Magazine Feature / People

Alumna rescues woman from coursing floodwaters—halfway around the world

Elizabeth Tromans

Alumna Elizabeth Tromans rescued a woman from raging floodwaters. Photo: Catholic Relief Services

Elizabeth Tromans has sterling credentials: an MA in international human rights with a humanitarian assistance certificate from DU’s Korbel School of International Studies, a stint in the Peace Corps, numerous international service trips, fluency in Spanish and Bengali, and now an International Development Fellowship with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

But it’s the experience gained during her summer job as a teenager in Hamilton, Ohio, that has proved most valuable so far in her work for the CRS in India.

On Sept. 19, while she was helping distribute humanitarian aid supplies in the northern part of the country, she rescued a woman from rushing floodwaters and saved her life. All part of a day’s work for the former lifeguard, who says she “didn’t anticipate having to use this skill in India!”

Tromans began serving her year-long fellowship in July and was assigned to India to support the Disaster Management team. In non-disaster times, she’s part of a team that helps communities vulnerable to disasters better prepare. Recently during flooding in the Gonda district of Utter Pradesh state, she has been assisting in emergency response efforts.

Just before the rescue, her group had hiked past a stretch of road with knee-deep rushing water where a small bridge had been washed out.  She recounts the incident this way:

“We stopped because a phone was ringing in my backpack. As my colleague fished it out, I turned and saw a man coming quickly on a bicycle with his wife sitting sidesaddle on the back. He came into the water quickly, perhaps not realizing how strong or deep the water was. As he teetered, the wife fell off the bike right away and was immediately under the water. I ran over, and as I approached she had managed to get one hand above the surface … and so I could see her location in the murky water.”

Tromans jumped in and, although she couldn’t reach the bottom because of the deep water, grabbed the woman. She managed to pull and carry her 500 to 1,000 yards to a house surrounded by shallower water, where the woman’s husband met them. According to an article on the CRS blog “Voices,” the woman “had swallowed quite a bit of water. She was struggling; she was bending over and holding her stomach.” Afterward, Tromans was concerned that the woman would become ill because of the amount of the dirty floodwater she had swallowed.

Tromans had long planned on a career helping people, although perhaps not in such a direct way. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and considering a career in clinical counseling, she served in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh and “started thinking about development as a career.” Among her travels during her graduate study were trips to Costa Rica and Colombia for research. As she put it: “My parents joke that they should have never let me participate in an exchange trip to Mexico in the eighth grade, my first trip abroad. I haven’t stayed put since!”

Tromans credits her education at DU for preparing her well for her current work. She cited in particular the course in Health and Humanitarian Aid taught by Humanitarian Assistance Program Director Neena Jain, saying that there “were very enlightening moments sitting in her class when it became ever clearer that I did indeed want to work in emergencies. She helped to solidify that belief for me.”

She also recalls with admiration the work of Associate Clinical Professor Ted Zerwin, with whom she had several courses. Upon hearing of Tromans’ actions in India, Zerwin declared, “That doesn’t surprise me at all.” He described her as a “very conscientious” person who was serious about her studies even as she looked for opportunities to learn and serve.  

That fit with the qualities the CRS looks for in its fellowship candidates, according to spokeswoman Laura Sheahen, who listed them as “flexibility, resourcefulness, intelligence, kindness, and a good sense of humor — so you can roll with the punches when things get crazy.”

Home for Tromans now is more than 7,500 miles from Hamilton, in Delhi, India — although she has been so busy that she was only at her apartment for four days in September. During her down time she keeps in touch with friends and family via Internet phone calls, tries to get in some sightseeing and admits to a passion for salsa dancing in Delhi clubs — meaning this DU grad takes the “international” part of International Studies very seriously.

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