McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Global health field project bridges different worlds

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: June 21, 2011
Reginal Akrong in India teaching local families how to properly use bed nets to combat malaria
Reginal Akrong, a student in McMaster's new Master of Science Global Health program, spent time in India recently as part of an eight-day field project undertaken with non-governmental organizations and institutions in the country. Part of Akrong's work was to teach local families how to properly use bed nets to combat malaria.

In 40° C heat, Reginald Akrong stood on a construction site in Manipal, India teaching 50 workers about the dangers of malaria and how to prevent it.

The construction workers, who live in towns of self-made huts constructed of scrap blocks, were never told how they acquired malaria, its treatment or the value of insecticidal bed nets.

Akrong, who holds degrees in nursing and life sciences from McMaster University, is a student in McMaster's new Master of Science in Global Health program. He was in India at Manipal University for a two-week symposium, Bridging Different Worlds, with students from Maastricht University, a partner with McMaster in the global health program.

His hands-on health teaching at the construction site was part of an eight-day field project that students undertook with non-governmental organizations and institutions. It was their first opportunity to link what they had learned academically with real-life experiences. It finished by teaching local families how to properly use bed nets.

"Throughout the year, I've been learning a lot but being able to improve someone's life, and make changes, meant a lot to me," Akrong said.

Field work projects varied widely — from the study of substance abuse among fishermen to work in orphanages. During a one-day conference, students shared ideas and experiences from the field in poster and verbal presentations.

In the first two terms, students undertook projects through learning pods, getting to know each other and working in virtual teams over the internet using online collaboration technology. The chance to meet classmates face-to-face in India was a bonus for students.

"In India, you had the chance to interact with people who had, until then, only been voices in your ear," said Jeff Dickert, an occupational therapist who has done previous volunteer work in developing countries.

After India, some students took placements in other countries while writing their thesis or scholarly paper for the global health program.

Catherine Paquin, who holds a social science honours degree in international development and globalization, is spending some time in Nairobi working with Kenya Red Cross. She calls India "one of the great experiences in my life."

"It made me realize that your way is not always the right way and that cultural sensitivity and compromise are essential in working globally," she said. "And I loved being able to present my scholarly proposal and hear and receive feedback."

"Trying to work with colleagues from very, very different universities and very, very different countries was a nice, hands-on experience," said Marly Isen, who holds a degree in international development studies and biology from the University of Toronto. Students said the trip to India opened their eyes to the reality health care is not a single issue but incorporates politics, funding, history and culture.

"It was really rewarding to see how the students evolved during their time at Manipal. There were tough moments for some students but looking back they are happy to have had the opportunity," said Sue Barclay who organized the symposium with colleagues from Maastricht and Manipal.

Andrea Baumann, associate vice-president, Global Health, said "Global health is a small but growing field so there is no doubt students will benefit now and in the future from this collaboration."

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