At the KILN meeting on April 20th, I gave a presentation about my experience studying abroad in Ecuador during the fall 2010 semester. Ten other BC students and I took classes at the “Universidad San Francisco de Quito” for the duration of fall semester. I had the opportunity of taking Medical Anthropology and Community Health courses at the university’s medical school located within the “Hospital de los Valles”, a top-ranked private hospital in Cumbaya, Ecuador. Both classes offered eye-opening experiences into the alternative medicine practiced by the people of the Andean region as well as the healthcare challenges facing this population today. I want to elaborate a little more about the community health component of my trip because it goes hand-in-hand with the purpose of the KILN program.

For the community health course at the university, my class was broken down into groups of 6 students. Each group went into an elementary school community to teach children about a major health concern in Ecuador. My group taught fourth and fifth graders at the Carmen Amelia Hidalgo School about nutrition and how to make healthy dietary choices. It is an elementary and middle school open to children from families living significantly below the poverty line—this is one of the few schools that requires no payment or fees and actually admits students based on financial need.

My first assignment as part of this project was to interview the school cafeteria staff, teachers, and students about typical lunch choices. At the school cafeteria, a typical lunch plate (vegetable, starch, meat) cost $0.50 or $0.90 with a drink and dessert. The students would then have to buy their “lunch” within that limit—leaving them to choose from chips, candy, gum, and soda (which cost from $0.05 to $0.25). We stressed the nutritional benefits of such healthy and cost-efficient foods through trivia games, presentations, lessons, and even a puppet show. The children were eager to learn about nutrition and to interact with college students. They were also truly appreciative of everything offered here (and that was not very much at all).

At the end of the semester, the students showed a remarkable improvement in their knowledge of dietary recommendations, food groups, and lunch choices. Because the Community Health course is a year-long project, my group will continue teaching these grades about nutrition during the spring semester and work with the school administration to improve the cafeteria options.  Additionally, my group will hold an informational session at the school for parents and family members to showcase what the children have learned and educate the parents about making good dietary choices for their families.

By being part of a health project in a community so different from my home in the US, I gained incredible insight into the lives of these generous and positive people. Through immersion in other communities,  students add to their own cultural competence and pave the way towards global health.