Students and global health experts share their experiences working with communities.

Category: Yovania

Hustler Nation & the Jack of All Trades

Visiting new places in Mauritius – Participating in Medical Camps

The island of Mauritius had no indigenous population. People from many countries settled in Mauritius during Dutch, French and English occupancy, and gained their independence in 1968. With land as their only natural resource, the strong development of Mauritius is quite a feat. Currently one of the most competitive economies amongst African nations, Mauritius has successfully diversified its economy to include a manufacturing industry, banking and tourism. Part of this success comes from Mauritians having a “hustling” spirit. With their sacrificial and entrepreneurial attitude, they have been able to create a thriving nation.

This is also this same spirit that has permeated my internships during the last six weeks. When I arrived at local agencies to complete my practicums, the intention was for me to strengthen their monitoring and evaluation processes. However, I have had a chance to gain experience in a variety of settings partly because one needs to be a jack of all trades in Mauritius. This is especially relevant in the non-profit sector, as staff often have to fulfill many roles because of the lack of funding. For about two years now, the Government of Mauritius has mandated that all for-profit organizations contribute most of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) money to a national fund which is then distributed yearly amongst certain NGOs across the island through a competitive application process. The creation of a National CSR Fund was a way to address many concerns that NGOs (or Civil Society Organizations) were facing, such as:

  • Lack of focus on poverty alleviation and assistance to vulnerable groups
  • Lack of transparency in the allocation of CSR funds by companies
  • Difficulty in accessing funds by deserving NGOs
  • Lack of proper monitoring and evaluation of CSR programmes and activities
  • The proliferation of NGOs in order to obtain funds

Previously, NGOs were able to obtain funds directly from corporations — by law, corporations must give 2% of their profits back to society. The transition to this new way of operation has created or exacerbated certain challenges for NGOs. Many of them have had to reduce operations because of lack of funds, while others saw only part of their programmes funded. Both of the NGOs that I work with have had to dedicate more time and resources to securing funding. This has put a strain on existing staff who are attempting to serve in multiple capacities.

Talking about (dis)abilities

In my case, I was fortunate to be able to put my skills as both a social worker and a public health practitioner to use. I ended up acting as a project manager for a programme that empowers individuals with disabilities (the actual project manager was recruited to organize the Indian Ocean Island Games, an international competition that takes place every 4 years in July). Within the context of the empowerment programme, I was also able to facilitate employability training sessions for youth with disabilities and provide them with mental health support. I contributed to an advocacy session on ending child marriage in Mauritius. And interestingly enough, both of the NGOs that I am currently working with have decided to collaborate on a call for proposal, so I am now also grant writing.

Youth with disabilities taking part in employability training

This mode of operation can be challenging at times, since I am never sure how my day will unfold. I am learning to be flexible when I can, and have become creative in terms of when and where I do my work. This has led me to drive to many places in Mauritius that I had never been to. I have also discovered which coffee shops have the best combination of coffee, music level, pastries and WiFi connection — the basic requirements of any hustler nation.

Free services at Medical Camps – prosthesis adjustments and reparations

– Yovania

At home in Mauritius

It has now been three weeks since I landed in Mauritius, together with my husband and our two children. Many of you may know Mauritius as a tourist destination; Mark Twain is often quoted to have said: “You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Surrounded by stunning coral reefs, Mauritius spans less than 800 square miles and is home to over 1.3 million people. Beyond its flourishing tourism industry, Mauritius is often cited as a model of democracy amongst African nations and an example of social cohesion where people from African, Indian, Chinese and French heritage have created a peaceful co-existence.

Although I have been back several times to visit my family and on holidays, it has been 15 years since I first left to go study abroad. I have lived in different countries during that time, and when the possibility of completing my practicum in Mauritius arose, I knew that this was something that I should do. I was curious about how I could apply what I have learnt during my time at UNC to the reality here, and learn about the ways that I could give back to my home country.

Being a dual degree student with the School of Social Work and Public Health, I am working with two different organizations in order to complete all my required field hours: Gender Links (GL) and the Global Rainbow Foundation (GRF). Gender Links is a South African Women’s Right Organization with offices in ten Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries including Mauritius.

On the second day of my internship with GL, I was asked to be on a jury at the Voice and Choice Summit, which regrouped NGOS, local government councils, media organizations and individuals who are creating change in their communities across the island. The goal of the summit was to create a learning platform where each one came and presented their best practices for promoting gender equality through their current work. The presentations were made under various categories such as gender and climate change, gender and governance, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and others. A winner would then be chosen within each category to represent Mauritius at the African Regional Voice and Choice Summit in South Africa. For me this was an incredible opportunity for networking and for learning about the work of over 20 organizations in one sitting. I appreciated learning about how gender is intersecting with various issues such as poverty and education in Mauritius.

The jury.

GRF is dedicated to the service of those who live with a disability in their life, be it mental or physical. Their approach is to provide a one stop shop, where someone interacting with their foundation can receive all the services necessary to be a fully functional member of society. To this end, GRF makes and provides prosthesis to its clients, provides employability training, provides medical services by a team of doctors which includes an occupational therapist, psychologists, and a physical therapist. It also engages in advocacy work in order to promote the rights of individuals living with disabilities.

The bulk of my work with both organizations consists of strengthening their internal capacity for monitoring and evaluation. While there is a strong emphasis on regular monitoring of activities, the evaluation component is often minimal, in part because organizations are strapped for staff and resources.

I am looking forward to the coming months as my family settles into the rhythm of the island (which is sometimes not so slow) and as I gain more field experience through both of my practicums. Beyond that, I am also excited to be meeting various individuals and talking about future ideas for collaboration such as strengthening and standardizing the practice of Social Workers in Mauritius and encouraging more research around gender issues, so that NGOs can more frequently engage in evidence based practices. There is so much happening and I am loving it!

– Yovania