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