I was in the process of finalizing my summer practicum in early March when COVID-19 began to rapidly spread in North Carolina. Today in early June, I find myself working remotely at my parent’s house in Chapel Hill. To set the scene: the farthest place I have traveled to in 3 months is the Carrboro Food Lion, and I now have “day” sweatpants and “night” sweatpants. And I never would have guessed I’d be starting my practicum from my brother’s childhood bedroom.
Despite the unexpected circumstances, this work has already begun to be incredibly meaningful and I am glad to be working from home. For my practicum, I am working under Nikki Behnke at the Water Institute at UNC, to explore environmental health in healthcare facilities in humanitarian settings. These first few weeks of initial readings and mappings have already opened my eyes to the devastating experiences of refugees- the majority of which are women and children. Their situation will be exacerbated by the pandemic, as lack of clean water and sanitation facilities and overcrowding will heighten the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
My work schedule consists of a weekly zoom call with Nikki, and many hours glued to my laptop reading literature. I break up my days by going on walks, making kombucha, and learning TikTok dances like a child. While working from home has its own set of challenges, it has given me some real insight and gratitude for my own situation. It’s easy for anyone to get depressed when watching the news in 2020, and seeing the world become a dumpster fire before your eyes. But I am truly fortunate to be safe, healthy, and secure with my family. This pandemic is so much larger than me, and impacts millions more on a more severe level. Black communities who face institutional racism, violence, and have less access to healthcare are especially vulnerable.
The nature of this pandemic has reinforced the interconnectedness of global health, and has stressed the need for global cooperation. Seeing the public health crises of a global pandemic and systemic racism all bubbling over reminds me why I want to do this work in the first place. Finally, it underscores how important it is to take care of yourself so you can show up for others.