Penn in the Gulf

Who: Penn Students
Age: 18-28
What: Traveled to Mississippi to educate residents on post-Katrina health dangers

Mardi Gras is around the corner, a celebration like no other, and we thought it necessary to remind everyone there is still a long way to go in post-Katrina recovery. Although it may not be a hot topic on the front page of newspapers, many victims of Katrina have still not recovered. This is a story from The Daily Pennsylvanian about a group of college students making a difference in the lives of those victims.

Students bring relief from the classroom to the Gulf Coast
Quakers travel to Mississippi to educate residents on post-Katrina health dangers
By: Cecily Wu
Posted: 2/1/08

A home in Pearlington, Miss. was sinking and Engineering graduate student Kyle Sirianno was determined to find out why.

He encountered the home – which had sunk by two inches because the septic tank underneath it was broken – while testing the quality of well water in Pearlington, an area still suffering from the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

These conditions prompted Sirianno and 31 other students from four of Penn’s schools to participate in the Penn in the Gulf: SP2 Feldman Initiative, led by the School of Social Policy and Practice, to provide dental, water, health and mental health relief for Pearlington residents.

These health services are in great demand as many of the companies who initially came to provide aid have since left, said coordinator Connie Hoe, a recent graduate of SP2.

“This [kind of assistance] needs to continue,” said Joseph Keys, president of the Pearlington Impact Association, a local aid organization with which the Penn students worked. “The storm has been a hit for us; it’s still a nightmare.”

The program also allowed graduate and undergraduate students to utilize the lessons they’ve learned in the classroom in real-life situations.

Sirianno and fellow Engineering students worked to repair the septic tank of the sinking home and sampled over 50 wells for water contamination.

Dental students provided free checkups and nursing and SP2 students interviewed residents to assess the local health concerns.

Although the students traveled to Pearlington to gain hands-on experience, Nursing senior Stephanie Ng explained that many of them were also attracted by the humanitarian purposes.

After cleaning a yard and planting flowers for an 82-year-old woman, Ng said that the “the expression on her face when it was all done was totally worth getting our hands dirty. That was why I went down – to make an impact on someone’s life.”

Dental student Amit Rajani was also moved by the tenacity of the victims.

“They also had unbelievable stories of how they have recovered and overcome so many obstacles since the storm,” Rajani said.

Hoe explained that this second Penn in the Gulf trip has expanded since the first trip last September, with only three Social Policy students, to a University-wide collective effort to rebuild the region.

“The project has evolved and reached wider audiences,” said Hoe.

The students from the trip will present their findings on Feb. 18 to the public on the dental, water, health and mental health needs in the area.

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~ by PJ on February 3, 2008.

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