The days started with breakfast as a group, and then a bumpy 30-minute van ride through rough dirt roads leading them to a hard day of work in the field in Haiti. Together with a Haitian enumerator, University of Florida undergraduate students asked the Haitian community a question that desperately needed an answer: To what extent are water and hygiene behaviors mediated by water insecurity and cultural beliefs in Haiti?
It was all part of a new UF educational initiative to enhance international curriculum and experiences for undergraduate students, supported by a grant from UF’s International Center and developed by faculty members in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of environmental and global health, including Elizabeth Wood, D.H.S., Anthony Maurelli, Ph.D., Jocelyn Widmer, Ph.D., Joseph Bisesi, Ph.D., and department chair Tara Sabo-Attwood, Ph.D.
After a lot of planning and hard work, the first UF in Haiti Study Abroad Program group traveled to Gressier, Haiti, for a four-week experience in May 2018. The focus of the trip was to use qualitative and quantitative research methods to learn about residents’ experience with water insecurity, water quality and women’s health.
Led by Wood and Ph.D. student Kelly Chapman, the eight undergraduate students underwent a week of orientation, conducted surveys and then completed qualitative ethnography interviews with the assistance of Haitian enumerators and translators. In the final week , students also worked with Bisesi to learn how to sample water for measurement of basic water quality, heavy metals and organic contaminants. The goal was for the students to learn a problem from different angles and to train them to take information and synthesize it in the field.
As the UF in Haiti program director, Wood focused on helping her students develop cultural competency; she wanted them to be immersed in Haitian culture where everything is drastically different, and the students were forced to see things from a different perspective. She also wanted them to be able to learn to think critically and analytically when things don’t go according to plan.
During their time in Haiti, the students learned to speak the basics of Haitian Creole and worked together as a team. They learned about the community in a rare and immersive way.