A Brandeisian Takes on AJWS

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This is me on my first day!

I have just completed my first week at American World Jewish Service (AJWS) in NYC, and I am overcome with excitement for the rest of my time at this incredible organization. Thanks to WOW, I have the opportunity to intern at AJWS as a Donor Engagement Intern in the development division. AJWS is the only Jewish organization dedicated solely to ending poverty and promoting human rights in the developing world. Highlights of AJWS’ work includes campaigning to stop the Darfur genocide, fighting global hunger, responding to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and the earthquake in Nepal, and working to end violence against women, girls, and LGBT people worldwide. Here is a link to the organization’s website for more information. Feel free to browse around!

Highlights from my week:

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Stephen McGill and me!

 

Walking in on my first day, I was nervous but excited and up for any tasks. However, I was happy to discover that at AJWS interns are not asked to get coffee and do photocopying. Currently, there are only two people working in Donor Engagement, so I was right away thrust into real work. I have been responsible for finalizing details for an upcoming Study Tour Trip to Guatemala, and beginning the prep work for another Study Tour Trip to Uganda. Study Tours are designed to provide major donors a first-hand look at the impact their dollars are making. When I first heard about Study Tours, I had a lot of critical thoughts and hoped that AJWS is not taking their wealthy donors to intrude into impoverished and oppressed communities in order to evoke more sympathy for the purpose of receiving larger donations. To my relief, I learned that donors visit AJWS’ grantees, local organizations which are funded by AJWS. Therefore, study tours are an important initiative to inspire donors to continue to give to AJWS causes.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to help my supervisor prepare for an event where AJWS’ incoming president, Robert Bank was in conversation with Frank Bruni, the New York Times first openly gay op-ed columnist. It was great to hear Bruni speak about his journey. Here is a link to AJWS’ facebook page for pictures from the event.

Lastly, on Friday I had the opportunity to meet and hear Stephen McGill speak. McGill is the director of Stop AIDS in Liberia (SAIL), an AJWS partner organization. McGill is in New York this week to join United Nations delegates and civil society representatives from around the world for the 2016 United Nations High-Level Meeting to End AIDS. He along with many others is fighting to end the systemic exclusion of marginalized communities including transgender people, sex workers, gay and bisexual men, drug users, migrants and prisoners from this conversation and movement.

Looking Forward:

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This is my cubicle!

I am very excited to continue with organizing Study Tours, helping with a marathon fundraising event, and continuing to learn how to use Raiser’s Edge, which is a database widely used by nonprofits for compiling lists of donors and their information. My other projects will include creating an organized system that will, for example, have information about different venues and caterers that the Donor Engagement department can utilize to efficiently plan different types of fundraising events. In addition, I will be working with the communications department to brainstorm a template and write newsletters on the Study Tours.

My goal is to soak up all aspects of this organization’s work. I want to leave with a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of a nonprofit organization. This includes learning both the positives and the negatives. I want to look into the difficulties that each department and the organization as a whole faces. I believe I joined the organization at an interesting time because the vice president of AJWS, Robert Bank, will be stepping into the role of president on July 1st. I am excited to observe and learn a lot from this transitional period. Attending and participating in meetings has already given me a perspective on the constant need for compromise when each department has a different vision and opinion of how something should be done. I plan to meet with members of the different departments that I am interested in to gain their perspectives on the organization, their contributions, and their journey. I am especially interested in meeting with members of the communication and media department because I am intrigued by how nonprofit organizations present issues and discuss the narratives of impoverished individuals. I want to investigate more empowering ways rather than dehumanizing or exploitative, to present these types of narratives.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for my second post!

Ate logu, East Timor!

See you later, East Timor! The 9 weeks I spent in East Timor went by so quickly. I cannot believe that summer is over!

Over the course of my internship, I shadowed many of Bairo Pite’s staff. I followed the doctors around during their rounds and when they went to examine the patients. They discussed treatment plans amongst each other and let the nurses know of any changes on the patient’s status chart. This is how rounds typically run in the morning and in the afternoon. Some days I hung out with the laboratory staff. I watched them run lab tests. I have also worked with the clinic manager at the clinic organizing in her office and the stock room so we know what supplies we have.

Slides of sputum stained by the Ziehl–Neelsen method to identify TB
Slides of sputum stained by the Ziehl–Neelsen method to identify TB
Me looking at the stained slides. The bacteria for TB would show up bright red (amongst the blue) if the sputum is positive.
Me looking at the stained slides. The bacteria for TB would show up bright red (amongst the blue) if the sputum is positive.

At the clinic, I learned how to use an EKG machine. I admit that I cannot truly read the EKG results, but I know where to place the electrodes and run the test. With the medical students, I also learned and practiced taking blood pressure with a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. Sometimes to check on a patient, I took their blood pressure. Sometimes I helped take patient histories; I asked them how they were doing and ask if they have certain symptoms in Tetun. I learned how to assess the patient by looking and examining the patient’s hands, face, and just getting a general look at the status of the patient to see if they are breathing heavily or any other acute problems that needed to be looked at. Other tasks I did included taking patients to the National Hospital to get chest x-rays or to get consultations with the specialists working there. I let the patient know where we were going and accompanied them for their visit.

To build off of this experience during the rest of my time at Brandeis I will continue to promote the Bairo Pite Clinic with Project Plus One on campus. I will share my experiences to club members and to members of the community at activities such as the Millennium Campus Conference. I am continuing to pursue a career in healthcare and learning more about global health. I want to learn more about the politics involved and examine the differences. I also want to learn more about the current policies of disease treatments such as the WHO guidelines for tuberculosis (TB). I hope to return to East Timor to the Bairo Pite Clinic (in the processing of becoming a hospital) with more knowledge and education.

If a student is interested in an internship at the Bairo Pite Clinic, I advise them to take advantage of the opportunities available. Because a lot of people visit the clinic, there are a whole range of cases to learn from. There are also mobile clinics (scheduled doctor visits and health education to villages in East Timor) which students can go on. The people that organize the mobile clinics do really great work and it is a great opportunity to see how and where most people of East Timor live. I believe they will have the ability to really make the internship their own at the BPC. My advice for a student interested in this field is to not be afraid of saying no to things that they are not comfortable doing or that they do not know. They do not want to cause more harm than good and it is important to be honest.

My concepts of social justice have been enforced. With the sad and violent history of East Timor, they need healthcare to repair some of the damage and to help East Timor rebuild and stand up strong again. Listen here for an interview Dr. Dan, the founder of the BPC, recently gave a few weeks ago during a trip back to US about his experience. However, I have learned, like with all things, change takes time. It would take time for East Timor it implement changes and to learn what would work for their country and what would not.

Alice Luu ’14

Dr Dan and I
Dr. Dan and I

Diak ka lae?

Diak ka lae is used in Tetun, the local language of East Timor, for “How are you?” The literal translation is “Good or bad?” In response, people usually reply “diak”, meaning good, or “lae”, meaning bad. Diak ka lae is one of the many Tetun phrases and words I have learned here in my time in Dili. Although I am far from being fluent, I know enough phrases to understand some of the patients and to get a basic patient history. As I go on rounds with the doctors and follow up with the patients, I am getting more comfortable in a health care setting. Most importantly, I am also getting comfortable interacting with the patients. Being familiar with the language is one big step in communicating and interacting with patients and their families at the clinic.

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Bairo Pite Clinic sign outside clinic gates

After spending over a month at the Bairo Pite Clinic, I am definitely seeing how a health clinic in a developing country like East Timor operates. I work almost daily with the staff and volunteers in providing health care for its patients. I observe and interact with a variety of staff members vital in running the clinic. However, the BPC is steady changing as health care in East Timor progresses. As I am working, I am witnessing the failures of the system and the improvements being made. I believe this knowledge I am gaining is important in becoming better informed as a future primary care physician.

 

Since I have started working at the clinic, I have been exposed to many medical procedures used to diagnose and evaluate patients. As I am picking up the language here, I am also becoming familiar with the medical techniques and tools being used during these examinations. I am able to understand why these techniques are being used when a doctor uses them and I am able to provide these tools when a doctor needs them. These skills would be useful in the future for work in a health care setting and for facilitating patient care.

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Me and other volunteers with our N95 masks (masks that protect us from TB) on

I am most proud of everything that I have learned so far at the BPC and the fact that I am able to make myself useful around the clinic despite my lack of knowledge. Most of the volunteers at the BPC are medical students with some medical experience. In the beginning, I was worried that I would not be able to get the learning experience I need or be able help out. However, the doctors and medical students have been very willing to explain and teach me if I had questions. This in return helped me understand what was going on and be able to help them and by extension, help the patients.

 

Alice Luu ’14

 

Many volunteers from all over the world hanging out in the administration office
Many volunteers from all over the world hanging out in the administration office

 

“Working There is Reward Enough”

“Hello? Hello Ladies?” We had finally made contact with Camilo, FIMRC’s Community Health Coordinator in Alajuelita, Costa Rica. This was one more reminder of how things we take for granted, like internet connectivity, pose a challenge for FIMRC’s remote locations around the globe. After six weeks interning at FIMRC Headquarters in Philadelphia, I am still amazed at how much I learn every day. This morning’s conversation between Camilo, Gauri (another Brandeis student intern) and me was no exception.

Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, or FIMRC for short, provides healthcare and health education for mothers and children in under-served areas around the world.

“Hi Camilo, how are you?”

“I am very well ladies. It is so good to speak with you.” It became apparent that Camilo treats everyone with the utmost respect and care—not just us, but the patients he treats at the San Felipe Soup Kitchen in Costa Rica as well.

FIMRC Interns and Staff at HQ
FIMRC Interns and Staff at HQ

Camilo explained that his role at FIMRC is to provide health education to the Costa Rican residents and mostly Nicaraguan refugees who come through his doors. He teaches them about everything from nutrition to cancer to what to do in an environmental catastrophe. FIMRC puts a huge emphasis on health education, and in the past 6 weeks of interning I’ve come to understand why. The local residents at FIMRC’s seven project sites and other underserved areas around the world suffer from conditions caused by the lack of things we take for granted, like clean water and sanitation. Camilo teaches them basic concepts, such as the value of hand-washing, the food pyramid, and first aid. Prevention, especially in rural areas where the nearest hospital may be hundreds of kilometers away, is critical.

Camilo learns everything he can about his patients—their home situations, children, families, jobs, likes and dislikes—all before being able to treat them. The importance of building personal relationships with the people in the community was reinforced by my supervisor, Taylor, who said that the best way to have an impact is to let your guard down, be able to laugh at yourself and show people that you are invested in learning about them. Thus, a very valuable lesson I have learned from FIMRC is “seek first to understand.”

I asked Camilo how he makes health education fun. I mean, if you ask a child from the United States if they want to sit down and learn about Dengue prevention, they will probably respond with a confused look and an emphatic, “No!” Camilo countered that the people at San Felipe are always interested and engaged, because the living situation in Alajuelita is “very sad.” The people are poor. Many of them come to San Felipe for three meals a day. Some of the mothers are very young, and husbands do not always treat their wives well. So any small, kind gesture makes a difference. The women in Alajuelita know Camilo cares about them and their health, and that show of concern and respect makes the women and kids want to listen.

At FIMRC Headquarters the other interns and I have been engaged in many interesting and important projects for the organization—crunching data, creating surveys, doing cost analyses, and revising a fundraising packet. But it seems to me the victories in each of FIMRC’s sites, where FIMRC implements its mission, are achieved in a more humanistic way. Kindness and an open mind can mean the world to people, and this is a lesson I can apply in the future when I hopefully work abroad in healthcare… maybe even at a job like Camilo’s.

A mural painted by FIMRC volunteerson the wall of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita
A mural painted by FIMRC volunteers on the wall of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita

Camilo did an incredible job answering Gauri’s and my questions regarding his job and experiences in Costa Rica, but he seemed to have some difficulty formulating answers. Some feelings, experiences and situations just can’t be put into words. “You’ll understand when you get here. When are you coming?” he asked us. There seemed to be a slight miscommunication in that Gauri and I weren’t actually planning to travel to Costa Rica, as much as I wanted to. I feel that I’ve achieved my goal of learning so much about each of FIMRC’s sites by speaking with FIMRC staff, reading reports, and doing other research, but I’ve come to realize there is only so much I can learn secondhand. I will only truly understand the system once I experience it personally, which reinforces my desire to work abroad in public health someday.

I asked Camilo, “What’s the most rewarding part of your job?”

“My job…how do I say this in English…Seeing that every day people’s lives are improved. FIMRC means the world to them. When they smile, say thank you…they come with open arms and are so happy that FIMRC is here. …Having this work…they humanize you, and they really show you to be grateful for what you have. The kids will bring you small things like bread, or toys, or a smile, invite you into their homes. Working there is reward enough.”

To see Camilo take so much care in a community, while he himself is privileged just having obtained his law degree, was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had at FIMRC. It’s amazing to see someone do this kind of work, not for money, not to impress others, but because he genuinely cares about the well-being of these people and knows he can make their lives better.

A child enjoying an ice cream cone outside of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita
A child enjoying an ice cream cone outside of the FIMRC clinic in Alajuelita

I’m proud and pleased about how much I’ve learned and grown through my internship at FIMRC. Not only have I become comfortable in an office environment and forged amazing relationships with my peers, I’ve learned to see the big picture—that an open mind and heart can go a long way in enriching people’s lives. I believe I have found my purpose in life: to serve and to help those less fortunate than myself through healthcare. This internship is the first step in hopefully a long line of adventures and experiences working in healthcare abroad.

“Alright ladies take care, and see you soon.”

“Yes Camilo, we’ll see you soon,” Gauri and I joked…but part of me hoped we actually would.

-Erica Granor ’15

First Week (back) in ParaDEIS

As a WOW fellow I am so happy to be joining a group of engaged, motivated and adventurous students. While this year’s WOW fellows span the globe from India to LA, South Africa to Vietnam, I have begun my summer work in more familiar ground: Waltham, Massachusetts. I am working in the Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology right here at Brandeis University. Though my surroundings are familiar, my experience thus far feels new and exciting. Waltham as a city has much more to offer than I realized: local cuisine (Lizzy’s Ice Cream? In a Pickle?!), a farmers market en plein air,  a beautiful bike path, an outstanding thrift shop, and there’s still more to find! I am living independently and looking forward to this opportunity to expand my self-reliance and personal initiative.

Health psychology is a fascinating new field, and I am particularly interested in it as I intend to pursue a career that promotes both psychological and physiological wellness. The Laboratory for Biological Health Psychology investigates how psychosocial states – such as anxiety, depression, acute stress and chronic stress – can affect our health, and the intracellular pathways that link these mental states to physical outcomes. I became interested in this lab while taking Health Psychology at Brandeis. I expressed my interest to my TA, and she put me in contact with the professor in charge. I began attending lab meetings, and was offered a position as a summer research assistant.

As a research assistant in this lab I am primarily working on a new, upcoming study known as Athletes and Stress. The lab team consists of one head professor, several Ph.D. and masters students, myself, and one other undergraduate research assistant. This team is inspiring, diverse, friendly, helpful and funny, and it is an enjoyable environment to work in. Athletes and Stress is a large and long-term project looking at differences in the emotional and biological stress response in student athletes, active non-athletes, and minimally active. The purpose of this study is to examine the extent to which these three groups differ in their stress responses, and determine the potential contributing factors for these group differences.

My lab responsibilities are varied and will change over the course of the summer. While we await final project approval from the Institutional Review Board, I am being trained in the lab protocol and procedure, learning about equipment use, helping to set up and format the two-week take-home diary portion of the study, and doing literature search and review. Next week I will also be joining a subgroup within Athletes and Stress. This group of graduate students is working on writing papers from different angles relevant to the study. I will be helping find sources for their papers, peer-edit their work, and engage in frequent group discussions.

I will be concentrating on the diary portion of Athletes and Stress as I am being allowed to do an independent focus on data collected in the diary. For this independent portion I am doing lots of literature review.  If you’re interested in learning a bit more about how stress affects our health and the types of research being done in this area, check out this fantastic documentary on the work of Robert Sapolsky. Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist and professor at Stanford University, and a leading researcher in this field.

This summer I am looking forward to learning the many steps that go into conceptualizing, creating, and conducting a psychological study. Since I am joining in its preliminary stages, I have the chance to see how a research question is developed into a full-fledged study.  I hope to learn what sort of complications psychological researchers face and how we can overcome these obstacles. I also hope to learn what aspects of research ignite my interest and my personal challenges and strengths. I think this will be a summer of learning and growth, and I am excited to have begun!

– Clara Gray ’15

 

Helping from Halfway Across the World: My First Week at FIMRC Global Headquarters

Around the world, millions of children and mothers lack proper access to healthcare. Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve health “one child at a time” through a multifaceted approach; outpatient clinics, health education, and partnerships with IGOs and NGOs combine to address the comprehensive health needs of each population. Currently, FIMRC serves 9 specific communities in 7 under-served countries: Costa Rica, Uganda, India, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Peru.

A map of the 9 FIMRC project sites in the FIMRC office

This summer I am interning at the FIMRC Global Headquarters in Philadelphia, PA, working on administrative tasks involved in the coordination of FIMRC projects abroad. This is quite a different perspective from when I volunteered in Peru on a FIMRC trip last February. Organizing volunteer programs takes a lot of work! My current project is compiling statistics from each of the seven project sites. These statistics (which include measures like number of patients treated in FIMRC clinics per month and top causes of clinic visits and number of volunteers) will help us gauge the success of FIMRC’s global health initiatives.

Each health program is uniquely tailored to fit the needs of the community. In Peru, Dengue virus, malaria and other water-borne diseases are common, but they are also preventable. Volunteers give health education talks to children about sanitation and hygiene in order to promote knowledge and prevent disease. In Alajuelita, Costa Rica, the community’s needs are much different. Due to lack of clinical services, FIMRC built a rural health clinic in Alajuelita, and volunteers participate by staffing the clinic (taking measurements, assisting doctors and distributing medication). While their parents work, children age 2-5 in Kodaikanal, India, spend the day in crèches, which are like a combination school/daycare/health center. The children’s families survive on less than $1.50 a day, and as a result many children suffer from malnutrition and consequent illness. FIMRC helps by monitoring child health in the crèches, holding health education sessions for teacher and mothers, and has successfully implemented a dental hygiene campaign and supplemented the children’s diets with protein, like chickpeas and eggs. I was excited to learn that since FIMRC’s intervention, crèche attendance has increased… and the lack of attendance had been largely due to illness! Watch this awesome video (video credit: FIMRC) to experience the unique health needs of Limón, Nicaragua, and how FIMRC projects are helping.

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On our volunteer trip to Peru, Brandeis volunteers and I gave a hand-washing lesson to school age children at Albuergue La Esperanza Children’s Home. What great kids! Photo credit: Brandeis student Jessica Jaya

I learned about this internship opportunity through a friend and fellow Brandeis FIMRC chapter e-board member, who enthusiastically told me about her internship experiences at FIMRC Headquarters two summers ago. After applying and visiting HQ over winter break, I was offered an Ambassador position and gladly accepted!

Orientation was on Thursday, May 16. I was pretty anxious, but everyone—the CEO, my supervisor, the 3 other interns—are all super friendly, and my nerves were eased right away. There is even another intern from Brandeis! I’m excited to continue to get to know each of FIMRC’s project sites and understand the process of implementing a global health project, from initial research to the final product, execution of a successful and flourishing health program. In the future my ultimate goal is to work in international healthcare. Even though it has only been a week, my internship at FIMRC has provided me with invaluable insight on global health. I cannot wait to see what the weeks ahead bring.

-Erica Granor, ’15

Finishing up at the Cambridge Public Health Department

It amazes me how quickly the summer can go by! I have thoroughly enjoyed being an intern in the Division of Epidemiology and Data Services at the Cambridge Public Health Department. In the past few weeks, I took some time off from working on the Cambridge neighborhood wellness index to work on two other projects: a health resource map and heart disease and stroke mapping project. These projects utilized the GIS mapping skills I gained in the previous weeks. I had a very productive meeting with staff from the Division of Community Health and Wellness, another division within the Cambridge Public Health Department, to discuss the health resource map. Much of our conversation circled back to the idea that to maintain good health, people need access to more than hospitals and health clinics; the food resources and recreation opportunities available to people are also important.

This internship has both challenged and helped shape my views of social justice in healthcare. By researching the social determinants of illness, I have learned a lot about how where we live shapes our habits and views on health. Although in many cases it is ultimately an individual’s responsibility to make healthy choices (i.e. choosing to snack on fruits and vegetables instead of junk food), the location in which a person has grown up has a huge impact on not only what choices a person makes regarding his or her health, but what options are available. In looking at the health resource map I drafted, I saw that certain areas of Cambridge seemed less accessible to some health services like hospitals and pharmacies. This observation got me thinking: are these areas lacking other resources? How does a lack of access to these services contribute to illness? I think that it is important to address the root of the problem to improve health equity.

Having completed my internship, I want to learn even more about epidemiology and public health research. The projects I worked on reinforced and broadened what I know about the connection between social factors and illness. As a Jerome A. Schiff Undergraduate Research Fellow, I am looking forward to incorporating what I learned this summer about health disparities into my research project on community gardens as primary prevention of childhood obesity. I have a greater appreciation for the ways in which the built environment fosters or discourages healthy living habits. This internship made it clear to me that I want to work in public health, and I am interested in learning more about epidemiology. Although I cannot take Intro to Epidemiology until senior year, I plan on learning as much as I can about epidemiology by reading about it. I think that the best way to learn is through experience, so my advice to anyone interested in a certain subject or field is to try it out! Ask questions, get to know the other people in the office, and give it your best. An internship is a great way to explore your interests and maybe get a better sense of what you want to do after Brandeis. I learned a lot about how social disparities influence health, and I will definitely apply what I learned this summer to my future studies.

– Jennifer Mandelbaum ’14