Course Spotlight: Water, Sanitation, and Health in the Dominican Republic

Chemistry professor Pedro Bernal marks 20 years of leading students on trips to the island nation of his birth to provide household water filters.

Students visit HopeCommUnity Center to practice testing water in Lake Apopka before heading to the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Scott Cook) Students visit HopeCommUnity Center to practice testing water in Lake Apopka before heading to the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Scott Cook)

As people in the United States, it’s easy to take for granted our constantly flowing pipeline of clean water. But for many people in remote corners of the globe, including the Caribbean, that’s a luxury they’ve never known.

Each year, water-related diseases caused by lack of access to potable water and sanitation produce 3.5 billion cases of diarrhea, resulting in the death of 1.8 million people, most of them children under the age of five.

Needless to say, improving water, sanitation, and hygiene practices is a public health imperative—and Rollins is doing its part to raise awareness while implementing viable solutions.

Course Title
Water, Sanitation, and Health in the Dominican Republic

Instructors
Pedro Bernal, professor of chemistry, and Marissa Corrente, associate director of the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement

Description
In this Maymester course, capped by a field study in the Dominican Republic, students learn how people are addressing water-related problems at the household level, how to test water to make sure it’s safe for consumption, and how to administer health surveys.

For 20 years, Bernal has led Rollins students on trips to the island nation of his birth. There, they visit rural mountainous communities—this time the towns of Las Cañas and Bonao—to collect water samples and distribute household purifiers designed by Bernal himself.

“The Dominican Republic is representative of rural communities across the world in that people often have difficult access to potable water,” Bernal says. “The most universal technique is catching rainwater in barrels, and as a result there’s a lot of waterborne diseases. Our filters have provided people with water that is much healthier to consume.”

Snapshot
On May 12, we tagged along as the class of seven visited Apopka’s Hope CommUnity Center, which was founded more than 40 years ago by three Roman Catholic nuns as a ministry to immigrants, farmworkers, and the working poor.

There, students practiced testing water in Lake Apopka, discussed the environmental impacts of pesticide-laden muck farms on generations of citrus workers, and ate dinner in the homes of families associated with the center.

“The folks at the Hope CommUnity Center really helped us think through and dig deeper into our understanding of service and community-building—concepts that are so important when understanding the ongoing water work Dr. Bernal does across the Dominican Republic,” Corrente says. “We learned more about environmental racism and the power and oppression dynamics that come into play when allocating resources like access to potable water. It really helped us prepare for the experience on the ground in the Dominican Republic.”

Student perspective
“As an outgoing senior, I really enjoyed the opportunity to apply what I had learned about chemistry and service,” says Ibrahim Musri ’16., a chemistry major. “My perspective on both were changed on this trip, and I enjoyed getting to know the wonderful people in the Dominican Republic and the amazing group I went with. I loved applying what I learned in the classroom to the field and bringing what I had learned to the classroom to share with others. It was an amazing experience.”

Fast fact
Over the past two decades, Bernal and his students have installed approximately 20,000 water filters in rural communities across the Dominican Republic.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Students visit homes in the Dominican Republic, running chemical tests to determine pH, chlorine levels, and turbidity. If needed they collected microbiological samples for further testing. They also helped answer questions and shared advice on the filter process. (Photo courtesy of CLCE) Students visit homes in the Dominican Republic, running chemical tests to determine pH, chlorine levels, and turbidity. If needed they collected microbiological samples for further testing. They also helped answer questions and shared advice on the filter process. (Photo courtesy of CLCE)

(Photo courtesy of CLCE) (Photo courtesy of CLCE)

(Photo courtesy of CLCE) (Photo courtesy of CLCE)

(Photo courtesy of CLCE) (Photo courtesy of CLCE)