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

Category: Ellery

Unexpected Lessons in Global Health

It seems like just last week I was getting ready to start my practicum, and now suddenly I’m here wrapping everything up. As I begin to reflect on another summer work experience, I always enjoy realizing how out of all the things I’ve learned, very few are actually the things I was expecting to learn. Sure, I’ve learned plenty about intrapartum care in low-resource settings… I’ve read dozens of articles about patient experience, provider care, facility administration, and community involvement. I’ve had Zoom calls with a Haitian physician and program director and other midwives and researchers. I’ve written a literature review and a communications plan. And these are all good things—things I expected out of this summer.

But, this summer has been about so much more than those things. This summer I have also sat in on non-profit board meetings and consortium updates. I’ve been a part of engaging with donors and updating records. I’ve been active in supporting local health, even while working for a global organization. From my little desk in my Chapel Hill condo, I’ve been able to engage in far more than a research project, and I’ve learned some things I didn’t expect.

Some of the St. Antoinne school children enjoying the playground.

Some of the St. Antoinne school children enjoying the playground.

As part of their work in Haiti, Family Health Ministries supports children in an orphanage and school in Fondwa. This support would not be possible without the generosity of hundreds of donors from all across the United States. I’ve been sending each donor updates—a letter and some photos—on how the students are doing, and it struck me that global health work, especially in the NGO world, relies on contributions and support from all sorts of different people and places. Thus, the work is not just global in its destination, but also in its source. We all have the chance to be a part of global health work in some way, degree or not, which means wherever we are, we can be part of building a healthier world.

I’m about one third of the way through my cross-state trek… and I’m excited to “arrive” in Winston-Salem soon!

I’m about one third of the way through my cross-state trek… and I’m excited to “arrive” in Winston-Salem soon!

Back in May my preceptors shared that they wanted to be intentional about supporting local health alongside their global mission, especially during the pandemic. We all signed up for the Blue Ridge to the Beach virtual race—a 6-month, 475-mile challenge that takes you across the state of North Carolina from Asheville to Wrightsville. So far, I’ve gone about 150 miles, I passed through Charlotte, and I’m on my way to Winston-Salem. I enjoy walking and running, and I’m grateful for the motivation and reminder that taking breaks and getting outside is really good for me. But I didn’t only commit to getting in 2.6 miles per day til December for my own benefit. We chose to participate in the race because all proceeds go to fighting food insecurity in North Carolina. In a time when it seems like life is dictated by all the things we cannot do, this is something that we can do. We choose to move our bodies each day because that choice gives someone else better access to food. We choose to put in the work of improving our own health, so that we will be able, prepared, and healthy enough to help others with theirs. I’ve been reminded that global health work isn’t always glamorous or extreme. Sometimes, it’s as simple as choosing to go for a walk.

Sunset is one of my favorite times to get a walk or run in because it’s not as hot and the views are great!

Sunset is one of my favorite times to get a walk or run in because it’s not as hot and the views are great!

All those extra things, those lessons found between the expected moments and between the lines of my practicum agreement—those are the things I’ve enjoyed most about my summer. Those are the things you cannot learn in a classroom, and those are the things I will take with me into my career. The skills are important, but the life experience is even more so.

Ellery

PS—The Blue Ridge to the Beach challenge starts a new wave each month, and the next one kicks off August 1st. Check out their website to register and join us!

Global from Local: Compiling Best Practices from Afar

By Ellery Walker

I know I echo the sentiments of many others when I say that 2020 sure has been a year full of the unexpected. When I traveled back to Michigan to visit my family over Spring Break, I had no idea just how much would change in the coming months. Though I had not yet secured a practicum, I had been pursuing opportunities across the nation and globe. I wasn’t sure where I would end up, but I was quite sure it wasn’t going to be anywhere near Chapel Hill. However, as the COVID-related travel restrictions grew, I shifted my search to anything that I could do from North Carolina. I stumbled upon Family Health Ministries (FHM), and, lo and behold, here I sit in my Chapel Hill condo. That’s the first piece of unexpected irony in my summer.

FHM’s Carmelle Voltaire Women’s Health Center in Tom Gato, Haiti.

FHM’s Carmelle Voltaire Women’s Health Center in Tom Gato, Haiti.

The second bit of irony comes in the work that I’m doing. FHM is a small, faith-based, community-directed, outcome-focused, partnership-oriented, and relationship-driven global health nonprofit based in Chapel Hill that has been working to “support Haitian communities in their efforts to build and sustain healthy families” for more than 20 years. What began as a commitment to reducing cervical cancer and maternal mortality among Haitian women has expanded to include several clinics, an orphanage and school, educational opportunities, and substantial community development. Earlier this year FHM opened a new birthing clinic at the Carmelle Voltaire Women’s Health Center (CVWC) in Tom Gato, a rural area in the mountains of Haiti. The clinic is managed by two Haitian midwives, with oversight from a local OB/GYN physician, and they have delivered about 20 babies thus far. Since the clinic is still a fairly new operation, this summer I am conducting a literature review on birthing centers and intrapartum care in low resource settings, and compiling recommendations for best practices for the CVWC.

Now, I mentioned that my work is somewhat ironic… so where’s the irony in a lit review? Well, I am the daughter of two OB/GYNs, and I have spent the last 24 years trying desperately to NOT engage in conversations surrounding maternal and infant health. And yet, here I am, dedicating my summer to learning as much as possible about childbirth. It all comes full circle, and yes, my parents are thrilled. This summer is ironic and unexpected, but I think it’s unexpectedly just what I needed.

Working remotely does have some nice perks… like this view!

Working remotely does have some nice perks… like this view!

Before I ever knew exactly what I would be working on this summer, I was drawn to FHM by the way that they empower and equip Haitian communities and leaders through intentional and respectful long-term relationships. As I think and learn more about global health and my role as a practitioner, I want to be committed to developing true relationships characterized by listening and learning, and working with the FHM team is a great opportunity to practice just that. As much as I wish I could be on the ground in Haiti, I am grateful that working remotely has forced me to rely so much more heavily on collaboration and trust with the FHM team and the Haitian staff. I have to rely on the input of the physician, midwives, country director, and my preceptors because I’m simply not there. I like to think that I would be engaging them in the conversation and prioritizing their thoughts even if I was physically there, but the truth is that it’s so much easier to become the expert as soon as we’ve experienced something. So, for now, I’m glad to be working from afar. I’m compiling best practices on something I’ve never experienced in a place I’ve never been. I cannot fall back on my own understanding, which means I must trust that of those who live, work, and have spent substantial time in that setting. And that’s how it should be anyway, right? Sure, global from local is a challenge, but it’s good practice, because whether I’m walking through a clinic on my own two feet, or just seeing it on a computer screen, my role should never be to dictate, but to amplify the voices of those I serve.