Pitt-Greensburg grads document health initiative in Honduras
A group of recent graduates from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg has released a documentary about emerging health initiatives in parts of hurricane-devastated Honduras.
Alicia DiPaolo, Nate LaSor and Camdon Porterfield, along with a Pitt-Greensburg professor of communication, Dr. John Prellwitz, travelled to Honduras in February to film.
“Think Small” focuses on the work of Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that establishes community-oriented primary care clinics in the San Jose del Negrito region.
Shoulder to Shoulder was founded by the University of Cincinnati after Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras in 1998. A group of Pittsburgh physicians became involved in 2001.
“In Honduras, the health care system is run by the government and it isn't one of the larger priorities,” Porterfield said. “When the Honduran people can't get to a hospital or can't afford a visit, a lot of times they would simply go without care. The STS clinics, which are run by Pittsburgh medical professionals and a local health committee, have become a much better option for them.
“What this film is really about is how the clinic has changed the lives of people in the region who went from having no medical care to speak of to having top-notch medical care by UPMC-trained staff,” said Porterfield. “We also wanted to show how the region rebuilt itself after Hurricane Mitch and what this had to do with having better medical care.”
Porterfield, 22, is a Hempfield Area High School graduate who recently received a bachelor's degree in communication with a minor in history. He wound up getting involved in broadcasting and film after becoming interest in journalism in high school. Porterfield co-founded the Pitt-Greensburg Sports Network in 2010 as a freshman.
“Two years later, one of my classmates approached Dr. Prellwitz about creating a digital media group,” he said. “In 2012, we co-founded the Pitt-Greensburg Media Group, an organization for students interested in media production and multimedia storytelling. The group films campus events such as concerts, lectures and theatrical performances.”
As time progressed, the students received more advanced equipment, which led to bigger projects.
LaSor, 22, another recent Pitt-Greensburg graduate with a degree in communication, focusing on film and visual media, moved to Burbank, Calif., to pursue a career in film.
“The whole trip was pretty spectacular,” LaSor said. “As I was down in Honduras, I got to combine the skills and knowledge I've learned throughout college and produce this film about a topic that no one had really covered before. I'd originally applied for film school, but I don't even know if film students at any other university would get an opportunity like this.”
DiPaolo, 22, of Irwin, studied psychology and theater at Pitt-Greensburg and completed a minor in Spanish.
“I think that the most rewarding part of this experience that I could take away from it was experiencing the culture — seeing the way that they live, how it is similar to and different from the way that we live,” she said. “In regard to psychology it's important to understand how different communities operate because even in the U.S. you can come across communities that can be very different from one's own.”
“Shoulder to Shoulder reached out to us for the project,” said Porterfield. “One of the people involved with the organization is Nate's uncle, who knew that he was involved in filmmaking. We got a crew together and planned for about six to seven months.”
“We all met and decided what our story would be when we were planning the trip,” DiPaolo added. “We had support from Dr. Prellwitz throughout the trip, but he let us be mostly independent and try things for ourselves.”
The group stayed for one week, sleeping in barracks within the clinic and receiving food from the region's people.
“We were immersed in the culture through food, which gave us a new perspective on how people live there. Most people primarily live off the land, which isn't something we've ever had to do. It helped us understand why we were there,” Porterfield said.
The students followed the Shoulder to Shoulder crew as they visited clinics. The medical professionals on the trip visit every six months to help with training, with the goal of creating a self-sustaining health committee.
The documentary was screened at a fundraising event for Shoulder to Shoulder last month. It will be shown at many other fundraising events, in this country and abroad.
“It's really rewarding to see the film have an impact like this,” Porterfield said. “Even though Nate, Alicia, Dr. John and I did most of the work on the trip, there were a lot of people involved on the larger scale who helped make this happen. In particular, the board at UPG were able to help us finance the trip and obtain the necessary equipment.”
Porterfield screened the documentary for friends and family at his graduation party.
“There's so much poverty down there, but the people are just so happy and proud to be Honduran,” said Porterfield. “It was really eye-opening. When I screened the film at my graduation party I told my friends and family, ‘It makes the potholes and stinkbugs here not seem so bad!' They walked away informed and impressed, wanting to get involved.”
“The work that we were doing was really positive, bringing attention to a project that's crestings change in a place where people are impoverished and suffer from too many things, especially poor health care,” said LaSor.
“Most people know about Honduras, the gang violence and poverty that exists there. and it shapes their perspective of what the country is like,” added Porterfield. “With this film they get to see the good side as well — how happy people are just to survive day to day with as little as they have.”
Kaidia Pickels is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
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