Reflections on the book of poo and other stories from the frontline

So, I just started reading the SPHReads book ‘The Big Necessity’ by Rose George a book about poo and how it is disposed. It is a reminder that we often take for granted how waste is disposed and the implications it has for water. I began reading the book on the way to PHAST’s annual pilgrimage to Mississippi. PHAST has worked in Mississippi since hurricane Katrina and we have moved around the state from the Gulf Coast to the Delta to the Hills. As an American we often take for granted the privileges that we have that we often think of as a right. I don’t camp because I don’t like the idea of pooing without a ‘proper’ toilet. Okay so that might be too much information, but you get what I mean. However, whenever I travel, particularly in the US, I think about whether people have access to the same type of facilities that I often take for granted.

While we were hearing from our partner organization, Visions of Hope, a student asked to fill her water bottle. Sarah Walker, the Executive Director, commented that we don’t drink the water from the tap in Biloxi. She went on to explain that the infrastructure has not been updated or corrected since the hurricane. This moment made them stop and consider that even in the US there are places where you can’t drink the water. It is these very real insights and conversations that contribute to the PHAST field experiences.


Mississippi and Michigan students, faculty and staff on the porch of Visions of Hope.

We had the pleasure of continuing our partnership with the University of Mississippi.  Michigan and Mississippi came together to collect data, but just as importantly they learned from each other.  Students will post their perspectives and reflections about the Mississippi Gulf Coast field experience. I think they have all been challenged in multiple ways to think about community and community context. They have been surprised by the warmth and hospitality. They will share insights into data collection in the field and the richness of being involved in the process. In some cases, their views have been challenged and their understandings of community has increased. In the end, we believe the field experience is an invaluable part of their education and their growth within the field of public health growth. Stay tuned as they share their thoughts, beliefs and perspectives.

A final note about poo….The Big Necessity reminds us that in many ways the very foundation of public health started and remains with poo. While we as a society have come a long way, we still have a tremendous journey ahead of us when everyone across the globe (including the US) has access to affordable and clean water whether it is to drink or in the disposal and treatment of our poo.  Biloxi reminds us that clean drinking water is not equal for all in the US.



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