Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reflections on the USD Medical Brigade to Honduras

By: Stephen Ferraro

            “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.  In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  As I returned from USD Medical Brigades recent trip to Honduras, this quote by Margaret Mead really resonated with me.  While the work accomplished over the past 10 days by these 26 students, 4 doctors, and numerous in-country staff was admittedly short of “changing the world”, I couldn’t help but feel that we had made a significant difference in the lives of a few people in the small rural communities of Santa Cruz and Granadilla.  In addition to the positive impact this brigade had on the lives the community members we worked along side, I believe this trip profoundly impacted the lives of the USD students as well.  Many of us have returned to San Diego determined to continue catalyzing this positive change for the rest of our time at USD, and throughout our lives. 

For those who are not familiar, USD Medical Brigades (USDMB) is a student run club on campus that functions under the non-profit umbrella organization Global Brigades.  Our mission is to create sustainable community-based change in underserved populations, with an emphasis on collaborating with and empowering communities to help themselves.  USDMB has been a club at USD for 7 years and typically participates in 2 international service trips per year, during intersession and summer breaks.  As implied in the name Medical Brigades, a large portion of our brigade and preparation during the semester is centered around fundraising for medications and recruiting physicians, which allows us set up a free healthcare clinic in communities that would otherwise have no access to one.  However, an equally important aspect to providing sustainable change is our holistic approach.  The second half of our brigade is spent engaging in a project that addresses a socio-economic or environmental challenge that is affecting the community.  This holistic approach is of paramount importance because while providing healthcare to a community is greatly needed, if the entire community is sick because their water supply is contaminated, supplying medications is merely treating the symptoms of the problem, and is therefore an unsustainable solution. 

With this in mind, our past brigade to Honduras was a medical/water hybrid.  During the 3-day healthcare clinic, we were able to provide medical, dental, OBGYN, and optometric consultations and treatments to over 1,300 patients.  The fact that we were able to provide access to healthcare for the entire community of Santa Cruz in only 3 days it is a sheer testament to the dedication of the students, doctors, and in-country staff.  Each morning we would wake up with the sunrise to eat a quick breakfast, load up the trucks, and then drive 2 hours to Santa Cruz.  Members of the community would already be waiting for us at the local school where we would quickly set up the healthcare clinic.  While the physicians and healthcare professionals are the essential aspects of providing healthcare, the students organize and facilitate most of the clinic.  Aside from assisting and shadowing the doctors, students independently conduct the triage station (record family history, chief complaint, blood pressure and heart rate) and charla station (youth and adult education on health topics and sanitation practices).  After every patient has received the consultation, treatment, and medications they need, the students reload the trucks and drive 2 hours back to the housing facility, exhausted but satisfied. 

The second half of our trip was spent constructing a water system to provide the community of Granadilla with a sanitary water storage cistern, pump and piping to deliver chlorinated water directly to each house.  This water project was especially meaningful because it allowed us to interact directly with the community members and get to know them on a more intimate level.  One community leader explained to us how they had wanted running water for the past 26 years, and now would no longer have to walk miles to and from the water source each day.  Being able to work side by side with the community and performing manual labor under the scorching Honduran sun was both rewarding and humbling.  There are few things more sobering than putting down your shovel after 2 hours of digging to take a water break, only to see an elderly woman and 7 year old boy still digging, with a hole twice the size of yours.   

There are a many things I took away from our time working with the people of Granadilla, one of which was a profound respect for their culture and way of life.  It is easy to come back from an immersive experience such as this with a greater appreciation for all of the things we have in the US that many other countries lack; however, it is much more meaningful to come back with an appreciation for all the things that communities like Granadilla have, that we lack in the US.  I couldn’t help but notice that the harsh conditions and difficulties they experience collectively only brought them closer together and engendered a cohesive sense of community that I have never experienced before.  I also came back with a heightened sense of awareness and responsibility toward the service that can be done in our own local community, specifically with the homeless, refugee, and native populations.  I realized that out of all the “things” we have here in the US that other countries lack, the most important are all the resources readily available that can be used to help those in need. 

As an organization, USDMB has provided students the unique opportunity of participating in community service projects in rural regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ghana.  
Through these experiences the club itself and its mission have had the opportunity to grow and evolve as well.  With the University of San Diego being designated an AshokaU Changemaking Campus, it is important for us to be constantly discussing and redefining what it means to be a “changemaker” and how to accomplish this in a responsible and sustainable fashion.  Initially, USDMB had focused on providing healthcare to rural communities on an international level; however, a deepened understanding of the fundamental principles of changemaking has inspired us to evolve our organization to better embody these principles.  We are constantly striving to become a more comprehensive force of change on the international, local, and personal levels.  For this reason we have begun to incorporate a curriculum of cultural and personal education throughout the semester, along with increased engagement of service within the local San Diego community.  If you are someone who is passionate about catalyzing the change you wish to see in the world, we encourage you to come join the USD Medical Brigade service projects in rural regions of Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Ghana.

Below is a video from our past brigade to Honduras, which provides insight into the USDMB experience.  

If you are interested in joining USD Medical Brigades please contact

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why Water Matters: A Multidimensional Issue and a Student-Driven Response

By Angela Hessenius, ‘17

            Water is a hot, trending topic right now—you could say it’s a watershed issue right now (I know, bad pun, I’m sorry). Here in California, we are currently in the fourth year of a drought, the most severe drought we have experienced on record. On a global scale, water has been and continues to be a hugely important issue. Water is essential for human life and flourishing everywhere, no matter who you are. Accordingly, there are many layers and subtopics within this broad focus. Many of these issues were discussed in the Water Matters panel that occurred last Wednesday, including the drought, wastewater treatment, desalination, water rights, bottled water, agriculture, and much more. This panel was the kickoff event for the Changemaker theme for the next two years, which is “Water: Tap Into Your Ideas.” Clearly, water is an issue that will be discussed quite a bit in the near future, with many dimensions that occur on multiple scales and in multiple disciplines.

            Students are already starting to make waves of change (also an intended pun, I have no shame). In order to take advantage of the spotlight on water due to the drought and the Changemaker theme, me, Hailey Gordon, Sterling Fearing, and Spencer Dunlap created What’s Your 20?, a student-led campaign to educate and inspire the campus community to conserve water. Our challenge is for all students and community members to reduce their water consumption by 20%, taking inspiration from Governor Brown’s mandate for all Californians to reach this target.  

            This initiative grew out of the interdisciplinary Sustainability class that all of us were students in last spring. Each of us were involved in a different group project in which we were tasked with creating a proposal for how USD could be more sustainable. We wanted to build on the momentum that was generated by coming up with these proposals, and also start a campaign so that we could outreach to and educate our peers, and create opportunities for students who care about sustainability to become more active and engaged in sustainability efforts on our campus.

In these classes, we also learned about the multiple dimensions of sustainability. While most people think of protecting the environment when they think of sustainability, this is actually only one piece of sustainability—there are also economic, social, and cultural aspects. In creating a solution, one must come up with a comprehensive plan that considers all the various elements. A solution cannot only serve the good of the environment. It has to be beneficial for people economically, it has to consider social justice issues, such as whether people have equal access and opportunities to participate and be a part of your solution, as well as consider cultural factors, from people’s traditions and beliefs, to their perceptions and status quos, to appealing to their ethics and values.

            I see many parallels between sustainability and changemaking. Both are very broad concepts (so broad that some individuals express uncertainty and doubt about what they actually mean). In changemaking as in sustainability, it is imperative to consider all different dimensions of a social issue when you want to create innovative strategies and turn your ideas into real solutions. There are also so many different dimensions within both topics, which gives you the freedom to focus on a narrow topic that you are particularly passionate about, and there is no limit but your imagination. Take water, as an example.

Water policy and conservation during the drought are certainly issues that we need to deal with in California. Perhaps there are technological or behavior changes we can make to utilize water more effectively, whether on farms or in our homes, or maybe we can find better ways to manage our water by thinking about it as a holistic system and cycle, reusing and recapturing water rather than constantly importing and discharging water. Maybe you are more captivated by thinking about solutions to the global water crisis. Maybe you are particularly interested in global health, poverty, hunger, education, or gender equality—all interconnected and interrelated with water. Polluted water is the world’s biggest health risk: in developing countries, lack of access to clean water and sanitation are responsible for 80% of diseases. Water is also imperative for crop production and growing enough food for communities to have sufficient nutrition. In addition, when people have to spend a significant portion of their day finding and transporting water or are sick from water-related diseases; they cannot attend work or school. By limiting attendance in schools and preventing able-bodied community members from working, lacking access to clean water makes it more difficult to break out the cycle of poverty and pursue economic development. These issues are also related to gender equality girls and women often carry the burden of fetching water, which further limits their opportunities.

            The main point I want to get across is that change starts with you. Whether it’s water, changemaking, or sustainability, we need students to find what specifically they are passionate about, get inspired and take action. How does your area of study connect to issues related to water? What are steps you can take in your dorm or apartment to change your habits and make water conservation a part of your daily life? At USD, we need inspired individuals and changemakers to reframe and expand our understanding of water, and create a change in our day-to-day habits and campus culture, making a transformation from a culture of consumption to a culture of conservation. One small action may seem insignificant, but don’t forget that a single drop of water creates a ripple effect.



Sunday, September 13, 2015

Maintaining Purpose and Passion: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

By Dr. Mike Williams

I was out to dinner with some colleagues over the weekend and one of them stated, “Wow, this has been a good beginning of the semester for USD.”  As I was thinking about what to write about in this blog post, a similar sentiment had crossed my mind.  It has been a good week – and here’s why.

At universities, there is a peculiar sense of time.  Each fall semester is the beginning of a “new year” and there is usually a sense of optimism and excitement with both the faculty and students.  There are new classes, new students, new opportunities, and a sense that we can learn from our mistakes in the previous year (or semester) and make the current one even better.  I doubt there are many institutions in the world where there is this continuous sense of renewal like one feels at the beginning of the semester.  And if the fall semester doesn't work out the way you wanted, no worries – the spring semester is around the corner and then “summer break” – and the optimism and excitement can begin anew.

So, it is within this context that I want to discuss the “new year” at USD.  First, let’s start with the   The first few weeks about the semester are ones that are filled with making new friends, learning about classes, and thinking about joining student organizations (the Alcala Bazaar was on Tuesday).  Through my conversations with students, both inside and outside of the classroom, there is palpable sense of purpose and passion.  It is early enough in the semester where taking five classes does not feel daunting, where deciding to join three new groups feels doable, and where there is a sense that it is possible to connect the course knowledge from present and previous courses to societal issues outside of the classroom.  In general, there is a sense of openness in the air – a desire to seize new opportunities and to make new connections.

I have felt this same excitement with faculty as well.  While many of do not admit it on a daily basis, we miss the energy that the students bring to campus and we miss seeing each other on Marion Way, in the hallways, or in meetings.  Just like with the students, there is a sense that everything is possible – new types of courses, new research projects, and new opportunities to fulfill our sense of purpose and passion.  For example, at the Hub, we have found that the issue of water resonates strongly with many faculty and there are many more courses who have embraced the Changemaker Challenge and who are encouraging their students to connect their studies with water-related issues.

While this excitement, from both students and faculty, happens each year at this time, there is something that feels a bit different about the beginning of the semester this time around.  For me, it has to do with the fact that there seems to be much more discussion about how we – as a campus community – provide the institutional structures to capture and maintain this energy we have around connecting our classes and our research to what we consider to be our overarching purpose or passion.

The heart of the University of San Diego is its Catholic identity and its commitment to the liberal arts and sciences.  While this can manifest itself differently in higher education, we seem to be at a point where there is a growing consensus on what it means for USD in the 21st century.  Sure, we may disagree over the details but there is a clear sense that our mission involves how we can utilize our knowledge to make a positive difference in the world.  This requires opportunities for students and faculty to not only learn about specific disciplines, but to make connections between the disciplines and leverage this knowledge to collaborate with our community on important social issues. 

What has been exciting the last two weeks is the extent to which USD seems be making strategic decisions to embed these goals into our institutions even more than they have been in the past.  For example, since the start of the semester, there has been the announcement about the creation of a new Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences, discussions about how to infuse the liberal arts across the curriculum in all of the different schools, conversations about how to foster more interdisciplinary opportunities for students and faculty, ideas on how we can document and archive innovative ideas that are the product of research and projects in our courses, and opportunities for students to engage in numerous retreats and workshops so that they can acquire the leadership and civic skills to make a difference at USD and beyond.  And these are just some of the ideas that I have heard about the first two weeks.

At his Convocation Address to faculty on Friday, President Harris discussed his initial ideas about   The conversation we have as a university over the next year about these issues is an exciting and crucial time.  The truth is that the energy that many of us feel at the beginning of the semester diminishes over the following fifteen weeks as we get “bogged down” in our classes, our schedules, and our many other responsibilities.  If we truly value the importance of providing students and faculty with the opportunities to connect their knowledge to their purposes and passions, then we have to be committed to an institutional approach that will help facilitate this.   What this means is that we need to be intentional in our design of curriculum, programs, and co-curricular opportunities so that we are fostering the time, space, and incentives for all of us to continue what matters to us even in the midst of a fifteen-week semester.  This is not easy but there are lessons we can learn from what we have already accomplished as a campus community.
USD’s mission and the role of liberal arts and sciences, faith, interdisciplinary approaches, community engagement, and changemaking in our endeavors.

On Saturday night, USD was honored to host Sir Salman Rushdie for a discussion about his new book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.  This event, co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Humanities Center, and Warwick’s Books, is an example of USD fulfilling its mission to provide exciting opportunities to enhance our knowledge and to stimulate intellectual discussion.  But the event was much more than this.  Throughout his presentation, Rushdie spoke passionately about how fiction connects to the “real world” and how literature provides lessons and clues about the sort of person we become, and are, in the world.  His life is one that speaks to importance of connecting knowledge and insight to purpose and passion.  At one point, he stressed that writing a novel required the ethos of a marathon runner more than a sprinter.   This lesson applies just as equally to our campus community as we consider how we define and fulfill our mission.  For those of us that believe USD can do even more to enhance the opportunities for students and faculty to make a positive difference in the world, we must keep in mind that every small change in this direction will require the demeanor of a marathon runner.