Friday, February 26, 2010

Engineering a future in sustainable health

I am almost at my half way point in the spring semester, and on my way to class last night, I surprised myself with motivation I would've never imagined having. I'm taking an engineering of sustainable water and sanitation resources course...a sort of glorious meshing of theory pertinent to my public health studies and frightening three-page-long math equations.

As a psychology undergrad student at Drexel, a very strong engineering school, I have years of ridicule under my belt for going to a technical school to earn a liberal arts degree. Never did I have an interest in even taking a peek at what engineers learned, nor would I have had the courage. Not to downplay the hard work that is put into earning a Bachelors of Science in Psychology...I definitely did my share of work. Drexel actually has quite a decent program. But I successfully avoided all things engineer related during my time there.

Now, here I am, a few years later, a bit more brave and curious, and I decided to take this ESE course at the masters level. At UPenn no less. My auto response is oh my goodness what was I thinking. But last night, having 3 pages of math written out for homework, none of which actually arrived at a correct answer, and on the brink of another snow storm, I still did not even hesitate to go to this class. I looked at the topics for the lecture on the syllabus, and was so excited to learn what they were teaching that my motivation completely overshadowed my dread of more hours of math and driving home late in a snowstorm.

Needless to say it was worth showing up to class. I've been learning about gravitational factors in water catchment, velocity and flow of water sources, calculation of head loss and diameters for the selection of proper piping for a safe water system, finding hydraulic grade lines, and how all of this has a real world impact on the health of the people I wish to serve. Who would have ever imagined I would be the most eager student in an all engineers course? I really hope this knowledge I gain will compliment my work in public health, and keep me up to speed on the necessary technical aspects of this field.

A thought to preface a future blogpost: we discussed which should be priority when only one option is feasible...providing a community with access to sufficient amounts of fairly clean water (which may still have some contaminants) and emphasizing hygiene methods for prevention (i.e. hand washing) or providing a completely pure water source, even if it does not yield enough water to meet the needs for high hygienic standards. Which do you think is more effective in public health prevention?

Consider it:
giving a completely different discipline a bit of your find how it can compliment your knowledge and broaden your capabilities and creativity in your field.

Unlearn it: mentally disposing of all the math in your head once you are out of freshman level undergrad because you "will not need it" in your field (trust me, not the best approach...)

Monday, February 22, 2010

birthday wishes

looking forward to good health and lots of learning, love and growth in my 25th year.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cafe Harvest

One of my favorite experiences while I was in Nicaragua was touring a coffee farm, picking the berries with the workers and learning all about the process of prepping coffee for sale. I learned the entire process, from the tree all the way to your cup. I think that Mike's blog sums it up best, so with permission...I'm sending you there, because I couldn't do a better job at explaining. He's got some great photos too.

Cafe Journey, from the tree to the cup

I really enjoyed learning about it, and it gave me insight into the inequality of what we value. A coffee harvester in Nicaragua may make $10 on a good, 8 hour day. He or she usually does not have steady work outside of the coffee harvest season, meaning that $10 a day for four months has to sustain them for an entire year. Unfortunately, it seems many Nicaraguans do not have the education to know how to properly budget, so that money does not end up lasting them an entire year, which contributes to their extreme poverty. What struck me the most was reflecting on coffee culture there versus in the US. There, it is their livelihood, and people wait and rely on coffee to ensure they will have money to feed their children. Here it is to some what keeps them moving, but it is the livelihood of very few. Few who are paid well, even Starbuck's employees get health benefits if they are part time, and I'm sure no one makes under $7 an hour. So, we as the coffee drinkers spend on average $4 a cup for this delicious product, and then we throw out the paper and plastic is packaged in and forget all about it. In Nicaragua, they are paid about $1 per 5 gallon bucket of coffee they pick. When I picked, Mike and I shared a basket and in over an hour we only picked half of a bucket. Granted, we are not skilled at this sort of thing, but it was still a timely process. Then, the farmer who does all the work of fermenting, washing, depulping and prepping the coffee still does not make anything in comparison to the coffee shops who sell it.

Perhaps we as the consumer value the coffee we are drinking, and are willing to pay fairly for what it is worth. But the companies who are paying for the product to serve are not sharing the profit fairly. It does not make sense to me that one of the most profitable markets in the US would still leave those producing the product in poverty. I'm no economist, but I'd venture to say that we are not acknowledging the true cost of coffee. Someone always has to pay, like I learned in Economics back in high school, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Consider it:
buying only fair trade coffee products

Unlearn it: that the coffee you are consuming has no consequences to those on the other side of the planet.