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Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Public health plans in the Dominican Republic discussed on Thursday

June 3, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Key faculty in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington will meet on Thursday (June 4) with representatives of the Batey Relief Alliance to discuss how they can work together to boost public health resources in communities in the Dominican Republic.

Zobeida Bonilla

Zobeida Bonilla

The partnership is working toward building a network of volunteers, faculty and students who conduct research and perform public health and medical services in impoverished areas of this Caribbean nation, specifically in the region of Monte Plata and other underserved areas, such as communities located near the Haitian border.

IU students and researchers interested in joining or exploring the multidisciplinary initiative, which already involves faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences in addition to departments throughout the School of HPER, are invited to learn more about it during a 9 a.m. lecture and 10 a.m. public forum on Thursday in room 125 of the HPER building.

"It's an opportunity for faculty to conduct action-based research," said Robert M. Goodman, dean of the School of HPER. "Students can get cross-cultural field lab experience while working on significant public health issues related to poverty."

The project is being led by Zobeida Bonilla, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Health Science. A native Spanish-speaker, Bonilla has expertise in issues related to culture, health promotion and disease prevention.

The Batey Relief Alliance is a non-profit, private organization with a long history of working with vulnerable communities in the Dominican Republic, particularly in rural areas and communities along the border with Haiti. The organization's work has focused on health, education and community development.

In mid-June, Bonilla will travel to the Dominican Republic with seven students and five other faculty from the School of HPER and the College of Arts and Sciences to begin several important aspects of their work, which involves both the Batey Relief Alliance partnership and ongoing collaboration with the USAID Cluster Ecoturístico Constanza.

The work with Batey Relief Alliance is being mapped out through a strategic planning process involving various community, business, private and non-profit groups in the Dominican Republic, including the Indianapolis-based Timmy Foundation.

The work with the Cluster Ecoturístico Constanza involves a transdisciplinary team of researchers from HPER and other units on campus contributing a diverse range of expertise and skills to work on community and environmental health, safety and occupational health, economic development, sustainable tourism and capacity building.

Bonilla describes this as the "beginning of the beginning," and expects the work to result in long-range multidisciplinary research projects.

The new partnerships and collaborations follow years of archeological research -- most recently the investigation of the Capt. Kidd shipwreck Cara Merchant -- involving the School of HPER's Office of Underwater Science in the Department of Kinesiology. A gala event on Monday at the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo celebrated the opening of the "Living Museum of the Sea at Catalina Island," where protected remains of the Cara Merchant are at rest at sea and can be viewed by divers. HPER has been intimately involved in identifying and studying the shipwreck and developing public underwater preserves to protect both cultural and biological resources.

Bonilla can be reached at 812-856-5122 or