Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said that “Change is inevitable in a progressive society. Change is constant.” It is in this light that Office of International Programs is highlighting the Belize Field School. The Belize Field School basic concept is simple – have students work along with a community on projects that benefit that community during their International Field Experience. Projects could be generated by or with the community. This approach provides meaningful engagement that results in mutual benefit to both the community and the students.
The Belize Field School is now in its third year focusing on building communities of practice. In the first two years, participants in the Belize Field School conducted health assessments in two communities in Belize: San Martin (in Belmopan City) and Santiago Layout (in San Ignacio). The health assessments provided an opportunity for a team of COPH students to showcase their public health knowledge and competency developed at COPH. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cardiovascular diseases were identified in the previous health assessments as chronic diseases and conditions adversely impacting the both communities. In the third year, the field school focused on conducting a health education program “Your Heart Your Life” developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Dr. Hoare, Dr. Corvin and COPH students, with contributions from the Belize Ministry of Health and members of the Santiago Juan Community, tailored “Your Heart Your Life” program to match the Belizean context. As a result, the Santiago Juan Layout outlying community now has a complement of individuals who completed the “training the trainers program” and are now providing health education to persons living with chronic diseases. In the 2013 field school, a Nutrition Assessment Survey led by Dr. Wright was also conducted to collect data to understand Belizean dietary patterns and its impact on the aforementioned chronic diseases. In addition to conducting the health education and the nutrition survey, the 2013 Belize Field School students participated in a medical mission that provided medical and dental care to Mayan Communities in Southern Belize.
Students who participate in the Belize Field School have a unique chance to enhance their competencies. Students are challenged to learn how to establish, build and manage relations with community members and other partners in a low resource setting. Students, who are challenged by their new environments, tend to become more creative thinkers and to find innovative solutions to complex issues. A feature of the Belize Field School is that students from all COPH departments have participated in providing a comprehensive approach to a successful International Field Experience.
Culminating this year’s experience, the Santiago Juan Community hosted a farewell dinner for the students to show their gratitude and their integration into the community. All in all, this is a great new approach and a great program for COPH students thinking of pursuing IFE opportunities. The program was supported through funding from the Department of Global Health and the Office of International Programs.