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A clinical cause

Students created Project Plus One to aid a clinic in East Timor

Editorial Assistant

Published: Monday, January 23, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 23, 2012 20:01

Project Plus 5

Photos courtesy of Paul Sukijthamapan

Paul Sukijthamapan ’13 delivered a baby, who was named after him, in the Bairo Pite Clinic in East Timor.

Project Plus 8

Program volunteers on the clinical staff educate each other on how to take patients’ blood pressure.

Project Plus 6

Sukijthamapan helps a schizophrenic patient with math work.

The island experiences cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis because of its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire. It earned the status of being its own country only 10 years ago. Its inhabitants spend much of their time on picturesque shores lined with banyan trees and fishermen catching the best seafood in the sea. However, East Timor is one of the poorest places in the world; almost half of the Timorese population is malnourished. Project Plus One, a club at Brandeis, is working to help the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili, East Timor, by providing resources to reverse the lack of nutrition on the island.

The Bairo Pite Clinic is one of few clinics in East Timor that treats "patients suffering from tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis, leprosy, and HIV," according to the Project Plus One website.

However, being located in Dili, the clinic lacks adequate funds due to the lack of sufficient emphasis placed on health care by the Timorese government.

Paul Sukijthamapan '13, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Project Plus One, says that the idea to create the organization and help the Bairo Pite Clinic started this past semester after he spent the summer in East Timor as part of an internship.

His goals were to assist the clinic and "do something for the community health center to help care for people in need," he said. At the end of the summer, Sukijthamapan asked himself, "Can I extend my internship to be longer than that? Can I create an organization of students to help clinics like this in the future?"

Along with friends at Northeastern University in Boston and Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., he said he was determined "to improve the health of the underprivileged ... [by] connect[ing] undergraduate students ... with resources that we have here at the University."

Sukijthamapan worked with his network of friends and mentioned the idea of raising money for medical resources to their peers who were also interested in the project. It was decided that the Northeastern chapter would be focused on logistics, while the Franklin and Marshall chapter would work on sending people to East Timor. These two other chapters have 15 members each, the same as the Brandeis group, whose main focus is fundraising in order to purchase medical supplies.

Sukijthamapan and Sarah van Buren '13, another member of Project Plus One on campus, agree that the class, "Global Perspectives on Health" influenced their involvement with the project and their desire to start the club at Brandeis. Their professor for the class, Dr. Sarita Bhalotra (Heller), makes sure the club members have an understanding of the island's culture, according to the volunteers, and has been involved with multiple aspects of the global health field. "[She's] been a practitioner, she's been a patient, she's been an administrator, she's done it all," van Buren said.

"What's great about [the project] is that it understands both our abilities and limitations as undergrads," van Buren said. "A lot of us are pre-health students or interested in health care somehow ... and want to go into some pre-health administration."

"We're not health care professionals yet, but we still have all this experience building up in us right now. So that's where our abilities begin," she said in an interview with the Justice.

Van Buren says there is "a pretty good range" of majors among the students involved, including English, Environmental Studies and Economics. Sukijthamapan stresses that "it's not like you have to be pre-med in order to be in a health project. We need people to work online. These are the skills we have to think about ... [in order] to improve health in all different angles."

Sukijthamapan believes that a crucial part of finding success with the club is being able to identify the locals' needs. "There's a lack of health care ... and medical supplies. ... The next step is to develop the opportunities we have and what solutions [we can]," he said.

According to the Project Plus One website, "basic necessities such as aspirin, insulin, hand sanitizers, syringes, ... IV fluids ... [and] even pulse oximeters that monitor that lives of those on the surgery table are missing from the clinic." The funds that the club raises will go toward collecting these supplies to take to East Timor over the summer.

Van Buren says the roughly 15 club members are applying for grants from the Davis Projects for Peace and the Millennium Campus Network. The club applies for any opportunity it can find to connect the local community of East Timor with medical resources, since students have access to apply, while those in East Timor do not, according to van Buren.

While Sukijthamapan believes the Timorese have the knowledge and information they need to alleviate the problem, he says they lack the resources.

The members of the project stress that any Brandeis students can join the movement. They can become a member of the Project Plus One club and give 15-minute lessons to other group members about their knowledge of various subjects including East Timor, fundraising opportunities or information on global health.

"Now we can connect them with the resources that we have and the amount of interest of idealistic undergrads who are willing to do anything to make a change ... we can do something great," Sukijthamapan said.  

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