By Chris Dethlefs
Last year several students on campus came together to create a new student interest group: Healthy Earth Alliance (HEAL). These students have a passion for sustainability in health care, renewable energy, reducing waste, and working to improve the health of our community.
This past Earth Day they worked with med students at Creighton to write an op-ed “Let’s flatten the curve on climate change” and also cleaned up litter at Memorial and Elmwood Parks.
They created a Facebook page UNMC Healthy Earth Alliance Buy/Sell/Trade to promote sustainable practices and encourage students to obtain needed/wanted items from peers instead of buying new. Students are transitioning from casual to professional attire while still going to school– so gifting items you no longer want to wear can be a big help.
This summer HEAL students collaborated with an association of patients at OneWorld Community Health Center to support their work at the “Fe y Esperanza” (Faith and Hope) community garden located at 5026 S 19th Street in south Omaha. Students volunteered weekly through July and August to harvest fresh produce that went to OneWorld’s food pantry which is supporting staff and patients during the pandemic. There were at least 5 students there each week from the Colleges of Medicine, Public Health, and Allied Health Professions. The group collected an estimated 15-20 gallons of fresh vegetables each week – most of which was gone from the pantry by the next day! This was a fun and safe way for UNMC students from multiple colleges to connect with local food production, have some outdoor social interaction, and support vulnerable communities during these challenging times.
In addition to learning more about climate change’s impact on human health, HEAL is working to incorporate climate change into various curricula at UNMC—making students aware of how a changing climate impacts their future patients. They are also supporting a fossil fuel divestment campaign within the University of Nebraska System, which currently has more than $90million invested in fossil fuels including in companies on the Carbon Underground list. The petition urging leaders to take action can be found here. You do not need to be a University employee, student, or alum to sign.