The 14 students on Arelis Moore de Peralta’s Creative Inquiry team are from a variety of majors: microbiology, psychology, biomedical science, language and international health. They’re focused on the small community of Las Malvinas in the Dominican Republic, collaborating with Iberoamerican University (UNIBE), a university that Clemson has partnered with for nine years.
Peralta characterizes Las Malvinas as “the poorest of the poor,” with per capita income at a third of the average in the Dominican Republic. The literacy rate is lower than the country at large. The community is bordered on one side by an industrial complex with significant environmental contamination and on the other side by a beautiful ecological park not currently being used for the village’s benefit or economic development due to lack of security and other factors. The team is doing health research, combining public health with social sciences with a goal of discovering ways to improve communities in a more sustainable way.
“First,” says Peralta, “we needed to understand the challenges and factors perpetuating the poor conditions.” The team spent fall semester learning what it means to conduct a community health assessment. That assessment, said Peralta, would need to be combined with an assets assessment, based on the belief that no matter how poor the community, there are assets that allow them to help from within.
They began with a Centers for Disease Control community development research protocol and translated that to take into account public health priorities of another country. They worked in teams of four to develop a protocol based on vector-borne diseases, sanitation, vaccination-preventable diseases, education and unwanted pregnancy.
This spring, the team refined their research methods and prepared to head to the Dominican Republic and Las Malvinas to put that protocol into practice. But before they left, they were able to meet the Dominican students who would be their partners in the research process. Using a program called Adobe Connect and the large media screens, the Dominican students were virtual participants in the Watt Center classroom, getting to know the Clemson students with whom they’d soon spend five days.
The organization providing logistics for the trip also made a virtual trip to the Watt Center, connecting remotely to conduct an orientation, provide details and address all the questions college students would have.
Over spring break, seven members of the team traveled to the Dominican Republic to conduct door-to-door surveys with UNIBE students, asking about risk factors, presence of illness and local assets. They also used their phones with a GIS app to collect this household-based data and actually mark things like accumulations of water and trash, putting those on the map and allowing them to tie risk factors to the presence of illness.
With only 986 households, Las Malvinas is small enough that students were able to go to every other house. In addition, they held focus groups with community members and interviewed specific community leaders. This spring, they’re analyzing the qualitative and quantitative data they gathered.
Fall semester, they’ll use that data to design a community health improvement plan, prepare their results for presentation and work with a coalition in the Dominican Republic and, hopefully, on campus. The idea is, according to Peralta, to “put that data to work and try to bring about change.” She hopes the findings will inspire other Creative Inquiry teams at Clemson to be part of the solution, partnering with Las Malvinas to build a healthier community there.