applicators; she does because she feels the applicator is unnecessary waste. The Diva Cup is another option.
* Minimize the chemicals you put down the drain. Soaps, cleaners, leftover drinks, etc.
* Do not waste food or supplies. What does this have to do with water? Well, the more you waste, such as eating half an apple and throwing the rest out, the more water you waste. Water is used in the production of crops and all products you use. When you waste them, you waste the water used to grow, produce, clean and distribute the things you use/eat everyday.

6. Laundry – reuse clothing before washing. Examples of where I plan on cutting out waste: I am hanging gym shorts to air out and reusing the a few times before washing them. They don’t really get smelly and then you aren’t wasting water. Make sure you do a full load whenever you do your laundry – most washers use just about the same amount of water whether it’s a light or heavy load. Some don’t even have a setting for light – heavy, but if they do, set it accurately for the amount of laundry you have. Consider purchasing a front-load washing machine.

7.Fix leaky faucets and install faucets with water-saving aerators to effortlessly save hundreds of gallons of water per year.

8. Use a broom rather than a hose to clean off driveways, steps and sidewalks.

9. Water your garden during the coolest part of the day, generally in the morning, and avoid watering on windy days.

10. Landscape with native or low-water plants to significantly reduce water usage outside the home.

11. Use leftover water for houseplants, instead of pouring out a half-empty glass of drinking water. You can also use most gray water from baths for this if you use mild soaps and shampoos. These will not hurt the plants, and often are a helpful pesticide. Don't do this with shaving creams or other harsh soaps & avoid hair from the drain.

12. Make sure the dishwasher is fully loaded to maximize the dishes cleaned in a cycle.

13. Get a rainwater collection system for your yard. Use a bucket or if you have the funding, buy a large rainwater collection barrel(available at Whole Foods and most hardware stores). Place them under your gutter, and use the water for your plants & lawn and such. I just leave my bucket for watering outside and it collects rainwater that I use when its sunny out. Be careful not to cause flooding or irrigation issues with this. The bigger the barrel, the better.

14. Stop buying water bottles. Unless you are in an area where the water from your faucet is unsafe to drink, you shouldn't be purchasing water bottles. Its a huge waste not only of plastic, but resources for production, transportation and marketing as well. AND, you are giving companies a reason to take someone else's water in a different area of the world and send it to you.


Using water for the correct purposes in the correct amounts

1. Water for drinking. Try eliminating drinking anything other than water this week. Drink 8 full glasses of water a day. This one is challenging.
2. Hand washing – washing your hands properly is very important. Taking at least a minute to wash, rinse and repeat will eliminate a lot of germs and potential health issues.

Consider it: pick a few of these and make them personal goals for August.

Unlearn it: the cultural norm of not noticing when water is being wasted...or not caring. (i.e. fix that leaky faucet instead of ignoring the drip every time you pass the sink.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

unlearning the basics.

The basics. As an American, I learned from an early age the assumption that clean water, healthy food and safe shelter would always be accessible. Water was clean, food you buy from the grocery store is fresh, and Walmart was down the street if you needed anything. When you are done with something, you throw it away. Not a thought about where it goes once it is in the trash. I was raised in a modest home, with a single mother who worked 3 jobs to make ends meet. But I still had more than most in a developing country would. I still learned to be wasteful and take my wealth for granted, even though by American standards we were anything but wealthy.

I have this urgent desire to contribute somehow in the developing world. I often feel I should be somewhere in Africa or Latin America, building latrines or working in a health clinic. And someday I hopefully will be. But in all my research, discussions and experience, I am realizing that too many people jump into these contexts with both feet hoping to help and in the long run their efforts are not efficacious or sustainable, and sometimes are even harmful. Maybe a few people benefit, a bundle of money is spent and often the volunteer finds growth and fulfillment through their experience and then they leave. And the water filtration system is not maintained, the latrines they built are not utilized, or the thousands of trees they planted are chopped down and used for producing charcoal. So what went wrong? Why were millions of US dollars funneled into the construction of the PĂ©ligre Dam in Haiti, which appeared to be a great development opportunity for the country, but left thousands homeless and without farmland? Why is flooding of perfectly usable farmland acceptable? Why now has the dam fallen into disrepair, only providing around half of its potential energy? Why does poor water quality, sanitation and hygiene account for some 1.7 million deaths annually around the world? -- 90% children, and yet Americans cannot find the time to fix a leaky faucet. Politics aside, there has to be a better way to solve these issues.

My theory is that we need to unlearn the basics if we are to truly contribute to change. We need to realize how much we take for granted and STOP taking it for granted, that throwing money at something does not always solve the problem, and that first learning how to approach things from an intelligent and sustainable perspective is necessary. I may be impatient about contributing to health and sustainability in developing countries, but I cannot be in a hurry to do so. I must first take in all this MPH program has to offer, so that when I contribute to development it will be productive. I know there is never a guarantee, sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils, and development takes sacrifice. I know it is all easier said than done. I think being willing to drop the comfortable lifestyle and go serve in the Peace Corps or some other organization is quite honorable and I hope to do so someday. But for now, I am going to challenge myself to unlearn the American ways of waste, materialism and laziness. If I cannot start to change my own perspective on what is acceptable in our culture and what is not, how will I truly make a difference with others?

Unlearn it:
"The world is full of miserable places. One way of living confortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money." - Tracey Kidder

Consider it:
in a new form or manner. ethos: the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period.