Into the Unknown

Haley Divis, Undergraduate Public Health Student

Water Tower in Marks, Mississippi

There’s a lot that’s unknown; space, the origin of earth, the meaning of life, is water really wet, why am I hungry 24/7. When I started with this class, there were a lot of unknowns for me as well. But that’s been changing. Firstly, I have learned about the project we will be doing. We will be travelling to Clarksdale, MS to do data collection and health messaging about lead in the water supply for the Marks community in Quitman County. In addition to that, I have learned about the community I will be entering. This community is very rural and has historical significance as the original seat for the Poor People’s campaign. The residents in Quitman County have limited access to grocery stores and healthcare facilities due to the rural nature of the county. Also, residents have been reporting concerns about water quality for some time.

This information was a combination of online research and conversation with Dr. John Green, a professor at University of Mississippi that will be with us during our project. Another thing I learned is that our project is meant to collect data about the lead levels in community water so that we can provide data evidence that the community may use in applying for grants to improve the infrastructure and water quality. Learning about this project made me excited to help Marks county. I am hopeful and excited that we will be able to engage with the community and work with them in order to improve water quality for citizens.

Although I have done a lot of research to turn my unknowns into knowns, there are still a lot of lingering questions for me. For example, what is the weather going to be like? But more importantly, will the community be just like it was described in text and by Dr. Green, what differences will I see?

I think another unknown is what impact I will have on the community. I hope to be useful, but this trip reminds me of a story I have heard before. A few years ago, I heard a speaker talk in my global health club, and he explained that he went to a rural area in Africa to help engineer some quick and easy tools for them to use. He noticed the women had health implications from carrying water barrels on their shoulders, so he designed and easy handle so they could roll the barrels instead and make the process faster. A few months later he returned to the community and noticed they weren’t using the handles he had designed for them. When he asked why, the women responded that going to the well with the barrels on their shoulders was the only time they got away from their families and were able to be with other women and mothers, and when they used the handles to roll the barrels their time with friends was cut in half. Therefore, they kept carrying the barrels on their shoulders.

This is one of the unknowns I think about; what kind of cultural influence exists in Quitman County and how can we enter the community with humility, listen to the needs that are expressed, and offer our expertise when and where appropriate? Heeding the advice from the previous story, we will need to make sure that we work with and beside the community, not for or leading.




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