September 16, 2014
Little Silver: For two weeks in July, Red Bank Regional (RBR) senior Samantha (Sam) Sidun of Little Silver worked with fellow American teenagers to construct compost toilets in the agricultural village of Dzita in Ghana, Africa. She was inspired to join the Global Leadership Adventures (GLA) group after hearing about the program from a friend at RBR who had joined the program last year. But also, she was drawn to the idea of actually doing something to promote world health. Sam financed the trip in part from money she raised over two years in babysitting and a summer job at a local beach club.
Sam explains, “The point of the mission was healthcare and sustainability. Many households do not have sanitary systems; and as a result, dysentery kills more children than AIDS and malaria.”
The sustainability results from utilizing the compost in the fields. But Sam explains that families have to be properly trained in how to maintain the compost toilet. In fact, GLA carefully screens eligible families and then trains them in their use and proper hygiene techniques.
For the two week trip, a group of 18 teenagers were divided into two groups, each tasked to construct a compost toilet. In their downtime, they were able to learn about the Ghanaian culture and government and meet the locals at a soccer tournament or the local swimming lake. Many things strongly impressed Sam, like the symbols in everyone’s homes to ward off evil spirits juxtaposed to Christian Church services which were five hours long.
She was stunned to learn that homosexuality is a crime punishable by hanging. She learned that this stems from the culture’s extreme valuation of reproductively, as children our valued to work and help support the family, and care for its elderly.
In talking to a local doctor, she soon realized that something as basic as a young woman’s menstruation cycle could keep her out of school since the society lacked sanitary products that the industrialized world has long taken for granted. Indeed, these ‘throwaway” products would not be practical in these villages due to the lack of a sanitation system.
Intrigued by this dilemma, Sam decided to do some research and found a social-conscience company called AfriPads based in Uganda, which procures and distributes “reusable” clothe sanitary pads for this purpose.
Sam explains, “A donation of only $6.50 would provide product to keep a girl in school for an entire year.” She adds, “This is such a “hush-hush” issue in this country. That is why I want to call attention to it.”
She intends to work with RBR Principal Risa Clay and her Key Club to explore ways to raise money for this purpose in an initiative she coined “CHANGE 4 GIRLS.”
Samantha’s interest in health developed four years ago when she began routinely volunteering for Riverview Hospital. Although she entered RBR’s Visual & Performing Arts Program as a photography major, her interest in health steered her to take challenging science courses including AP Biology. Last year, a series of upper respiratory illnesses which required hospitalization left Sam asthmatic. She missed a month of school and was home tutored. This further strengthened her resolve to pursue a medical career. In fact, she now spends the end of her school day at Riverview Medical Center in an independent volunteer project for which she earns high school credit.
“I want to become a really good doctor and help people get well,” She states.