The quickest way to sum up my project will be that throughout my Watson year, I will observe, experience, and hopefully take part in the role of locally motivated individuals in grassroots public health initiatives. This project is interwoven between several aspects of my background, beliefs, and future plans. I have attached a copy of my project proposal below if you require a more in-depth look at my project.
“I am because we are.” Every year, the assemblyman, with his rent-a-car and megaphone, drives around my community to spread awareness about cholera and malaria outbreaks. Although my grandparents and neighbors complain about the noise, the message is well received. We make sure to boil our drinking water from the stream and clear the trash and gutters that serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. From door-to-door activism to community meetings, these acts of health awareness decrease the number of people falling sick each dry and rainy season. In countries that lack access to health information, the grassroots public health initiatives of socially motivated individuals and collectives are redefining and promoting the wellbeing of others. This is the embodiment of the Ubuntu Philosophy.
Communities make themselves real in the lives of individuals. In South Africa, I witnessed how Mr. Mbanjwa’s life under apartheid twenty-years ago is embodied in his life today: it shaped his profession, relationships and perceptions of the world. My ability to recognize this sense of embodiment is crucial to my journey as a Watson fellow. I want to understand ways my values and connections with the Ubuntu philosophy shape my commitment to a life and career in public health. The parallel between the values of public health, which addresses the needs of people as a whole instead of individuals and the Ubuntu philosophy, which expresses the interconnectedness of people, is very clear to me. My mission is to understand how the Ubuntu philosophy of interconnectedness motivates the work of individuals in public health.
Like in my village in Ghana, people worldwide lack access to education, food, water, clinics and other essential elements for healthy living. I am confident that the most successful grassroots public health initiatives draw on the experiences and cultural ties motivated individuals share with communities. I want to accompany local socially motivated individuals who assume the difficult task of seeking better health outcomes for their communities. When did they feel the “spark” or “the calling” to help others? Through a global exploration of public health strategies and the support of the Watson Foundation, I hope to understand local leaders that are shaping the world’s health futures.
In preparation for this application, I have sought out and begun to collaborate with local individuals and community health workers working with organizations to bring health initiatives to their communities. The efforts of grassroots health initiatives are certainly defined by location, social and organizational contexts. As a Watson Fellow, my approach will be influenced by reciprocity and for that reason I plan to share my time and knowledge in community health with the individuals and the organizations I have already reached out to. I plan to work with them and to learn from them.
I will function as a volunteer, partner or son to local individuals in local public health NGOs. While each individual and health initiative addresses different issues, I want to learn how each exemplifies the Ubuntu philosophy. My commitment to this course will help me establish the rapport needed to understand the lives of these individuals. I want to live in their community, engage in their cultural practices and become a community member. Even if this honor is temporary, it will be an intangible experience. As they guide me through their communities and grassroots health initiatives, I will observe and participate in their work to understand the impact of particular health issues. Connecting with locals, I will discover how their work with community health can contribute to shaping healthcare delivery to the afflicted.
Each location I venture to will provide a different social context that will serve as the possible derivative for the health initiatives I seek. Who are these local individuals and what galvanizes them to dedicate their time, and sometimes their lives, to helping others? I want to see the relationships that exist between these individuals and their communities. What health or community issues are they combating or advocating against? My journey to answer these questions starts with Peru.
Grassroots public health initiatives are fundamental participants in health delivery to indigenous communities in Peru like the Andeans who are remotely located in areas where clean water, clinics and health education is very sparse. This is evidenced by the fact that they have the highest rate of waterborne diseases and maternal deaths in Latin America. What grassroots health initiatives have originated to serve these communities? I will explore these questions through community-based organizations like DESEA, which provides health necessities to communities. I will travel with health workers to explore measures used in providing health assistance.
From Peru, I will travel east to Rwanda, a country healing from the effects of post-colonialism and past ethnic conflicts, I will interact with individuals dedicated to helping communities recover through health initiatives. As an underdeveloped country, Rwanda’s health problems have garnered the attention of three Rwandan Physicians who started the Health Development Initiative (HDI) to provide health to communities. I want to meet the individuals who serve as intermediaries for quality health deprived communities while revitalizing intertribal relations. I would like to explore what motivates them to put themselves and their families at risk of helping others.
Further east of Rwanda is Ethiopia, where the National Health Extension program has sparked grassroots health initiatives that mediate between government aid and community needs. I am confident that my engagement with local initiatives within the national health network will lead me to communities where individuals are making a difference for others. Witnessing the success health initiatives will help me understand how the National Health Extension program is helping people pursue their goals.
My next stop will be to Nepal. The culture of Nepal has always been interesting to me. Despite having a dynamic culture and rich geography, it is one of the world’s poorest countries with water and sanitation issues. I relish the opportunity to engage with people who respond to these health issues by spreading awareness about sanitation through pioneering solutions. While conducting my research, I want to explore whether or not grassroots health initiatives are successful. Will my vision of interplay between Ubuntu and health provision become clear in this country? I suspect what I will learn in Nepal will positively impact my experiences as I continue my journey.
Hill Tribes in Northern Thailand are beautiful communities with green valleys, cornfields and rolling mountains that isolate it from the world outside. Despite this beauty, residents live below the poverty line and have minimal health access due to the 1: 13,500 doctor patient ratios. I secured an opportunity to volunteer with health and development workers associated with the Warm Heart Worldwide foundation. I am thrilled for the challenges and amazing experiences in store for me when I arrive in Hill Tribe communities.
I am prepared to tackle the many challenges I am bound to face as a Fellow. Some of these challenges include health ethics and securing good contacts. My previous studies in anthropology have taught me the value of asking for consent when making inquiries into sensitive issues. Volunteering in public and global health activities allowed me to network with individuals passionate about health in many counties. Contacting local organizations, like the organizations mentioned above which support local health initiatives across the world, will provide me access to grassroots initiatives and individuals.
Linguistic barriers are further challenges I am ready to overcome. In addition to my fluency in English, I have courtesy-level proficiency in Spanish and Kiswahili which should come in handy in Peru and Rwanda. In locations where local languages are needed, I will work hard to acquire a basic proficiency prior to my yearlong journey. With the help of my friends from Ethiopia, Nepal and Thailand, I will have the opportunity to practice and acquire some local idioms that will help me assimilate into their cultures. These acquaintances will also help me arrange host families and contacts that will upgrade my basic language skills to a conversational level.
A year abroad as Watson Fellow will allow me to understand different iterations of the interconnectedness between the Ubuntu philosophy and grassroots health initiatives. My journey will be more than connecting with individuals who are making a difference. I will learn the values, strategies and intuitions they have embodied as inspirations in helping people facing precarious health conditions. As an individual interested in social justice, this experience is vital to my life objective of giving back to my own community. My childhood in Ghana and experiences abroad makes me eager for an in-depth familiarity with dedicated individuals in order to discern how their motivations and lifework can shape me. For me, the Watson Fellowship is an opportunity of a lifetime that would allow me to share the lives and understand the practice of community-minded public health workers who understand the Ubuntu belief “I am because we are.”