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Former HPDP graduate research assistant Amber Canto has used her experiences at HPDP to help her with her new position treating acute malnutrition among Haitian earthquake victims.

A former HPDP graduate research assistant has been able to use her training to assist with treating acute malnutrition among victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Amber Canto works for the United Nation Children’s Fund, UNICEF, as a Nutrition Consultant in the Dominican Republic country office and says that her work at HPDP really prepared her for this job.

Canto worked for HPDP’s Kids Eating Smart and Moving More project while studying nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Canto was without work and about to be married when the earthquake in Haiti hit on January 12. Just four days into her honeymoon, she was offered the job with UNICEF, to help the Dominican Republic Nutrition Cluster identify nutrition needs in Haiti on the Dominican Republic border. Canto left for the position right away.

After the earthquake hit Haiti, the Dominican Republic had a major influx of displaced persons needing medical care. The Dominican Republic ministry was having trouble responding appropriately to cases of acute nutrition and therefore Canto’s job description had to be revised from identifying needs to addressing them.

Canto said that her two-month contract has been renewed two times. Canto and her co-workers decided that it was more important to respond to cases of acute malnutrition, because they discovered that when malnourished children arrive at the clinic and hospitals, they were just treated with IV’s, which can be harmful.

“My experience working as a Nutrition Consultant for the Dominican Republic UNICEF county office can best be described as an emotional and physical roller coaster,” Canto said.

“[The experience is] a combination of stressful long workdays, feelings of despair after witnessing precarious situations in which the affected women, children and family live, sadness and preoccupation for the recovery of the malnourished children we identified,” Canto said. “Then [there’s] incompleteness knowing that there is so much to do and not knowing if we’ll receive the funds necessary to implement the project proposals initial written and presented to the Ministry of Health.”

Canto said her experiences at HPDP helped her learn the difficult parts of project planning and implementation.

“I especially learned the importance of being flexible while planning and implementing projects and how to adapt projects for optimal functionality depending on the community context,” Canto said.

Canto said her work at HPDP also taught her to be patient and to welcome new challenges as they present themselves. In addition, Canto said she is so thankful for having completed the Global Health Certificate and for having taking courses outside her discipline.

Canto said she has learned many more things from her experience in Haiti.

“I’ve learned a lot about emergency nutrition programming, humanitarian relief efforts and developing programs for treatment of under nutrition,” Canto said. “I’ve also learned a lot about myself and how to persevere through difficult times. Ponchi, my husband, has been super supportive of my work and very understanding. Things are getting back to normal now, and we are able to spend more time together. We still haven’t taken a honeymoon, but hope to be able to do so soon.”

By Becky Bush
Communications Intern

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