Childhood Malnutrition

Friday, Apr. 11, 2014 11:35 am

Something bothered Anam Aslam ’14 after her summer internship in Ecuador.

The senior, who is a double major in Spanish and biology, spent eight weeks in a region where chronic infant malnutrition ranked the highest in the South American country.

Internships provide meaningful experiences to many Grinnell students and provided a call to act for Aslam, who worked with gynecologists and primary care physicians and helped deliver three newborns at the rural clinic, Subcentro De Salud in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador.

Even after the 22-year-old pre-med student returned to Grinnell, she continued to worry about the clinic patients.

“From the time a baby is in the womb to the age of five, that is the prime time to target malnutrition,” says Aslam. “Once the child is older than five, the effects of malnutrition become severe and the condition can worsen and have long-term effects.”

Despite a busy semester, Aslam researched Ecuadorian health statistics about teen pregnancy, premature infants, and malnutrition. She and another intern collaborated with clinic staff in pursuit of solutions.

Aslam and Matt Miller ’16, an intern and second-year molecular biology student from Messiah College developedLos Ninos son el futuro: Empowering Women to Bring Peace through Children’s Health” and submitted the proposal to the Davis Projects for Peace. The duo was awarded $10,000 to return to Ecuador this summer to help young mothers.

“We wanted to do something more in the community,” Aslam says. “The Davis Award has given us the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Grinnell’s core values encompass social responsibility and action. Indeed, Aslam felt strongly about bettering the lives of others — even people who lived 3,000 miles away in a small fishing town.

The duo brainstormed how to build and staff a special room at the clinic, but that idea had financial and logistical hurdles. Next, they looked at ways to work directly with the community. That’s when the idea emerged to improve an existing club for young mothers. The club, which was led by medical professionals, had been meeting twice a month and was poorly attended.

“That bothered Matt and I,” Aslam says. “Clearly, there is a need for assistance.”

Aslam and Miller analyzed attendance barriers, such as transportation, a lack of incentives, and cultural issues.

As part of the project this summer, they will talk with women about the club. Medical professionals will also conduct workshops. The project will pay for transportation costs and food at club meetings.

“We think that will help target the root of the malnutrition problem,” she says. “It’s a great project.”

College faculty, staff and programs play an active role in helping students, like Aslam, explore and change the world.

She learned about the summer internship program, Experiential Learning International, during her First-Year Tutorial, and she received a grant from the Center for Careers, Life, and Service for the trip.

More than 100 Grinnell students received money in 2013 for summer internships, which help pay for food, transportation and housing, says Kelly Guilbeau, internship counselor. The average award was about $2,900, and 77 percent of those who applied received funding.

Leah Lucas ’14 and Emily Nucaro ’14 also received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace Award and will travel to Guatemala to work with local artisans on economic development.