Tucked away in a bungalow in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, battling mosquitoes, facing language barriers and having little access to running water, two pre-med students from ETSU who took part in a program called Health Without Borders.
Pooja Shah and Sarah Zimmer represented ETSU through the National Collegiate Honors Council, visiting the rainforest during winter break for a little over a month. Both students have a great desire to increase international health awareness in rural and developing countries.
“We were with people from all over the country, California, Texas, New York and many other places,” Shah said. “We all had different projects but usually were broken up into groups and worked together a lot.”
Project Amazonas is a non-government organization, and it is an honor to be selected for the program.
“We’d wake up around 6 or 7 in the morning, then we’d go out and interview until lunchtime,”Shah said. “We all come back to meet up, have time for siesta and usually in the late afternoon typically we would have somewhere to go to get more data — usually a hospital or a clinic.”
The purpose of the program to create health awareness in several countries all over the world.
“Our program was in Iquitos which is a city in Selva on the border of the Amazon Rainforest,” she said. “That’s where we started and moved around a lot.”
Other places the group traveled to included Mazan and Madre de Selva.
“Basically what we did was, we all had our own research projects, I did two different research projects, I went out in Iquitos and Mazan, and I would ask people questions and collect information about their health, education, diseases and illnesses they’ve had to deal with,” Shah said.
Shah also examined the correlation between local tourism and economic industries.
“It definitely was not what I was used to,” she said, “but it was really cool to see all of the cultural differences and kind of get acclimated in the city and see how people lived there.”
After a week adjusting in the city, they traveled to more rural areas.
In one city — Mazan — they had limited access to running water, and the electricity would go out at midnight.
“From there, we would take a boat and go to different rural, indigenous communities throughout all along the river,” Shah said.
Shah recalled that in Madre de Selva, at the research base, the group stayed in huts and mostly bathed in the river.
“Being able to go around and see how people lived there especially pertaining to their health, I have never seen anything like that,” she said.
Shah said that, because they were performing intensive research that required complex interview, the group had to have access to translators.
Iquitos was one of the most poverty-stricken areas the group visited.
“I really took it for granted before having air conditions and be able to take a shower,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine not having access to clean water and things like that.”
Shah said it was a really eye-opening experience and it was challenging at times.
“One thing that towards the ends was pretty hard for me to deal with was after seeing everything, seeing everything that people were struggling with and didn’t have,” she said. “We saw the problem on such a huge level because we visited so many different places. The same problems were consistent among every single place that we visited.”
Shah said she and Zimmer plan to start a chapter at ETSU called Nourish International, an organization that helps to build clinics all over the world.
“You want to do something to help,” Shah said, “but it’s hard to think of it in a way such as ‘What can I do that would impact so many people?’”