Monday, August 15, 2016

The Passion of Brazil

I use this video as an introduction. This is an introduction to the passion that surges through Brasil. This video was take at a local soccer game, but that same passion is resonated in every other aspect of their  lives.

Just to introduce you all to some of these passionate people, I have to start with my adopted aunt and uncle. We stayed with these beautiful people for the entire summer and they showed us nothing but  love and sincerity. They treated us like their own sons and showed us the template for the passion for kindness that every Brazilian that I met shows. You guys are already missed.

These two men right here are guys that I truly consider my brothers. Of course Ketan and I were together through the entire summer and got to know one another to a level that only can be considered brotherhood. I consider him to be a lifelong and close friend of mine. Now this other guy connected with both me and Ketan on a level I never thought possible with such drastic communication barriers. Even before Ketan or I became better at our Portuguese, we found it oddly easy to communicate with and understand him and he us. He told us one night that he had a feeling that he was going  to become great friends with  some American guys. He said that he felt that even before we arrived in Brazil. All I can say is that this man has a huge heart and exemplifies this passion of Brazil to the utmost. He is another lifelong friend of mine. 

As we flew out of Belem, we had the privilege of seeing this amazing view of the Amazon River. While in the air, I reflected on all of the beautiful personalities that I met up there. Somehow the outstretched and seemingly endless length of this river reminded me of the seemingly limitless passion for life, doing right by others, and ability to accept strangers as brothers that the people of Brazil demonstrate. This was probably one of the mist beautiful views that I have seen in my life. What a fitting time for such beauty.

Getting the opportunity to attend the Olympic Games was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget. From the beautiful beaches of Copacabana to the extensive beautiful parks created just for the games, it was an eye-candy of an experience. Although, I cannot help but wonder how or even if all of this revenue that is put into events for the people who can afford it to watch, is affecting those who can not afford it. 

Once again I end my post with the half shown sun. Only this time it is the rising of the sun. Although this picture shows one of the last images that I took in Brazil, the sun rising behind the beautiful landscape of Rio De Janiero assured me that I was not leaving Brazil on a sad note, but on a start of new beginnings and with much gained experience and knowledge. as the brilliant sun revealed itself more and more, I knew then where the people of this country get their passion. They will be missed while I am gone. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sitting on my first of two transoceanic flights, I found my mind wandering as much to what lay ahead of me as what I was leaving behind. At the end of my journey awaited comprehensive exams - the unfortunate yet necessary right of passage all graduate students must endure. Mine are next Tuesday; a less-than-friendly welcome home from Uganda. These exams are supposed to measure our mastery of the core knowledge and skills within our fields of study. Have you really learned what you were supposed to learn? Do you deserve the mantle of Master? Of Doctor? Can you prove it?

As I began to consider (read: totally freak out about) those questions, I realized the same could be asked about my summer in Uganda. Did I accomplish what I was supposed to? Did I contribute meaningfully to the team's research efforts? Have I gleaned more from the qualitative data we (literally) painfully collected, or rather from the process of collecting those data? I know that I learned a lot this summer, but what did I learn about most?

I learned the war in northern Uganda has left lasting wounds not likely to heal soon. I know the suffering caused by losing a loved one to murder does not end once they're buried. Our respondents described the spiritual, physical, and economic maladies that result from both improper burials and a lack of accountability for crimes committed during war. And I learned much and more about the struggle of conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups in cross cultural, international, impoverished settings. 

But despite all of those lessons and more, I think the real value of an experience like MHIRT - the reason the National Institutes of Health continue to pay for minority students to gain international research experiences - is a little more personal. I believe travel, international travel especially, provides us with an unparalleled opportunity to expand our own perceptions of what we're capable of.

The opportunity we're provided is less an investment in our CV and more an investment in us, as humans. The friendships we forge, the languages we pick up, the different ways of being we witness, all unleash our capacity for empathy and creativity - traits invaluable to those who seek a place in as dizzyingly broad of a field as "health." I know I speak for all my fellow MHIRT Summer 2016 participants when I extend my sincere and deep gratitude to the program directors at Christian Brothers University and to the administrators at the NIH who made these incredible adventures possible. Thank you so very much. Apwoyo matek.

I have Nothing but Gratitude

Upon conclusion of our exit interview, my mentor, Dr. Risoleta, asked me "so, other than the 'no rules of the sidewalk' and the avocado with sugar," which are some things that I had reported as different from the United States in the very beginning of my trip, "what else have you noticed that is different here in Brasil, perhaps something bigger?" Now, normally I'm not the type to have much to say when asked to have on-the-spot philosophical analysis of society and culture, but this time the answer was easy. It's something that I noticed very soon after arrival and could give an example of for every single day I've lived in Floripa. The most striking difference for me between Americans and Brasilians is their attitude towards foreigners. I can't tell you the amount of times that I've told someone that I don't speak Portuguese only for them to try and continue to have an entire conversation with me in Portuguese. At first, I thought it was annoying, because I thought they wanted a response from me, but soon I realized it was just their funny way of trying to make me feel welcomed. The generosity and care Brasilians give people they have never met before is truly unparalleled to anything I've experience in the US. Everyday as disjointed Portuguese stumbles out of my mouth as I try to order food I am incredibly grateful for the amount of patience and willingness to help that complete strangers have given me here. It's truly amazing how quickly you can make friends with someone here, even if you don't speak the same language. In the United States I feel like most people have this attitude about people who move or travel to the US without having mastered English before hand, and almost an unwillingness to help. If that were the case here in Brasil, my stay here would have been much more lonely. 
When I would have these experiences with my coworkers or on hikes or on the bus or at restaurants or on campus or whereever I may be all I could think about is how I would never get a chance to fully repay these people for their kindness. For making me feel so welcome, for inviting me on their family roadtrips, for making Floripa feel like home, all I have is gratitude. 
I am very sad to have to leave this place, but eternally grateful for the experience I've had and how its allowed me to grow. Now, back to Memphis and onto a new adventure! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bendiciones (Blessings)

The internship experience with AMOS Health & Hope has drawn to a close. The past six-weeks were filled with real-world experience of conducting research in a rural community and training Madres Voluntarias (Volunteer Mothers) to help improve the maternity and child health outcomes. Throughout the internship period, I have been able to better understand the knowledge that I learned during the global health practicum and put that knowledge to work. Simultaneously, you learn and become more accustom to the seeming small moments of a day in Nicaragua like meals.

                 Breakfast consisting of gallo pinto, scrambled eggs, fruit (watermelon and pineapple), juice, and coffee.

It was a tremendous pleasure and gratifying experience to be present at the graduation for the Madres Voluntarias and the final meeting with the health committee of La Danta. It was those two moments that alluded to the importance that the community places on its partnership with AMOS.

The health committee of La Danta, Madres Voluntarias, and the AMOS Women's Empowerment team following the final health committee meeting of the summer

The final big moment of the internship in La Danta would have to be the celebration that the community had in our honor. It was a beautiful representation of their gratitude for the work that AMOS does in partnership with their community. It was here that the "bendiciones" of working in La Danta for the six-week perios was felt the strongest.

Members of the community of La Danta that had active roles in the celebration (band, singers, and minister).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Balance Between Research and Beneficial Action

After six weeks immersed in two projects for the women of La Danta, Nicaragua, the results were finally in. Knowing La Danta, a community that by flooded rivers and unpaved roads was the most isolated district in Nicaragua's rural areas, had struggled in the past with women's health issues, the AMOS foundation assigned the summer's Women Empowerment team to the people of this community. In this Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) effort, I and a group of four other women addressed behaviors surrounding prenatal health as well as promoted Maternal and Child Health (MCH) through the training of Voluntary Mothers. Through meticulous statistical analysis, the first objective, in which barriers to prenatal care were documented in order to promote four or more prenatal visits among pregnant women, produced definitive, actionable, and surprising results. Variables such as lack of husband approval, of perceived self-efficacy, of perceived severity, of time or money, and of an understanding of the services offered during a prenatal care visit were found to influence La Danta’s mothers’ going to four or more prenatal visits. Once these barriers were identified, the mystery of how to ensure MCH in a place where emergency care could be over four hours away was no longer so difficult to tackle. Because of this research effort, AMOS staff can now train Voluntary Mothers within the community on how to address these barriers when talking to women in their community. With these future goals in mind, the Women Empowerment team also achieved a second objective in these weeks—to recruit eight new Voluntary Mothers and recruit them in home visits. Through a balanced combination of research and tangible action within the community, this summer has successfully built a solid foundation on which MCH outcomes can be improved among some of the most powerful, compassionated, and brave women I have ever known.