Refresh Bolivia Community Health Worker and Toilet Implementation

Harvard University Students

Student Organization: Refresh Bolivia

Refresh Bolivia is an entirely student-run nonprofit that serves the underprivileged communities of Cochabamba, Bolivia. To date we have benefitted more than 2,000 people through constructing ecological bathrooms; teaching health workshops to men, women and children; and conducting research on the health needs of our target communities.

In planning for the future, we looked to our survey and interview research, which clearly indicate what type of health intervention the people want and need the most: a health center. Currently, the residents of District 8 have to travel at least 1.5 hours by transport to get to the nearest clinic, and upon arrival they often have to wait in long lines before they can receive care. Additionally, many families cannot afford to see a medical professional, even under severe circumstances. Our goal is to construct a community health center in District 8 in order to bring preventative health services closer to the people living on the outskirts of Cochabamba. Constructed according to the designs and specifications put forth by members of the community, the first phase will be the nursery and daycare facility, fully equipped with beds, cribs, bathrooms, and a basic pharmacy similar to what we have already implemented in community stores.

In January 2017, we traveled to Cochabamba with 25 volunteers from seven universities to continue our public health work in District 8:

  • We constructed three of our innovative ecological toilets which only require one cup of water to flush.
  • We renovated and painted nine of our previously constructed bathrooms, getting help from the women and children of the communities along the way.
  • We provided health workshops to nearly 100 men and women, covering topics including maternal health, sexual health, domestic violence, water and sanitation and first aid.
  • We assisted in constructing a garden that will be used to feed and support the children of an orphanage.
  • We also established two new chapters of our organization in the Claremont Colleges and Cornell University, and partnered with the largest private university in Bolivia, Universidad del Valle.

We are excited about the potential impact of this project, and look forward to working with the residents of District 8 to realize our collective vision of community health.

The student-run nonprofit, Refresh Bolivia, serves the community of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Refresh Bolivia recruits 20 students each January to participate in a two week-long service project in this community. Additionally, a group of board members works in Cochabamba each summer for 8-10 weeks. Locally trained construction workers build the tanks and wells for water storage. Also under construction are water-conserving sanitation facilities including latrines, showers, and laundry sinks. Education occurs when students research health and sanitation needs of the community. Then, after workshops, community health workers share knowledge ranging from maternal health to first aid.

The project’s sustainability comes in part from Red Accion, one of the partnering NGOs, establishing microfinance groups within the communities. Each household makes weekly contributions into the fund, which is allocated to pay for community improvement initiatives. Training members of the community builds local human capital to tackle problems in health and sanitation sustainably. Refresh Bolivia is in the process of partnering with Cochabamba universities willing to involve students in the community projects as part of their community service requirement.