In the small Nicaraguan municipality of Quezalguaque, torrential rains knock out electricity and water and shorten school days, and the nearby fault line makes earthquakes and tremors common occurrences.
For five School of Public Health practicum students studying child nutrition and developing sex education curricula for 7th through 10th graders, that meant thinking on their feet.
“Always be ready with a backup plan to your backup plan,” says Natasha Viveiros.
Viveiros, Rebecca Albanese, Chelsea Jensen, Beleny Reese, and Samantha Clark spent six weeks this summer in Quezalguaque through the Brookline-Quezalguaque Sister City Project (BQSCP).
The team was asked by Quezalguaque’s health center to study the rising rate of malnutrition among children under 6 years old in the community and surrounding area.
With four medical students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) in the nearby city of León, the team went door-to-door interviewing the families of malnourished children and a control group.
The municipality is mostly rural, with population heavily dependent on agriculture. “Sugarcane and peanuts have become the major crops,” says Jensen. “When there is not work in these crops, life becomes difficult.”
“Parents have told us that if it is not cane season, then they do not have steady access to food,” Clark says.
However, Quezalguaque varies significantly from one local division, called a comarca, to another.
“In some communities, there are many fruit trees and areas to grow food,” says Albanese. “In others, there are pigs and chickens all around, and in others, there are many pulperías, local small convenience stores.” While dependence on seasonal work was the biggest, overarching issue, Albanese says, “each community seems to have different reasons for underweight children.”
The team also took on the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Quezalguaque, developing a sex education curriculum—after being delayed by minor earthquake—and implemented the two-part course with the UNAN medical students in eight classes at three schools.
“Understanding one’s body and being able to plan pregnancies is a key component in alleviating poverty,” says Jensen.
Now back in the US, the team is analyzing the data from the nutrition survey and assessing the effectiveness of the sexual education curriculum. They will provide recommendations to the health center and the local government based on their findings.
Viveiros says the project exemplified why she studies public health.
“This practicum provided the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow global health students and plan the childhood malnutrition community assessment I had desired,” she says.
The Brookline-Quezalguaque Sister City Program (BQSCP) team is taking over the SPH Instagram account from June 27 through July 1. Follow along at Instagram.com/BUSPH/.