A Helping Hand

Many people take clean drinking water for granted.  In the South Asian country of Bangladesh, the population is faced with the problem of high arsenic levels in their water sources.   Dr. Mohammad Alauddin is a chemistry professor here at Wagner College and takes students on a short-term study abroad program during winter break to give them an opportunity to give a helping hand to the people of Bangladesh.  These short study abroad trips are offered at various times during the year; some take place over winter and spring breaks, and some over a few weeks in the summer.  These courses are known as the “Expanding Your Horizons” program, or EYH for short.  The Bangladesh winter program is the only science-based EYH program currently offered, but it is different because it is open to students of any major with no prerequisites.  When he designed this class, Dr. Alauddin wanted to give students of all different backgrounds a chance to become involved with an issue that is not “limited to science.”  Dr. Alauddin knows that his research in the lab impacts the lives of others, and wants to give students the chance to see not only science at work, but also the impact of human kindness.

Dr. Alauddin tells me that this idea was started by the College’s former provost Dr. Devorah Lieberman.  His specific course was first offered in January 2006.  That year, there were only three EYH classes offered.  The three courses took place in Bangladesh, New Orleans, and Guatemala.  The following year, the number of courses increased to five, and the participation of the courses have increased as well.  EYH programs are an easy way to experience “out of classroom” learning, as well as an immersion in a different culture and place for several weeks without having to take a semester to study abroad.

When I asked Dr. Alauddin about the most valuable experiences his program offers students, he replied with shining, passionate eyes that “students are able to realize their potential to help alleviate human suffering.”  On his trip, he takes the students to see different labs, hospitals, and scientists that he works with, and exposes them to the Bangladeshis’ ways of life, social issues, environmental problems, and health issues.  Students see that Dr. Alauddin and his team work hard to help educate the local Bangladeshi population about the dangers of drinking water contaminated with arsenic, and help show these people how to filter out the arsenic from their waters and how to use wells that are safe to drink from.  High intake of arsenic causes cancer in the liver, lungs, and kidneys over a period of time, and is a major health hazard in the area.

In addition to the contaminated water sources, Dr. Alauddin works with air pollution and its effect on women and children.  Dr. Alauddin and his team have noticed an increase in pneumonia and other respiratory problems in women and children. Dr. Alauddin and his team have also realized that in addition to the bad air quality outside, the kitchen setting has also added to the problem.  Many families cook with an open fire that is fueled with any kind of paper or trash they are able to find due to lack of resources to use wood to keep their stoves going.  The closed area and the absence of a chimney have led to an increase in respiratory issues.  They have slowly converted homes into “smoke-free households” for only $15 by providing a simple installation to have the smoke funnel out of the house.

Dr. Alauddin’s enthusiasm for his work in Bangladesh is unparalleled.  I cannot agree more with him when he said, “learning in a different place and culture and meeting new people is an invaluable experience that learning in a classroom cannot achieve.”  My experience in Singapore over the summer taught me many things that a classroom setting could not.  Anyone who has the time to go on an EYH program should seize their chance and go explore a new place and make some priceless memories while lending a helping hand in the process.

Read more about EYH:

Study Abroad

Wagner Magazine

Video: Two students talk about Bangladesh trip

Author: Lynn Tay

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