Samoan speaking American to connect with locals

A Brigham Young University (BYU) student who speaks fluent Samoan is hoping her linguistic agility will enable her to connect with locals to raise awareness on rheumatic heart disease. 

Kristin Coggins, 22, from Virginia in America is in Samoa for two weeks with the BYU heart specialists on a rheumatic relief programme.

She told Samoa Observer that she speaks fluent Samoan, which she learnt after serving on a mission in the country, and she is hopeful it will make her job of communicating easier. 

“This is my first time being part of the rheumatic relief program, but I served a mission here before and I speak Samoan, which is very helpful in our awareness program.

“My goal here is doing research for the public health side of things, so we are working on the teaching and the administering of information, in a way that children can understand it best – so that when we leave they still know what they need to do to best take care of themselves," she said. 

Their program in Samoa will target children, parents and school principals to ensure everyone is aware of the risks associated with having a sore threat, which can lead to the heart disease.

“We are also informing the children, parents and principals and everyone is involved - the kids often don’t know about the risks of having a sore throat but if you make them aware at a young age of what to do when they start feeling any pain they will know to get treatment fast and so that as they grow older they will lead healthier and stronger lives,” she added.

And having mastered the language, Ms. Coggins is hopeful the communication barrier with the locals will be overcomed and they get to understand the messages. 

Talking of her own experience as a student with a major in special education, she said she is working towards undertaking pre-requisite classes in occupational therapy to enable her to fulfill her goal of working with children with special needs.

“I want to be an occupational therapist in the future by working with children of disabilities - I love working with children and teaching them in a way that they can strive and thrive in their lives with different circumstances.”

Dr. Keoni Kauwe, who is a Professor and Chair of the Biology Department at BYU, said: “We are seeing that the children are remembering what we teach them and also the caregivers we are seeing changes in the way that they manage strep throat and rheumatic heart disease in seeking treatment.”

“We do anticipate that there will be differences based on the education programme in the number of students with diseases and we are still screening new schools every year."

Dr. Marvin Allen, who is a cardiologist at BYU, said that there are remarkable similarities as far as the rates of children with rheumatic heart disease can be found both in Upolu and Savai'i.

“We have never really found a big difference, now certain villages will have a much higher percentage than other villages and that is why Dr. Kauwe first became interested because of genetics understand that but it is very similar between the two.

“But due to limited time and resources we feel like the children is where we find the most value and the most impact, if we had more time and resources we would screen everybody but for now,” he added. 

BYU Professor Lori Allen said that the main hospital does very well in taking care of the children.

“I think that both islands have good capacity to take care of their kids but we need to encourage their parents to take them to see the doctors.

“You can see a broken arm, a wounded leg but you see or sense a wounded heart which is why for us the educational side is very critical.

“We also have material for the academic and medical rigor for the Ministry of Health personnel that we prepared that is how we are trying to get the word out to the public.”

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