Archive for the ‘career’ Tag

Wading out of my comfort zone

I have a confession to make to those of you who have not met me personally. I have a competitive streak in me that runs a mile wide. I love playing board games and card games.  If being an overachiever were a crime, I would be a convicted felon. Forgive me; it is probably one of the most stereotypical traits of Millennials. Considering the alternative, I think that it my drive to succeed has been a real asset.

Returning this work has knocked a little wind out of my sails because everything that I am doing to prepare for this semester’s activities for PAIR is new to me. I am drafting a volunteer training and writing a curriculum. It has made me rethink my typical full speed ahead approach. I spend more time explaining my thought process to my supervisor on an unfinished product rather than a complete one. My goal is completing a phase rather than finishing which requires me to concretely develop a plan of action. My thinking tends to be a little on the scattered side so thinking linearly has been difficult.

The biggest change has been the level of collaboration. During my work at AED, each project had a team but the tasks were assigned and completed as though each one was an independent project. My work responsibilities typically did not require the input or insight of others until they were complete. Even then, my draft was returned to me in the same way that a teacher returns a graded paper. You make all the corrections they tell you and then return the paper. Really working collaboratively is something that I have not done in a professional setting before.

I never thought that I would admit it, but I really like working this way. Coming from a former lab nerd, I think that should count for something…an achievement of sorts?


Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.

Meet Sylvia

I had originally planned to post earlier this week but various issues with my project and work managed to get in the way.

I did want to tell you about what happened at work because I am still trying to wrap my head around it myself. The first few weeks working at the center felt like a blur. There was the obvious language barrier to contend with as many of the patients use expressions that I don’t encounter on a daily basis. They was also the crash course in learning about the patients’ lives that led up to the point that they were sitting in the chair in front of us.

One of those patients was Sylvia. When I first met Sylvia, she had her four year old son with her. It was a rather typical visit; Jorge checked her analysis results and asked how things were going. Her son is pretty gregarious so he would inject at various points. The next time I saw Sylvia was at the weekly group support group that the center offers every Friday. There are two psychologists and a psychiatrist on staff, so patients have ample access to both physical and mental support.

This particular Friday, Sylvia was the only patient and it was also my first time to observe the Friday session. Sylvia’s son was in the room also as she spoke about what had been going on in her life.

Sylvia is a good person that has been born into bad circumstances. Her entire family is addicted to drugs, and she was as well until a few years ago. She lives with her husband, his brothers, and their mother who also all are addicted to drugs. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have enough money to live elsewhere to distance herself from the temptation of the drugs and from the verbal abuse she suffers from her family. Her husband, who she has three kids with, has beaten her in the past. Sylvia also has HIV and hepatitis C.

Until about 6-8 months ago, Sylvia didn’t have custody of her three children. It took months of efforts on her part. While the initial removal of her children from the home was to protect them, Sylvia is a successfully recovering drug addict. (I say recovering because addicts don’t ever stop being addicts; they stop using the substance that they were using.) She has been sober for over 2 years and faithfully takes treatment for HIV and hepatitis C in spite the complete lack of social support from her family. She works whenever she find work. She comes the weekly group support session every Friday. For the two times that she has missed the session, she called to tell the psychologist before the session started.

Despite all of the positive steps that Sylvia had taken, the one obstacle that she faced in regaining custody was the judge assigned to the case. The judge refused to grant custody solely because she had HIV. The judge assumed that HIV was so deadly that Sylvia would die shortly after receiving custody of her children. Legal protection against discrimination due to HIV is fairly robust; however, people living with HIV face challenges in many levels of society and institutions in Argentina.

Now that she has all three of her children back, Sylvia has been taking concrete steps to further improve her life and the life of her children. Her youngest son almost never leaves her side because he is so happy to be with his mother. She has begun legal proceedings to revoke the custodial rights of her husband and initiated divorce proceedings. Once Sylvia is legally independent, she can receive additional benefits from the government so that she will be able to move out of the highly negative environment that she is in.

All of this virtually does not matter because Sylvia is dying. She came to the center on Monday, bringing her latest test results. Her HIV is under control; the hepatitis C is taking its toll and her liver is failing. You could see the jaundice had begun in her eyes that would only get worse. She can be placed on the organ transplant list. Given her medical history, it remains highly unlikely that she would be selected should a matching liver even become available.

This information is hard to reconcile with what I know about Sylvia. She has overcome so much in her life, largely through sheer willpower. On Monday, she behaved as though she knew what was coming, even though Jorge hadn’t said it directly. I am sure that Sylvia will handle it as she has managed every other major burden in her life. She will come to the weekly session this Friday with her youngest son to talk about what she can do to help her children.

One step closer

This week, I received a surprising call from an organization here on Monday. They were hosting a training on combating stigma and discrimination for Mozambican NGOs working HIV/AIDS. The project director asked me if I would like to volunteer with note taking and other various odds and ends. I thought it would be a great opportunity not only for the prospect of additional work opportunities but also to observe the training in action.

I have seen other trainings before for various topics but this one was unusual for a number of reason besides just the language barrier. The lead trainer was a Canadian who has done hundreds of trainings across Africa. He was so animated and engaging with all of the participants. Everyday began with a warm up song that would often reoccur during the day as a transitional device or to bring the room back together after small group sessions. The training was interactive and physical because it was a training of trainers. The participants were pairs of trainers from their respective organization and were expected to return to their organizations to implement the lessons they learned.

While this sounds like a easy task superficially, the obstacles that I heard about from the participants made their task sound virtually insurmountable. One of the participants, who was very petite, worked with children with HIV and she told about one of her visits to the hospital. When she reached the ward to talk to the doctor, the doctor wanted to know why the organization had sent a child to look after children. Each of sessions focused on stigma that people living with HIV faced across contexts from their family, the workplace, the community, their place of worship and other social institutions.

Watching the afternoon practice facilitation sessions was particularly interesting. Here the participants practiced what they learned in the morning with their peers acting as the populations that they would encounter. Some organizations were obviously more advanced in facilitation before attending the training, but by the end of the week, it was clear that everyone had some innovative applications of the techniques that they learned. It was truly amazing to watch the increasing sophistication they integrated over the course of the week. However, the real challenge now is what will happen when they go back to their organizations to integrate discussion of stigma into current programming.

I found the experience interesting for my opportunity to learn more about the capacity building project that the organization does here. The participating partner NGOs receive training on a number of topics from stigma and discrimination to financial management. Some of the NGOs receive funding as well for applying knowledge gained in the training to their programming with the organization offering site visits and technical assistance for support. I do have a pretty good chance to have continued work opportunities with the organization as a consultant, but since nothing is set in stone, I am not referring to them directly here.

I have found that the waiting game here is the worst part of the job situation here. As each day passes, I go through bouts of anxiety about if I have made the right decision. I always come back in the end being glad that I am trying this. I think that it is better to try and fail rather than to always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t come here. That said, the anxiety still nags in the most annoying way that only self-doubt can (particularly, my variety of self-doubt). I have started to apply to public health jobs in other African countries to give my rational side a backup plan. However, I very much want to stay here for a variety of reasons. Meanwhile, I am waiting for reality to catch up to my desires.

To get work takes work

Today was one of those days filled with 30 minute breaks. Busy enough, but not enough time to commit to completing a single activity. I needed to move hotels because the Ibis was at capacity for the week. Now I am at Hotel Africa I. Apartment searching has been hit or miss. There are plenty of apartments here. It is just difficult to find one that that doesn’t engage in price gouging simply because you are an expat. One piece of good news is that I have found a roommate who just moved here as well from Washington DC. We are going apartment hunting tomorrow. Fingers crossed, we will see something good! In any case, today was not about apartments, but about jobs.

I know that it is my fault, but I scheduled the move and these two meetings close together. I thought that I would be doing myself a favor by trying to leave some time at the end for apartment searching. However, being in a strange city where you have no map, no sense of direction and still improving language skills does not allow you to move in an efficient manner.

I had meetings at CDC’s Global AIDS Program and Columbia University’s ICAP, the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs. Both organizations are involved in PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It was interested to hear from CDC in its new role in administering funding for the initiative and hear about the work that ICAP is doing as a recipient of funds under PEPFAR. Both were wonderful for learning about experiences with working in Mozambique. They both provided me with great advice and information about work that I can do here. Opportunities with CDC are more technical in nature, related to research and evaluation of programming under PEPFAR. ICAP has an expansive program related to antiretroviral therapy, with numerous aspects for me to contribute to. I still have more meetings this week with organizations.

Today has reminded me despite the logistics involved in coming here and the daily frustrations that I experience for various reasons that I am extremely excited for the potential that I have to make a substantial and lasting impact on the lives of people here.