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“We’re walking away thinking, this is a lot more than just a project for a class. I think we were all touched and want to deliver a product that can really have an impact,” said Sydney Atkins, 28.

Ms. Sastry has sent 36 MIT teams to projects across Africa and India since 2008. Her students prepare for months before spending two weeks on site, whether in a big-city doctor’s office or a rural clinic with no running water.

Ms. Sastry, 46, is the daughter of a Pennsylvania Dutch mother and a father from south India who met in Afghanistan in the 1960s. She thinks her students can’t just study in a lab or by computer, but must go out and engage the world.

“My fondest hope is that we deliver an improvement to that organization that is sustained,” she said. “Whether it’s to increase scale and efficiency or improve quality.”

The Global Health Delivery Project is so popular that students must sit for an interview and write an essay before enrolling. Ms. Sastry works year-round to find projects to partner with.

Rye Barcott, a North Carolina graduate and co-founder of Carolina for Kibera, had asked the MIT team to determine why the clinic sees large fluctuations in demand. Some days only 150 people visit CFK’s clinic, which can handle 300.

The clinic has six doctors who serve a population of 27,000 located within an estimated one-mile radius of the clinic, though it welcomes others from beyond. Poverty, dirty water and poor sanitation cause many of the health problems it treats. HIV and tuberculosis are also common.

The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention runs a study out of the clinic, providing free care to those who live nearby. For others, a doctor’s visit and medication typically cost $2.50 - a steep price in Kibera. If someone doesn’t have the money, the clinic will quietly provide free treatment.

The MIT students, Mr. Barcott said, came with the right approach. They partnered with clinic volunteers and energized the clinic team about marketing their services.

He noted that the snake-worshipping rumor over the medical insignia called the Rod of Asclepius hadn’t been a problem in years, though the MIT team heard about the issue in its research.

“The finding is that we need to think through how we do outreach to other villages,” said Mr. Barcott, whose group also runs a sports program and offers scholarship.

A former Marine who served in Iraq, he recently published a book, “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace,” chronicling his work in the military and Kibera.

“In my mind, what they’ve done has been successful, and now it’s in the hands of our local team, all Kenyan, to take that finding and actually structure outreach into the other villages,” Mr. Barcott said.

Ms. Sastry is assessing the impact of her projects. She knows that some small businesses have grown in size and revenue owing to her teams’ recommendations, or made upgrades like installing running water.

Beyond that, she wants her teams to inspire changes that will cause projects like the Kibera clinic to flourish for years to come.

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