Students and Faculty from Summer Interdisciplinary Research Project in Malawi are Reunited
Against a backdrop of warm feelings and good food, University of Maryland students and faculty involved in the 2011 Malawi Interdisciplinary Summer Research Project reunited Saturday, Sept. 10, at the home of a professor to tell stories about their experiences and to try to put the trip into perspective.
The students, one from each of the six University of Maryland professional schools, departed June 27 for six weeks in Africa to study rural access to malaria treatment. The University of Maryland Global Health Resource Center sponsored the project, which is part of a larger University study to conduct surveillance of the burden of malaria in several regions of Malawi.
Shabnam Mazhari, a fourth-year student from the School of Dentistry, spoke for the group when she said, "It was hard to capture what we saw and what we did and how we lived together for six weeks in a word or a few words to tell people. The hardest part was making other people feel the way we felt."
Angie Larenas, a second-year School of Social Work student, said, "We not only learned about the different disciplines and technical things, but we also learned about what life is like for the students in the other programs and see what some of the differences are and what the similarities are on a personal level. We learned from each other."
Elizabeth Duke, a second-year student from the School of Medicine who is interested in pediatrics, agreed saying, "We all want impact for the people we are helping."
Miriam Laufer, MD, an associate professor at the School of Medicine, a researcher at the School's Center for Vaccine Development, and the director of the University's Global Health Resource Center, said, "I feel like I know the country much better than I ever had before. These guys ask really good questions and it makes me see things in a way I didn't see them before."
Jody Olsen, PhD, MSW, a visiting professor in the School of Social Work and a veteran of international development work, cited an example of the problem of a person having a fever in one of the remote villages of Malawi. "You learn through the eyes of these students that the answer is not a medical answer, it's not a pharmaceutical answer, it's not a social work answer, it's not a law answer. It's a community answer. It's a group answer," Olsen said. "To see the students integrate their own disciplines to the answer to that question, it helped me appreciate how complicated surviving in a village can be."
Jason Hodge, a second-year student from the School of Pharmacy who is interested in studying the delivery of pharmaceuticals to the patients, agreed that it is difficult to quickly explain the entire experience of the six weeks. He related how he spent an entire night in a village alone except with his new interpreter and the residents. ýFor him, the trip meant putting himself "into the hardships that the villagers live with every single day" and learning "what life is like in another part of the world."
Judith Porter, DDS, MA, an associate professor in the School of Dentistry, said it was a "life-altering experience." She described the warm welcome by the villagers and said the students were "a very unusual group of people who were first and foremost professionals" and "that's why this project was such a success."
Students and faculty who were unable to attend the reunion included Jane Hannon, a nine-year nursing veteran who is in the School of Nursing family nurse practitioner program; Lucy MacGabhann, a third-year law student who studied the problems in Malawi from the perspective of health care policymakers; and Diane Hoffmann, JD, MS, an associate dean from the School of Law who is director of the Law and Health Care Program.
To view the entire interview with the group, click on the video below: