Saturday, July 8, 2017

All Work and No Play (or maybe not)

I have now been in Nicaragua for 4 weeks, and I’m already halfway through my time here! The first three weeks were spent in the global health practicum, which included a visit to a rural community in Matagalpa. While we were there, we collected water samples and tested them for bacteria.

We also helped with health stations, where I tested kids and pregnant women for anemia. After the health stations and water testing was done, we presented the results of both projects to the community health workers.

Unfortunately, many of the water sources were contaminated, but we were able to discuss options for water filters in the community, and the community has a strong health committee carrying out their action plan.

 This past week we got to start on our internship projects in the rural community. I am working on the Youth Empowerment Project with a group of youth leaders in La RACCS region of the country. We will be working with the youth leaders to teach a curriculum about important decisions that face adolescents in this community. They will then be equipped to teach the lessons to their peers after we leave. This first week has given us a chance to get to know the youth leaders we will be working with and talk about our shared goals for our time together. One of the really awesome activities we were able to do with them was the ‘Tree of Change’, in which we talked about their goals and dreams for the future and the actions that are necessary for them to take to achieve them. This allowed us to start planning our lessons with their goals in mind.

 I'm really enjoying this research because it uses the Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach, which involves building partnerships with the community to address public health concerns. What that means for my project is that we are considering epidemiological priorities, such as the high rates of adolescent pregnancy in Nicaragua (the highest in central America) as well as listening to the youth in the community to understand what they are most concerned about as well. This creates a research environment where we are doing research with the community, rather than on or for them.

I'm finding this to be a very valuable experience, but there is an added level of complexity when working with communities that I have not faced when doing bench science research. We have often had to change our project plan and goals according to what is needed in the community with which we work. I'm learning that public health requires you to really jump right into the community and sometimes to get a little bit dirty, especially during the rainy season.

Although there has been plenty of work to do, I’ve also had the chance to travel a bit around the country. I visited an active volcano in Masaya, hiked to a waterfall on the island of Ometepe, and kayaked at Laguna de Apoyo.

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