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

Category: Erin

A Glimpse into Humanitarian Work

This summer, I’ve been interning with Save the Children and the Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG), working on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Emergencies (ASRHiE). Part of my position there was working on research to finalize the Training of Trainers (TOT) package on ASRHiE, which is delivered to people working in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in Emergencies. I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to finish out my internship by going to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to provide logistical support for a TOT lead by some of IAWG’s new trainers.

It was a bit tricky to arrange, since it meant missing about a week and a half of school, but I was very lucky to have supportive professors and supervisors. Thanks to them and to my amazing supervisor at Save the Children/ IAWG (and to some very quick processing by the Embassy of Bangladesh in DC), I got my visa and flight arranged, and arrived in Bangladesh on August 22nd. I spent the night in Dhaka, and the next morning caught my flight to Cox’s Bazar. On my way to the airport, I shared a van with a really lovely couple who had worked for Save the Children in more than 10 countries. We wound up going to dinner together later that week, and I heard all of their fascinating stories from their travels.

I had one or two days in Cox’s Bazar to explore, and was surprised by just how beautiful the town was. The beach is the longest one in the world (a fact that the country is very proud of), and some areas of it are very empty and beautiful. I took tons of pictures on my walks, and it was great to get a chance to see some of the less touristy areas of the town.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The traditional fishing boats that people in Cox’s Bazar use.

The main coordinator for the training works for UNFPA, so I spent Saturday at their office prepping all of the materials for the training. It was so interesting to get a sense of what the offices looked like, and to hear from the trainer on her experiences working with UNFPA.

Then the training began! It was only two days, but those two days were packed. It took some time to work out the kinks, but I think that the participants got a lot out of it. We had every person we invited attend, representing over 14 organizations working in Bangladesh. I met so many interesting people, and we got a lot of great feedback to continue to improve upon the training in the future. It was fantastic to get a chance to see the training in action after researching so many of the topics that were covered.

All of the participants and trainers

All of the participants and trainers.

Unfortunately, due to rallies in the refugee camps in Teknaf over repatriation, we had to postpone our scheduled field day until after I left. However, I was very lucky to have a colleague there willing to take me to see the camps in Ukhiya the following day so that I could see the health post and primary health care center there and get a chance to try out one of the tools we discussed in the training. It was interesting to see all of the steps required to visit the camps: I had to visit the government office to receive a camp pass (with a specific date and camp number to visit) and attend several briefings around security, child safeguarding, and media/communications. These briefings helped to ensure I understood the do’s and don’ts while in the camps, and to protect the refugees that live there. I wasn’t ever sure it would happen until finally, it was Wednesday and we were getting into the van to head down the coast!

It took about an hour and a half on winding side roads, as well as passing through several police checkpoints to get to the camps in Ukhiya. We first visited the Save the Children primary health care center (PHCC), which lies right at the entrance of the camps so that it is able to serve both the host and refugee communities. I got a tour from a staff member there, and had the chance to see all of the buildings within the PHCC. Everything was very clean and organized, and they are able to provide fairly comprehensive services there. The manager was one of the people who had attended the training, so she and I sat down to chat for about 45 minutes, going through items on the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They’re doing really fantastic work there, and it was wonderful to see all of the steps they are taking to serve more vulnerable populations.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

The family planning room at the primary health care center.

After that, we headed over to the health post in the closest camp. It was a quick drive, and then we had to get out and walk as the van couldn’t get the rest of the way. The camps were built in a flood-prone area with many hills and valleys, so steps and paths have been built into the sides of these hills as the camps expanded. We walked along the dirt path, with little shops, makeshift shelters, and learning centers on each side. All around us, kids were running and playing, men were chatting over tea, and people were carrying water and food back to their shelters. I was surprised to find that, in many ways, it felt like a more crowded village.

The health post was under construction, so I spoke with the manager (another person who had attended the training) in the temporary space that they are using, and again went through the Adolescent-Friendly Facility Checklist. They are serving so many people daily, each day speeds by and the midwives and family planning assistants have little time for a break. It was great to hear about their experiences at the health post, and to know that they are able to provide family planning assistance so many people.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

The new health post that they are finishing work on.

After lunch back at the PHCC, we started our long trek back to Cox’s Bazar. The following day I did a bit more exploring, and met with the SRH Manager for Save the Children to talk through my feedback from the time at the PHCC and health post. She’s spent several years working in conflict zones, so I also took the chance to speak with her about her experiences. Between talking with her, the national staff at the Save the Children office, and the couple that I met on my way over, I got a much better sense of what working in humanitarian settings can look like.

Even though I only had a bit over a week in Bangladesh, I learned a ton between the training, meeting all of the amazing people working in these responses, and seeing the PHCC and health post in person. I am so grateful for the opportunity to put my learning into practice, and I hope to continue working with IAWG as I move into my final year at UNC’s Gillings Schools of Global Public Health.

– Erin

From Thailand to India to Home

It’s been a whirlwind of a summer so far! About a week after my last exam, I flew to Thailand and then spent two weeks exploring in Thailand and southern India. I ate so much delicious food, met a ton of people from all over the world, and got to explore beautiful temples and palaces! I may have gotten the worst sunburn of my life but I think it was worth it to be surrounded by this much natural beauty.

The beach at Phi Phi Don.

After the two weeks were up, I went to Kalpetta in India to start my first practicum, which was with SEEDS, an organization working in disaster relief and recovery. I supported their Community Health Empowerment program, which serves tribal youth in the Wayanad district through community improvement programs. While I was there, I had a chance to visit several of the tribal communities and assist with documentation of their project activities. However, I spent the majority of my time researching Kudumbashree, as SEEDS was hoping to get more of the tribal communities involved in this program.  Kudumbashree is a program that serves low-income women in Kerala (the Indian state which Wayanad sits in) through financial opportunity—job training, business creation, and microloans—as well as health, environment, and community programming. It was really interesting to have a chance to both read about it and to interview local government officials within the Kudumbashree offices about their work.

A pre-school in one of the tribal communities which the adolescents of the community rebuilt.

I was lucky enough to be working with a UNC alum, and it was great to have a piece of home when I was so far away. I was also very lucky to be surrounded by kind co-workers who set up fun things for us to do, taught me more about their culture, and welcomed me to India. In my first week there, my co-workers band had a concert on the hotel rooftop, and afterwards they all sang traditional songs together. We were also invited to the home of another co-worker, Harris, for Eid, to break the fast after Ramadan. His mom cooked us a ton of delicious chicken biryani and spicy lamb and would not take no for an answer when she offered seconds. On my last day in Kalpetta, I almost missed my bus to start my trip home, and wouldn’t have made it if one of my co-workers, Abu, hadn’t chased down the bus on his scooter and made it wait for me, while another, Tonia, grabbed us an auto to speed over to the bus. Getting to know them was absolutely one of the best parts of my practicum, and I am so grateful for everything they did for me.

My coworkers breaking fast after Ramadan.

Now, I’m back at home in the Washington, D.C. area, working as the Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) Intern for Save the Children US. My primary job is supporting the Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises (IAWG) on a revamp of the ASRH Toolkit for Humanitarian Settings. I’m also helping to update some resources, and I’ll be supporting a team in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh as they lead their first Training of Trainers around ASRH in Emergencies. As someone who is interested in working on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in humanitarian crises, Save the Children is a really great place to be. I have access to information and updates on crises happening around the world and can follow the humanitarian response as it develops. I’ve also had a chance to complete a lot of e-learning courses focused around SRH in crises from various perspectives, which have helped me to get a better understanding of what this work looks like on the ground. It’s also been wonderful to meet people from all over the world who are doing the work I want to do, and to learn about their work. I’m excited to continue to learn and to be able to play even a small role in this very important sector of Public Health!

– Erin