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Students Volunteer Globally for Summer Break

Atlanta, GA

Several groups of Tech students kicked off the summer with international service projects. The projects included: treating children in a mobile clinic in Vietnam, building a clinic in Belize, and conducting an energy and clean water needs assessment in Kenya.

Claudia Varnedoe, a biology major and president of Volunteers Around the World at Georgia Tech, was one of 12 students who went to Vietnam. The students created mobile medical clinics — usually in elementary schools — to serve sick children for six days. They also took doctors and medical supplies to the site.

“Throughout the week, our team saw 450 children — an incredible feat!” Varnedoe said. “Most of the kids suffered from a lack of vitamins, which caused problems such as stunted growth or tooth decay at a young age. Other kids were very sick with dengue, parasites, or flu-like symptoms, and we were able to treat them at no cost. It was an extremely heartwarming experience.”

Varnedoe said highlights of the service project were seeing the children beam after their visit with a doctor, and showing their prescription bags to other children.

“It was also wonderful to see the look of relief on the parents’ faces as they left the clinic,” she said. “Our team loved working with the Vietnamese doctors and some local medical students. Truly a unique experience,” she said.

During the 17-day trip, the Tech students also traveled to a home for children whose parents have HIV and are not able to fully take care of their children. At the home, they played with the children and taught them some good habits, like washing their hands and eating healthy. 

The group is planning a trip to Guatemala for winter break.

Building a Health Clinic in Belize

A group of nine students and two staff advisors traveled to Belize as part of Alternative Service Breaks, a way for Tech students and staff to engage in a group-oriented, immersion community service experience and to learn about service issues. The Belize group worked with 7 Elements, an organization that provides experiential learning through hands-on sustainable development projects.  

“Our particular project was constructing a health clinic in a rural Mayan village in Belize’s Toledo district called Indian Creek,” said Lilly King, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major and one of two trip leads for Belize. “We worked for a week alongside men from the community to mix concrete, lay bricks, sift sand, and dig a hole for the septic system.”

King said the village’s previous health center had long since been overgrown and uninhabitable. Their work helped provide the community with simple healthcare resources that others often take for granted, including vaccinations, pre-natal support, rehydration salts, and antibiotics.

The students were housed for the week in a jungle eco-lodge that was built and run by a Mayan family from the local community. They enjoyed authentic Mayan meals and immersed themselves in a bit of Mayan culture, learning how to plant corn the way ancient Mayans did and how to weave baskets from native palm trees.

“On our activity days, we were able to explore more of Belize. We hiked in the world’s largest jaguar reserve to a secluded double waterfall, and snorkeled the beautiful coral reefs off the coast,” King said. “The trip was incredible. I think I can speak for the group when I say it was an amazing and very rewarding way to spend our summer break!”

The next trip for Alternative Service Breaks will take place in October during fall break.

Conducting a Needs Assessment in Kenya

Four Tech students traveled to Marsabit, Kenya as part of the Engineering for Social Innovation (ESI) service break. The students, led by ESI Director Joy Harris from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, teamed with Partners for Care, a nonprofit organization that works to eliminate needless suffering and death caused by preventable diseases. The College of Engineering sponsored the service break.

In Marsabit, the team conducted health, social services, and clean water needs assessments of the Parkishon village, which is comprised of about 500 men, women, and children.

“While in the village, I watched a girl draw water from a pond to take back to her mother,” said Harris. “The pond water, which is shared by the people as well as animals, is unsanitary. The villagers also collect the water in metal cans that once contained oil or gasoline, adding another potential health hazard.”

The goal of the ESI group was to see how they could help the villagers live without preventable illnesses. The group delivered about 500 five-liter water packs with a sanitized lining to help villagers collect water from an above-ground tank with clean water. The group also wants to achieve a long-term, sustainable goal of digging wells in the community. Water has been found 200-300 meters below ground.

“Everything went according to plan,” Harris said. “We now have a clear path of action to help this community become self-sustaining. And, for my students, it was a life-changing experience. They got a good look at how many people in the world live. They also saw how we, as engineers, can make an impact in a low-resource-/-high -resilience community.”

ESI will visit Tanzania in December to help increase the throughput of a factory that manufactures water filters.

Going on a Student Trip? Sign Up with Travel Registry First

With hundreds of Tech students, faculty, and staff traveling all over the world for research, academic competitions, and conferences, keeping track of where everyone is going can be difficult. But, the Office of International Education has a way to make it easier.

“We have a travel registry that all outgoing Georgia Tech students are supposed to use to log their upcoming trips, but many don’t do it because they’re not aware,” said Logan Boydstun, education abroad coordinator, Office of International Education (OIE). “We keep track of travel for data/reporting reasons as well as for emergency response reasons.”

When there is an emergency in another part of the world, Georgia Tech would like to know if any students, faculty, or staff are in that region and if they need assistance. If travelers have not logged their travel schedule in the travel registry, it makes it harder to determine if help is needed and how best to respond.

OIE also provides students, faculty, and staff with low-cost international health insurance that has been approved by the University System of Georgia (USG) Board of Regents.

“Providing everyone with the same, comprehensive insurance allows us to respond as efficiently as possible,” Boydstun said. “We’ve had a variety of incidents abroad, and the insurance has played a crucial role.”

Boydstun said the policy is international and travel-focused. It covers many things a traditional domestic policy may not, such as repatriation; emergency evacuation due to medical causes, natural disaster, or political unrest; program fee refund; trip delay or interruption; lost luggage and passport assistance; and 24 hour multilingual support.

For more information on the USG World Class Coverage Plan, see oie.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/2017-2018_cisi_insurance_policy_brochure.pdf

To sign up with the travel registry, see oie.gatech.edu/IAP 

If you have questions contact Logan Boydstun at logan.boydstun@oie.gatech.edu


Additional Photos

Students build a health clinic in Belize

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Pond water in Marsabit, Kenya

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Last revised May 15, 2020