Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU students spend summer in impoverished area of Cairo

Erin Walrath and Liz Gerdeman

Liz Gerdeman, left, and Erin Walrath, right, float down the Nile River as part of thei summer internship with the Aga Khan Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving living conditions for the poor. Photo: Erin Walrath

Erin Walrath has a passion for working with children. Liz Gerdeman enjoys the relationship between mental and physical health.

They both found what they were looking for as they served in the health and education programs of the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar community of Cairo, Egypt, — one of the oldest and most impoverished areas in the city.

It was part of their summer internship requirement for the International Disaster Psychology (IDP) Program in DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology. They were placed there by the Aga Khan Foundation, which is dedicated to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor.

Gerdeman worked with the health program, which provides pediatric and gynecological services as well as public awareness regarding women’s and children’s health. The biggest issues they face in the community are female genital mutilation, domestic violence, breast cancer and obesity.

Gerdeman analyzed and evaluated their services’ mental health components and recommended training for the staff regarding psychosocial support for the community.

“I’ve learned a significant amount regarding the inner-workings of a large NGO, Islamic culture and the mental/physical health issues of this population,” Gerdeman says. “I believe I have contributed to and supported their education/awareness campaigns and offered valuable recommendations of clinical techniques for mental health care.”

In Walrath’s role with the program’s education team, she provided training for staff and community facilitators on mental health and psychosocial issues, made recommendations regarding current programs, and organized and administered a staff satisfaction survey.

“I have learned valuable professional and personal lessons that compliment the courses required by the IDP program,” Walrath says. “I hope the education program received an honest outside perspective of their services that aids in their continued development.”

“These internships provide an opportunity for students to learn the importance of culture, language and customs in providing services in countries around the world,” says Tom Barrett, associate professor in the IDP Program. “The students also provide value to the host agencies by helping to provide and evaluate their services.” 

IDP Director Judith Fox, director of the IDP program, says the summer internships are a vital part of the course work.

“Our graduate students acquire a broad perspective on international development and disaster, relevant clinical skills and knowledge in research, program evaluation and trauma in order to engage in work that can result in sustainable benefits for these communities,” Fox says. 

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