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UMW class offers real-world experience in solving problems in developing countries
UMW senior Daniel Marsh works with a stove he and others designed for the residents of Siete de Abril.
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By RUSTY DENNEN
In many developing countries, the simple chore of cooking can be deadly.
Cooking indoors in poorly ventilated shacks kills over a million people each year, according to the World Health Organization.
The University of Mary Washington is tackling the problem in an unusual program that gives students hands-on experience.
The independent-study class was designed by senior Justin Simeone, and Shawn Humphrey, assistant professor of economics.
"We knew we wanted to get students involved" in a project that would go beyond the classroom, said Simeone, 22, who is president of the UMW chapter of Students Helping Honduras and chairman of its board of directors.
Doing relief work in Honduras, Simeone volunteered in Siete de Abril, a squatter village outside El Progreso. There, he saw women cooking indoors on homemade mud stoves, with tin roofs and walls turned black with soot.
SHH built a school in the village, and provided materials and labor for new roofs on 21 shacks. The organization plans to build permanent homes for the villagers over the next few years.
Simeone thought that the cooking methods could be studied and improved. He talked with Humphrey, 36, who specializes in economic development.
"He tossed out the idea that we should collaborate, and he jumped in with both feet," said Simeone, who grew up in Massachusetts.
This semester, seven students researched indoor air pollution and created a survey for the people living at Siete de Abril.
In January, the students will travel to Honduras to survey the villagers to get their opinions on alternative cooking techniques. They hope to return over spring break to install air pollution monitoring units in homes used in the survey and introduce less-harmful ways to cook.
Next summer, they hope to return to gauge the effectiveness of the program.
Humphrey met with Shin Fujiyama, founder of SHH. Fujiyama graduated from UMW in May to continue his relief work in Central America.
"I mentioned the idea of starting a class shaped around his [SHH] program," Humphrey recalled. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas.
The pieces began to fall into place.
"We had a great student organization on campus, and my own students were very motivated and high caliber," he said.