Elisa “Beth” McNeill co-chairs prestigious national group that developed National Health Education Standards
Elisa “Beth” McNeill, PhD, professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, co-chaired…
While many college students were spending their spring break soaking in the sun on the beach, a group of Texas A&M University students was busy getting their hands dirty while completing a public health infrastructure project.
The student team, which is part of Texas A&M’s Global Public Health Brigade and included individuals from the School of Public Health, spent its spring break in Ghana, working side-by-side with two families to install biodigesters which utilize organic waste, particularly animal and human excreta, to produce fertilizers and biogas.
Global Public Health Brigade is an international student-operated volunteer organization that aims to empower rural communities to prevent common illnesses through in-home infrastructural development, community leader training and health education.
“We want to make sure that the community has the tools they need to help improve their quality of life rather than us just stepping in and giving them money and letting them be on their own,” said Ngoc-Nhu Vo, a public health major who serves as the chapter’s president. “We want to make sure these communities have the tools to really lift themselves up.”
The student brigade left College Station on March 12 and spent two days traveling to its destination. Once there the students met with the families and got to work to help build the biodigesters.
It wasn’t just the students, however, who provided the manpower. The families who benefitted from the work were right alongside the students helping to complete the improvements.
“The families are very hands-on. A lot of what we are doing is construction and the families help us build and they bring the water to mix the mortar,” Vo said. “They were very appreciative that we are there to help them.
“I was thankful they let us come into their community to build this. I am very passionate about the work I want to do to help change communities and better lives. For me, personally, I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have been there longer. We all wish we could have stayed a little bit longer. We all really appreciated the experience we had and it’s a very satisfying feeling.”
It wasn’t all work for the students. Vo said while they were there, they were able to experience the culture of Ghana, eating traditional Ghanian food, learning a cultural dance and taking a historical tour of Cape Coast, which is the capital of the Central Region in southern Ghana and is known for its role in the transatlantic slave trade.
The trip to Ghana was the first for the A&M chapter since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Angela Clendenin, PhD, MA, instructional assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, who serves as the advisor for the group, pointed out the added importance of this trip.
“One thing the pandemic demonstrated is that we are all connected,” Clendenin said. “What affects one of us affects us all. It is more important than ever to do what we can to become global citizens and do our part, wherever and however that may be. That is exactly what these students have done and is what the Global Public Health Brigade is all about.
“I’m proud of these students and their determination, and I’m excited to be able to grow the organization and extend this opportunity to other Texas A&M students who have a passion for making an impact on the world.”
Although the Texas A&M delegation was relatively small, Vo, who has been involved with the group since her freshman year and has served as the president since 2020, says the group is working to increase membership, as well as the number of individuals who take part in upcoming projects.
“We don’t have the biggest footprint on campus, but we are a small, tight-knit organization,” Vo said. “We are hoping to build momentum and our goal is to have 15 volunteers for each trip, and we know it can be done.”
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