Sierra Tarahumara region of Chihuahua, Mexico
Berkeley's School of Publis Health and the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability
Bixby Fellowship (see other information for more details)
My primary duties were to design and conduct a community needs assessment and feasibility study in preparation for an intervention to improve safe motherhood, i.e. to decrease death from childbirth and neonatal death.
The most rewarding aspect was the chance to spend time with and learn from amazing people in the communities where I worked.
As an MPH student in Berkeley's School of Public Health, I am required to complete a summer internship. This is a part of the program that I was very much looking forward to. My Tibetan-American son was 9 years old at the time, and I felt he was finally old enough that he would enjoy and remember a trip to meet and visit his Tibetan extended family, so I decided to combine the two. I asked every professor I knew if they knew of anyone working on health in Tibet and googled every combination of the term I could think of. Then I contacted every lead I had, and consistently was led back to One HEART- an organization that has implemented skilled birth attendant trainings as well as community health education programs around safer motherhood in Tibet. I was very excited about such a program as my interest is in reproductive health, and I didn't know that Tibet suffered from such high maternal mortality rates. Imagine my excitement when, after repeated persistent attempts to get on the phone with the Executive Director, she offered me an internship doing a community needs assessment with nomadic Tibetans! There were 2 caveats: 1) it was unfunded (which I expected and was prepared for) and 2) there was no guarantee I would get a permit to enter the country, and nothing I could do but wait.
About a month before the summer started, there was still no word about the entry permit. I began looking for local internships and reluctantly resigned myself to staying in California for the summer. However, when I called the ED of One HEART to tell her my plans, she told me that One HEART had been invited into an indigenous community in Northern Mexico and I could do the needs assessment there. By this time I had fallen in love with the organization, their mission and ideals, so I was excited to work with them wherever it was. Also, I happened to be much more fluent in Spanish than in Tibetan, so I knew I could be an even greater asset to the project, which was very important to me.
Following my interest in global reproductive health, I had been attending meetings and workshops at the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability at my school. They provide fellowships to fund international internships in reproductive health, so I had applied to receive funding for the internship in Tibet. I was one of 5 students to receive the fellowship, luckily, but now I had to ask them to fund me on a different project. They agreed to do so, with the condition that I investigate family planning in the area in addition to birth practices and services. Of course, I gladly agreed, and a month later I received the $5,000 that would cover some of my summer expenses. Thanks to Bixby, One HEART and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation I went on to meet some amazing people in one of the most beautiful places, and was able to gather a lot of information that would inform the creation of a program to save the lives of mothers and babies. The icing on the cake was getting to experience life as a global health professional, and for the first time in my life I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my career.