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 Fundación 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
Most of my work consists of me staring at this ice block of mouse or goldfish eyes, so after looking at this cryostat for a few days,

anything outside of the lab looks great!

It's like I live in my own little paradise within the city, since everyone is so friendly and welcoming (even the cats!).

But there are some really great parts at USP, like all of the wonderful food I can buy at these food trucks, since all of the restaurants are closed due to the university strike.

And when I come home, I have a wonderful host who cooks the typical Brazilian Feijoada sometimes!

After a long and tiring week, I'm off to the beach for some more pictures! Ciao :)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Gulu Main Market

There are lots of places in Gulu town that I absolutely adore, but the main market in the center of town is one of my favorites.

There's so much to buy here.

All kinds of food.

Including freshly butchered meat.

Fabric and clothes for days.

And so many plantains.

Bonus picture (not in the market but still awesome):
Goats try to avoid the rain too.

Soaking up the Good Stuff

First thing is first, my favorite topic, food of course! This is an assortment of a few of the many  amazing foods that Brazil, Para in particular, has to offer. The foods here seem to be so much richer than those typically found in the US. Interestingly, this meal in particular, which includes manicoba (the king), vatapa, and caruru, taste very much like some of the meals most common in Nigeria. I was told that  many local foods here have much African influence due to the massive African slave trade that persisted here.

The crew got the opportunity to the local professional soccer team play, Clobe Do Rema. As is well known, soccer is its own religion in Brazil and the locals ride with their team through thick and thin. No college football game's atmosphere can compare to that we experienced here.
The Olympics are coming soon and the people are excited!!! It was an awesome experience to witness and be a part of the running of the Olympic torch. These guys ran across the entire city. Granted I was only able to stick with them for a few blocks, but one could smell the love and passion in the air.
We have met some great people since we have been down here. This great guy, Alan, in particular is now a good friend. We have exchanged cultural tidbits, learned the differences in each other.s lives, and learned the local humor. This guy is hilarious!
What a way to end the day, under the sunset of the Amazon River. And of all the on Dia de Namorados (Valentines Day). It was a unique atmosphere with happy people and good vibes. These are experiences that I will never forget. As the sun sets, so do my fingers for the last time tonight on this keyboard. Until next time! Vai com Deus!

I met Brazilian Tarzan, and everybody hates him

We arrived in Floripa on a Tuesday. Our mentors were kind enough to ease us into the swing of things, only calling us into the lab a few times to help us get acquainted with the walk there, the other students in the labs, etc. As the work week came to a close, one of our mentors (who would like to remain anonymous for the sake of receiving future MHIRT students) asked us what we would be interested in doing that weekend. We told her that we'd like to spend some time outside sight seeing. She then, ever so graciously, invited us along with her on her trek that she was going on that Sunday. It'd be great she said, we'd get to see Lagoa, the sane dunes where sand boarding is popular, and three beaches, Joaquina among them. She wanted us to take a look at the Facebook group, Trilhas e Costões, and the event posted to make sure it was something we were interested in. She'd also have to check with Mario, the group leader, in order to make sure that it wasn't too difficult. 
We went home that night we looked up the group on Facebook and saw that all the hikers were middle aged and considered that enough research to decide we'd be capable of the hike. We're young, we thought, we've hiked before, it'll be no problem. Off we went, meeting in Lagoa at nine, for a nice light hike, with a few snacks packed without lunch because we figured we'd stop somewhere in have lunch. We were in for a surprise. 

Beautiful Lagoa, an enclosed lake in the middle of the island. A popular spot for nightlife. 

It was then that we were introduced to Crazy Mario, in all his shoeless, red speedo in 60 degree weather, clad glory. We were to begin with a walk to the sand dunes where upon arrive Mario said "if you are to be safe with me, you are to be shoeless." So, shoeless we went. 

What we soon learned about Mario is that there was no path follow on his treks. He was also absolutely enamored with finding the most difficult way to travel from point A to point B for no apparent reason at all. It is for this reason that when he would lead us some crazy way all the trekkers would collectively say "everybody hates Mario!"
For example, in the picture below you'll see a giant sand dune that we were instructed to climb via bellows of "let's gooooooooooo" when there's this nice little rim around the side, a perfectly good little path I would've much preferred. 

After about an two hours through the sand we arrived in Joaquina beach, where we thought we'd get a chance to look around and explore. Instead, Mario directed us straight for the rocky shoreline. We had a quick lunch and then began what would be five hours of trekking along the rocks, unbeknownst to us. You see, the problem with Mario is that if you ask him when we'd be leaving or where we were going, if you could even get the question out due to not speaking English, he'd just lie to you and say that we'd be finished shortly. Well. We definitely weren't prepared and the middle aged Brazilians kicked our butts for sure. The whole time all I could think about was how if we placed our footing the wrong way then we'd die and that be it. I was, of course, being a bit dramatic and complained my way through the whole trek just fine. The sights were absolutely breath taking and it was not a day I'll soon forget. Below are some of my favorite picture along the hike. 

In all honest, it was definitely the most exhausting day I've ever had, but to see a side of Florianopolis that most of the locals never get a chance to see was truly priceless. 
Below is the outline of the trek one of the hikers posted afterwards. It helps me not to feel like such a baby! 


Take a walk

Almost three weeks of living in Sao Paulo and I can’t say another city has fed me better than this one. Amazing food, beautiful views, friendly people and such a rich history it’s truly incredible to be here. Every day here has been a learning experience. The first few days being here were hard to get through. The kitchen flooded the first time it rained but that encouraged us to get out and explore the area. We found some huge malls, cute cafes and endless gelaterias just a few blocks away. Walking up one major street towards our university we saw this incredible contrast between the urban areas of Sao Paulo and it’s more foresty looking counterpart (we live on the more urban side)

We spent another day at Ibirapuera Park hoping to see a few exhibits at the Sao Paulo Museum of Modern Art but when we got there they told us none of their exhibits were ready so we enjoyed the park instead. I got this romantic view as the sun was setting.

On our walk home we came upon this Mexican restaurant with the greatest churros I’ve ever had. Churros are common in New York City. The sweet little Mexican lady at Sutphin Blvd. on the J train selling her churros is a staple of New Yorker life. These churros on the other hand were caramel filled, came with dulce de leche sauce and were more delicious than I could handle. With each warm bite I felt my soul get ready to leave my body because the flavors were just too good

A few days ago we went to Pinacoteca, a modern and contemporary art museum. Well, it said modern and contemporary art but I saw a lot of old paintings while we were there. Being at this museum really made me want to visit Rio. A section of the museum just had countless paintings with various views of Rio de Janeiro. The painting below is my favourite. At first I thought it was a really big photograph but the artist has simply paid that much attention to detail and taken great care to create this beautiful piece of art.

After we left Pinacoteca we walked around the area and came across a Korean BBQ place. I haven't had Korean BBQ since I was in Korea in 2012 and nothing could have made me happier than finding this place.

Brazil has welcomed me and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for the next few weeks!

We are workinggggg people! Are you?

We are workinggggg people! Are you?

But first, you must be welcomed. In Uganda, you will often hear, "You are most welcome" when you enter somewhere. We were certainly 'most welcomed' yesterday at a community outreach event in the town of Ikumba! 

Ebony, Ivory, walking (or working) in perfect harmony. 

We take the 'most welcome' phrase seriously. We visit many many clinics on a weekly basis to see what they have going on and how we can possibly collaborate as partners and integrate our work.

... and the reason we make these connections is so that we can go out in the field to understand the perspectives of Ugandan women... Which is the most rewarding aspect of it all. 

But now, it is time for me to enjoy Lake Victoria! Dueces. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sao Paulo, Brazil: the city of bustling traffic and shots of coffee

Oi! the pictures below are the perfect description on my time spent in Sao Paulo, thus far.

Have you ever went to sleep and woken up in a different country? I have. This picture was taken at 8:00 a.m. on a Thursday morning as the plane descended into Sao Paulo, the most populous city in Brazil.

Sao Paulo is the New York City of the Southern Hemisphere. The city never sleeps.  The traffic is horrendous The public transportation is extremely fast. And most importantly, the city is beautiful.

 Life moves so fast here that nobody has time to enjoy a cup of coffee, so they take shots. No pun intended ; )
 Universidade Sao Paulo, better known as USP. It is the largest Brazilian public university and where I spend the majority of my time.
My lab partner Karina(left) and my mentor Dr. Carol Real Gregorio (right).
These two people have done their best to welcome me into their beautiful city!