Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Learning about cancer and its perspectives in Uganda


This is how we greet each other in southern Uganda. No matter who you pass on the street everyone is eager to greet you with oraire ota (good morning) or waasiiba ota (good afternoon). It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a month since I arrived in Uganda. We first began by observing in local health centers and communities to understand the Ugandan health care system, identify the community’s concerns, and ultimately identify cervical cancer as the focus of our research. With this in mind we decided to investigate the beliefs and perspectives regarding cancer but more specifically cervical cancer in southwestern Uganda.

To better understand health in Uganda we have had the opportunity to attend lectures given by Dr. Anguyo on local health topics such as HIV/AIDS, nutrition, and family planning. While we learned the basic biology of diseases, the most interesting part was the social context. Learning how the complexities of health issues are deeply connected to the social norms, geography, politics, and religion was eye opening. Therefore, for our research we would have to also consider a bigger context of people’s lives instead of simply the disease alone.

After we developed our research tools we began to conduct focus groups with women at a local clinic. Through the focus groups we found the perspectives and ideas that people have regarding how cancer is caused, prevented, how it affects a person’s community, etc. I enjoyed conducting focus groups because it allowed me to see a diverse range of perspectives in a group dynamic. In the past I had only conducted quantitative research but after doing qualitative research with quantitative aspects I now see that I am learning more about each person’s unique story and culture than I would with solely a quantitative approach.   

To see mass cervical screening in action we collaborated with KIHEFO, also known as Kigezi Health care Foundation, to attend two cervical cancer screening days. The first took place in the KIHEFO general clinic. Through public announcements from speaker systems on motorcycles driving through town women were notified that there would be free cervical cancer screenings available. After intake I was able to conduct individual interviews before and after the cervical cancer screening process. It was intriguing to see if there was a change in beliefs and attitudes regarding cancer. In the individual interviews I was able to shine light on each woman's personal story and ideas. In the second day of cervical cancer screenings we were able to attend HIV/AIDS outreach at a convent in which they gave out ARVs. When one person in the group stopped taking their medications the whole community would discuss how they could help the person get better and improve their health. I witnessed that it takes the support of the entire village for each person to develop.

Now, we are continuing to conduct individual interviews in various villages with differing health care services available. We are traveling a bit around Uganda too, so I’ll leave you with some photos of our trip to Queen Elizabeth Park and Fort Portal.  


Monday, June 27, 2016

To travel is to live

Have you ever felt truly happy? The type of happy that only gets portrayed in romantic fiction. Have you ever felt consumed with nothing but joy and contentment? That is the type of happiness I experienced this weekend.
I woke up early Saturday morning fully prepared to spend the next two days sitting on an over populated beach trying not to get sand in uncomfortable places. I had no idea, a very interesting adventure was in store for me. My housemates and I loaded our luggage into the car and hit the road! Two minutes into the 4 and a half hour road trip we realized our rental car did not come with a radio. Forty-five minutes into our car ride, we realized our rental car could not go in reverse. (Picture three girls, at a road stop pushing a car out of a parking space). And 1 hour into our ride, the car’s ABS flashed on and started beeping uncontrollably, even though there was no problem. We drove through dense fog, up an extremely curvy mountain, and onto a ferry to take us to Ilhabela, an island off the coast of Sao Paulo.  (With the ABS alarm sounding randomly the entire time). When we arrived to the island we realized we had another major problem, we had nowhere sleep! We did not know the address to the air bnb we booked and the owner was not answering his phone. We spent the afternoon touring while we waited for the owner to answer us, but when the sun started to set, we knew we had to book another air bnb. Which is how he stumbled upon our new friend, Leandro and his family.
While I and my two American roommates were refreshing up, my Columbian roommate, Mariana was on the phone with the rental car company. Mariana’s native tongue is Spanish, however she understands a little Portuguese. In need of a translator, Mariana called over the first person she saw, Leandro. Leandro was on his way to his friend’s house when Mariana hurriedly explained her situation to him. It turns out Leandro was the nephew of the women whom we were staying with. He quickly took care of our car trouble by arranging for the rental car to be towed and for a taxi to drive us back to Sao Paulo free of charge.
We spent the evening with Leandro and his family. They welcomed us into their home, befriended us, fed us, and gave us a personalized tour of their town. The following day we all went to the beach and when it was time for us to leave Leandro came with us!
Throughout my time with Leandro and his family I felt nothing but pure joy, warmth, and relaxation. These are feelings I forgot I could have dealing with the daily hustle and bustle that comes with being a college student. I have found several moments of bliss this summer, I hope you find the same.

Lizzy,Zahra, Leandro, Mariana, and I all piled into the taxi on our way back to Sao Paulo.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

San Jose de la Mula

This past week was spent hiking throughout the quiet and beautiful community of San Jose de la Mula in the rural mountains of Nicaragua. During the trip, a group of 20 global health volunteers carried out water filter maintenance, "charlas" on Zika prevention, and health stations for children under five. Although we parceled out a lot of health information and worked on furthering community empowerment, I feel that I learned so much more from the humble, patient, and strong people of San Jose.

Mario and I at Canyon Cruz da Pedra. This is my second trek with him and although he's a little crazy, I get to see beautiful places not known to many!

Canyon da Cruz- very wet, beautiful,and slippery 

Another picture from Canyon da Cruz!

Two men singing Brazilian country music downtown!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

¡Hola Salud Publico!

Hola todos! Me llamo Kayla. Soy un voluntario de FundaciĆ³n Amos este verano. The previous two sentences serve as the introduction that I have possessed for the past three weeks here in Nicaragua; what an amazing three weeks that it has been!

The first three weeks have served as the practicum portion of our time here (“our” refers to Abrania Marrero, Jennifer Babjak, and I).  They have been filled with learning all the fundamental knowledge that every public health worker should to successfully work in the field; there has also been information that specifically helps individuals that are from a more advantaged country or more privileged background work with disadvantaged people in a manner that allows for the empowerment of both groups and not a continuation of the trend of paternalism.  The practicum has also included a week of application of the newly learned knowledge in the rural community of San Jose de la Mula, Matiguas, Matagalpa, Nicaragua; the experience was one that has cemented the importance of understanding the context of a community’s culture when implementing public health interventions. On a personal level, it also served as a sign of reassurance that public health is the area of science/ health in which I can invest time into and receive a feeling of fulfillment. It is also clear to me that the field can be both academically stimulating and emotionally rewarding because of the fact that research and collecting data requires monitoring and evaluation, which requires social connection and emotional investment ( if done correctly).

The weeks of the practicum have also included many fun moments that have most definitely allowed me to really fall in love with Nicaragua and its amazingly resilient people. I have had the pleasure to see some of the lush, tropical landscape that makes up Nicaragua. The first two weekends we were able to travel to both Leon and Granada, which capitals during Nicaragua’s colonial period. The second weekend also featured a trip to the beach at Laguna de Apoyo.

As the remaining six weeks of my time here in Nicaragua begin, I am excited to jump into my internship with women’s empowerment; It is my hope that I am able to help make a difference in the maternal and child health of La Danta (the community we will work in) during the time period while also being empowered myself.
Hasta la proxima vez,

Kayla Nicole Somerville