Working abroad is no easy task

Volunteering or working abroad is not an easy task. You find yourself stepping out of your comfort zone, traveling miles before reaching your workplace, communicating with people who do not understand your language and all of that might seem very hard.

The two months I spent in the Ivory Coast have been the best two months I have spent working at an internship. My two months were full of experiences and a dream come true. I found myself being challenged emotionally and physically everyday.  Due to certain conditions, I was forced to think fast because mistakes cost too much. I found myself challenging some of the people in the hospital to treat people/patients in more humane ways no matter what their social status was.

There were many times when everything seemed difficult to manage; like waking up early enough to reach work before 8:30am when commuting is about an hour and thirty minutes.  Or the many times when I left the hospital feeling like I had not done enough for a patient. However, this journey was the most rewarding experience. One of the many important things I have learned this summer is that “an act of kindness does not need to be big , the smallest acts count a lot.”

Four of the medical students I had the honor to work with

During my stay, I met a woman at the hospital who needed care for her newborn son . Her little daughter was there, too. I greeted them and told her daughter I liked her braids.  A couple weeks later, I was heading home when I saw the same lady with her kids on my street. It turned out that we live in the same area. Her daughter, Atta, approached me days later and said she wanted to wear my white coat when she grew up. At that moment, my goal here in the Ivory Coast was met. That’s all that mattered to me, “inspire and be inspired.” I was inspired by many doctors, but mostly inspired by female doctors. These woman fight stereotypes and sexism everyday in the workplace and outside of work. As a woman, I have also experienced many sexist comments. The popular belief is that women do not belong in a hospital, or if they do, they should be seeking positions like nurses and other  administrative jobs. There are not many female doctors in hospitals and during my two-month stay, I met only 3 in both hospitals I worked in. So seeing a little girl look up to me reminded me the many reasons why I decided to take part in this internship, and I could not be more grateful.

As my journey continues, working in an environment where social justice work is needed, I have learned important things about social justice work:

  1. Everyone can help someone: No matter what you do in life, there is enough room for your contribution .
  2. It is important to practice self care because we can’t help or make change if we do not take the proper time to care for ourselves.
  3. Treat people how you would like to be treated. It’s important to learn how to respect boundaries and communicate in building effective and long lasting relationships
  4. Practice self-reflection and understand the complexities of relationships.
  5. Allow yourself to be vulnerable: it is important to be vulnerable in order to understand, promote and accept change. Putting yourself outside of your comfort zone and in situations that are not very comfortable expand your experience. But most importantly speaking up when we see injustice is the most effective way to educate people on social justice and raise awareness.
  6. Active listening is key to building trust.

To anyone who wants to volunteer abroad, go for it. Be yourself and dive into it.  Walk with confidence, however, be very humble. Be ready to learn from anyone, even the little children. Be as curious as a kid, ask questions, and always be prepared to run in case of an emergency. Be open minded and no matter what your background is, you are learning from these people so be humble and you will have the best time of your life. I hope to reflect and use my skills at Brandeis University and the outside world. I am looking forward to the fall semester, where I will have the opportunity to share my skills with my friends. I am confident that I have grown and I hope to offer my strength  as I continue in my journey of learning, inspiring and being inspired.

Neurosurgeon at Abidjan hospital

– Awa Soumahoro

 

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