Recipient of Social Justice WOW

The author of this post received a Louis D. Brandeis Social Justice WOW Fellowship. Learn more: http://www.brandeis.edu/hiatt/funding/wow/socialjustice.html

The Sinha’s ancestral home

After acclimating to Eastern Standard time and catching up on some much needed sleep, I cannot believe that I am already back from Patna. The experience was surreal. Looking back at my pictures and explaining them to my family has allowed me to really reflect on the hectic days spent at the AB Eye Institute (http://www.abei.eyemd.org/). I am eager to go back to Brandeis with my deepened appreciation for nonprofit organizations, such as Unite For Sight, and work towards my fundraising goals for a club I co-founded named Brandeis FACE AIDS. I have seen how impactful donations to sustainable charities can be, and look forward to fundraising with that in mind. I also hope to see my passion for global health initiatives grow as I enter the healthcare field, and that I will be able to intertwine my professional life with the fulfillment I derive from charity work.

Upon returning to Brandeis, I will continue to work towards a career in optometry that will be strongly driven by the positive experience working with the senior optometrist. I hope to continue to seek out mentors who will teach me that professionalism and empathy are possible regardless of the environment you work in.

Me, Dr. Ajit Sinha, and Anchal on the last day in the clinic

If another student were to ask me about volunteering through Unite For Sight I would encourage them to look into the commitment seriously. The process to become a Global Impact Fellow is a rigorous one, with an extensive application process. Once accepted, I needed to collect 600 donated glasses, complete a preparatory course and take the corresponding exams. Once finally arriving in India, I learned everything I needed to know ‘on the job’, but it required a lot of patience and my own desire to learn and become a productive member of the AB Eye staff. Therefore, I would recommend to any prospective volunteers that they take initiative and ask questions. The more work you put into the clinic and your role there, the more you get to take back with you, in the form of memories and knowledge. The eye is a fascinating organ, and in my opinion, a vital one. Without sight, daily tasks become daunting. Working, cooking, traveling, and other daily activities are exponentially more challenging without vision- making my position as a Unite For Sight volunteer that much more rewarding when restoring patients sight. Funding free cataract surgeries and giving out donated glasses to those in need was an important part of my experience. It made me feel like I was giving to the community in the most profound way.

The work I accomplished with Unite For Sight has strengthened my perceptions of social justice and the ability of a small group of likeminded people to make a difference. At Brandeis, students are taught that they are capable of righting the wrongs of the world. Watching it in action in Patna by people who see a need and meet the demands was inspiring. My experience in Patna increased my awareness of poverty and the efficacy of good hearted charity organizations.

 

Myself and some of the other interns on a day trip to the Dakshina Chitra Cultural center in Chennai

Myself and some of the other interns on a day trip to the Dakshina Chitra Cultural center in Chennai

So phew, I can safely say that since I hit the midpoint things have gotten very busy here at Transparent Chennai. Just as I hit week five, my team (Public Toilets and Sanitation) held a “Process Mapping and Work Plan” meeting. Over the course of two afternoons, we used various participatory activities to help us step back and look at the larger picture which was super helpful for me. Since I have almost no prior experience with this sort of work, the first month I spent here included a lot of quick learning, secondary research, and scrambling to get a hold on all of the work I was doing. A meeting like that right at my midpoint was great timing.

This also resulted in a discussion of how the rest of my internship would play out, and rather than simply assisting in the work on Public School Toilets, I would now be leading it. This means making sure the kinks get worked out of the survey tool (including running pilot surveys) organizing and leading mapping exercises, and preparing and holding some kind of community meeting before my internship ends (among other things.)

I’m feeling pretty on track with my goals for this summer. I am gaining research skills and learning a lot about data analysis, and, while I’m learning about urban planning from sort of an inverted perspective, I think that’s actually incredibly useful. I’m learning a lot about what not to do! As far as cultural immersion and my other personal goals go, I don’t think one can get more immersed than this:

Wearing my new 'salwar kurta' in front of my apartment in Chennai

Wearing my newsalwar kurta in front of my apartment in Chennai

I have been having a fabulous time adjusting to life in Chennai, figuring out what grocery stores to go to, how to have water delivered to my apartment before I run out, and – by far my favorite activity – bargaining with auto (rickshaw) drivers. This is a big deal here for everyone, even the locals, because drivers in Chennai NEVER turn their meters on, are super aggressive, and always try to jack up the price. Learning how to deal with them was pretty essential because taking an auto is my main mode of transport, and initially the whole process terrified me.

It was really difficult for me to push back when the drivers would start telling me how “very far” somewhere was and how I should pay thirty extra rupees and so on. I had no sense of whether a location was far or not! One of my friends (another intern at Transparent Chennai) taught me a few words in tamil to use with the drivers and by the fifth or sixth auto ride, something changed. Suddenly I was enjoying these interactions! If I’m not tired (hungry… in a hurry… etc…) it can be fun, and I’ve become proud of my ability to talk a driver down to a fair price. I’m really enjoying this newfound assertiveness and it’s definitely helping me feel more outgoing, although I think I could still work on being more assertive.

For example, one goal that I didn’t include in my initial projection for the summer was learning how to collaborate with other people. I’ve been doing a lot of this at Transparent Chennai, and sometimes it’s an honest struggle. Being a student can be such a solo operation, and at the end of the day, it usually comes down to making decisions that only impact me.  I’ve realized that this process is very different from most of the work I’m doing at Transparent Chennai. Through self-reflection, I’ve learned that making compromises is often difficult for me, particularly when I feel that I should better advocate for me ideas.  This is something that I hope to continue to work on throughout my internship experience.

A public toilet on the outskirts of Chennai

A public toilet on the outskirts of Chennai

I’m also simultaneously having to learn how to be a leader in a situation where I am very new to the world of work. I’ve been in leadership positions before, but the difference was that I had three years of experience under my belt. I felt confident in my decisions because I had prior evidence that I made them well, and I knew everything there was to know about the place where I was working at the time. At Transparent Chennai, I’m still figuring things out and while it’s more of a collaboration than anything, I still have to make decisions about what I should be doing and what work I should be asking other people to help me with. I feel that this is an ongoing learning process, and probably the most important thing I’m learning through my internship outside of the work itself. 

This is where I go to work every day!

This is where I go to work every day!

The main building at IFMR

The main building at IFMR

In my experience, you’re never really alone in India, and I’ve grown to appreciate that part of my living here.  Whether you are on the bus and someone’s two year old falls asleep on your arm or someone passes you their bus fare to pass to the conductor, there are always people interacting with you. Sometimes this can be really difficult for me, but it’s also something I’ve really come to love and inspires me.

Sophy Burns ’14 

     After spending the summer as the experiential education intern at AJWS, I leave with a greater sense of possibility. To see the interworking of an organization I believe is conducting the social change work with the highest intellect, humbleness, and dedication, enabled me to see what locally driven and internationally supported social change could look like in new ways. In accomplishing tasks cross departmentally, like working on the creation of a campaign activist toolkit, I got to see what it takes to make forward thinking and data driven change a reality. With these learnings is a sense of wonder; a sense of how our power can be used for good and ultimately transformed to give a greater voice to the poor and marginalized. These lessons give me the tools and mode of thinking to bring a deeper purpose and greater potential to contribute, provide insight, and most importantly listen on whatever experiences come next.

 AJWS's Open Access Educational Resources: On1Foot

AJWS’s Open Access Educational Resources: On1Foot

One of the most transformational aspects of working at AJWS that I wish to explore in this blog was the significance of AJWS being a faith-based organization, expanding my relationship to the role of faith and God in development. For many years, the difficult question has stuck with me: what role, if any, does religion plays in making the world a better place? Every day I read about religion as a source of conflict, violence, political repression, and the denial of equal rights. It can be easy to jump to cynicism. Yet, to engage in the work of international development and human rights throughout the world, a world that is predominantly religious, how can one ignore religion? In my studies at Brandeis and individual pursuits, I have come to understand that these holy texts ultimately provide foundations for peace, the recognition of full human dignity, and a greater existence. AJWS has further opened my eyes to see how faith – Judaism in this context – can play a practical and inspirational role in the work to promote the human rights of people around the world.

     Faith manifests in various forms throughout the work of the organization, each of which are exemplary. It works mobilize our own communities in the U.S., knit by religions bonds, to further drive change. It emerges in customs and events, such as the Global Justice Shabbat. And additionally through text and study, seen in the published materials highlighting the nexus of Judaism and the commitment to justice (one of which I wrote for Tisha B’Av), and in the delegations of Rabbis that go abroad to meet with the grassroots partners and study Jewish principles in an international context. To an unmatched degree, faith enables us to organize and deepen connections within our communities.

AJWS Supporters Lobbying in Washington

AJWS supporters lobby in Washington.

   For the international component of AJWS’s work, the role of faith remains less explicit. But I see it emerge in this context with perhaps an even higher degree of integrity and righteousness. It manifests in the grantmaking to organizations and individuals, who fight day in and out for their divine image to be seen. They fight to be truly recognized by politicians, corporations, and public as “good”; how the Hebrew God saw his creations throughout first six days of creation, before arriving at the seventh day of rest and peace. This continued quest for justice and a dignified existence, where AJWS supports people all over the world making headway to maintain sustainable livelihoods, have proper rights to the land, bring about true equality, and be heard, is nothing but a prayer of Shalom Aleichem.

 

AJWS grantee Inter-Ethnic Association for Development in the Peruvian Amazon (whose leaders are pictured here outside of Peru's Congress) won a major land rights victory this year when the government passed a law that guarantees indigenous people the right to prior and informed consent for any land-use projects on their territory. PHOTO  Evan Abramson

AJWS grantee Inter-Ethnic Association for Development in the Peruvian Amazon (whose leaders are pictured here outside of Peru’s Congress) won a major land rights victory this year when the government passed a law that guarantees indigenous people the right to prior and informed consent for any land-use projects on their territory. PHOTO Evan Abramson

 

I can’t believe I’m flying back tomorrow. I’ve gotten used to the rhythm of life here. Lots of things have happened since my last post. Here’s a brief summary-

1. I had a terrible chest infection. I was down with a bad cough and fever for a good week and a half. I couldn’t really focus or work, but I did try taking lots of pictures of the clinic. I rested for a couple days in bed after realizing that walking around with a fever of 104 degrees wasn’t the best thing to do.

2. I received extra funding from Brandeis-India Initiative Fellowship to do a photo exhibition on ‘Children of Bhopal’ at Brandeis! This is something I am incredibly excited about. I am currently looking for a Photo Editor who can work with me on this (due credits will be given) so please let your editor friends know about this! I was really moved by Alex Masi’s photographs of Bhopal, and I plan to compile all the photographs and publish a photobook by the end of next year if I can secure funding.

3. Internet bailed out on us for a while at the clinic, and I found myself staying at the clinic some times and staying near Satyu’s house (to use his wifi) at other times.

4. I said goodbye to Rashi, Melanie and Jamie- three great volunteers at Sambhavna that I had really great conversations with. I also met Anastasia and Nina, two volunteers from the UK and had a nice time at the Indira Gandhi Museum of Mankind with them.

5. I flew to Jharkhand for a week. While I was there, I helped revamp Ekjut’s website. I created a demo site on wix and explained it to the web designer so that he could change the current look into the one I designed. Took some lovely photographs there as well.

6. I celebrated India’s Independence Day with the kids at Chingari. They staged wonderful plays!

7. I accompanied Vikas Tripathi, a campaigner with International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), in distributing pamphlets/petition to the survivors in the lead up to a massive rally on August 30th demanding their chief minister to follow his words. The petition demands that the Chief Minister put the money where his mouth is and ensure that victims of the disaster each receive at least Rs. 5 lakhs from the state government.

8. I’m finishing the video and changing the final pictures on the brochure.

I’m really excited to talk about my experience in person at Brandeis and finally have my site online- where all of you will be able to take a look at the photographs I took, the videos I made and other work that I did. For anyone who wishes to work at Sambhavna or Bhopal in the future, I’d suggest you keep to yourself when you have to, as your behavior can lead to multiple interpretations. Even as someone from Nepal, a place that has strong cultural ties with India, I faced situations where I thought I was being misunderstood and my actions being misinterpreted. Be clear, talk to people and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Also, I’ve always believed that ‘passion makes perfect’, so whatever area of expertise you choose to develop, give it your all – or find something else you’re willing to give it your all.
That’s all for now.
Signing off,
AP

Meeting Silvain Gilbert is quite the experience. He is in his 70’s, though as lively and fashionably dressed as he is one could easily mistake him to be in his late 50’s. From the very first moment, he is bursting with stories about his experiences surviving the Holocaust as a child in Belgium. In 1940, when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium, he was two years old. Like so many others – His life changed overnight. A brave Belgian woman took him and his sister into her custody and raised them as Christians during the war in the village of Mont-Saint-Guibert. He survived through many dangers, including a period of time when German soldiers resided in their very same house. By the end of the war, “I saw the woman who adopted me as my real mother, and my parents became strangers,” he says sincerely. After the war Silvain went back to school and later made a successful career as a diamond trader until retiring.

With Silvain (left) and his wife Sabine

With Silvain (left) and his wife Sabine

Silvain represents an inspiring generation of people who survived the hell of War World Two and the Holocaust, and flourished from the ashes. Together with his wife, Sabine Wolf-Gilbert, who also took on the job of his agent and manager, he spends much of his time visiting schools and community centers and sharing his story and the story of the Holocaust with as many people as possible (click here for YouTube video of Silvain telling his story).

Mr. Gilbert is the only survivor of the Holocaust currently based in Hong Kong.

It is a sad fact of life that less and less Holocaust survivors remain to face, as living witnesses, the challenge of bridging the enormous generational gap between the world that allowed Holocaust and today’s seemingly safe world. Nonetheless, in most western countries, there is more than one survivor. In that sense, Silvain’s story epitomizes the amplified challenge of Holocaust education Asia: In addition to bridging a generational gap, Holocaust educators in Asia must also bridge a cultural gap.

In my meeting with Silvain, we discussed ways to make his lectures more effective in reaching Hong Kong Students. Together, we designed a coherent and concise presentation rich with photographs, graphics and captions, to help breach the generational barrier. But the cultural gap is still there – unlike Holocaust survivors sharing their stories in the Netherlands, the United States Israel, Silvain often faces crowds of students who know close to nothing about the war in Europe. And there is only one of him to face this challenge in Hong Kong, and not many more in the rest of Asia.

Finding creative and efficient ways to bridge those gaps was central to my my internship with the HKHTC. Most of the challenges that I had to deal with, derived from these gaps, and most of the skills I used and developed were used to try and bridge them. As I mentioned in my last post, one example for a useful skill was creativity. I consider the exhibition I described, an “Oasis of Survival and Hope”, which is currently being set up towards its opening in October, one of the greatest achievements of my internship. Working with Silvain is another example: I got to personally work with a Holocaust survivor who promotes Holocaust education, and find creative ways to make his lectures more effective. Working with Silvain, as well as working with many other local educators, was an invaluable opportunity to experience educational work, and use creativity and people skills.

Preparing for the exciting Holocaust memorial exhibition in Central Hong Kong

Preparing for the exciting Holocaust memorial exhibition in Central Hong Kong

No question about it, I am taking with me more than just a useful opportunity to practice and improve my skills. My internship was also an opportunity to live and work in Asia, experience getting adjusted to work in an unfamiliar environment, make new connections and sip in the local culture. As an East Asian Studies major, I have no doubt that all of the above will be useful. I also used the opportunity to travel into mainland China, explore and practice Mandarin which I have been studying at Brandeis for two years now.

I also hope to bring my extended knowledge of the field of Holocaust education back to Brandeis. Most specifically, I wish to open a chapter of Triangles of Truth, an partner organization of the HKHTC that brilliantly combines commemoration of the Holocaust to battle modern day genocides around the world, at Brandeis.

The city of Hong Kong. An unfamiliar environment as an important part of an incredible learning experience

The city of Hong Kong. An unfamiliar environment as an important part of an incredible learning experience

Considering Brandeis’ association with Jewish world, I believe it is but natural to try and create a long-term partnership between the university and the HKHTC and encourage more students to consider interning with the organization. To those considering it, I would like to say: if you are passionate about spreading awareness of the Holocaust and genocide prevention, and have the discipline and determination to help a new organization develop and grow – the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre needs you, and in return can be part of an unforgettable experience.

A local educator visiting the Hong Kong Holocaust and and Tolerance Resource Centre

A local educator visiting the Hong Kong Holocaust and and Tolerance Resource Centre

AJWS Logo     

 The Work

Halfway through my internship, my work in the Experiential Education department has progressed with increased clarity and productivity. Now with a stronger grasp on the organizational culture, language, and processes, I am making greater headway on various tasks. One project I am working on is a retrospective for the service programs, that are now coming to a close, in order to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of these programs, share learnings and reflections, and highlight the transition to the new educational and leadership program that AJWS is pioneering, the Global Justice Fellowship. Another element of my work has been conducting research, also in support of this program. I am conducting interviews with other international programs that similarly aim to deepen understanding and commitment to global justice. My research and supportive work behind the program has demonstrated that AJWS is innovating in the world of global justice solidarity work and organizing, with the combination of an immersive educational opportunity, activist training, and campaign mobilization in the U.S. Another function I am contributing to is a Campaign Toolkit, which will serve as a resource for activists in the forthcoming campaign of AJWS. I have additionally spent some time reaching out to alumni, updating the database, and plugging upcoming events.

One of the biggest highlights of being an intern, though not exactly task oriented, is the multitude of  sessions the interns have with various directors and executives of the organization. This opportunity gives us the chance to see how these dynamic individuals each uniquely contribute to the greater mission, managing their their various teams to address critical functions of the organization’s operations. Getting exposed to the ways in which each of these functions – from development and communications, to grant making and advocacy – fit into the theory of change, has opened my eyes to the far-reaching work that makes an organization effective at driving change.

Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.

Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.

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Learnings in an International Non Governmental Organization

Efficiency, Coordination, and the Role of Process:

Some of my most significant leanings at AJWS have been about process; how an organization (or any group of people for that matter) with a serious mission, drive, and no time to waste, can work best to accomplish their goals. I have witnessed a number of tools that I will undoubtedly continue to use at any workplace or organizing situation in in the future. Foremost, I have seen the significance of role clarity. It happens informally, revealed naturally through conversation, and institutionally, in various forms of “responsibility assignment matrices.” And the results are noteworthy. It better assures a shared vision, creates accountability, prioritizes tasks, and helps utilize people’s skills most efficiently. For the type of work I aspire to accomplish in life, prioritizing both stakeholder participation and productivity, these lessons of process are invaluable.

Furthermore, I have encountered modes of facilitation and delivering information that additionally emphasize the role of process. While in the university setting I have learned to write with an affinity for words and delve into the depths of ideas, I see how these skills are not necessarily best for productive functioning in an organization. Conversely, using as few words as possible to articulate an idea, ask a question, and deliver an update is critical for dynamic and efficient collaboration. How important to recognize and develop this skill early on!

And perhaps most importantly, process and efficiency includes people feeling good! Google has received much attention for their remarkable incorporation of this value into the workplace – with play time, healthy food, haircuts, and childcare, all complimentary at the workplace. And while AJWS (like every other company and organization) is no Google, it does quite. In the office, we are fortunate to hear inspiring grantees come and share their stories, and it is not rare to find oneself celebrating a colleague or historical moment. I feel invigorated each morning walking into an office that radiates with positivity, passion, and work that matters deeply.

AJWS staff members celebrate the repeal of DOMA

- Samuel Porter

 

Before beginning my internship I sat down and listed what I had hoped to get out of it. I was told that my days would be packed with patients from previous volunteers and that I should make the most of the experience, because before I know it I’ll be back in the beautiful New Delhi airport on my way home. I had a few goals in mind; things that I would hope to accomplish before my time ran out.

First, I wanted to see the differences between the kinds of healthcare disparities found in the United States as opposed to those found in developing countries.  So far I have learned that the care given to patients of all socioeconomic backgrounds and races in the AB Eye Institute is the same across the board. The only exception of the type of cataracts surgeries they commonly perform on paying patients, which is the phacoemulsification surgery, as opposed to the small incision surgery performed on the free patients. When I asked for the reason for this difference I was told that the small incision surgery was cheaper, and therefore the clinic was able to afford to provide more cataracts surgeries for the seemingly never ending demand of free cataract surgeries.

Secondly, as someone interested in the optometric field I wanted to know what the ‘day-to-day’ entails. I have been learning to ‘diagnose’ certain conditions and have successfully labeled many of them in practice. It was really rewarding to turn to the Senior Optometrist and ask if the patient has a corneal ulcer, or mature cataracts and suggest a course of treatment and be rewarded with a proud smile.

Imitating the Big Buddha

On my day off I journeyed to the holy Buddhist city of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha reached enlightenment.

Finally, having never been to India before, I was intent on learning more about Indian culture, and I am so far succeeding! As of today I have gone to a Hindu wedding reception and to the Buddhist holy city of Bodh Gaya.  Both experiences were incredibly enjoyable and simultaneously educational. I was taught interesting practices, such as touching the lower legs of elders as a sign of respect and the concept of a prayer wheel. Both experiences were a much welcome break from the busy clinic and helped me reach one of my learning goals.

Anchal, myself, and Afaque (from left to right) in the charity eye clinic in Patna City.

My proudest, and most looked forward to task at AB Eye Institute is the nightly trips to the charity clinics. The community leaders who invite us are always incredibly warm and gracious, and are constantly refilling our cups of chai. After a few overwhelming clinic visits, in which I was told to distribute glasses to the patients by pulling them out of a vast black garbage bag, I had an idea. In preparation for my trip to India, I was told to bring a bunch of Ziploc gallon bags, to hold wet clothing, or food for long trips. I brought those bags with me to the charity clinics, and began sorting the most common prescriptions into bags and labeling them. It was easy and not terribly time consuming. Once I had everything organized I was able to efficiently distribute the glasses, even allowing the patients to pick out their frames from a selection. This was not something that they would usually be able to do when offered donated frames. I believe that in making the small step of organizing the frames I was able to give patients a chance to choose what I view as a personal item, according to their own tastes. Before the ‘ziploc revolution’ a patient was given the first pair of glasses that matched the prescription written in their chart, regardless of color or style. Afterwards, a patient was able to regain control over their own appearance, and given the glasses they desperately needed but could not afford.

I am learning new things every day, and am enjoying how much more comfortable I am becoming with the set up in the clinic and the busy schedule! I am looking forward to seeing how my time with the AB Eye Institute helps me continue to grow in both academic and personal realms.

- Adi Fried

My first week volunteering with the AB Eye Institute has passed in the blink of an eye. I am currently in Patna, the capital city in the Indian state of Bihar, as a Unite For Sight Global Impact Fellow. I, along with another volunteer, Anchal, are excited to be helping with the everyday tasks that are necessary for the eye clinic to run effectively. My position here is to meaningfully support and assist eye clinic staff by providing basic visual acuity screenings, distributing medication and eyeglasses prescribed by the local eye doctors, and assisting in managerial tasks.

I learned about Unite for Sight through an email I received from the HSSP Undergraduate Department Representatives who were publicizing a Unite for Sight event during ‘Deis Impact. The Unite For Sight website is very informative in regards to how the Global Impact Fellows contribute to the local communities in developing countries. After a comprehensive application process, I was accepted and then the real work began. Before arriving in India I needed to complete an intensive course on the cultural differences and basic anatomy so that I could best contribute to the clinic, and I feel that it has helped me tremendously. Most importantly, the Hindi phrases that I was taught in the course are now almost naturally coming to my head when asking a patient about their history, or to move their heads in a way that allows the Auto Refractor to get a better reading.

During this first week I have learned so much! Each day was packed with patients and learning opportunities. During our time in the Out Patient Department  Anchal and I also take patient histories (In Hindi!) and give visual acuity exams. I learned how to use the autorefractor, commonly referred to as ‘the autoref’ to provide a measurement of a person’s refractive error and prescription for glasses, the results of which I was taught to read in a brief optics lessons by Abhishek, the Senior Optometrist at AB Eye. On Friday, because it was a slow patient morning Abhishek also treated the staff to some chai, my new favorite beverage of choice regardless of the temperature outside, and tea biscuits. It was really fun getting to see the staff in a more relaxed setting as opposed to the usual stress which comes with having a constantly packed waiting room with patients eager for medical attention.

On surgical days, which are Mondays and Thursdays, I watched about twelve phacoemulsification and small incision cataract surgeries on a television screen in the Operating Room. After very long days in the hospital, we drive to different charity clinics set up in community centers in different neighborhoods in need. It was really encouraging to see people who otherwise wouldn’t have access to any eye care receive medications, glasses, and cataracts consultations, so it kept me motivated and battling jetlag!

I am looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring and excited to continue to learn new things about Indian culture and to help the patients in the hospital and the clinic.

- Adi Fried

Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic

As these past two months flew by, I was able to achieve many of the goals I had initially set for my internship. On the academic front, I was able to gain great insight and understanding about diabetes and diabetic education in Ethiopia. I was able to obtain both academic and social perspectives on the extent of this chronic illness.

Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic

Talking with patients at the Diabetes Clinic

Personally, I had set out to understand people as more than patients. I believe that through the many conversations with patients throughout my time at Tikur Anbessa, I was able to see the other factors that affected them beyond the disease. Additionally, I now realize that their current condition isn’t only a result of the diabetes.

Though I only have one year left at Brandies, this experience has allowed me to gain many different assets that will add to my Brandeis career. It will help me choose relevant courses, attend events, etc. that will help me grow in understanding the field of public health in various contexts. Among the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Addis is that everything – every initiative, action plan, program, service, agenda – should be relevant and familiarized to the respective context. Thus, I want to use the rest of my time at Brandeis and beyond to see how different things unravel in different cultures, among different people, and the like. I have increased my desire to draw comparisons and differences among different regions, whether international or local, to understand the greater relationship between cause and effect with respect to health/illness.

During my internship, there were many things that were unexpected – for the better and worse. One piece of advice that I would give to a student interested in an internship is: Be Flexible! Your internship may not necessarily be what you initially imagined – so, being able to be flexible and work with what is before you is essential. Even when initially searching for a internship site, your interest may not always line up exactly so it is important to be able to be flexible to try something that you had not thought of. It is vital that you do not completely forget your interests, just be as accommodating as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.

Me at the entrance of the Diabetes Center holding questionnaires for patients to complete.

I have made great progress in achieving the goals I had initially outlined for myself. I better understand the current state of diabetes in Ethiopia. This understanding comes, not only from estimates and health professionals, but from the patients themselves. While conversing with patients and distributing the prepared questionnaire, I have learned a great deal about diabetes as an illness and also the social constructs that have a great role in its management.

In comparison to what I knew before the beginning of my internship, I believe that I have made great progress. Moreover, I have obtained great insight into the field of public heath – what it entails, the extent of its need, and its importance in various fields. I have also, as I had outlined in my initial application, seen the important intersection of public health and education.

 

I am currently most proud of my progress with the questionnaire. Though my proposal took an unexpectedly long time to get approved by the head department, I already have over 100 completed questionnaires. With each filled questionnaire, there is a unique story.

At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.

At the Diabetes Center entrance assisting a patient fill out a questionnaire.

It has been a privilege and honor to be able to sit down and hear these stories directly from the patients themselves. Additionally, having a large number of questionnaires will allow me to draw conclusions that are able to be generalized and therefore have a greater impact.

The other great thing I was able to participate in is the EDA’s monthly educational seminar. These seminars help diabetic patients learn about the disease, its complications, and how to manage this chronic illness. These seminars take place last Saturday of every month so I was able to attend the June session. In addition to learning about diabetes and how it affects the heart, I was able to distribute questionnaires to the association’s members. The seminar I attended was much greater than I expected – nearly 80 patients attended.

Skill building often takes place when and where we least expect it. There are certainly times where we are intentionally learning or practicing specific skills that we need in the future. However, I often find myself and am currently building skills that can be applied to various aspects of my future where I least expect it. While talking with the diabetic patients at the clinic or EDA members, I have observed my skills in social interactions become increasingly fine-tuned. I am also becoming more aware of the various factors that are associated with chronic illnesses such as diabetes in Ethiopia that are not medically treatable. Understanding this will allow me to better understand the depth and increasing need for public health as it is the field, I believe, that brings together both medicine and the social needs of the patients. This understanding, without a doubt, will transfer to my future career plans and involvement elsewhere.

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