Julia Stengel
Julia Stengel

In October of 2022, Julia Stengel arrived in the small town of Enriquillo on the southwestern coast of the Dominican Republic. After a long day’s travel that included two flights and a 6-hour bus ride through the Dominican countryside, she retired to a local hotel for some well-deserved rest. The next three days would be busy ones.

Stengel, a junior bachelor of science in public health student, traveled to the Dominican Republic as a member of Public Health Beyond Borders (PHBB), a student-led organization dedicated to promoting healthy behaviors and reducing health disparities across the globe. Over the course of three days, Stengel, alongside PHBB faculty advisor Graciela Jaschek and MPH student Brigitte Guariglia, assessed the town of Enriquillo’s public health needs.

This wasn’t Stengel’s first time visiting the Dominican Republic. On two separate occasions in high school, she traveled to a small community outside of Puerto Plata to volunteer at a local elementary school. “We talked with members of the community before we went there and asked them what they wanted us to do,” she recalls. “We spent time building a basketball court for the school, and we also helped teach English.” While there, Stengel had the opportunity to witness the public health disparities plaguing the local area. She credits these experiences with inspiring her decision to pursue a career in public health.

Now, as PHBB’s undergraduate project leader for this Dominican Republic project, Stengel returned to the place that ignited her passion for public health.

During their time in Enriquillo, Stengel and the PHBB team focused on assessing the town’s water infrastructure. Their investigation uncovered aged and inefficient equipment, and after discussing the issue with the local neighborhood committee, they determined that the town had practically no access to clean drinking water. The PHBB team also provided instruction on how to safely consume and conserve water.

Additionally, the PHBB team visited a local high school to speak with students about gender equity, bullying, and general responsibility before traveling to Enriquillo’s hospital, where they made plans to develop training materials to help nurses talk about diabetes and chronic disease.

Now, Stengel and the PHBB team are preparing for their return to Enriquillo next summer. “We’re starting to research possible interventions for the issues we identified,” says Stengel. “Right now, I’m looking into solutions to the high school’s request for gender equity and bullying education.” Additionally, PHBB has partnered with Global Water Alliance and the Philadelphia Rotary Club to address the crippling lack of water infrastructure.

PHBB is still in the early stages of its research, but Stengel is already preparing for their return to Enriquillo. “I actually just put together a team of students to travel back there in June,” she says. “It’s really exciting to get more people interested in this project. It’s only 10 or 11 people right now, but it’s really important to find dedicated people—and these people are dedicated.”