Last week was the last week I hosted FHE, Fellows for Higher Education, at my old high school, KSJC. Starting this past week, the school year had already begun, with freshmen roaming the halls and new teachers looking just as confused as the new students. The old students that I knew, juniors and seniors, were now the leaders.
My summer was meant to help the rising seniors with their college applications, essays, and to help them find scholarships. While fewer students showed up than expected, my group of teammates and I were able to find a way to work around that issue. We had decided, instead, to create a Google Drive filled with a wealth of information on various scholarships, paid internships, or summer programs that were either heavily subsidized or covered for students.
While the summer did not turn out the way I had expected it to, I actually like to think it’s better! I learned that resources like this help the students and teachers much more at a campus like mine. The teachers are much better equipped to persuade the students, especially the stubborn ones who would rather be told they’re right. Through that specific experience, I definitely learned that working with high schoolers is not my strong suit. However, I loved working with the teachers and staff to create materials that would be helpful to the students indirectly throughout the school year.
The summer, overall, was rewarding. It was trying at times to work with students who were strong-headed, and with students did not show up, despite saying otherwise the day before. I would not trade this experience though, because I learned that I really did want to advocate for education equity and that it was an important issue that meant a lot to me as a FLI student. I ended this summer with a clearer picture of what I want to accomplish this next year as a Service Focus Fellow and with new ideas on how to help my community!
KSJC, otherwise known as KIPP: San Jose Collegiate, became the first KIPP school I worked at. As a former KSJC wolf myself, the amount of joy I had when I worked with my old teachers was indescribable. As a charter network, KIPP prides itself as “once a KIPPster, always a KIPPster”, with the motto extending to the KSJC Wolfpack. Coming back and creating a small change put the belief in perspective for me.
On that end, I was also extremely excited when my old teachers who have begun their first years as principals of new KIPP: schools responded to my emails. I’ll be working with them in the near future to create the same type of worksheets and spreadsheets for their students as well!
My last day at FERC on August 9. Because I’d already packed all of my business casual clothing to go home, I had to wear in my EWB Peru T-shirt, which resulted in a nice juxtaposition of the two experiences I had this summer.
After wrapping up my 10-week PICS internship at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on August 9 (see my previous post about my experience there), I had a quick 36-hour turnaround, filled with frantic packing, before I boarded my flight from Washington, DC, to Lima, Peru. Thus began the second chapter of summer 2019 for me — a four-week trip to Otuzco (a city of about 25,000 people in the highlands of northwestern Peru) to build a potable water delivery system for the rural community called Pusunchás.
It all started back in September of my freshman year. I knew that I wanted to join a service organization on campus whose mission reflected my interests in sustainable community development. After thoroughly exploring the fall activities fair, I found Princeton’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter, which is part of the national EWB-USA nonprofit and the international EWB network. Similar to Doctors Without Borders (a more well-known initiative), EWB partners engineering students and professionals with developing communities in need of infrastructural improvements (e.g., water supply, electricity sources, clean cook stoves, etc.). Here at Princeton, EWB has projects running in three different countries: Peru, Dominican Republic, and Kenya. Each group has its own culture, reflective of the nature of the communities with which they work, and after researching all three, I decided to join the Peru team (partially because I am very fond of hiking in mountainous terrain, as you can see in the photo below).
A panorama view of the mountains I took one day after our work had ended.
After joining the Peru team in September, I quickly became more involved, co-leading our finance sub-team to successfully raise the $11,000+ for our work abroad this year. Our current project, started in 2015 and based in Pusunchás (which won’t show up on Google Maps but is about a 30 minute drive uphill from Otuzco where we are staying), will deliver drinking water to 121 households by the end of this year. Throughout the school year, we spend time designing the project (this is where our engineering knowledge comes in handy) before seven of the team members (one of them this year being me!) travel to Pusunchás over the summer to oversee the construction of the system. We purposefully schedule the trip for mid-August to allow all of our team members to fit in internships beforehand. Some of the other Princeton students traveling with me worked on campus prior to this trip doing research, for instance, while others worked at engineering firms or even traveled abroad to other countries.
Living in Otuzco has definitely been really eye-opening for me. This is my first time in what could arguably be called a “developing” nation (recognizing how problematic this term is), and I’ve already learned so much just by looking and listening. Stray dogs roam the streets but are never really aggressive (many of them are actually quite cute). Most houses are made out of dirt/adobe bricks, and roofs are adorned with colorful lines of laundry and with livestock coops (guinea pigs, or cuy, are a popular source of protein here, in addition to the ubiquitous chickens/roosters who wake me up way too early). A lot of locals drive these vehicles called mototaxis, which are like three-wheeled motorcycles with colorful carts attached to carry passengers. There aren’t any stop signs, and there is only one traffic light in town that is rarely obeyed. Our group is staying in dormitories at El Centro de Formación de Pastoral Rural, which is an outreach center run by Las Marianistas, a Catholic missionary nonprofit who has been our team’s in-country partner/sponsor for several years now. We are blessed to have hot water in the showers (which is heated by solar tubes on the roof), although we have to hand wash our laundry (I can’t believe my great-grandma did this back in the day, but a funny sustainability side note is that line-dry laundry is making a comeback in the US because of its decreased energy use as compared to conventional dryers — and the Sun is still a highly effective drying tool, as I’ve realized from the many sunburns I’ve gotten despite the layers upon layers of sunscreen I’ve put on).
Our rooftop solar water heater.
Laundry lines on our rooftop deck/laundry area.
Every day (except for Sundays, a much-needed day of rest), we travel from Otuzco to Pusunchás in the pickup truck of our in-country mentor, Julio Avalos, who works for Las Marianistas. Julio is absolutely critical to the success of our project because he knows how to navigate the very, very rough roads of rural Peru like a pro (there have been several times when I’ve wondered whether what we are driving on is a road or just a slab of bedrock). Julio also used to work for Ingenieros Sin Fronteras, the Spanish version of EWB, so he has a lot of important technical knowledge, which has led him to advise other EWB projects in the area, including one run by Temple University. Another crucial component of our work in the community is the Junta Administrative de Servicios Sanitarios (JASS), a group of about 10 Pusunchás residents who oversee the governance of the water delivery system and manage local disputes. While we control the system design, we rely on the JASS to coordinate which residents will work with us on which days to help with construction (pickaxing sheer bedrock is really difficult, as one might imagine, so having the help of locals who work on farms each day and are thus incredibly strong and used to physical labor is super beneficial). The JASS also coordinates our daily lunches, which are provided by a different household each day (typically chicken, rice, and the ubiquitous Peruvian potato… and some lentils/salad/carrots if we get lucky).
Me taking a flow rate measurement at a tapstand at one of the households in Pusunchás. I definitely look a little weird in my hiking/sun protection gear.
If Otuzco is a new urban environment for me, however, Pusunchás is a new rural environment. The community is spread out over dozens of square miles, meaning we are typically hiking several miles each day on steeply sloping terrain (our iPhones have told us that we’ve done 100+ flights of stairs on several days). Houses are made out of adobe bricks and are completely open to the environment (the temperature here is very mild with low humidity and few biting insects, so this isn’t really an issue). Livestock are everywhere and just seem to roam free — chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, donkeys, horses, and lots of dogs of varying ages (there have been a lot of many cute puppies). Slopes are divided into chacras, or plots of land dedicated to a particular crop (wheat, potatoes, carrots, corn, cabbage, and many others), although there really aren’t fences here; people just seem to know whose chacra is whose.
We’re about halfway into the trip thus far, and already I’ve found it hugely educational. My conversational Spanish (which I picked up in high school classes) has improved significantly through the daily interactions we have with community members. In our spare time, while we haven’t gotten to explore any of the “famous” sites Peru is known for (Machu Picchu is on the other side of the country, for instance, so that will have to wait for another time), we have found a lot to do in Otuzco, eaten several different delicious local dishes (my favorite is lomo saltado, which is a mix of steak with potato slices, onions, and tomatoes in a savory sauce), and spent time cooking together as a group (last Sunday was filled with fresh fruit smoothies, veggie soup, and omelettes, called tortillas here).
What I’ve also found fascinating is how Otuzco/Pusunchás are from a sustainability standpoint. Some practices here are certainly more sustainable than what we do in the U.S. The majority of the food is produced locally. Laundry is done by hand and line-dried, using significantly less energy. 100% of the electricity comes from local hydropower fueled by glacial ice melt, according to Julio. On the other hand, some practices are visibly worse than in the U.S. Garbage disposal is pretty poor here, with trash lining the streets and gullies; plastic bags and packaging are ubiquitous, although the local grocery store does charge a fee for plastic bags (this is the only place that does this, however — local merchants/stalls can get away with not charging). What’s worse is that there doesn’t seem to be too much awareness about the litter problem. Single-use consumerism is progressing as it always has in other countries. The tap water system in Otuzco is also not super clean (we treat it with bleach before we drink it), and while rural areas like Pusunchás have electricity, many of these utilities are provided as a result of local government initiatives that are basically publicity stunts (i.e., building out infrastructure is seen as more of a photo opportunity for the administration instead of a provision of basic necessities). As a result, while Pusunchás had a water system several years ago which was built out by the government, it has since fallen into disrepair, and the government has failed to fix it, which is why we are building our project now. Interestingly enough, during the mayoral election for Otuzco last year (campaign signs are still left painted onto many houses around the city), candidates reached out to our group to see if they could “partner” with us, but this was apparently only their way of trying to use our EWB project to make themselves look good.
Trash piled up in the streets. At times, these heaps would be set on flames and left to burn.
Another controversial theme I’ve been reflecting on during my time here has been one of tokenism. I initially began discussing this a couple of months ago with our cohort’s student advisor and Service Focus graduate, Kate Schassler ’21. What has proven to be problematic with many international humanitarian efforts is that wealthier people from developed nations (typically majority white) have used volunteer projects in developing nations to boost their own appearances/self-worth under the premise that they are helping the “poor, starving peoples of the Third World” (who are often people of color). This results in a toxic (and sometimes racially awkward) relationship in which the beneficiaries of the project are reduced to mere photography subjects.
Going into this EWB trip, I made sure to be particularly aware for any signs of tokenism. Luckily, I’ve found that for the most part, our relationship with Pusunchás is cordial and fairly egalitarian. The community members respect us for our technical engineering knowledge, but we let them (specifically the JASS) handle interpersonal dynamics. All of us on the travel team put forth our best efforts to learn and to speak Spanish, which allows us to communicate pretty fluidly without the need for a translator. Any photos we take of community members are typically requested by them, although this isn’t always the case (the problem with photography is that conventional donors who support EWB are conditioned to see heartstring-tugging photos of community members and their kids receiving clean water, so it’s tough for us to both satisfy American publicity standards for international humanitarian work and to respect the personal boundaries of community members). Some other members of the travel team and I are working to ensure that our summer blog posts on the EWB website and other publicity materials moving forward do not contain overtly tokenistic messaging or photos.
All in all, I’ve been immensely enjoying my time here thus far, have gotten to bond with the six other Princeton students on my travel team, and have loved the time we spend outdoors every day, both working and relaxing. I’m an avid bird-watcher, so I’ve gotten to see many new species in my spare time (many people have asked me what my binoculars are for, though). While my experience in Otuzco/Pusunchás is completely different from the 10 weeks I spent interning at FERC in DC, I think that these two adventures complement each other nicely. Here in Peru, I’m putting my engineering knowledge to use in the field; in DC, I used my engineering knowledge to read and write about energy policy. Moreover, sustainability has been woven through all 14 weeks of my summer, and I’m incredibly excited to discuss what I’ve learned with my fellow Sustainability & Resilience cohort members this coming year. Thank you to the Pace Center and the Service Focus program for helping to fund my journey to Peru.
Part of our travel team tries emoliente, which is a local herbal beverage that tastes like liquefied bubble tea pearls — a great pick-me-up after dinner for cold nights! From left to right: Sydney Hsu ’21, Kristen Ahner ’22, me, Riley Wagner ’20, Josh Umansky Castro ’17 (an EWB Princeton alumnus who is serving as a mentor for us this summer), and Pranav Iyer ’22.
This summer has been a very cool experience for me. I initially had no background in stormwater, but after researching and talking with experts for 9 weeks I feel comfortable with the subject material. I enjoyed starting from the bottom and slowly learning more and more. Sustainable Princeton gave me a fair amount of creative freedom to conduct research in ways that worked for me. My favorite part was being able to connect it to everyday life by talking about the material with family members. I helped my Mom with FEMA maps for our flood insurance, questioned my brother about Elevation Certificates because of his civil engineer background, and discussed MS4s + CSSs (sewer systems) with my Dad since he worked with the water department. This summer has taught me that I while I enjoy having some structure, I thrive in work conditions where I am not heavily restricted.
Though my internship with the Summer Journalism Program (SJP) ended on August 16th, I imagine I’m never going to be able to leave this program. I have many thanks for the program. As a student participant, I was given an opportunity to really surround myself with people who shared the same intellectual curiosity as me. As an intern, I was given the opportunity to create the schedule and manage the events for a new batch of curious and determined students.
Admittedly, the days planning the program were relatively uneventful — it was a typical 9 to 5 job with a lot of spreadsheeting. At that point, it was hard to tell what we’re actually trying to achieve.
On August 2nd, the program officially began with the arrival of our students. I remember running between terminals at Newark Airport and meeting each student who flew in. I was finally able to put faces to the biographies and essays that I read throughout the summer. I gave each of them a big hug — seeing them, I realize that the priority for the next ten days was to make sure they enjoy every moment.
The rest was pretty blurry. I remember late nights and early mornings, running across Friend Center to greet each interviewer who came through the doors, power-walking from building to building to ensure we were on time, laughing with the students at the back of the bus to New York, and belting songs from the “Hamilton” soundtrack throughout the days. Time moved slower during the ten days, but I didn’t feel tired at all. I felt energized every time I talked to the students.
They started repeating a catchphrase I used during the program: “walk with urgency.” They started being more casual, joking with and teasing me. They gave me hugs when I seemed particularly stressed. One student ran up to me one day while FaceTiming her mom and introduced us. In those moments, I didn’t mind being sleep deprived at all.
There were most definitely harder moments. The students come from tough backgrounds, and it broke my heart hearing their stories. But they’re not defined by their sad stories, they all have so much more to them. All of them are incredibly resilient.
Hearing their struggles solidified my choice to enter the field of education. There are so many brilliant, kind, and hardworking students out there — they all deserve a chance to empower themselves. The best way to do so, in my opinion, is through providing increased access to quality education, opening them to a world of opportunities, and exposing them to new experiences.
I plan on checking in on every 36 student in the next year, making sure that they can always reach out to me for help. For local students, I’ve already offered them meal swipes if they were to ever visit.
I genuinely love this group of kids and every counselor who supported this program. The Princeton Summer Journalism Program will always have a special place in my heart.
Words cannot describe how transformative my time abroad was. I am back home now after being in Vietnam for two months for an internship, and I miss Vietnam every day. The best part of my time in Vietnam, aside from the rewarding work that I have done in-country, was just the sheer sense of cultural immersion that I have experienced. Growing up in San Diego, I was always exposed to a literal melting pot of cultures—Vietnamese culture included. Then, when I went away to college, my entire sense of Vietnamese community collapsed. I barely knew any Vietnamese people on campus, and none of my close friends were Vietnamese like they were back home. The only time I ever got to speak Vietnamese during the school year was when I called my parents every night. Needless to say, I felt isolated from my culture and my heritage. So, when I learned that I got accepted to an internship in Hanoi, which I had never been to before, I was ecstatic. Being surrounded by people that shared the same language, customs, beliefs, and even being surrounded by people that looked like me was insanely refreshing. Prior to this, I had not been in Vietnam for over twelve years, and my oh my has the country changed. Being able to explore it, on my own, as an adult, was an amazing experience. I tried new foods, visited beautiful places that I had never been before, and reconnected with old friends while making some new friends along the way. I will never forget just how perfect my time in Vietnam was, even if I did have the stomach flu..twice!
In regards to the actual work that I did, I found teaching to be extremely rewarding. Speaking both English and Vietnamese definitely helped, and teaching students that were around my age was also a lot more convenient. I taught at a primary school for two weeks while the university that I taught at was out for summer break, and it goes without saying that the kids were A LOT harder to work with! My students and I also had a unique relationship that they had never had before with their previous English teachers. Because there was no language or culture barrier, we got along very well, and I became good friends with many of the students that I taught. We hung out outside of the class numerous times, and leaving them to return to America was undoubtedly a bittersweet moment for both parties. We have group-chats though, so we have been keeping in touch and that is enough for me! I also participated in a summer camp sponsored by my host organization, and I also befriended many people at that camp. We, like the university students, also have a group-chat, and they even treated me out to a delicious dinner before I flew home.
As for how I have grown personally, I would say that the growth that I have been fortunate enough to achieve has been immeasurable. I learned that I am capable of doing amazing things, even if I may doubt myself initially. I taught my various English classes for about 6 weeks by myself until the school found someone to teach with me, and during that time, all I could think initially was, “Oh my God, how am I supposed to craft my own lesson plans and teach eight different classes the lessons for an hour and a half each class by myself?” I felt like there was no way on Earth that I could find enough material to last that long, and I thought the classes would be too difficult to keep under control and manage by myself, but I would say that by the second or third week, things kind of fell into place and I did not feel all of that pressure anymore. The students and I found our groove, and it kind of just continued throughout the rest of my internship. I would also say that I grew a lot as a Vietnamese person. In America, recently, I felt as if my Vietnamese identity was slowly fading away, but the time I spent in Vietnam turned that right around. I got to speak Vietnamese every day, read Vietnamese every day, and write in Vietnamese every day too. In the United States, I only usually have to speak it, but now, being in a place where I have to pull out all the stops language-wise, I definitely feel as though my Vietnamese proficiency has improved tremendously, and I think my parents are proud of that! In terms of other people, I have also learned that others generally genuinely want to make the world a better place. I lived in a house full of other volunteers, some of whom have been in Vietnam for years. They do not get paid for the work that they do, but they stay and do this difficult work because it is rewarding for them and they get to improve the lives of the Vietnamese people. I felt proud and thankful to be able to be a part of something bigger than myself alongside others who felt the same way. Lastly, I want to talk about how this summer has reaffirmed to me what I had always felt to be true about myself: above all else, I care about making the world a better place through the power of education. Through my work, I have directly impacted the lives of others in a positive manner, and I can physically feel the weight of that work, and it will forever resonate within me. More than ever, I want to pour my heart and soul into making quality education more accessible to everyone throughout the world, and the work I did at this internship has been the first step towards achieving such a lofty goal.
I am extremely grateful to have been afforded such an opportunity, and I will work to pay it forward by doing as much as I can to better the lives of others in the world, through education as well as through other means.
Some of my students treating me out to some Korean barbecue! (It was delicious)
Kayaking in Ha Long Bay was literally breathtaking!
Me and the other volunteers in the house going out for a late-night boba run!
The camp shirt they gave everyone didn’t fit me, so spotting me isn’t all the hard! This is from the summer camp that I did—it was insanely fun and meaningful.
Me and my friends from the summer camp going out bowling!
I hiked 12 miles in slides, but the views were definitely worth it in Sa Pa!
10 weeks ago, I began the adventure of a lifetime- yes, I travelled New Jersey. For 40 hours every week, I dedicated my efforts to coordinating with clients of the Legal Services of New Jersey based in Edison, New Jersey. Being a Jersey-girl myself, I began my internship confident that there was nothing in my area to see, at all. Yet, somehow, New Jersey surprised me.
I walked in my first day ready to accept my cubicle. If you asked me before I started working what my ideal workspace is, my immediate response would be an open space where my coworkers were easily accessible. That was before I had my own office! I walked in, closed the door, and spun around in my own office chair in front of the double-monitor computer set up on my desk. And then, the work started coming in. From my first day, I was tasked with interviewing clients to assess their needs and the level of services our organization could provide. I worked specifically with the Legal Assistance to Medical Patients Project (LAMP) where we partnered with hospitals to provide legal help to low income patients. I travelled to different Social Security buildings to advocate on behalf of our clients, to the Camden County Surrogate Court to observe a hearing, and to the offices of our hospital partners to meet with clients in-person. Who knew New Jersey offered so much to see?
In reflecting on the theme of my cohort-Bridging Theory and Practice- I witnessed the millions of decisions each day that provide such a link in the help low-income patients receive. In an ideal world, low-income residents would receive the same level of civil legal help as anyone else. However, financial limitations exacerbate the burdens in each area of an individual’s life. Especially with our medical patients facing civil legal problems, their legal burdens are affecting their health which creates an overwhelming cycle of need, often with no support to help navigate through the challenges. As a nonprofit, I learned that there are varying levels of service we offer because there is no “fix-all” method. Each client deserves a holistic approach to their situation. The different ways of assisting may not always include direct representation, and the clients may not always follow the advice given, but in the end each client has to choose how they move forward. To be able to provide that choice is the best advice we can give.
So, New Jersey may be a little humid and the people can come off as opinionated, but after 10 weeks I have travelled in ways I could not imagine. I saw people in my community with needs that I never would have realized before. I saw beyond my limited and privileged perspective of this world to learn of inequalities I never knew of. I saw my ability to help those around me, and I am so grateful for my time at the Legal Services of New Jersey.
Ok, it’s kind of clickbait. This summer I’ve been a Policy and Advocacy (PandA) intern at the Supportive Housing Network of New York, which is a non-profit membership organization in Midtown Manhattan. The Network represents over 200 nonprofits, corporate partners, and stakeholders in New York supportive housing. Collectively, our members operate 52,000 units statewide. Our staff of 13 works to advocate, educate and share best practices to assist our members and advance New York’s supply of supportive housing.
The Network staff at our June conference.
At this point you might be wondering what exactly supportive housing is — as was I at the beginning of the summer. Supportive housing combines affordable housing with onsite social services for people with a disability or special needs. Clients come from a variety of backgrounds and populations: chronically homeless individuals with severe mental illness (SMI), families led by a parent with SMI, individuals with substance abuse disorders or HIV/AIDS, youth aging out of foster care, and survivors of domestic violence. Deinstitutionalization of psychiatric facilities in the mid 20th century, coupled with the mass destruction of low-cost single room occupancy (SRO) units, gentrification, and rising rents led to widespread homelessness in New York. On a given night, almost 92,000 people experience homelessness statewide.
The back patio at Melrose Commons, a supportive housing building in the Bronx. Residents can relax, play ping pong, or garden herbs to use in their kitchens.
I work with the policy and advocacy team and thus had the opportunity to approach the issue of homelessness from a systemic lens. I spent a lot of my time prepping for the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in DC and scheduling our lobby day. In total, Network staff had 28 meetings with NY congressional offices, and a highlight of my internship was leading four of them. In preparation for the meetings I got to learn all about different federal housing programs and funding streams like the Affordable Housing Tax Credit, McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Grants, the HOME Investment Partnership, the Housing Trust Fund and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, to name a few. Getting familiar with the strategic marketing of effective advocacy campaigns was particularly fascinating–what data to use, which legislators to target, and how best to frame the message to engage the legislator. As a membership organization, we are tasked with representing our members interests to the people who represent them. In order to make our advocacy stronger, we often take part in coalitions and coalition building. For me, that meant I got to learn about the unique rewards and challenges of collaboration within and between different sectors with slightly varying, nuanced interests.
PandA meeting agenda, complete with baby panda pictures, featuring my sticky note addiction and chicken scratch to-do lists.
Another one of my favorite tasks this summer was researching and writing policy memos. My projects ranged from analyzing the impact of a proposed regulation to change the federal poverty level index, to comparing Medicaid policy across states. I also worked on a state legislation tracker which would help the policy team stay on top of which bills and legislators to watch for the upcoming session. This was important to me as I could witness firsthand how academic research can have real world policy consequences; I loved seeing how my classes apply to on-the-ground advocacy.
Outside the Capitol on lobby day (coincidentally also the Mueller hearing day).
Due to the nature of the legislature, policy and advocacy work needs consistent attention to keep current with new bills and electeds. Future interns will need to do similar work and keep pressure on elected officials to maintain a commitment to the most basic housing needs of vulnerable New Yorkers.
The photos above depict the labor ward of Levolosi Health Centre. The right photograph shows the labor beds and nurses station, while the left photograph shows the bench where babies are placed after and the hand/tool washing station.
I spent the first four weeks of my summer internship volunteering in the labor ward of Levolosi Health Centre. After the second day in a row when only one baby was born between 9 am and 3 pm, I decided to try and come to Levolosi for a night shift. One of the nurses had mentioned that most babies were born during the night and while I was nervous about a twelve-hour shift, I was determined to gain more experience in the labor ward.
The above photo shows the scale used to weigh babies.
Not only did I gain more experience by watching the nine babies born my first night and the many babies on nights thereafter, but I also garnered the respect and friendship of the nurses in a way I hadn’t done in two weeks of daytime volunteer work. The nurses shared dinner every night, welcoming me to share food with them and showing more interest in teaching me both how the labor ward worked and the Swahili language
Pages summarizing some of the Swahili I learned during night shifts.
Without the other volunteers who came during the day and with far more babies being born, I learned much faster. At night I was able to prepare delivery packs, clamp umbilical cords, test patients for HIV and hemoglobin levels, and at the end of a week of night shifts, even perform a delivery under the supervision of one of the nurses. She was ready to step in if any complications arose, but the delivery went smoothly.
The tools used to prepare ‘delivery packs.’ These are given to the nurses right after babies are born to cut the umbilical cord, deliver the placenta and potentially suture any tearing.
These are the medical records currently in use in the labor ward. They are sorted into antenatal, postnatal, and post-cesarian section.
Written By: Mary Davis
Thanks to Sabrina Fay for uploading the photographs
As many of you are finding I am sure, mere words cannot contain the realm of experiences that one is given when weaving the paths of their lives in with communities that are not of our origin. If the service life were a very large flowered quilt, these experiences would be the unique blooms that splatter the quilt randomly; the flowers that catch one’s eye, weaved within an already beautiful background. Those blooms, these seconds of service, are serving us as well. They are moments of reflection, whether present or future, but reflections that can change the course of the flower vines on the quilt, and similarly our lives.
As many experience in their summers of service, I am astonished at all the activities I managed to fit into 8 weeks. I traveled most weekends and taught two English classes a day, along with countless games and lesson planning, hit the gym, made local friends, and still kept in contact with my home. I felt so in the moment at the time, that this first day home almost doesn’t feel quite real. My brain still thinks I am seeing my kids in class tomorrow.
This trip is just not explainable for me; I am fumbling here. This was my first time being abroad (thanks princeton) and I just have so many things to say that I can say nothing at all.
But I can reflect on how Health and Care looks different in each society, and how we should stop coming at it with our postulated ideals. It is different within each society, each community, each person;incredibly necessary for mental and physical health and our abilities to function in society. In cambodia, after the Khmer Rouge, mental turmoil played a large role in depleting the country of it’s free thinkers and therefore the average societal lifestyle was transported back to “ground zero” (the way Pol Pot, the leader of the Regime, put it). Many children have never DRAWN before, never created their own art or poems or had the ability to study MORE than what’s given. . Their ideas are not cared for, or nurtured, and so creativity and passion shrivels up in the absence of care.There is no bandaid for the wounds that open when health and care needs that aren’t met in communities.
Health and wellbeing looks so different in America, where many of us have parents, live in homes that are more than one room large, and people we know aren’t often sick from diseases carried by mosquitoes. We learn about recycling in the third grade, and take for granted the reusable bags we bring to the store. We have never even considered a city almost entirely covered in trash. Our school system is mocked with cliques; students paste themselves into our societal boxes that we are now trying to break down. Health for us is more than a roof over our heads nowadays; it is equal opportunity for communities to thrive and have physical health and wellbeing. Care, for the average american, resides on family responsibility, within a community; in activities, in politics and sports/performances. It is showing up to your little brother’s soccer game, or going to visit your grandma in the nursing home. Care for us is not scary. If our teacher doesn’t like us, there will always be another. If we don’t make school our first-most priority in high school doesn’t mean we won’t get into a top school. And I am not faulting our society, may we continue to grow. But we still have to be able to approach health and care without our own experiences biasing us.
Health and Care for the students I taught was so much different. Some without proper nutrition that hindered their focus in class, some whose home was the dumpsite, some without fathers, some with mothers that worked long hours in factories. Health in this case is met by the social organizations around the city and organizations like the one I volunteered for that gave out deworming pills and had fresh water and handwashing soap. But care, care was provided by the community center staff, and I was able to administer care every day.
Care was through the playground and art supplies, the extra time after class one on one with me for sounding out words, and positive smiles when they are having a bad day.
Even though the school was miles and miles away from my friends, and my home, I found my own health and care in the tenderness the cook would put into the rice soup, with the gentle laughter of the little ones, and roughing around with the older boys. I gave care and received care. I experienced a different kind a mental healing. A change in my perspective, and a value for each flower that pops up on my life- quilt.
And so, I sit in my very nice chair in the comfort of my home in the USA, with pictures and yarn bracelets and paint stains in my clothes to remember the love I felt and gave during my 8 weeks. I write about my changing perspectives of health and care, thinking back to two days before when I was sitting under the hot sun reading an English book out loud. This is my tribute. My tribute to my first journey abroad, my first time considering the holistic well-being of a community that I was a part of. May many more changing perspectives come with the time I am in service focus and beyond. May I always weave my life through others lives; pouring a lifetime of experience into a beautiful quilt.
I’m in Red Wing, Minnesota this summer as an intern with Every Hand Joined, which is focused on ensuring children in this town find academic and lifelong career success. The nonprofit organization is structured around the concept of collective impact, a term that describes how different members and sectors of a community align their goals to tackle some larger issue. Every Hand Joined’s roles include the facilitation of meetings and conversations between people (whether they work for the school, a business, the hospital, etc.) in hopes that everyone is contributing to the children’s success in their particular sphere of influence.
In the past month, I’ve mainly been working in data-related projects with Every Hand Joined’s community partners. For example, I’ve been helping another nonprofit Hispanic Outreach create databases for their clients and donors and adopt systems that will allow them to stay on track for their 3 year strategic plan. I’ve also been collecting data for Summer Blast, a program meant to encourage younger students to continue learning and acquiring new experiences during the summer.
My office is in the “downtown” area of Red Wing, and I work with four other full time Every Hand Joined staff. They are really passionate about the work that they are doing and have taught me quite a bit, even if it’s not strictly data-related! By attending and participating in the meetings where community partners talk about the progress made and needed moving forward, I’ve gained a better perspective of the motivation and stories behind the data I’m working with.
In my free time, I cook, exercise, read, or play guitar in my room. I was also fortunate to meet some other interns here in Red Wing that I was able to travel a bit with (since I don’t have a car myself). We went to a cheese curd festival in Wisconsin the second weekend I was here, and kayaking in Minneapolis another time. The town may be smaller than I’m used to, but I find there are ample opportunities to explore or to rest here in Red Wing.