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Research with Heart

Graduate students from the College of Health and Human Services travel the globe to help orphans suffering from life-threatening diseases.
Kids at a WorldWide Orphans / Hole in the Wall Camp
Kids at a WorldWide Orphans / Hole in the Wall Camp

Research and community involvement are cornerstones for San Diego State University, and while opportunity abounds to mesh the two, immediate results can be elusive.

Yet one venture between SDSU’s Graduate School of Public Health and several non-profit organizations impacted the lives of orphans in Ethiopia. Sarah Hiller and Tyson Volkmann, students in SDSU’s joint doctoral program in global health, worked with Worldwide Orphans Foundation and Association of Hole in the Wall Camps for more than a month at Worldwide Orphans Foundation's Camp Addis in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They collected and analyzed data with the hope of bettering the lives of orphans and vulnerable children suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Birth of an idea

The project came together through the efforts of SDSU Professor Tom Novotny and Steven Nagler, director of Global Partnerships and New Initiatives at Hole in the Wall Camps.

The two met in the late 1960s while serving in the Peace Corps in Western Samoa. They remained friends and discussed the idea of bringing students to Camp Addis to study and quantify the impacts of the camp on the children in coping with their illness.

Campaign Flag

SDSU's partnership with the Worldwide Oprhans Foundation and Hole in the Wall Camps demonstrates the global impact of the university, a key initiative of The Campaign for SDSU. Whether it’s the university’s Fulbright scholars, its study abroad opportunities or the international research of its faculty members, SDSU competes on an international level. Learn more about the global reach of SDSU and how you can contribute.

To Ethopia, helping kids

The plan was made to have Hiller and Volkmann, evaluate Camp Addis as to what medical and psychosocial benefits could improve the children’s health. They tracked the progression of HIV under the supervision of public health professor Nancy Binkin, who has served as an expert evaluator with UNICEF, the United Nations organization that works for children's rights, their survival, development and protection.

“Giving kids with HIV the life skills they need to overcome these barriers will help them lead more fulfilling lives,” Hiller said. “Camp Addis is the mechanism by which Worldwide Orphans Foundation and Hole in the Wall imparts these skills to HIV-positive teens, and our job was to quantify and qualify these life skills and anecdotal benefits as tangible, measurable outcomes, and determine what works and what doesn’t.”

An immediate benefit

The research conducted by Hiller and Volkmann created immediately positive results, according to Novotny.

“Our measures have shown an absolutely positive outcome,” Novotny said. “We are helping these kids cope with their illness and allow them to be more like any other children at their age.” 

The researchers are not planning on stopping their efforts. They will return to Ethiopia in June to continue their research and will begin similar research in Viet Nam at another Worldwide Orphans Foundation camp.

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