Baylor In Brazil
By Eva Doyle
Tropical beaches…brightly colored parrots…samba music…warm, friendly people. Brazil’s reputation as a vacation paradise draws worldwide attention. But there’s another side of Brazil that tourists can easily miss: poverty-stricken shanty towns with daunting rates of infectious diseases and growing epidemics such as diabetes and hypertension. The Brazilian public health system has made impressive strides over the past decade to develop health programs that work, yet some communities are still waiting for help. That’s why we go.
Making an Impact
A small group of Baylor health education majors comprised the inaugural Baylor In Brazil trip, including 2006 MSEd graduate Shannon Thiel, who plans to do foreign missions work. “I was reminded of the importance of understanding the language and the culture of the people with whom I will someday work,” says Thiel. “Though we returned to our hotel rooms tired and sweaty almost every night, I could lie in my bed before falling asleep knowing confidently that faith-based international health education was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
This summer, Baylor School of Education students spent four weeks in two regions of Brazil: a geographically isolated frontier boomtown in the northwest interior called Porto Velho and a quiet coastal community on the southeast coast of Brazil known as Anchieta. Despite geographic and cultural differences between the two areas, one overriding need was evident in both places: the need for local individuals and communities to learn how to develop a healthy lifestyle. In both places, lives were impacted through the following course projects:
Adolescent drug abuse prevention
Children’s exercise promotion
Community health fairs (health assessments and educational activities)
Leadership training workshops for church-based health promotion programs
Women’s education about prenatal and infant care
Students also partnered with a local Brazilian church and a Waco church mission team to help with a children’s Bible school and a chapel construction project.
The students worked with translators, gave demonstrations, told stories, developed and translated educational materials, measured blood pressure, played games, and gave more of themselves than they had imagined possible. They rose to the challenges of language and cultural barriers and developed invaluable skills in cross-cultural health communication.
“I was provided an opportunity to gracefully combine health promotion, academia, and my faith,” said master’s student Meg Davis, who plans to graduate in May. “This trip helped me realize that I don’t have to separate these important components of my life, but rather they can all work together well!” The efforts of students like Davis directly touched the lives of over 800 Brazilian people.
Baylor in Brazil is a summer study abroad program with a focus on international health and faith-based community health service. Student participants select six credit hours from a menu of courses that focus on international health, cross-cultural health communication, environmental health and current health issues specific to Brazil. They attend classes each morning and engage in faith-based community health service projects in the afternoon.
Senior- and graduate-level health education interns help coordinate the service projects under the guidance of an experienced Community Health Education professor. This coordination team partners with local health professionals and church leaders to enhance health promotion outreach in needy areas.
This service-learning experience resonates with students who are drawn to a variety of service-oriented professions: health education, nursing, health science, pre-medicine, social work, school teaching and church missions. “I enjoyed seeing how the Brazilian culture welcomes others with open arms like family,” said senior Hannah Belk.
The common denominator for students from across these disciplines is a desire to make a difference in people’s lives. The experience challenges students to define their life purpose in light of world needs and apply their professional skills as part of the solution. The program outcomes are life changing for the students, their community partners and the people they serve.
Click on the Web Extra link to learn more about the directors, Drs. Robert and Eva Doyle, and their love for the Brazilian culture and work with Baylor students.