Carnegie Mellon University

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Honduran Village

Carnegie Mellon Students Help To Transform Honduran Village

Amy Hung is amazed at what three days of work can do. She and ten of her fellow Carnegie Mellon students toiled in the tiny mountain village of El Jute, Honduras, building latrines, mixing concrete for floors and assembling eco-stoves. Their goal? Helping two families improve their living conditions and avoid diseases like parasite infections and respiratory illnesses.

“We literally changed their lives within three days by building these things for them,” said Hung, a biological sciences major, student in the Heinz College’s Health Care Policy and Management program, and the leader of CMU’s chapter of the Global Public Health Brigades (GPHB).

The GPHB team journeyed to Honduras on this volunteer mission during spring break, many paying his or her own way. Each day they’d wake up at 6 a.m. and begin the two-hour drive into the mountains. In El Jute, the group split into two teams, each helping one family renovate its home.

“The families helped with the work,” Hung explained, “so we really got to know them well. We became part of their family for a week. It was an amazing experience.”

The typical home in El Jute has a dirt floor, which is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that cause skin infections and parasites that cause intestinal illnesses. The GPHB workers mixed vast amounts of concrete—by hand—to lay a new floor throughout the home, cutting off the source of infection. They also built a bathroom area with a toilet and a shower, both of which receive water from a water storage pila that is connected to a water filtration system installed by a Water Brigades unit that visited earlier in the year.

With the floor and bathroom in place, the CMU team tackled the stoves next. Villagers in the remote mountain village, who typically make their living as farmers, are very susceptible to respiratory illnesses because they constantly inhale smoke from unventilated, wood-burning stoves. The students built new stoves using bricks and cement, and installed a metal plate for the cooktop and a chimney that vents the smoke from the stoves out of the house.

According to the Global Public Health Brigades website, these four in-home elements—water pila, latrine, eco-stove and concrete flooring—provide families with the infrastructural means necessary to prevent diseases contracted from contaminated water and earthen floors, and virtually eliminate upper respiratory health risks associated with traditional cooking methods.

The CMU team couldn’t be happier with their work.

“Getting to know these families and knowing that we made their lives better, it changes your life,” Hung said.

This trip marks the CMU GPHB’s first time to Honduras. They plan to return next year.

For more information about CMU’s chapter of the Global Public Health Brigades, contact Amy Hung or Leslie Tay.