Student Spotlight Series: MCH Students Build their Practice Skills in the Dominican Republic

This piece is part of a five part series of Student Spotlights highlighting the applied practice experience of four students in the Dominican Republic during the Summer of 2018. The other four parts of the series include experience reflections from Shelby Panttaja, Elizabeth StanczykKeelin Roche and Hannah McNamee. The following piece is a reflection written by Elizabeth Stanczyk (MPH ’19) after interviewing two professors on their work to form a partnership between the Maternal and Child Health Program and the Batey Relief Alliance.   

When Shelby Panttaja (MPH ‘19) entered the School of Public Health’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Program, she knew that she wanted to have an international experience for her applied practice experience (formally known as a “field experience”). In order to achieve this goal, she immediately contacted Dr. Zobeida Bonilla, Director of the Global Health Certificate Program, in the fall semester of her first year. Through Shelby’s persistence and Dr. Bonilla’s connections, they developed a five-year relationship between the MCH Program and the Batey Relief Alliance (BRA).   

About the Project

The Batey Relief Alliance is a “non-profit, non-political, humanitarian aid entity uniting grassroots groups, faith-based organizations, government agencies, and the international community in a strategic partnership to help create a safe, productive and self-sufficient environment, through health care, food security, education, disaster relief, and community development programs, for children and their families severely affected by extreme poverty, disease, and hunger in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.” The organization was founded in 1997 and originally focused on improving the lives of individuals residing in bateyes of the Dominian Republic, but since has expanded its efforts to other communities and Latin American countries. The bateyes are traditionally areas where individuals who work on the sugar plantations reside and have been historically marginalized.

In 2018, the Batey Relief Alliance launched a Women Empowerment Initiative, in which the foundation would provide microloans for women residing in bateyes to raise animals, grow crops, and/or sell other goods. BRA staff realized they needed to implement a tool to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and Dr. Bonilla recognized that our MCH students are both well trained for and highly interested in global health research and service opportunities. She presented the idea to Dr. Ellen Demerath,  MCH Program Chair,  who saw this as an excellent match between the needs of BRA for program evaluation and the MCH Program’s need to expand global health field/applied practice experience opportunities for its students. With Dr. Bonilla’s deep experience and collaboration with BRA for over ten years, and history of research in the Dominican Republic, it was a natural way to pilot test expansion of our field placement options.

Drs. Bonilla and Demerath acknowledge the value of students gaining international experiences to broaden perspectives and comprehension of public health. Both of these accomplished MCH professionals conducted dissertation research in developing countries and believe that these types of opportunities foster professional and personal growth that are difficult to attain through other means. They are extremely pleased with how the first year interaction between the four MCH students and BRA went, and are very excited to see how the relationship continues to develop over the next four summers.


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