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Herre Eschner addresses rural health in Peru


Herre Eschner’s Peace Corps
experience included rural health
and sanitation, teaching hygiene
and life skills, and introducing
pigeon peas to his community.

Global environmental health sciences student Herre Echsner has a self-proclaimed “love affair with the Gulf Coast.” He was brought up in Gulf Breeze, Fla., a community situated on a peninsula in Pensacola Bay about five minutes from the Gulf of Mexico.

Proximity to the Gulf was one factor that led him to Tulane. The Master’s International (MI) program was another.

Tulane SPHTM boasts the largest MI program at a school of public health and the second largest overall. MI students complete their classroom experience toward an MPH or MSPH, then apply what they've learned in the Peace Corps.

Echsner’s Peace Corps experience took him to Paraguay, more than 4,000 miles away and, significantly, away from the Gulf Coast. Or any coast for that matter, since Paraguay is a land-locked country in the middle of South America.

“After being near the coast nearly all my life, it was very different,” says Echsner.

Although Echsner was taken on as a rural health and sanitation extensionist, he soon found himself working on a lot of different projects, not all of them directly related to the health sector. “Peace Corps requires you to be creative and innovative, adaptable when serving in the assigned community,” says Echsner. After conducting a community study and spending some time in his community, he looked beyond his main tasks and found there were other needs.

As a result, his Peace Corps experience incorporated a wide variety of roles. He worked in an elementary school promoting dental health and hygiene and in a high school teaching life skills and sexual health education. He even developed a creative writing class that encouraged self-expression through writing, the arts, and photography.

Echsner also worked with a community group on the “Modern Kitchen Project,” an effort to found 12 modern kitchens. The kitchens, funded through community fundraising and a Peace Corps Partnership grant, included a sink, an area to clean fruit and vegetables, and storage space, with the ultimate goal of promoting proper food preparation and reducing contamination and foodborne illness. Once the kitchens were awarded, Echsner presented a workshop on safe working practices in the kitchen, stressing that hygiene was the responsibility of everyone in the family.

Finally, he introduced his community to pigeon peas, a legume that can be cultivated in tropical and semitropical regions. While men typically work in the fields in Paraguay, he was able to show women how they could invest their time and effort in a small garden and cultivate a sustainable and easily grown secondary protein source for the family.

Echsner says that his Peace Corps experience gave him confidence to apply public health theory in unconventional, creative ways. “It was the most valuable aspect of my degree,” he reports.

For now Echsner is studying for the medical college admission (MCAT) test, with aspirations of becoming a physician working with minority populations conducting community-based health outreach. While waiting to take the test, however, he plans to earn money driving a pedicab in the French Quarter and remaining close to the Gulf Coast that he loves so much.

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